We are really excited about the post below.  I recently had the opportunity to meet Daniel and Allyson of Lovegrass Beef.  Daniel has a passion for prairies!  Enjoy Daniel’s guest post:


Prairie Gains

By Daniel Frank – Lovegrass Beef

With spring finally here, and plants just beginning to green up, it’s time to get geared up for prescribed burning season.  March 19th to 27th was the seventh annual Training Exchange (TREX) at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, near Johnstown, Nebraska. This is a chance for people around the United States and beyond to knock the rust off, and get back in the burning game. People come to learn, to teach, to get more experience, and also just to help the Preserve burn the acres they have planned.

Maybe I should start by talking about the benefits of prescribed burning. Controlled burns help suppress unwanted woody plants, such as eastern red cedar. They help reduce excess plant buildup in areas that weren’t grazed or hayed, allowing new growth to catch sunlight and flourish. If timed correctly, prescribed fire can also help suppress exotic species like Kentucky bluegrass and Smooth brome. Prairie ecosystems around the world evolved with the presence of fire, and with responsible prescribed burning we can maintain healthy ecosystems that can support a wide variety of life.

This was my second time attending TREX, and like the first year, I had a blast. I learned from the people around me, and I was able to use the knowledge I’d gained from the first year.

test prescribed fire

The test fire is lit, conditions look good, and the firing progresses.

I am a big proponent of prescribed burning. I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of putting controlled fire on the ground. My major goal is to maintain a healthy, native, diverse prairie ecosystem. Fire is not the only major force that acts to shape our grassland ecosystems. There are three main forces that shape prairies: fire, grazing, and drought. We have little control over the moisture we receive year to year, so we can focus our management on the other two forces.

The Great Plains evolved with the presence of bison. They would move around the country grazing grasses and some forbs, being pushed by the weather, the quantity of forages, and the time of year. Though bison are not a dominant presence anymore, cattle are a pretty good substitute. With proper management, they are an excellent tool to manage the land. Without grazing, pastures can become overgrown, and some species can be choked out. When cattle graze some areas more than others, plant species respond and their composition changes. This is how rangeland becomes a mosaic of plant communities.

Purple coneflower

Echinacea angustifolia, Purple coneflower. Photo by Allyson Dather.

This brings me to raising cattle on grass. I sell grassfed beef because I believe that ruminant animals which evolved to eat grasses and forbs, should be able to eat that diet exclusively. I am trying to reduce the inputs required to raise market animals. At the same time, the cattle raised on grass are leaner, and are healthier for people to consume. As I already mentioned, grazing is necessary to maintain a healthy prairie. Using cattle as management tools while simultaneously producing a healthy, delicious type of meat is a win-win.

My partner, Allyson Dather, and I started selling grassfed beef under the name Lovegrass Beef in 2015. Sometimes we laugh about how cheesy the name sounds, but it was picked for a couple reasons. Here in the Sandhills we have a lot of Sand Lovegrass (Eragrostis trichodes), and Purple Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis). These are native warm season grasses with showy seedheads, and the presence of Sand Lovegrass can be indicative of good range management. The other reason we picked the name is because since our cattle are grassfed, they sure ought to love grass!

Cattle grazing Nebraska Sandhills

Cattle grazing native rangeland in late summer/early fall 2013. Photo by Allyson Dather.

Here at our ranch, we are starting to move our operation to becoming more environmentally aware. We have applied for cost-share programs to plant cropland back to rangeland. Hopefully in a few years we can sell the center-pivot irrigation systems after the native plants have a solid foothold. We will be using these pastures to graze cattle during the summer mostly. I’m hoping to be able to create a burn plan for our ranch, where we can defer grazing of certain pastures, and use fire to hold back any invasive plants. We have a 70 acre burn planned for this spring, where we will be putting fire on our land for the first time in probably 100 years. I’m excited to watch the burn in action, and very excited to see the results. 


Thanks Daniel!  “Lovegrass Beef”, I laughed also the first time I saw that name, awesome!  If you would like to comment or connect with Daniel and Allyson, please visit their Facebook page!

Folks have commented that they really like how our ground beef fries up in the pan with little “grease”.  A friend said, “yeah, love grassfed beef, but still think it tastes a little ‘gamey’.”  I asked, “‘Gamey’ or ‘Beefy’ flavor?”   After a moment he said, “Ahhh, maybe that IS how beef should taste.”  Your taste buds aren’t confused, they probably don’t know any better, let me explain…

If you have spent anytime on our website, you know we refer to our beef as Pasture Grazed rather than grassfed because our cattle consume more than just grass.  Take a look at a list of known plants growing in our pasture:

Complext flavor of beef

“complex pastures create complex flavor in meat” – Grazing guru Jim Gerrish.

