Raising Pasture Grazed grassfed beef from conception to table is not an easy task.  We may have four different animal classes in our herd at any one time.  But it all starts with the COW, the factory on our farm!

Cow Factory

THE COW FACTORY – here she is milking this year’s calf (far left) while grooming her calf from two years ago. Her two-year old calf on the right will be harvested this fall.

We make our cows work, they must:

  1. Conceive and raise a calf each year
  2. Raise that calf providing milk for 8+ months
    1. Refer to Weaning Weight Post 2015
    2. Weaning at an older age fully develops the calf’s rumen for grass based production.
  3. While milking a calf for 8+ months, she is developing her next calf inside her.
  4. While milking this years calf, she will watch over her previous two calves in a low stress herd environment.
  5. Graze our pastures in nature’s pattern to improve our pastures soil and grasses!

WOW!

We ask a lot from our cows, but they love their job from what we can tell.  They are definitely a factory when you look at all they crank out.  The cows do all the above listed items and all we give them are:

If a cow cannot do all five functions listed above (calf every year while grazing every day) she is removed from the herd.  No slackers allowed.  There are very few cows that can do what we ask of our girls.  We are just trying to mimic how nature works here in our small pastures.  There is a movement underway across this country with more folks farming in natures image.  This movement is called Regenerative Agriculture.  We are not just “sustaining” our natural resources but IMPROVING our soils and grass while creating product!  If you would like to support the Regenerative Agriculture movement,  seek out products from these growers.  Will these products be higher priced?  Most likely yes.  For the higher price you will get a better quality product and your health will thank you for it.

Let’s just say it takes an amazing Factory to deliver a product while at the same time improving its environment to repeat the cycle in the future.  Take another look at what is happening in the photo.  This photo is a great way to display why we are “Animal Welfare Approved” and “Grassfed Certified”.  Farming in nature’s image, trying to work within God’s design (without messing it up too much).

Cow Factory

DS Family Farm – raising beef using God’s design.  Letting Cows be Cows!  The steer on the right will be harvested this fall after living two plus years in the same herd with its mother.  Always on pasture, never confined to a lot, never fed corn or other grains.  Come see and taste the difference.

Unfortunately, our beef is not normal.

Looking at a “normal distribution” of HOW all beef is raised in our country, we are definitely weird!

Normal is for the masses, we like being weird!  No status quo around here.  Actually, if you look at the pattern of nature and IF you consider nature normal, then yes we are normal.  That is why we say, “unfortunately, our beef is not normal”.  We hope in the future that pasture raised beef will be the norm, until then, we choose to be weird.

Fortunately our weird is some folks normal.  We are currently seeing great demand for our beef and are happy to spread the word and connect interested customers with other weird beef producers.

Weird vs Normal beef:

Weird vs Normal Beef

The problem with normal food.

Seth Godin points out that “Normal diets made it easier for mass food manufacturers to generate a profit.”  We have seen the results of the Standard American Diet (standard = normal).  Our society has reached a point where some of the masses are realizing that their diet is directly linked to their overall health and they are seeking out healthy/weird food.

“We are all on a diet, be on a healthy one!” – Dr. Joseph Mercola

Being weird is not easy, as Godin also points out, “Do the hard work – be real.”  For real health, you are going to have to do some work!  Raising REAL BEEF, in natures image requires some hard work and commitment.  Give us a call and come see some Weird Beef.  As Dave always says:

“Be Weird!” – Dave Ramsey

(If you have comments, please leave a message on the DS Family Farm FaceBook Page.)

Viewer discretion advised, cow pies ahead!

Healthy looking cow pie in a recently grazed paddock.

Healthy looking cow pie!  Early April on a grazed paddock (stockpile forage and hay).

We all know cows communicate by mooing.  Cows also communicate through their “back-end”.  Note the caption under the cow pie photo above.  A “healthy looking” cow pie means the cows are healthy!  We, I mean Doug, spends a lot of time looking down (at cow pies).  A cow pie will tell you how the cows are doing nutritionally.

