If you have visited the farm you may have heard us mention Rotational Grazing. Well here is a very simply way of explaining this. You take a pasture and divide it into smaller parts (which we call paddocks). Below is one of our pastures that we rotationally graze.
This is a pasture we call The Upper Devon Pasture. It is around 8-10 acres. Now the red lines on the outer edge are our perimeter fence (this is mostly bared wire with some woven wire and one electrified wire on the inside). The red line in running down the middle is a semi-permanent electrified wire (this is not needed for rotational grazing but makes setting up paddocks easier). Now the black circle in the middle is our livestock water trough, it is from this central point that all the paddocks are made. The white lines represent the borders of each paddock.
So what happens is that when the cows have eaten the grass down to a certain level in a paddock (around 4 inches or so) they are moved to a new paddock and kept off of the paddock they were just on. This gives each paddock a chance to "rest".
Now this explanation leaves out a good deal of details and factors that have to be considered in rotational grazing. So if you plan to rotationally graze you will need to read up...read a lot. A good place to begin is
MANAGEMENT INTENSIVE GRAZING - By Jim Gerrish is a good book.
Salad Bar Beef by Joel Salatin is another good book, especially for a beginner.
So what do “grass fed beef”, “100% grass fed beef”, and “grass finished” mean? Is there a difference or is it just different ways of saying the same thing? Yes. There is a big difference. And, it can drastically affect the nutritional benefits of beef. The benefits of cattle fed only a diet of grass are well established. And, I want to try to explain what these phrases mean.
First you have to understand that cattle are Ruminates. This means that they have an interesting stomach. There is some debate as to do they have 4 stomachs or one multi-chambered stomach. Well the point is that cattle have a chamber, called the “rumen”, where the grass they have eaten is broken down by symbiotic bacteria. Grass is composed of cellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin and other materials much of which is indigestible to most organisms, the bacteria are able to break this down into substances that the cow can use. Since much of what they eat is dark green and leafy they get lots of Omega 3 fatty acids (which are the “good” fatty acids) so the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratios are in a healthy balance. So, now that we have that out of the way let’s move on to a cow’s life cycle and how it gets food.
There are basically 3 stages to a cow’s life (well a cow that is to be “harvested”), cow/calf, stockers, and finishers. At the 1st stage the cow is born and gets much of nutrition from its mother from milk and some grass that it eats. A calf is weaned from its mother at around 7-10 months of age and is referred to as a “stocker”. Calves at this point weight around 400-500 pounds. Now at this stage most stockers are fed a diet of grass (and hay if needed). Most will spend another 6-8 (or longer) months at this stage. When they weight 800-900 pounds they are called “finishers”, this is the finally stage and where a lot of the problems with “unhealthy” beef come from. Most commercial operations will buy finishers to put in a “feed lot”. These are generally facilities were most of the cows diet consists of grain. When the animal is around 1100-1200 pounds when they are harvested.
So, now you know a bit about cattle and beef production. Now a little about grass, most people just think of grass as the stuff growing in their yard. Well cows are on pastures not yards. A good pasture will have lots of different types of plants growing, this includes grasses, legumes (usually clover), and other plants (what in yard would usually be called “weeds”). The cows eat these and convert them to proteins and energy. A word here about a special grass you may know of called “corn”. Corn plants are actually a grass however; the corn seeds are not and are loaded with carbohydrates. Like humans cows should not eat too many carbohydrates.
Now in the cow/calf and stocker stages most animals are fed a diet of grass (some producers will introduce grain feeds at the stocker stage). And, if they have been on a diet consisting of mostly grass they still have the healthy ratios of Omega 3 and Omega 6. It is generally in the finisher stage that the animals are fed a diet of mostly (if not almost entirely) grain. This is what causes the ratios to become out of balance in favor of Omega 6 fatty acids. Even being fed a diet of grain the last 60 days before harvest can destroy the correct ratio in the animal.
So, I say all this to bring us to the final points. If the beef you are purchasing was not grass-fed and grass-finished you will not be getting the benefits of “grass fed beef”. Now as you can see a producer can call their beef “grass fed” because it was but, still finish the animal on grain. Now one must also consider hay. Hay is grass that is cut, allowed to dry, and then baled for storage. But is hay still grass? I don’t think so mostly because it losses some of the nutrients that fresh grass has. But then there are a lot of opinions out there about this. In fact the USDA label “grass fed” has some “loop holes” that can allow an animal to be confined and fed only hay. Want to be even more “confused”? Then read on.
