One of our On Pasture readers sent us this question:
I would like to know what size I should be buying cows in order to grass finish before slaughter. I know grass fed beef is different than grain fed beef. Can you help?
Since John Marble frequents sale barns for some of the stock on his pastures, we asked him for a response. Check out John’s thoughts, and then share your own below. We know there’s more than one right answer out there!
I looked at this question and I immediately thought, “Sweet! A short and simple question.” Turns out, the more I think about it, the more it turns out that just ain’t so.
Personally, we don’t produce grass-fed beef, at least not to any great extent. We do produce and sell a certain amount of grass-fed burger for friends and family. Our guarantee is that we don’t supply any grain, supplements, hormones, etc. and that we try to do a good job taking care of our land. I feel pretty comfortable calling our burger “clean” and natural, because we typically run a cow on our grass for at least 90 days prior to harvest. 90 days is approximately twice the withdrawal period for all drugs, wormers, etc that that cow might have had access to. What I really like to do is harvest cows that have been with us for quite a lot longer than that. Still, every cow we butcher for meat originated from a sale yard and our knowledge of her history is zero.
So, we only do burger. No steaks or roast, no quarters or halves. And there is one, simple reason for that: producing high quality, consistent, high value grass-fed slaughter cattle is extremely difficult, complicated work. Here’s why: you have to be competent at several complicated things, things like this:
Producing restaurant-quality grass-fed beef absolutely requires expertise in grass management and a functional grass ecosystem and a functional grazing system.
Producing consistent, tender, flavorful meat by grazing absolutely requires proper genetics. This means you need to be in control of the cows and bull genetics.
• Business and marketing.
It is essential that anyone considering jumping into the Grass-Fed business have a logical business plan that includes marketing, supply, logistics, etc. (Just like any other new business). In my experience, the success rate for new folks in grass fed is not very encouraging. It’s just plain hard.
Now, all of that gloom and doom aside, if you’re simply thinking of buying a cow and running her on grass for a while and then grinding her up for your family, well, great. Anything beyond that requires experience, time and great skill.
Sorry to be a kill-joy. Grass-fed is a tough business.
What do you think? Do you have advice for this On Pasture reader?