Want to learn more about how to “read” a cow pie?

Here are two posts from The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation (Oklahoma):

Let’s talk quantity

A cow will poop and pee around 4 times every 24 hours.  The cow consumes about 3% of her body weight in grass every day.  Remember a cow cannot digest grass.  That’s around 30 pounds (every day) a cow grazes to feed the microbes living in her special stomach (called the rumen).  The trillions of microbes inside of her convert grass into nutrients she can use.  It is her job to manage the microbes in her rumen by selecting the best possible diet.  It is our job to give her the right size paddock to be able to select the right balance of forages for those little critters inside of her.  In the end or should I say OUT the END we gain lots of manure (about 80% what goes in comes out!).  Manure is fine when grazing on pasture, not so good for feedlots you drive by with cattle standing around in mud or on dirt.

Nice manure distribution and trampling of stockpiled forage.

Nice manure distribution.  About 25 lbs of Nitrogen per acre.

After taking the photo above I marked out a 2000 square foot area and counted about 70 PIES.  That comes to about one pie every 30 square feet.  A quick estimate = 1,110 pounds of manure per acre!

Let’s talk quality (nutrient value)

Did you know you can have manure tested?  If you are interested in the process, visit the folks at Texas A&M University.  The Grazing Animal Nutrition Lab has the corner on the manure testing market with their Nutritional Balance Analyzer (NUTBAL) system (NUTBAL Facebook page).  Basically you take a scoop or two from a number of pies, put it in a plastic bag, freeze it and send it to the GANLAB.  At the lab, they slip some manure under a near infrared analysis machine and compare it to a database of known results.  Using the information they estimate the herds future condition based on a current cow pie test.  Based on the results, the herds diet can be adjusted to meet a limiting need such as energy or protein.  Let’s just say, sometimes the results don’t quite match what we see in our visual cow pie testing.  We are a little bit out of the norm for the database being used.

Collecting a sample for analysis.

Collecting a sample for analysis.

Total Output

Using the actual manure test results we find reported Nitrogen and Phosphorus values.  Running averages on our herd size and also checking against UN-L book values for feedlot manure, following are some estimates for our herd:

  • Cow herd was leaving behind ~1100 lbs. of manure per acre
    • (Refer to the distribution photo above)
  • Nutrient Value of Manure:
    • 15-20 lbs. of Nitrogen per acre
    • 2 to 4 lbs. of Phosphorus per acre
      • Note our Phosphorus value is low compared to UN-L book values
  • Urine Nitrogen (N consumed – N found in Manure – N in new animal growth)
    • 10-15 lbs of Nitrogen per acre
    • It takes 0.04 lbs of Nitrogen for 1 lbs of animal growth

Our overall estimate for Nitrogen per acre = 25 lbs based on our herd management and manure distribution.  Reading UN-L information, up to 25% of feed lot manure will be lost to the atmosphere depending on temperature and moisture.  For our pasture situation, we think our loss would be lower.

Summary

This post was mainly for Doug’s reference.  Thank you to the folks at the GANLAB for their guidance in running some of my calculations.  Feel free to scrutinize the estimates here and we will adjust this post as more information becomes available.  Our estimates are based on a specific herd size at a specific time and place using field and lab information.  To make some rough calculations for any herd size I would start with the following values:

For each 1000 lbs of animals in the herd:

  • 0.25 lbs of Nitrogen per day output
  • Subtract 0.04 lbs of Nitrogen for every pound of new animal growth per day
    • Consider a feed test to check total Nitrogen going into the herd/animal
    • Crude protein lbs intake / 6.25 = Nitrogen intake
  • Consider a percent loss to atmosphere
  • What is the distribution?
    • If manure is piling up in a lot, under a tree or next to a water source, we are not recycling nutrients properly.
    • We should always be looking at ways to improve animal impact.

