By paying particular attention to the forage that you supply them with in the pasture, keep your cattle off the feed.
When a person needs to put on weight, an athlete says, he reaches for a protein shake. The equivalent of a protein shake is a healthy grain diet when you want your cattle to put on weight, which is not feasible if you’re raising grassfed beef, so you need to turn to your forage for a protein boost instead.
“Brad Buchanan, owner of Flying B Bar Ranch and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Grassfed Association, says, “Stop concentrating on raising cattle and start focusing on raising grass. “For them to forage on, you have to have good grass.”
It takes 20 to 30 acres per year to raise a cow-calf pair at Buchanan’s Colorado ranch, slightly less acres than in the last two years thanks to some much-welcomed irrigation. “That’s a lot of grass,” he confesses.
There’s an explanation why beef cattle in feedlots are most frequently done. This is because most grains have a higher content of protein than most herbs. When feeding them maize, it is better to pack on the pounds and quicker to get cattle up to market weight (1,200 to 1,500 pounds) than to finish them on forage alone. The growing demand for grassfed, pasture-raised meats, the appeal of feeding meat animals from your land for food production, and the health benefits of grassfed meat are compelling reasons for having a small-scale farmer take on the challenge of grassfed-beef.
Mix Your Range of Grass
In grassfed-beef farming, one form of forage doesn’t rule. The way to go is a mixture of summer and winter grasses, annuals and perennials that are suitable to your climate.
Chad Lemke, production manager for the Grassfed Livestock Alliance, part-owner of McCollum-Lemke Ranches and president of the American Grassfed Association, says, ‘I don’t want to eat the same thing.’ “My animals don’t want me to eat the same thing. They like variety, I believe.
On his Texas pastures, Lemke plants a ‘buffet-style’ mix: Bermuda grass over-seeded with legumes to graze in the spring and summer and Bermuda grass over-seeded with an annual winter small-grain, such as wheat, rye or vetch, to graze in the cool season. The feeding of cereal-grain crops, according to the American Grassfed Association, is A-OK when the plants are in their vegetative state.
Graze Your Stock intensively
You can handle vigorous grazing for a herd of two to 200 animals, also called mob or rotational grazing, with some temporary fencing and a reasonable mix of grasses.
Buchanan says, “When you graze [a pasture] and let it come back before regrazing it, the grass just gets stronger.”
A small-scale farmer can get a few cows too frequently, let them graze a field until the end and wonder why they don’t gain weight as they should be.
‘The grass never has a chance to heal,’ says Buchanan. “That will degrade the grass over time.”
Until re-grazing, the size of the lot you need per animal, the length of time you should leave cows to graze it, and the length of time you need to let it rest depends entirely on your own piece of property, the forage mix, and the weather. Just before the seed heads grow, grass has the highest protein content, as the plant is putting all of its energy into the stalk.
“Lemke says, “We’re going to hop around the pastures, trying to chase the freshest, most nutritious forage available.
More frequently than his breeding herd, he rotates his finished cattle. He says that cows with calves and cows that are not lactating or pregnant do not need forage of the highest quality, so they can graze on a pasture with up to half of the grass. More nutrients are required by animals gaining market weight, and it only helps them to graze one third of the grass before moving it again.
The peaks and valleys of finishing cattle on grass are rounded out by pasture irrigation in the dry months and supplementary hay feeding, according to Lemke.
Provide an extra feed
When they need to eat it, animals have an uncanny capacity to eat what they need to eat. Because no piece of land is entirely balanced in its vitamin and mineral content, there will be no forage, either. Feeding a mix of free-choice minerals will allow the cattle to get a balanced ration. Every year or two, Lemke suggests checking your pasture to see what it lacks and then constructing a mineral mix based on the findings.
When 16-year-old Will joined two of their Angus-Waygu steers at the county fair, Buchanan and his son, Will, had a good experience feeding minerals. Buchanan claims that he always thought that their grassfed cattle could not compete with the “grain-fed behemoths that are 15 or 16 months old and weigh 1,500 pounds.”
They collaborated with a nutritionist at Ranch-Way Feeds to produce a combination of AGA-approved supplements, including oat hulls, alfalfa, beet pulp, vitamins and minerals, to give Will’s animals the best shot at the fair. In the spring and summer before the fair, they fed the resulting 14 percent protein supplement to Will’s steers, and out of the 27 entries, he had the second and third heaviest steers there, 1,396 and 1,350 pounds respectively. They both ranked third overall for gain rates of 2.99 and 2.91 pounds per day; cattle gain 2.4 to 4 pounds per day from feedlot.
Buchanan says, “That grassfed supplement blend did better than grains and was cheaper.” “We totally banged the grass-fed drum, of course.”
Raising grassfed beef, and particularly finishing cattle on forage alone to market weight, is not a simple job, but you will be a more well-rounded farmer if you are up for the challenge. First of all, you will learn to care for the land and the cattle will obey.