There seems to be a shortage of research on whether grass finished beef is better than grain finished beef. I won’t go into the politics of the issue, but it’s easier and cheaper to grain finish large amounts of beef, from a feed-lot management perspective. It takes a lot of ground or hay to grass finish a beef, relative to grain.
Here are some resources that will help clear it up, with a bias toward grass finished beef.
During La Nina years, there is a high probability of a drought. This will contribute to higher feed costs, lower forage availability, and potential herd reductions. Fortunately, we are just coming out of a La Nina which should bring much needed relief to the drought in the western United States.
If we find ourselves in a continued La Nina weather pattern, it would benefit all graziers, ranchers, and forage growers to stock up on as much hay as possible, and consider immediate herd reductions to prevent future losses or damage to grazing lands.
Chances of a continued La Nina hover around 50-55%, according to climate.gov, with a 67% chance of a neutral weather pattern, and an 8% chance of an El Nino.
I bought a couple of large square bales of hay last time I was at the local feed store to try them out. They can be a disaster! If you have a tractor that can lift them and enough cattle to put them in the field with little waste before they get too wasted, they would be great. The big advantages, IMO, are that they stack really well, and are very large. The biggest disadvantage is that if you store them in the barn and feed portions at a time, they completely fall apart when you cut the strings.
I ended up building a carrier for the tractor out of a pallet and some scrap lumber that will allow me to carry a couple of flakes out to the cows using the pallet forks. It works really well so far. I also used a bungee strap and a couple of hay hooks over the top of the bale to hold the bale together and allow me to release a couple of flakes at a time instead of the entire bale falling apart.
Here is the contraption on the pallet forks, with a couple of hungry dexters eating from it. Cascades Contender looks like he wants to climb in and go for a ride.
Update: I recently bought a bunch of large square bales and have been using my round bale cradle feeder to feed them. I attached a section of hog panel to the base of the cradle feeder to reduce waste, and I am getting 4 days per bale, if I move the herd each day. I have 12 head of cattle right now.
The square bale does not fit initially, but I when I cut the strings and pull a little bit off each end, it falls into the feeder.
On Thursday I went to Pearson Farm & Fence in Moses Lake, WA to pick up our new Arrowquip Q-Catch 74 Series Squeeze chute. This is a new design that is much less expensive than the 86 series. I believe it’s a bit smaller and they have been running a special at $4250, so I felt the price was right and I needed one, so I bought one.
I can’t say enough good things about Pearson Farm & Fence. They helped me out every step of the way and were very good to work with. Check them out if you’re ever in Moses Lake, WA.
Arrowquip has been great to work with as well. The chute looks and operates very nicely. I have never had or used one before, but this one has so many cool features, I am glad I bought it.
I set it up right by the pen where we keep our yearling bull, soon to be steer. We have some tarps setup around his pen to keep him from seeing the other bull in the pasture. I think this greatly reduces the bellowing, especially at night. Having more than one bull can be an adventure, and I don’t recommend it.
Here is Beauford, the circus bull, on his way to becoming the circus steer:
I setup the chute and put a bucket with a little scoop of grain inside, as well as some apple slices. I came back a few hours later and he had eat them, so I put a few more apple slices in and he walked right in. I clamped him down and gave him a tetanus shot. Much easier than I expected. Next step, call the vet and schedule the second step.
We bought a new bull on Saturday – Cascades Contender. What a great bull! We drove down to Sandy, Oregon and picked him up from Cascade Meadows. Kirk and Jason are great and do wonderful things for the Dexter world! They had him haltered and waiting when we drove up and they led him into the trailer. I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.
What a good looking bull. He’s very compact and will allow us to breed more compact cows and beef. He’s 39″ at the hips.
Scheduling a beef for butcher is a tough one. We’re working through the process for the second time now, for our own beef. The scheduling part is something you have to know months in advance. If you had an emergency and needed to get an animal in “right away”, I don’t know if that’s possible. We’re scheduled about 6 months out.
As far as running the business side of things, it will set a requirement to get a good deposit and commitment from customers for a share of the beef. The customer must then budget for the balance of the payment when the beef is ready for pick-up.
In an ideal world, a beef would be slaughtered at the end of the grass growing season. The taste and texture is best when the animal is in the growing phase of the season vs when nutrients are getting less nutritious or less available, in general. The age of the animal is less a factor than what (and how much) it’s eating at the time. All fall slaughter dates are very difficult to get unless scheduled 1 year in advance. The best time to slaughter is September/October as grass growth drops off precipitously in most places.
We’ve been looking for a good used head gate / squeeze chute to help with basic cattle handling tasks without a lot of luck. We needed to take some DNA samples of 3 calves to help with the registration process with the ADCA. This process requires that 30-50 pieces of hair with roots/flesh attached at the base be taken from each calf and send to the farm we bought the cows from so they could get them registered and transferred to us.
While looking around on craigslist yesterday, I noticed that a neighbor had a mobile cattle handling business – Colson Cattle Company. I went over for a visit today and this afternoon they came over and helped us get all of our DNA sampling from the 3 calves done.
It wasn’t even a minor adventure, no injuries or broken equipment — always a good thing. I don’t think the calves are too worse for wear.
Colson Cattle Company has state of the art mobile equipment from Arrowquip that made the process much easier than it could have been without it. If you’re local and need handling help, call them!
We had Mike Erickson’s Mobile Slaughter come out yesterday and slaughter Rusty, our first bull. The slaughter process was very fast and efficient. I honestly can’t see how those businesses make money, with all the travel and equipment maintenance they have.
We got a call from Salmon Creek Meats last night saying he weighed in at 632 lbs, hanging weight! That’s great for a grass-fed Dexter bull. The carcass had lots of fat on it, really good looking. I kept all the scraps for compost, dog food, and kept the head/horns and will clean that up as well as I can.
The slaughter company typically keeps the head, hide, and possibly other parts. If you want to keep any of that, be sure to discuss it before, or at the time of slaughter. It will save you from a misunderstanding. I kept the head/skull from this bull because it was my only horned bull that I will probably ever have and I want to dry and hang it.