How We Produce Our Grass-fed Grass-finished Beef
Have you ever wondered what exactly goes into grass-fed/grass-finished beef? And what do those two terms even mean? Well, today, I'd like to answer your questions!
While our farming methods are ever-changing, and some of our techniques may differ a year from now, we remain consistent in that our beef and lamb are always Grass-fed and Grass-finished. So, let's start there!
What is Grass-fed and Grass-finished?
Grass-fed generally refers to ruminant livestock (e.g., cattle, sheep, goats) raised outside on grass. "Grass" can include dried forage, known as hay, typically fed in the winter. Grass-finished refers to livestock that was raised solely on grass until butchering. The term was introduced after some producers began claiming that their livestock was "100% Grass-fed" even though it was "finished" on grain for several months before processing. You'll often see Grass-fed and Grass-finished used together to communicate to consumers that the farmer never fed their livestock grain throughout it's lifetime. Maybe "Grain-free" would be an easier labeling option. 🤷
What is Grain-fed and Grain-finished?
Grain-fed and Grain-finished mean just the opposite. These cattle are usually born on pasture with grain supplemented and later sent to a feedlot where they are raised solely on grain until butchering.
Where do you get your cattle?
Today, we purchase young steers and bulls from several local farms which we work closely with. These partnering farms, such as Aulgur Livestock, care for their herd using the same standards of excellence that we do.
They currently move a herd of 60+ cows. They raise primarily South Poll or like breeds of cattle that perform well on a grass-only diet and in this climate. These red cattle don't get as hot as their black relatives. Red cattle aren't as worn by the summer heat, which is essential when they are near the center of a pasture where we don't have trees for shade. South Poll is also a shorter breed of cattle, which can reach the ground easier and doesn't carry as much weight in bone.
These farms rotate their herds on pasture daily, also known as "rotational grazing," meaning the cattle are getting moved off yesterday's paddock and onto a fresh one. The process only gets interrupted when farmers need a vacation or in the winter when the grass is not growing.
If they are not moving the herd daily, they will be given a larger multi-day paddock, and in the winter, they supplement with grass hay. They may also be moved less often during calving to avoid calves getting lost or left behind. Newborn calves sometimes leave mom to go on an adventure and have difficulty getting home when "home" gets moved to a new paddock.
How do you finish your cattle?
We pick up the bulls in the spring and rotationally graze them. We use a polywire line to accomplish this.
What is polywire?
Picture a 1/8-inch poly rope with metal wire woven through it. Using portable fence posts and polywire on special reels that resemble large fishing reels, we can quickly and efficiently set up a single-strand fence of any size in almost any terrain. It's incredible that a 1000-pound animal will respect a single wire that it could so easily walk through, but it does.
We electrify the polywire by connecting it to an existing electric fence or using solar-powered fence chargers. These put out an electric pulse strong enough to give livestock a good shock when they touch it. It is a portable, harmless, and effective method of fencing that works well for our pasture-based farming model.
Electric fences create a psychological barrier since most animals only need to get shocked a couple of times before they respect the fence wire and decide they won't try to cross it. The only downside is that it requires moisture in the ground to carry the shock back to the charger, and in droughts like the one we're experiencing now, they are much less effective.
Often times we farmers shock ourselves while setting it up or moving the cows. 😅 But as I said, it's harmless. The feeling is comparable to a big pinch.
Do you supplement your cattle?
We usually stockpile enough grass throughout the summer that we don't need to feed hay. However, when that is not the case, we will give our cattle grass hay in the pasture to supplement. We like to do what is known as "bale grazing." We place the bales in areas where the soil needs the most help, be it weeds or poor topsoil. Manure and hoof impact will be more concentrated wherever the hay bale is, and the dropped hay provides additional carbon and cover. It's a win-win-win!
We will also give our cattle mineral salt to supplement any lack of minerals in the soil and raw apple cider vinegar mixed in their water as a natural gut enhancer and parasite prevention. (Both salt and vinegar are beneficial for us, too!)
What does moving the cattle look like?
Each evening (sometimes morning), one person goes out to the cattle and opens the wire to the new paddock. The cattle are usually waiting for us. They go trotting into the new paddock, knowing that their next "salad bar" is now open for business! We close the wire behind them, take down the last paddock, and then use that wire and posts to set up tomorrow's paddock. And do the same thing again tomorrow evening.
How do you transport your cattle?
When we need to load them up for transport, we set up a temporary corral in the pasture and back the livestock trailer up to it. Livestock trailers are designed to be easy for livestock to get in and out of, provide lots of ventilation, and are usually covered. Using polywire, we will create an aisle to walk the cattle into the corral. If we aren't loading up the entire group, we will calmly sort out the few that are getting loaded.
We handle our cattle with much care, especially during loading and transport. Livestock must have a relaxed environment, so they do not experience any more stress than is unavoidable. Stress is not good for you, and it's not good for animals. We believe in humane animal care; animals should be treated with respect as a part of God's Creation. In addition to that, stress hormones released in the body cause muscle tightness and affect the taste of the meat. It would be a shame to produce a great grass-fed bull and, in the end, ruin the beef because he was not handled gently. We want to provide a fantastic experience for the animal while it's here and for the person enjoying that steak.
Where do you butcher cattle?
We pay a premium for butchering because it is one of the most crucial steps in producing quality meats. And because we sell our meats across state lines, they must be processed in a facility that is inspected by the USDA and has their stamp on the label. Several things we look for in a processor are:
- Professionalism - we want to send our livestock to a butcher who meets or exceeds our standard of animal care, has a good reputation, and cares about the finished product.
- Custom Recipes - we do things differently, like bacon without nitrates and nitrites. We need butchers who can accommodate the demands of our customers.
- Custom Labeling - we want our products to contain our brand. As simple as that sounds, you wouldn't believe the hoops we jump through in the labeling arena.
Butchers who check off all these boxes are few and far between. Thankfully, we currently have one that's only 2.5 hours away! Swiss Meats & Sausage Co has been processing our beef, lamb, and pork for five-plus years, and they have done an excellent job. We wish we had a comparable option near us, but right now, we are just grateful that Swiss Meats is even available.
When do you butcher cattle?
We butcher cattle and lamb in the fall, typically in October, November, and December. Our beef hangs for two weeks after slaughter and is then cut, packaged, and ready for pickup a few days later. We'll pick it up, inventory it the same day, and update the website within 48 hours. I'll then email our email list, letting you know what out-of-stock cuts have just been restocked.
When is your annual Beef Harvest Sale?
This typically begins on November 1st, after we have picked up our first fall beef from the butcher. During the Beef Harvest Sale, we offer bulk portions of beef at a deep discount, including 1/8, 1/4, and 1/2 portion bundles. These are predetermined bundles sold by the pound and include ground beef, steaks, and roasts. Offals, bones, and specialty items are also available to purchase separately. If you are signed up for our email list, you will be one of the first notified when these discounted beef bundles are available!
Where can we see your farm in action?
Too far to visit? Lucky for you, we post to our social media often (Instagram and Facebook) and at least monthly on our blog. We also share videos infrequently on our YouTube page. We do not yet have a comprehensive video of our cattle production, but it is now on our list!
I hope you've learned something today! If I've sparked more questions or missed something here, please let me know in the comments or reach out to us directly through our contact page.
We love the opportunity to educate our eaters on where their food comes from and how it is produced. Thank you for reading about our process for Grass-fed Grass-finished beef!