Cattle are key to a healthy ecosystem, that is if we manage cattle in natures image.  Nature provides examples of how herds such as the bison of North America or the buffalo and wildebeest of Africa work as keystone species.  An important feature of these large animals is their ability to eat grass.  Much of the grass they eat, comes right back out the back end (POOP) as high quality nutrients that feed soil life and creates new grass.  The process is very simple and efficient.  The hard thing for us humans is to keep it simple.

In elementary school I remember when any type of nutrient cycle (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus) was shown as a graphic, the COW was the central or a key part of the process.

nitrogen cycle

The nitrogen cycle, note the cow! As an aside, legumes in our pasture “fix” atmospheric N for free. Industrial fixation of N requires 300 atmospheres of pressure and 1000 degrees F of heat!

Maybe you have heard the bad rap cows have received in the global warming/climate change discussions.  Basically that cows are adding to much methane (green house gas) to our atmosphere.  Here are a few things to think about:

  • Our current cow herd size in the U.S. is about 10 million fewer animals than historic bison herd estimates.  Not even counting the elk, deer and antelope that use to roam our lands.
    • How can fewer animals cause problems today when larger herds of the past built deep rich soils and abundance?
  • Methane from cattle on healthy pastures are quickly mitigated by soil microbes.

I think we can agree that cattle confined to dirt lots eating non-natural diets such as corn will produce more methane than grass based cattle.  So it is not the cattle causing the problem, if anything it is how humans manage the cattle.

Our nutrient cycles are now broken as pointed out in this article from Nature World News “Loss Of Animals’ Poop Disrupts Nutrient Cycles…”.  We need to get animals out of confined feeding areas and back out on the land.  Our lands are starved for the biological active nutrients that could be naturally cycling through large herbivores such as cattle.

Prior to brining cattle to our pastures in 2011, this farm had not had a cow on it for over 30 years.  We have re-established nutrient cycling in our pastures by using cattle in natures image and are starting to see excellent results in the grass we are able to grow!

Want to stay up on the most recent science of how beef can heal our environment?  Check out the Defending Beef FaceBook page.

Image source: UN-L Extension Circular 155.

Have you heard the term “Keystone Species“?  For example, think of the impact the American Bison had on our environment.  Prior to settlement of the central tall grass prairies, most everything relied on the movement of the vast buffalo herds.  Buffalo were a key species.

buffalo

American Bison commonly referred to as buffalo, a keystone species.

The buffalo herds have been gone for more than a hundred years, but the impact they left behind drives Nebraska’s agricultural economy to this day.  We have literally been mining the soil/carbon/organic matter these animals created through their movement years ago.

Here at DS Family Farm we simply try to mimic the pattern nature has shown us through the bison herd movements (and other large herbivore herds around the world).  The only difference is we use cattle, planning and technology.  By following natures example we are rebuilding soil, regenerating prairies and restoring natural cycles within our pastures.

In a series of future posts, we will describe how we try to mimic nature with our Keystone Cows.

keystone species

Without the “keystone” the other stones become misplaced, out of whack or break down.

(Bison photo courtesy of USDA NRCS Photo Gallery)

An update on our 2016 Beef Offering.  Here are a couple of photos of steers that we will be offering in September as custom processed beef.  These steers have just turned two years old and we look for them to gain well, over the rest of the summer.

Two year old DS Family Farm Steer. 100% grassfed and has spent it's entire life in our pasture in the same herd as it's mother.

Two year old DS Family Farm Steer. 100% grassfed and has spent it’s entire life in our pasture in the same herd as it’s mother.

Remember flavor is linked to:

  1. Age – typical grocery store beef is harvested around 16-18 months (bland flavor).
  2. Diet – our pastures contain diverse forages resulting in complex flavors (unlike bland corn only beef).
  3. Dry Aging – custom processed beef will be dry aged, grocery store beef is wet aged.
2016 Pasture Grazed (100% Grassfed) DS Family Farm Steer

2016 Pasture Grazed (100% Grassfed) DS Family Farm Steer. Steer is 2 years old and spent its entire life in our pasture, never in a dirt lot.

