The Happy, Delicious Cows of Chase Brook Farm

Jill Marckel, co-owner with her husband, Jeff, of Chase Brook Farm Market in the Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market, tells how their happy, free-range, grass-fed, and antibiotic-free bovines make for tasty fare.

Humans, for the most part, are carnivores — and Americans are voracious carnivores at that. Meat farms, whether a large commercial production or an independently operated, 120-acre (60 of which is used for grazing), 2,700- animal business, like Chase Brook Farm, raise and butcher animals to feed our hungry appetites. No matter the opinion — “Meat Is Murder,” or “Meat Is Murder … Tasty, Tasty Murder” — there’s no getting around it.

Jill Marckel. Becca Dilley/Heavy Plate
Jill Marckel. Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

At Milaca, MN-based Chase Brook Farm, though, Marckel explains, cows are raised in a manner that is healthful and productive — a situation beneficial to both cow and consumer. She says, “our cows are happy and relaxed” because “they’re out to pasture and doing what they’re supposed to be doing: grazing and being herbivores.” In fact, that’s the farm’s motto: “Our animals are vegetarians, so you don’t have to be.”

It’s a contrast to the approach that other farms — typically large, commercial factories — take, where cattle are fed mass quantities of corn to promote quick growth, which results in more meat to sell at the market. Healthy cows on large-scale feedlots may also be fed FDA-approved medications, which hasten growth and help stave off infections, a common occurrence when 10,000-plus cows convene in tight quarters.

No matter where one stands in the debate between organic and/or local meat and its commercially raised counterpart, we may all agree that when productions are kept small and simple, quality control is easier to maintain and accountability is less murky. Marckel says this simplicity and transparency is what makes Chase Brook meat unquestionably healthy and flavorful. She says, matter of factly “[our] meat tastes like what it’s supposed to taste like.”

Marckel sheds some light on how to raise cows that will yield beef that is rich, lean, healthy and full of flavor. Here she describes the life span of a Chase Brook cow from the time it is purchased at auction until the day it’s sent to slaughter.

From cow to cutlet at Chase Brook Farm

September: Once a year, Jeff Marckel bids on and hopes to take home, roughly, 70 Red and Black Angus cattle from an auction barn in nearby Mora, Minn. “We’re up against the big guys at the auctions,” she notes, so this process requires some skill in order to obtain the best cattle. The cows he chooses will have just been weened and weigh between 400 and 600 pounds and may be four or five months old, Marckel estimates. Jeff will aim to buy a range of three weight classes to ensure that there is a steady stream to send to the butcher throughout the summer.

September through April/May: Once the young cattle arrive at the Marckels’ farm, they are immediately put to pasture. For approximately six months, “their life is hanging out on the pasture,” where they are fed a strictly grass diet and fresh water daily. They “eat as much as they want all day long, sit in the sunshine, and just be a cow,” Marckel beams. The bales are scattered throughout the cows’ patch of land, which is kept separate from the pigs, chickens, lambs, and other animals the Marckels’ also raise. Their cattle are not rounded up at night, but are free to roam their section 24/7.  If inclement weather strikes, they may take shelter beneath an open-air “half-barn” that faces south.  Even in the winter, the Marckels “put their hay bales out to pasture … so [the cows] don’t have to come up to a feed lot and stand [in their own] manure.” This way, their waste is spread throughout the field, which fertilizes the soil with minimal effort. All this running around, Marckel surmises, also improves the taste and texture of the beef. “When the animals use their muscles and get exercise, [their meat develops] texture.”

April through August: All good things must come to an end; slaughtering begins as early as April or whenever a large enough batch reaches 1,100 to 1,200 pounds. At this size, Marckel explains, they’re “just starting to get plumper,” which is desirable. Because they don’t keep their cows past 15 months old, buyers are “not going to see the marbling [that’s apparent] when you go to the butcher shop and you see a ‘prime choice’ [cut],” Marckel says. “What that’s telling you, essentially, is how fat it is — in translation: how much corn did that animal get?” Because of their practices, their meat is still tender and succulent but free of the fatty lacework common to commercially raised beef. One quick look at their thick ribeyes — deep, lush red undisturbed by any fatty islands whatsoever — proved this.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Once they deem a group heavy enough to slaughter, they load the selected cows into a rented livestock truck and drive them to a small, USDA butcher shop two and a half hours away in Cannon Falls. The shop has only one holding pen, so the batch is butchered swiftly. Once killed, the carcasses are hung to age for 10-15 days (at the shop). Then they are cut to the Marckels’ specifications, flash-frozen and air-sealed in plastic packaging, labeled, weighed, inspected, and shipped directly to the Versacold storage facility in St. Paul. The meat is stored here, and Jill picks up loads throughout the year, which she sells at the Midtown Global Market store or various Twin Cities’ farmer’s markets throughout the year.

