Poultry, Pork Operations Aplenty In NC, But Where’s The Beef?
Drive around North Carolina, and you won’t have any trouble finding a big farm. But if you’re looking for beef cattle, that’s a different story. As part of WFAE’s collaboration with Our State magazine, Jeremy Markovich went up to talk to a farmer who, with 3,000 head of cattle, is one of the few who’s been trying to give beef a go.
You’d think it’d be easy to get a cow to moo into a microphone. It’s not.
V. Mac Baldwin, who’s wearing a big cowboy hat, a button down shirt, tucked into his jeans, is putting some feed out. That usually does the trick. But this time, only a donkey seems to be interested. The rest of the cows stay silent.
Baldwin owns about 1,200 acres outside of Yanceyville, up near the Virginia border. If there are two things he knows really well, it’s cows and grass.
We’re sitting on Baldwin’s porch, overlooking his farm. White cows dot the rolling green pastures all around. Trees? Well, there don’t seem to be many trees out here.
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“It's been said that I hate a tree,” Baldwin says with a laugh. “I don't hate a tree. It just gets in my way when I'm trying to grow some grass, you know?”
Once the land is cleared, it’s great for cows. There’s plenty of rain and great soil in North Carolina, and that leads to good grass.
North Carolina has good grass, but it doesn’t have a lot of beef cattle. For one thing, there isn’t enough open land. That requires clearing trees, which takes time, money, and a lot of effort.
“There was never any incentive to go out and clear all the land in North Carolina,” Baldwin said. “So if you go out in the Midwest — hey, there were no trees. The land was open.”
Plus, the Midwest, the Great Plains, and Texas are all close to most of our country’s grain.
“There’s no feed yards in North Carolina,” Baldwin said. “We are we are a grain deficient state. We don't produce enough grain to feed our chickens and hogs.”
Chickens and hogs don’t eat as much as cows, so it’s much less expensive to import their feed. As a result, North Carolina is second in the nation in hog production. It’s in the top five for chickens.
But do you know how many of our nation’s beef cows come from North Carolina? One percent.
“Beef is not even a blip on the schedule,” Baldwin said.
But here’s the thing about Baldwin — he’s been obsessed with cows since he was a kid.
“I'd saved up some money — I had $60 saved up — I was ten years old and I pleaded with my parents, my mom and dad, to let me buy a calf,” Baldwin said.
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After high school, he joined the Navy, then got an engineering degree from NC State. But later in life, he got back into cows. A specific kind of cow.
“We fell in love with a big white Charolais,” He said. “If you could take the clothes off of a Charolais steer and the show clothes off of an Angus steer and hanging them side by side, you'll see a little more finish — that's called fat — on the carcass of an Angus steer than you will on a Charolais steer. When you process them out, the ground beef will be about 10 percent fatter in an Angus than in a Charolais, and that's where we are. We are going down the lean breed path.”
Baldwin didn’t start his current farm until he was 40. He’s in his 80s now. His company, Baldwin Beef, now has its products at farmers markets and at Whole Foods. It’s been a lot of work.
“A ranch is something you wish your granddaddy started because it takes so long to get it rolling,” Baldwin said. “It's like a locomotive. It's hard to get it moving but once you get it moving, you've got something going, you know?”
Baldwin’s son Craig is now in charge of the farm, but Baldwin still lives there. Still helps out. Still watches his cows from his front porch. And, every so often, tries to get one of them to moo.
This story is an adaptation from “The Cowman of Caswell County,” which appears in the May edition of Our State magazine.