Raising Grass-Fed Cattle for Better Beef

A return to the old-school way of raising beef cattle can lead to food safety, security, and sustainability.

| December 2017/January 2018

  • Raising grass-fed cattle makes for more healthful beef and happier animals.
    Photo by Robert D. Copeland
  • Sunflower Farms sells its beef through the Farm to Fork storefront.
    Photo by Robert D. Copeland
  • Vicki Schweiss, manager of the Wichita Falls Area Food Share, sells Sunflower Farms beef to the food share's customers.
    Photo by Robert D. Copeland
  • Sunflower Farms also peddles its product at Grapevine Farmers Market.
    Photo by Robert D. Copeland

For most of their species’ existence, cattle grazed on native, organic grasses. But in the past century, humans have introduced massive amounts of grain into cattle’s diets to fatten them up quicker, sell them at an earlier age, and mass-produce their beef. Fortunately, a few of us have enough grassland for cattle to graze on, which allows us to offer grass-fed beef. And just recently, I decided to go for it.

Last year, Mike Nihsen, of Nihsen Family Farms, had 30 head of cows and calves he had to move overnight, so we struck a deal to graze the cattle on my land, and I would be in on a few head. Along with my sister Cynthia and her spouse, Virginia, I bought a few more bull calves to go with the herd after Mike moved the cows and calves, and we were in business.

The calves came in weighing 300 to 400 pounds each, and wasted no time grazing my stockpile of rye and other grasses. In the first month, they gained at least 65 to 75 pounds per head. I planned to keep them pastured all year, rotate them on six sections of grass pasture, and then finish them up in spring on fresh native grasses.

Statistically, black cattle bring the highest prices at the sale barn because they yield better at the slaughterhouse. And even though their genetics perfected them for gaining at the feedlot, Black Angus steers can gain 2 to 3 pounds per day on grass pastures in spring and summer, and in two years’ time, can weigh between 1,000 and 1,300 pounds. Other breeds are better-suited for feeding and finishing on grass, but for now, we’re mostly sticking with the old-school Black Angus, which is what Mike had in his herd, as well as a huge Black Angus bull.

We recently had a cull cow butchered at a local government-inspected processor, Hamilton Wholesale Meats in Weatherford, Texas, which made about 450 pounds of ground beef and stew meat, and 30 pounds of tenderized cutlets. We sold most of it to friends, family, a local restaurant, and a food co-op, and also sold some at a farmers market in Grapevine, Texas. I contacted the food co-op to let them know we had 100 pounds of ground beef from grass-fed cattle, and the manager said she’d see how much she could sell. Well, she posted it to their Facebook page that evening and it was all gone in three hours.

The demand is there, so we’ve decided to sell all our beef direct. On Earth Day, we set up a booth at the Grapevine Farmers Market and sold directly to the people of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. We’ve been there every Saturday since, because we’re swamped by folks seeking to buy clean, quality grass-fed beef straight off the farm.

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