Earlier this year we had a number of posts about health topics and the importance of animal fats as part of a healthy diet.  Feel free to browse back to our JanuaryFebruary March April & May blog posts.  Fat Is Back in the news (good animal fats as part of your diet) in many places.  We came across a blog post from the Farm Progress – Beef Producer site from December 4, 2014, that sums up much of what we see in the news and  what we wrote about earlier this year.  Here is the link to a great blog post by R. P. Cooke on the Farm Progress – Beef Producer site titled “Lean May Be Queen But Fat Is Where It’s At“:

Here at D S Family Farm we specialize in growing the type of beef animal Cooke describes towards the end of his blog post:

“The answer to the dilemma is fairly simple if you are interested in being sharp, having energy, being healthy and losing your spare-tire waist line. On a daily basis eat at least six to 10 ounces of fatty beef from an animal that spent months and months on well mineralized fresh grass that was mostly tall and green. This animal needs to have received only a trace of seeds (grain).

The highest quality will normally come from a somewhat early maturing, easy fattening 24- to 40-month-old steer or heifer that has never failed to gain weight daily and had only a little wrinkle of hide over its brisket when it is harvested in the late summer or early fall.

Use this beef fat in most everything you cook.”

In this July 2014 blog post we announced the one year count down to having our first animals ready, to ship our first beef.  Maybe we were a little on the anxious side, 24 months might be a little early.  None the less we should be close to having some grass fed fat beef late summer 2015!

Feel free to share your thoughts about “DOC”s post or contact us to stop by and see how the steers are progressing.

In earlier posts we have mentioned cattle grazing stockpiled grass.  To explain, “stockpiled” grass is portions of pasture lands that were left un-grazed during the growing season for the specific purpose of grazing those areas during the non-growing season.  We are now well into the non-growing season, no new grass growing around here this time of the year.  During the growing season, we have more grass growing than what the herd can consume.  This is a good thing, because we need that extra grass this time of the year when nothing is growing.  It is a balancing act.  If we had enough cattle to graze all the grass grown during the growing season, we would not have any stockpiled grass to graze during the non-growing season.  The proper way to decide the number of cattle to run on a pasture in our part of the world is to determine how many cows you can graze during the non-growing season.  That is, if you don’t want to feed hay.

In another earlier post we explained that we do make hay and we do feed some hay.  The hay continues to act as insurance for when a natural event prevents our cattle from being able to graze (very deep snow & ice, fire, hail etc.).  The main purpose of hay in our operation is to feed a small amount of quality hay as a diet supplement.  Just a little quality hay (2 pounds per day) can keep a cows digestive system functioning properly while she consumes large amounts of low quality stockpiled grass (20+ pounds per day).  It is a lot less work to let the cows harvest the stockpiled grass than to cut it for hay and feed it back to cows.  In addition, cows rather graze than eat hay.

Note cattle in tall brown stockpiled grass.  Area not grazed during the growing season saved for this time of year.

Note cattle in tall brown stockpiled grass. Area not grazed during the growing season saved for this time of year.

stockpiled grass

Cattle love to graze year around. Notice the mouth full of stockpiled grass.

green grass in non-growing season

Cattle are finding some green grass in our “stockpile” during the non-growing season.

The tall brown grass that is taller than the back of our cows in the photos above is native grasses such as big bluestem and indian grass.  Some of our pasture will have this tallgrass through next spring.  It provides excellent cover for wildlife and will catch any blowing snow we get this winter.  If the tall grass is still standing next growing season it will shade out new grass trying to grow.  Our goal over the non-growing season is to graze and stomp the tall stuff down.  Cattle are not able to digest the hardest tall stems and we don’t want to force them to eat it.  By keeping their paddocks small, they are able to graze the good to medium quality stockpiled grass and stomp the bad stuff to the ground.  Once the tough stuff is on the ground, our soil livestock (microbes, worms etc) will grind up the carbon into new soil organic matter.  New soil organic matter will help grow more and hopefully better grass next year.  It is a wonderful cycle to watch but hard to see at a glance.

After grazing through and area we want most of the ungrazed stuff stomped to the ground.  Soil livestock will consume what the cattle do not eat.  Soil microbes will turn this brown carbon into soil organic matter.

After grazing through and area we want most of the ungrazed stuff stomped to the ground. Soil livestock will consume what the cattle do not eat. Soil microbes will turn this brown carbon into soil organic matter.

 

mkaing soil organic matter

Left side of photo, cattle in fresh stockpiled grass. Right side of photo grazed, stomped and manured stockpiled grass ready for soil livestock (microbes, earthworms etc) to graze and create new soil organic matter.

With this type of year around grazing the overall quality of our pasture grass is improving. The next step is to build a herd of cattle that is adapted to our climate and pasture. At some point in the future we may be able to eliminate feeding hay as a diet supplement (our long-term goal).

Last April and May we posted some photos of our spring born calves.  Here we share some recent photos of some cow calf pairs.  The calves are looking healthy after a summer of grass and cow milk.

Cow with heifer calf.

Cow with heifer calf.

Cow with bull calf.

Cow with bull calf.

As always, you are welcome to contact us for a farm visit any time of the year.  We always have the herd on the move trying to mimic the natural effect of short term intense grazing followed by long term rest.  The system that was in place when buffalo (bison) roamed this area and created some of the deepest most productive soils in the world.

Well it’s not quite fall yet, but our second batch of pasture poultry for the year went to grass this week.  We start the day old chicks in a chicken coop to control the temperature and keep them dry.  After three weeks they have good feather growth to withstand temperature swings and dampness from the elements.  By no means are they exposed completely to the outdoors.  A “chicken tractor” provides shelter and protection.  Plenty of fresh grass and fresh air without the worry of predators or weather.

 

Three week old broilers in their "chicken tractor" ready to move to fresh grass daily.

Three week old broilers in their “chicken tractor” ready to move to fresh grass daily.

Contact us if you would be interested in trying a chicken.  The taste is unlike anything you will find in a store.  Why?  Very few chickens grown in the USA and sold in stores actually have access to grass at any point in their life.  Grass is not required to keep a chicken alive, but when given the opportunity a chicken will readily consume grass as part of a normal healthy diet.

Feel free to stop by to see what we are talking about.

This 2011 photo was taken shortly after our herd of 10 heifers and a bull showed up on our farm.  Three years seems like a long time but in the process of turning a startup beef herd into a product you can ship to consumers, well we still have a year to go!

starting a beef herd

July 12, 2011 shortly after we started pasture grazing our herd of beef.

Prior to the herd arrival there was about six years of on and off work to prepare the farm.  Pulling old fence, cutting unwanted trees and building new fence.  Reading, attending grazing conferences, research, meeting folks and networking with people willing to give us help and advice along the way.

That is correct, four years to manufacture our first product, we hope.  Fortunately, this has been somewhat of a labor of love for us.  One good friend told us early on that to take on something like this almost requires a “calling”.  Is this our “calling”?  We are not exactly sure but God has not closed the door on this adventure yet.  Three years (1095 days) may seem like a long time when building a widget, but when working with nature this has only been 3 growing “seasons”.

Setting your clock to work on natures time is totally different from the American 8 hour day.  Feel free to contact us if you would like to visit a working grass farm and enjoy some time away from the day and take in our current season.  Three years and counting…