In addition to the flavor from our pasture, in earlier posts we discussed the following factors that play into the flavor/taste of our Pasture Grazed Beef:

  • TIME – overall flavor comes with animal maturity.
    • Our beef is harvested after 24 months of age.
    • The last 60-90 days of feed probably influences flavor the most.
  • FATS – Lynne Curry in her book Pure Beef notes:
    • “omega-3 level is one of the reasons grassfed beef has a more intense taste than grainfed beef”
    • Remember our beef is high in those good Omega 3 Fats!
    • Phospholipids fat, the fat we cannot see, stores the flavor.
    • The triglyceride fat we can see will be a hard creamy white to a tint of yellowing.
  • DRY AGING – Lynne Curry has this to say:
    • “It’s all a matter of taste, but many people find dry aging critical to giving the muscles their due time to dry and contract, concentrating the flavors, and letting the calpain enzymes do their tenderizing work.”
    • Our beef is allowed to dry age at least 14 days.
    • Since our beef is vacuum packed, consider letting it thaw in your fridge for an additional “wet age” period.
  • COMPLEX Pastures = primary and secondary plant metabolites
    • In this past post we encouraged you to “eat the rainbow” for your health.
    • Our cattle can transfer to us the part of the rainbow that we cannot eat first hand.

Now let’s take a look at the feed source for typical conventional beef:

Feedlot beef rations

Simple rations result in simple flavors in meat.

Look at the above feed for the last few months of feedlot beef.  Pickup some conventional hamburger at the grocery store.  Now look at the above list again, these are the primary ingredients that make up the store-bought hamburger.

  • Pickup up any other prepared food product in the grocery store.
    • Corn, corn, soybean and more of the same.
    • Aren’t you tired of eating corn for three meals a day?
    • Consider eating beef with real “beefy” flavor.
  • In addition to the simple feeds, feedlot beef are harvested much younger and don’t have the time to acquire “flavor”.
  • Dry aging, due to the time and locker space involved, is not practiced for conventional beef.  It is “wet aged” in a package waiting for purchase at the store.
  • Finally, when you add grain to the diet, the beef rumen bacteria populations switches over to “proteolytic”.
    • The good omega 3 fat disappears, along with the conjugated linoleic acid.
    • The fat turns from a hard milky white marble to a clear greasy fat.

So enjoy some “beefy” pasture based beef!  Just as folks like trying different wineries for the different flavors from each vineyard, we encourage you to try different pasture farm beef!  The different makeup of each farms pasture will give a unique flavor to the beef you find there.

pasture grazed beef

Late summer 2015 grazing, 24+ month old steer (mature flavor) on left. Not just grass-fed our herd is pasture grazed.  The cow in the right image literally ran past the rest of the herd to get to this patch of showy partridge pea when turned into this new paddock.  What was she seeking?  A specific nutrient, mineral or flavor?  Maybe she just likes the pretty flowers in our pasture?

 

With fall approaching, will share some recent photos from our farm.

Through the summer we noticed a few Monarch butterflies.  Our pasture contain a nice stand of milkweed which Monarchs need to complete their life cycle.  Just this past week the number of monarchs have increased.  They are preparing for migration?

purplecone flower monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly on purplecone flowers (Echinacea purpurea). Actually a photo from early August.

prairie restoration new england aster

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), this is in an area seeded to a prairie restoration.

dotted gayfeather

Gayfeather, maybe dotted (Liatris punctata)?

Sagewort (Artemisia frigida) white plant and Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota).  Brown burs are on the wild licorice.

Sagewort (Artemisia frigida) white plant and Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota). Brown burs are on the wild licorice.

roundhade lespedeza

Roundhead lespedeza (Lespedeza capitata). Not much color but our cows will nip the flowers off.

Goldenrod

Since we are in Nebraska, here is our State Flower – Goldenrod (Solidago).

stiff goldenrod

Another goldenrod, stiff or rigid (Oligoneuron rigidum). These flowers were covered with mating lightning bugs.

easternti ger swalowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, a dark female. We did see some males earlier in the summer.

We hope you enjoyed these photos displaying different colors from our pasture.

Feel free to stop by if you would like to stroll the grasslands.

Now that summer has arrived and in celebration of pollinator month, we would like to share with you photos of spring flowers 2014.  This is a sample of some flowers we came across in our pastures this spring.  Feel free to drop us a note if you would like to stop by for a walk through the pastures in search of native flowers, grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees.  We manage cattle grazing to allow for as much diversity as possible.  Some of the flowers you see below were trampled, stomped and grazed by our herd over the past few weeks.  Some flowers have been safe behind our portable fences and allowed to produce more flowers for the future.  Cows prefer a diverse diet just like we do, they eat more than just grass, that is why we call them “pasture grazed” and not just “grass-fed”.