Going back to corn. As I said corn plants are a type of grass. So a producer can feed corn plants, including the ears full of corn seeds, to an animal and still call it “grass fed”. Another aspect of corn is what is called corn silage. This is when the entire plant is cut down to be stored for later use. The difference between silage and hay is that silage is not allowed to dry. Part of what it does is ferment which helps preserve it. This can be fed to animals at any time of the year (but usually in the winter). And still the animal can be referred to as grass fed.
So, now you have some idea of why we refer to our beef as “grass-fed, grass finished”. This not only means we do not use antibiotics or hormones in cattle we produce. We also, work hard so our cows are fed a diet of almost* entirely fresh grass. That’s so you our customers can get a healthy and delicious product.
*I say “almost” because on the rare snow days (well usually ice) the cows will be given hay. During the 2011/2012 winter we didn’t even have to feed any hay. It isn’t easy to make sure the cows have fresh grass in the dead of winter but we do it and enjoy it (ok that last statement about “enjoy” is a lie).
PS. We also do not feed our cows any type of silage. To be honest I know what it is but haven't a clue as to how to "make" it, nor do I wish to learn how.
You may laugh when you read the title (I know I did). Well this was a statement that someone made to our processor when they brought their animal to him. Now both he and I understand that most people do not really know where cuts come from on an animal and how many cuts, but that statement is funny.
So how many steaks can you get from a cow? Well it depends on what types of steaks and what other kinds of cuts you may want. When we have an animal processed a general rule of thumb is that 1/2 of it will be ground beef, 1/4 will be various roasts, and 1/4 of it will be different steaks (this includes sirloin but not all of the steaks will be sirloin). Below is picture of where cuts are found on a cow.
Now after looking at this picture you can get a better idea of where cuts are. Another question asked often is why are cuts in the loin area considered to be better cuts (ie more desired and expensive). Well as you can see from the picture there is less of it. Also, the muscle in this area does not move as much and so it is more tender.
One thing this picture does not mention is Ground Beef. Ground Beef will general be trimming from around other cuts, pieces to small to be used. Or, it may be that a person does not care for a particular cut and so it is simply ground up. For example ground chuck is made from beef in the Chuck area as opposed to having a chuck roast.
Hopefully this will answers some questions. Then again maybe you have more questions now. If so please ask.
"Is that your bull?"
Many times people have visited the farm seen this cow and asked this question. And, the answer is “No”. This is actually Sophie one of our cows and not only one of our cows but one of our cornerstone cows. So, why do people ask if she’s our bull? Usually it’s because of her horns.
So here’s a little about horns and cattle. Horns consist of an outer covering of horn, which is keratin and other proteins (like finger nails). And a core of living bone, which has blood vessels hence “living bone”. All cattle, both males (bulls) and females (cows) can have horns. Actually they should have horns.
Now you may ask “Why do some cattle not have horns?” Well one way to have cows do not have horns is to remove the horns. This is usually done at an early age and the horn “root” has to be removed or the horn will grow back. Also, there is trait called “Polled” which means the animal is born and can not grow horns. This trait comes about by selective breeding. Personally I think cows look better with horns. I voiced this opinion to Doc. He said “fine” and that if I wanted to leave horns on the cows then I can deal with those cows. Well I was trying to put an ear tag on a cow with horns, she whipped her head around while my face my next to her horns, and suddenly I changed my mind about horns. It seems that my dad had a very good point about not having cows with horns. In addition when you have some cows with horns and some without the cows with horns will use them on the other cows and this can injure them, which is especially bad when they are pregnant.
Now back to Sophie. We decided to use Sophie as one of our cornerstone herd dams because she has the characteristics that make her a great grass fed cow. She has shorter legs, a full thick square body, and a straight back. In additionally she has great maternal instincts and has produced some outstanding calves. In fact Gearld Fry, a noted cattleman, offered me twice what we paid for her after one look. I declined.
FARM QUESTIONS BY CLIFTON
Here in Farm Questions I will answer any questions you may have about farming to the best of my abilities. Also, I will post more detailed explanations of things we do on the farm and give advice if I can. Remember: advice is free, but good advice will cost you. Just kidding. (no I’m not). So help me make this an interesting part of our web site and ask any question you want. I promise not to make fun of you.