Our son Jacob graduated from High School this past weekend.  Congratulations Jacob!

Chickens started our “pasture grazed meat” business and Jacob has been the “pasture poultry” guy.  Raising chickens on grass requires a shelter.  Shelters provide protection from weather and predators.  We call the shelters “chicken tractors”.  There are many kinds of chicken tractors.  All chicken tractors have one thing in common, they must move to fresh grass daily.  Jacob has been our main chicken tractor puller!

Jacob our Chicken Tractor Puller, then and now and soon to be on to other things.

Jacob our Chicken Tractor Puller, then, now and soon to be on to other things.

Soon Jacob will be on to College but the tractor pulling will continue.  The old saying is that many things taste like chicken, but you haven’t tasted REAL chicken until you have tried a pastured chicken.  The ONLY way to get a chicken that has had the opportunity to graze is from a local farmer.  Taste the pasture poultry difference:

  • GRASS!
  • SUNSHINE!
  • Non-GMO grains.
  • No antibiotics.

All possible due to the power of the chicken tractor puller!

Never saw a chicken eat grass?  Check out the video at the end of the linked post below.

Ever see a chicken eat grass?

 

Warning, poop photos!

One of the many benefits of having the herd always on the move is manure distribution.  A cow herd in a tight group, on the move, will evenly distribute nutrients (poop) throughout a pasture.  In season long grazed pastures (cows left in a pasture for weeks at a time), nutrients will not be evenly distributed.  Manure will accumulate near water tanks and shade.  These ‘loafing areas’ will have high nutrient and pest loads that result in health and water quality problems.  In our “herd on the move” system, cow pies don’t pile up in a few locations.  We mimic natures pattern of herds grazing, trampling and pooping and then moving on.  Where in nature do you find animals standing around for days in their own poop and pee?

Nice manure distribution and trampling of stockpiled forage.

Nice manure distribution and trampling of stockpiled forage.  (~one pile about every 30 sq. ft.)

This early April photo shows excellent ground cover and manure distribution.  The herd has grazed and trampled the standing stockpiled grass, left their “calling card” and moved on.  Left over grass flat against the ground with a dose of manure and pee wakes up soil microbes.  Soil microbes and other critters will do their magic to create a new lush prairie.  What a wonderful cycle.  While the herd consumes their current harvest of grass, they set the stage for a future harvest!  How can man improve on this system?  Unfortunately man in many cases has complicated this process.

“The cattle business is a simple business; the hard part is keeping it simple.” Tom Lasater, Colorado rancher.

Not all paddocks will have the excellent manure distribution shown in the photo above, but many do.  I did a quick count of piles in the area shown above.  With some math we estimate about 1,450 piles per acre!  Prior to our herd arriving on the farm in 2011, the pastures were nutrient starved, remember we need the poop!

Warning, close up photos!

So why did I call these cow pies, calling cards?  Have you herd of dung beetles?  Unfortunately I do not have a photo of a true dung beetle, but below you can see what kind of activity these “calling cards” result in.

Fresh calling card, less than one-half hour old, has attracted lots of activity.

Fresh calling card, less than one-half hour old, has attracted lots of activity.  Note the numerous holes.  Beetle at yellow arrow.

Sphaeridium Beetle

Sphaeridium Beetle, not a true dung beetle, is starting the process of breaking up the pile (holes).

An old dried out cow pie doesn’t do much good.  Old cow pies will actually smoother out grass causing “dead” patches in a pasture.  By keeping the herd tight, many piles are physically broken up as the herd moves around.  Critters like this little beetle are an important step in decomposition.  This little beetle is a sub-aquatic critter that can fly along with the herd.  What an amazing cycle, critters that live predominately in a moist environment are able to travel far up the landscape to dry hill tops or wherever they find the cows “calling card”.

We are thankful for the patterns established in nature by our Creator.  We are happy to help orchestrate the natural process in our pasture.  Please give us a call if you would like to visit the pastures and see the herd in “mooootion”.