Tap a photo for larger view:

Prairie Violet (Viola pedatifida)

April 22, first flower noted of the year, some kind of Violet. Prairie Violet (Viola pedatifida) but since leaves are not dissected, this might be Downy blue violet (Viola sororia, perennial) or wild pansy (viola bicolor, annual).

Plainleaf Pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii)

May 3, Plainleaf Pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii). Kind of drab white but at this time of year we are anxious for any kind of flowers.

Narrowleaf Puccoon (Lithospermum incisum)

May 6 – Narrowleaf Puccoon (Lithospermum incisum). Edge of the flower is “crinkled” rather than smooth.

Ground Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus)

May 9, Ground Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus). Do an internet image search of this plant to check out the interesting “plum” seed pod that is formed.

White-eyed grass or Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre)

May 10, White-eyed grass or Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre). Not a grass, an iris.

Plains Wild Indigo (Baptisia bracteata)

May 11, Plains Wild Indigo (Baptisia bracteata). Our cows will not graze this plant any time of year. Note in the photo, on ground below the foliage you can see the dead leaves from the previous year growth. I am sure the pollinators appreciate this plant at this time of the year.

Narrowleaf Puccon cattle grazing in background

May 11, another angle of Narrowleaf Puccoon showing the “trumpet” like flowers. This plant is safe from grazing, there is a portable fence between the flower and the cattle in background.

Prairie Ragwort (Packera plattensis)

May 11, Prairie Ragwort (Packera plattensis).

Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea)

May 28, Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea). Not a flower but a native cool season grass found in our prairie. When the seed heads become mature and dry you can watch the awns expand and twist the seed head (self planting) by placing the seed heads on a wet paper towel.

Sulfur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta)

June 9, Sulfur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta). A non-native plant but does not seem to cause a problem in our prairie at this time.

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

June 9, Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Is this a weed? If pollinators utilize it we don’t mind. Diversity is important to us.

Pale Dogwood (Cornus amomum)

June 9, Pale Dogwood (Cornus amomum), a shrub. Our cattle will browse the leaves from this shrub most of the year. We do shred some of the larger patches but leave plenty of growth for our cattle to graze and rub on. Quail and other wildlife readily utilize this plant also.

Yellow Sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis)

June 9, Yellow Sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis). This is an early growing biennial plant our cattle enjoy. It was used as a manure crop when this area was first cropped in the early 1900s. When we see this plant we think “free nitrogen”, it is a prolific legume.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

June 9, Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). Another introduced legume but this one is an annual. Legumes are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil while operating at field temperature. This occurs through a symbiotic process with soil bacteria.

Prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha)

June 9, Prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha). Again, not a flower but a showy grass. After flowering the seed head becomes compact and will stand upright well into winter.

 

Daisy or Rough Fleabane (Erigeron annuus)

June 9, Daisy or Rough Fleabane (Erigeron annuus). Though small, this flower will always catch your eye.

Plains Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum)

June 15, Plains Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum). These flowers receive night-flying moth pollinators.

Wooly Verbena (Verbena stricta)

June 19, Wooly Verbena (Verbena stricta). We, along with the pollinators, will enjoy this purple flower from June to September.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

June 25, Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Our cattle love this plant almost as much as the Monarch butterfly. Our cows will readily eat the leaves from this plant any time of the year. We leave plants ungrazed for seed production and butterfly use.

Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)

June 27, Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota). This is almost a woody plant, note the spiney seed pods on the right side of photo. Our cows love this plant and this plant loves our cattle.

Blackeyed-Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

June 27, Blackeyed-Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Here is another eye catching flower in our prairie.

Thanks to my co-workers at NRCS, Ritch and Shaun for their help with plant identification.  Hope you have enjoyed these photos.  If you think we have misidentified a plant or have any other comments, please share your thoughts.

Native pollinators need a constant food supply throughout the growing season.  Various plant species take their turn to offer pollinators needed flowers.  Below we highlight three flowers that we are currently enjoying in our pasture.

Driving by a prairie you would easily notice the maximilian sunflowers, but would you see the butterfly?

sunflower

Take a walk among the tall grass and forbs and this time of year you can find the small white flower of heath aster.

asterflower

A new find this year in our pasture is prairie gentian.  Wondering how I missed this showy purple flower in past years?

Prairie_Gentian_plant

Prairie Gentian Flower

Could it be that the reintroduction of grazing, hoof action and disturbance has stimulated the seed to sprout?  Or possibly the result of the drought we experienced in 2012?  Probably a result of multiple factors that we don’t understand, but none the less, beautiful to look at and the cows thought they tasted great.  Not to worry, we left patches of these flowers ungrazed so they could go to seed for future enjoyment.

These photos are ok for an armature like myself.  If you have not taken the time to view Chris Helzer’s Prairie Ecologist blog, you are missing out on world-class photos related to prairies’!  Take the opportunity to check out his close up photos of insects, flowers and all things prairies’.