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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

What's the Beef on Beef?

In a recent discussion with other Mother Earth News editors, someone asked, 'Don't cattle that go into feedlots spend at least part, probably more than half, their lives on pasture first?' Good question. Since I grew up on a beef farm, I felt qualified to address the question. Our system (more than 20 years ago in North Dakota, though things haven't changed much in those 20 years in many respects) was to raise calves with their mothers on pasture. Here's a general timeline:

By my calculation, that's a little more than 20% of their 2-year lives spent on pasture. That was North Dakota. There's no way you could keep cattle on pasture all year long without supplementing their feed. I'm not defending or condemning that system. (Read to the bottom before you post your response.)

Now I live in Kansas. The growing season is much longer here. Some ranchers do keep their cattle on pasture most of the year. It's a different environment. Most ranchers feed some hay in the toughest winter months though.

'Organic beef' is not necessarily 'pasture raised.' Nor is 'hormone free' necessarily organic or pasture raised. There is a not really a 'standard' system to producing beef in the U.S., although a majority of beef is 'finished' (fed and fattened) in feedlots, which are not all the same.

At this point, you're thinking, 'What's your point, cowboy?' Here it is: Do you really know where your beef comes from? Can you (realistically) know where your beef comes from?

Yes! If you buy beef from a local farmer, you can ask how his/her system works.

Then ask for a tour or if you can drive by the pasture.

Ask those same questions of the people behind the meat counter at your local supermarket. Then write about the response in the comments section below so we can all have a good laugh.