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Not All Grassfed Beef is Created Equal | Part 1: Genetics

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The sisters crossed nursed and raised their piglets: I couldn't even begin to tell you which piglet came from which mother from the very first 5 seconds of life. They all spent the next couple of months nursing (lots of that), sleeping (lots of that), rolling in mud puddles, and playing in the tall grass. At one point they were with the sheep, cattle, and goats all in the same field and what a beautiful sight to see all species napping together under the shade. 

Not All Grassfed Beef is Created Equal | Part 1: Genetics

MollyMike Peterson

The confirmation we look for in our cows and calves.

The confirmation we look for in our cows and calves.

Through your own trial and error, many of you have undoubtedly stumbled upon grassfed beef that you absolutely love and other grassfed beef that was nearly inedible. (I hope the latter wasn’t ours!) Have you thought about why that might be happening? Once you begin looking into the subject, it begins to snowball. Genetics, forage quantity and quality, time of year, handling methods, how the animal is put down, and weight gain over the course of it’s entire life all play a part in the quality of the meat that ends up on your table.

This month, we will focus on the genetics that we use to produce the meat that we sell and why we choose to breed our own cows and calves.

We often get the statement “It seems like you would just let them eat grass until they’re ready.” Well, that is true, but it’s a very simple statement for a very complicated process.

Before we even think about a steer being completely ‘finished’, let’s back up to the beginning: genetics. We have spent years working on our genetics to develop an angus breed that performs well on grass alone, without grain supplementation. We begin with cows that have an overall small frame. Modern black angus cows can be very large–1400-1500 lbs. They are tall, large boned, and oftentimes produce the same type of calves. Tall, bony calves are ideal for entering the feedlot system as their frame will mature at 12-14 months at which time they can begin to be finished on a heavy grain-based diet to a weight toppling 1300-1400 pounds in under 18 months. Our ideal cow is around 1000 pounds, low to the ground with fine bones and a large gut for as much grass capacity that it can fit! She will produce calves that carry similar traits. A smaller framed calf will convert grass to muscle easily and will have a good yield as a fine boned animal will carry more meat than bones. Our calves will reach 1100 pounds in 24-30 months compared to the 1300-1400 pounds in 18 months for a feedlot calf.

Once we have an idea of the right traits we are looking for in a cow, we also need to look for those traits in a bull because we can’t develop beautiful cows without the the proper paternal traits passing along.

We choose to develop our own breed that thrives with our management and gains weight well with our forage. To build and grow our herd is an investment of 4 years. We need to plan to breed more of the right kind of cows, make sure they get pregnant, go through the 9 month gestation period and then raise that calf to 24-30 months. Sure, it would be easiest to go to the livestock auction and buy calves from an unknown source, but we have no idea what type of genetics we are bringing in. When it all comes down to it, we’re looking to produce a consistent product grown with integrity and transparency. I feel that we lose the consistency and transparency if we begin bringing in animals from unknown sources.

Last year, we made arrangements to increase our beef production again. Breeding more cows and renting more land. However, you won’t notice a difference on that until 2017! It seems like a long ways away, but time flies when you think in terms of cow gestation periods!

-Mike

(originally posted on our monthly District Crossfit blog contribution)