The forages consumed during the last sixty days are key to the nutritional make up of harvested beef.  These steers will be harvested directly off green growing forages, not stored forages.  The green growing forages will give the best possible fat profile as demonstrated from our 2015 beef analysis.  The fatty acid profile will be some of the best you can find.

Why don’t our steers look fatter?

We will add some excellent gains over the next two months but grassfed beef will never look “fat” like a feedlot steer:

  • Pasture grazed beef must walk for their food:
    • We don’t burn fossil fuels delivering feed to our cattle.
    • Cattle have legs, they can walk to feed and water.
    • The exercise keeps them fit.
  • Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA):
    • A diet high in green forages = high CLA.
    • CLA is the anti cancer “fat”.
    • High CLA is believed to keep cattle leaner, prevents them from getting fat.

Do you want to be fit, trim and healthy?

Eat an athlete like one of our pasture grazed cattle that have high levels of CLA.  Avoid the couch potatoe feed lot beef found in your grocery store.

Please drop us a note if your interested in trying some of our pasture grazed beef.

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?

 

In the past three posts we took a close look at our Pasture Grazed beef when compared to typical beef.  Thanks to the folks at Mother Earth News, we can see how our beef compares with other grassfed beef from around the country.  We were fortunate enough to have DS Family Farm beef included in the recent Mother Earth News pilot Omega 6 to Omega 3 test study with other grassfed beef farms from around the USA.  It is an honor to be included with the list of grass based farms that participated.  From looking at the list of participating farms I am guessing many of these farms raise grassfed beef similar to our farm.

To clarify, when people ask me about our “Pasture Grazed” beef, my first point is “yes, we are 100% grassfed”.  So what is the difference?  Basically “grassfed” just involves what feed the animal consumes.  In that sense, yes, we are 100% grassfed.  When we say “Pasture Grazed” we mean that our herd spends their entire life on our pasture, never confined to a feed lot.  For more information please refer to our blog post “Pasture Grazed vs Grassfed Beef“.

Our Pasture Grazed beef compared with the Grassfed beef – Omega 6 to 3 Study

Here is the Data Analysis Summary for beef from the Mother Earth News, 1/11/2016, pilot study.

omega fatty acid testing grass fed beef Mother Earth News

Beef Data Analysis Summary, Mother Earth News 1/11/2016.

In the table below I take the pilot grassfed beef values from the table above and compare them against our Pasture Grazed beef findings:

Grassfed beef omega-3 and omega-6 data

Our Pasture Grazed Beef Omega-3 & 6 data versus all grassfed farm averages in the Mother Earth News Pilot Study 1/11/2016.

A few points about the above chart:

  1. We are humbled that our beef expresses 60% higher anti-inflammatory Omega-3s (above average).
  2. We recognize also that our beef has 24% higher of the inflammatory Omega-6s (above average).
    • It is the Omega-6 LA that holds conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), the anti-cancer fatty acid.
    • LA was the primary Omega-6 component of our sample.
    • Since our animals live their entire lives on grass, we estimate ~75% of our Omega-6 LA is CLA.
    • Potentially our sample was above average for CLA, but that is only a guess based on research data.
  3. Again we are humbled that our beef expresses a better Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio (above average).
We went into great detail on the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, the O-6 to O-3 ratio and estimating CLA in our previous three blog posts.  We put together a one page summary “Fatty Acid Analysis” PDF with the main charts and links to each post.  Consider printing out the PDF so you have the charts in front of you while you review each blog post for detailed analysis.
The first time I heard of Mother Earth News was back around 2008 when we were really researching our opportunities in grass based animal production.  I remember they created a stir in the health community when they claimed that not all eggs were created equal (Meet Real Free-Range Eggs – Mother Earth News 2007).  Again we feel fortunate that our pasture grazed beef was part of this pilot 2015 grassfed study and thank Josh Brewer for his encouragement and insights with this project.