Marckel has noticed that “people want to eat better food, but they don’t know where to find it, and they don’t want commmercially raised stuff.” Now, hopefully, they do. Chase Brook Farm sells naturally raised meat and dairy products from local farms at the Midtown Global Market Sundays 11 am to 6 pm and Monday through Saturday 10 am to 8 pm, at local farmers markets May through October,  and Saturdays 9 am to noon during the winter at the downtown St. Paul Farmers’ Market.


  1. Joanna

    I will testify to the high quality and excellent flavor of Chase Brook Farms’ ground beef, which I’ve been using for making chile. You really can taste the difference! As soon as they opened at Midtown Global market, I started buying my eggs and dairy products that they carry from other local, high quality organic producers as well as their meats. Their prices are reasonable for the very high quality. and their chickens have strong healthy bones! You can get chicken feet and necks for broth, and they carry giblets as well, which can be hard to find elsewhere.

  2. Emily

    I started buying Chasebrook Natural meats last summer at the Falcon Heights Farmer’s Market. The meat is very high quality and at very affordable prices, compared to ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ meats available grocery stores. The chickens are also very good. And Jill is very friendly! I was thrilled to find them at the Midtown Global Market!

  3. Mom

    OK, so I’m Jeff’s Mom, but I’m not at all prejudiced! The meat is fantastic, the best I’ve ever had, and the prices are good. I’m really proud of Jeff and Jill, and their sons, Jeremy and Justin! Way to go!

  4. Nancy

    I am a huge fan of the pork shoulder and the jerky!! I recently made taco’s with their ground beef….nummy!! I will from now on buy the ground beef from them!!!

  5. Brad

    I have been buying meat fron Jeff & Jill for years. I love their grass fed beef. Ground beef to T-bones their beef is full of flavor and their wild rice brats are to die for! Eggs, milk, beef jerky and buffalo are always extras on my shopping list when I go the their store in the Midtown Global Market (the old Sears Building at Chicago & Lake Street in South Minneapolis). If you haven’t had their meat I encourage you to try it, you’ll be glad you did!

  6. Katie

    Since moving to MN to be closer to my best friend, Jill, I’ve been thrilled to support the Marckel family. Until Jill served me meat products from her family’s farm, I really didn’t know there was such a huge difference in quality and freshness vs. the meats I’d been buying from the grocery stores all these years! The only pork chops I serve are from Chase Brook Natural. I also love to grill up some wild rice brats or put a fresh ham in the crock pot with Carolina style bbq ~ scrumptious! And the chicken… incredible! My thanks to the Marckel family for bringing such delicious, fresh, healthy meat to my family’s table!

  7. Erik

    I found Jill at the Shoreview Farmer’s Market last summer and bought a different cut from her nearly every week. From pork shoulder for the 4th of July to Lamb shoulder for Sunday dinner to Beef chuck roast in the crock pot, everything I’ve gotten has been excellent.

    I can’t wait for the Shoreview market to start again, so I can buy more meat from Chase Brook. :)

  8. Special K

    I’m sad to hear they are going out of business. They had a great product and they are nice people as well. They will be missed.

  9. Chef Misthaufen

    Never liked their meat. Jack and Jill simply buy and resale meat and didnt raise all the meat they sold and now thier out of business, no wonder.

  10. lisa k

    I tried to visit the farm but when i drove by their weren’t any cows or pigs around? what gives?

  11. Brad

    As for Chef Misthaufen . . . I doubt you ever tried their beef. By the way it’s Jeff & Jill. They’re really nice people and will be missed as well as their tasty meats. I did fill the freezer so I’m good for awhile. Hey Chef . . . want to buy some great tasting beef?

  12. oscar

    Hey, misthaufen means manure pile in German! Whats inthe pot chef? Anyway theyve went broke so no need to “pile” it on. Was jeff that jerk with the pony tail, his wife was cute.

  13. lisa k

    Jeff’s mom thanks for clearing that up for me. Do they have any surplus meat someone can buy? We would LOVE to get some. Where are they at now? Did they sell the farm and move anywhere close by I know they had a big semi they sold out of. Lisa

  14. Jeff's Mom

    “fight”–you are really off base, but I will leave you to your delusions.

    Lisa — I don’t think that they had any surplus.

  15. Jeff's Mom

    No accident, no fire–they were a victim of the economy. Thanks for your concern. As for “fight the man,” you really can’t fight ignorance.

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