Raising Grass-Fed Beef

If you keep cattle, you can save a lot of money by raising grass-fed beef.

| May/June 1980

  • 063 grass fed beef - pasture
    Properly pastured, raising grass-fed beef cattle can yield you more meat — up to 200 pounds more, with less fat and at less cost than commercial grain-fed beef.
    PHOTO: HELEN MOLITOR
  • 063 grass fed beef - two panels
    LEFT: Your livestock can show a steady one-pound-a-day weight increase during their first winter if you feed them the right amount of good-quality hay. RIGHT: Test a sample of your cattle's hay by poking into a bale and pulling out a random wisp. Make sure it's dry, crispy, light green, and won't snap when bent.
    HELEN MOLITOR

  • 063 grass fed beef - pasture
  • 063 grass fed beef - two panels

Every year, North Americans waste more than 18 million tons of protein by feeding livestock on grain. A steer, you see, must eat 21 pounds of grain protein in order to produce one pound of beef protein . . . so 20 pounds of the valuable nutrient is lost in the process.

It is commonly assumed, of course, that grain-fed beef is the world's best . . . and if you've ever wrestled with a chunk of elderly range cow, you may agree. However, the "fossil" you tasted then wasn't typical of real grass-fed beef, because such meat can be as tender as any touted commercial cut . . . and much tastier, as well.

So if your land produces hay — or if your climate is such that you can keep cattle on pasture for a good part of the year — you can save money by growing your own feed and raising grass-fed beef. Furthermore, even if you have to buy your supply of hay, you'll find such feed to be much less expensive than grain and a better nutritional buy than most folks realize: Average-to-good hay is more than half digestible nutrients, while grains—despite their high prices—are only about 80% digestible.

Production-Line Cattle

When you consider all the advantages of grass-feeding, you'd think there'd be more livestock raised in such a manner . . . but beef is big business, and commercial cattle operations are huge and streamlined. Young steers are weaned early and sent to large feedlots to fatten quickly on grain. Some such "cow factories" hold more than 10,000 animals, yet they don't require much area, as compared to the amount of land needed by even a modest number of grazing cattle. Thus, the feedlot owner's investment and taxes are lower than those of a farmer who pastures his or her beasts.



Then, too, when nobody pays much attention to individual animals (as is the case in feedlots), a grain diet produces a more uniform meat product . . . especially when it's backed by hormone shots to increase the beasts' appetites. Consequently, enormous feedlots supply the gigantic packing plants, and the assembly-line steaks just keep moving right along.

But families who raise their own beef don't need such super-efficiency, and they can use the extra 200 to 300 pounds of meat usually found on an animal that's fleshed out naturally . . . particularly when that extra weight is meat, as opposed to feedlot fat.

rdlyon
8/12/2018 9:26:12 PM

After years of studying sustainability (both formally and informally), don't understand how pasturing cows can be sustainable. A feed lot may waste 20 out of every 21/lb (I have read 8-10 lb. of grain/pound of beef in other sources) but that is actually pretty efficient for beef production. If you are clearing 5 acres of prime land per animal or as much as 30-50 acres/head in dry climates, that is a massive ecological footprint for each pound of food. If you run the numbers for current population against the land, water and time needed to produce grass fed beef it just doesn't even come close to adding up. It's true that humans evolved as omnivores and hunter gatherers were able able to make this sustainable but we don't live or eat like hunter gatherers anymore and there are hundreds of times more people living on the same planet now. I'm not trying to get on a soap box, its just that the numbers don't add up for animal agriculture to be practiced as anything more than an novelty food item for the rich and the closer one looks into the issue (soil depletion, erosion, population growth, water scarcity etc.), the more complicated and the less practical it all becomes. Living sustainably will require a lot of lifestyle changes and we could all do better but front and center in living sustainably is removing animals and animal products from our food systems and daily routines and moving towards a wholesome plant based diet. If you own land and don't want to grow veggies yourself or turn it into habitat for wildlife, there are lots of groups who have developed ecologically responsible practices for all different climates and lots of permaculture folks who would probably be happy to share some ideas or even lease the land and get something going. Good luck everyone:)


rdlyon
8/12/2018 7:45:00 PM

After years of studying sustainability (both formally and informally), don't understand how pasturing cows can be sustainable. A feed lot may waste 20 out of every 21/lb (I have read 8-10 lb. of grain/pound of beef in other sources) but that is actually pretty efficient for beef production. If you are clearing 5 acres of prime land per animal or as much as 30-50 acres/head in dry climates, that is a massive ecological footprint for each pound of food. If you run the numbers for current population against the land, water and time needed to produce grass fed beef it just doesn't even come close to adding up. It's true that humans evolved as omnivores and hunter gatherers were able able to make this sustainable but we don't live or eat like hunter gatherers anymore and there are hundreds of times more people living on the same planet now. I'm not trying to get on a soap box, its just that the numbers don't add up for animal agriculture to be practiced as anything more than an novelty food item for the rich and the closer one looks into the issue (soil depletion, erosion, population growth, water scarcity etc.), the more complicated and the less practical it all becomes. Living sustainably will require a lot of lifestyle changes and we could all do better but front and center in living sustainably is removing animals and animal products from our food systems and daily routines and moving towards a wholesome plant based diet. If you own land and don't want to grow veggies yourself or turn it into habitat for wildlife, there are lots of groups who have developed ecologically responsible practices for all different climates and lots of permaculture folks who would probably be happy to share some ideas or even lease the land and get something going. Good luck everyone:)


Semper
3/31/2016 9:36:57 AM

We just started our farm in Texas. It was a mesquite colonized terrain, which we cleaned mechanically. We spread Texas Tough bermuda grass seed and it looks great!. But we need to know what herbicides and fertilizers to use to raise organic, grass fed Brangus cattle. Any advise will be greatly appreciated!






Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters