Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Rough Outline of How to Raise Grass Fed Beef

(Our calves on the mineral block.)

Some simple secrets on how we raise our grass fed beef.

Answered another beef farmer's questions recently and thought you'd want to know. He's from Illinois where cheap corn is available, and wants to raise some grass fed beef.

What I cover below is some secrets I've worked out which aren't generally used in the cattle industry:
  • The only supplements I use are salt and minerals in blocks. I do also have tubs of loose minerals with a high iodine content - this has eliminated pink-eye problems. Blocks are from Orcheln's Farm and Home, the loose minerals are from MFA, their "Breeders 12".
  • My heifers are bred at 15 months so that they'll have their first calf at 24 months. They are only grass fed.
  • After weaning, we let the steers back in with their dams. Any steer which go back to nursing puts their dam on the short list for replacement - as these attributes aren't wanted. It doesn't hurt the calf or dam, but may cause problems when the next calf comes along. Hasn't yet, through.
  • I pull out the bull and steers in the spring, when the steers are about 24 months old and the spring calves are dropping. This is to keep the bull company and lets me see what weights I have. I sell the steers and then put the heifers with the bull a month before he's turned out with the rest of the herd. We tried August this year, working on pushing our calving back to May, which is when there is plenty of good grass for milk production and none of the calves get frost-bit like they do in Jan/Feb. Also, we don't have scours here, as no calves are born in a feed lot, but on pasture.
  • Following advice I've read, I'm working to get the farm so that it provides enough grass to feed the cows all year round. This is by using management-intensive, rotational grazing - a hot polywire moved every day or two, with a following wire to keep them off what they grazed. We buy our hay from others, which tends to be as cheap as making it ourselves, when you account for the time and machinery repairs. Plus, half the cost is accounted for in the minerals you are getting in that hay.
  • We place our hay out for winter where the pasture land is poorest, so what the cows "waste" returns to the land as mulch - and the cows spread their own manure nearby. I use the tractor just twice a year for hay - once to put it away for storage in the spring, and once to put it out for feeding in the fall. This has tended to rebuild poor soil within just a few years.
The whole point here is to make the farm self-sustaining. The underlying secret is to let Nature do the heavy lifting. The major time I invest now is in moving temporary fences and keeping perimeter fencing in repair.

I don't spend a lot of time on the tractor. But I'm starting to invest more time in tree-planting and forest thinning. Several tanks of chain-saw fuel are a lot cheaper than a tank of tractor fuel. Seems trees and grass work together to make the best pasture. The trick is in "hiring" the right kind and enough cattle to help maintain and rebuild the land.

The wealth of the land is in its accessible mineral content. Conventional farming experts have no clue right now on how to rebuild land which their cultivation methods have worn down. Cattle and intensive grazing is the only known method right now.

Green is a lifestyle, not a metropolitan fad.

Good luck with your own efforts down this line.

PS. I'm working to revive some classic books along this line, ones which gave solutions which have mostly been ignored. I'll post them here when I do. (I publish books as an off-farm income source.)