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?

 

Head ’em up, Move ’em on – RAWHIDE!  I have to admit this brings back memories of the Blues Brothers more than it does of Clint Eastwood (Rowdy Yates).  To be clear, we are not much for Head ’em up around here.  No whips, yelling or any other commotion near our herd.  Low stress = high quality beef.  (music provided at end of post)

Move ’em ON!

Fresh grass – MOVE – fresh grass – MOVE, is the name of the game at DS Family Farm.  The way nature made the prairies is the method we use to restore and improve our pastures.  Cows have legs and we believe they aren’t made for standing in lots.  So what does Move ’em on look like?  Here is a recent example:

Overview of daily moves. During the growing season a back fence would remain in place after about 3 days (dashed line).

Overview of daily moves. During the growing season a back fence would stay in place after about 3 days (dashed line).  Tap photo for larger view.

In the above photo we start with the herd on November 26th near a water tank.  Temporary wire fences are put up moving away from the tank.  This photo on November 30th, shows the first 4 paddocks have been grazed, cattle have moved into the 5th paddock (most of the cows are just over the hill out of view).  ATV tracks are visible along the future paddock lines, smashed down grass so we can install the fences.  Small square bales are also visible in future paddocks.  This is our non-growing season and we are supplementing the stockpiled grass with hay.  If these moves were during the growing season we would prevent the herd from grazing previous paddocks after the third move (it takes grass about 3 days to start re-growing after being bitten off and we don’t want cows biting off new grass).

Sounds like work?

Paddock setup does take some time but in a few hours we are done with 3 days of moves.  Here’s how automatic Batt Latch gate openers and electric poly wire technology allows the cows to do most of the work:

moves_from_tank

This setup allows us three days off from herd moves.

In the example shown above the cows have just moved into the 11/30 paddock (as you can see they are busy working).  On November 30th we will setup two Batt Latch gate openers on the next two fence lines and a third fence line will stop the cattle from proceeding any further.  We don’t need to show up to work again until December 3rd!

Cows doing the work they love

Don’t get us wrong, we love working with the cows, but this technology gives us flexibility in our schedule.  This setup allows us to do a quick drive by to see if the cows have moved.  Fresh grass and move, fresh grass and move, this is the key to soil health, grassland health, cattle health and ultimately your health.

Cows moved through automatic gate.

Cows moved through automatic gate.

Cows grazing behind Batt Latch gate.

Cows grazing behind Batt Latch gate.

We hope you have enjoyed this post and we invite you to stop by sometime to see our herd in MOTION.  Always pasture grazed, never in lots for your health and ours.  We leave you with some Move ’em on entertainment:

 

Sunday October 4, 2015, from 3 PM to 5 PM.  Doug and Sheila Garrison invite you to a walk in our pasture.  Meet in pasture located one-quarter mile North of US HWY 34 and NW 140th Street, Lancaster County Nebraska (east side of road).  NW 140th Street is the Lancaster – Seward County line, about ~12 miles West of Lincoln or ~10 miles East of Seward on US HWY 34.  Street Address: 7650 NW 140th Street, Malcolm, NE.

Pasture Walk Topics:

Dress for walking in a tall grass prairie.  Bring your ideas and questions.  Let’s learn together.  Share our successes and mistakes.

If questionable weather comes to our area on October 4th, check this blog post for latest updates or call 402-796-2208.

Looking forward to seeing you soon.  For more information about our pasture walk, feel free to drop us an email.

(PDF Pasture Walk Flyer Link)

In our solar powered steer post we described how cattle will select the tips of plants first, grazing to capture the highest amount of energy available.  We call this grazing off the “ice cream”.  Here is a video link from this past weekend of the herd entering a new patch and grazing the tips off what some would call weeds (we call them forbs and our cattle love them) – Instagram Video – Grazing Plant Tips For Energy @dsfamilyfarm.

eastern gamagrass grazing

Cattle entering fresh paddock of eastern gamagrass (tripsacum dactyloides), aka the “ice cream grass”, early July 2015.  Steer on right side of photo tongue sticking out licking the ice cream!

Almost all plants have some part of “ice cream” (high energy) but one native plant has been nick named the “ice cream grass” – eastern gamagrass (tripsacum dactyloides).  I first became interested in eastern gama during the summer of 1985 while working in Falls City Nebraska for the Soil Conservation Service.  This area of the state still had small native stands of eastern gama.  The story goes that grazing ice cream grass by early settlers cattle almost wiped the grass out.   Since the 1990’s seed has become readily available and we have reintroduced this native grass in higher moisture soils that were previously invaded by non-native bromegrass and reeds canary grass.

grazing eastern gamagrass

Cattle have been in this patch of ice cream grass for about 24 hours late August 2015. Note tall giant ragweed stems stripped of leaves in front of closest steer in photo.

In the photo above the cattle are milling around waiting to move to a fresh patch.  Note this almost solid stand of eastern gamagrass has been evenly grazed to about cow shoulder height.  The herd has grazed the highest energy part of the leaves and left the rest.  We could “force” the herd to keep eating down the remaining leaves but if we move, two good things happen:

  1. The cattle move to fresh grass and eat the “ice cream” (high energy part) of the ice cream grass.
  2. The grass we leave behind as shown above, has good leaf area ready to capture photosynthesis and start regrowth.
Cattle moving to fresh patch of eastern gamagrass.

Cattle moving to fresh patch of eastern gamagrass.

In the above photo we have let down the temporary poly fence to allow the cattle to move into a fresh paddock.  A win-win situation for the cattle and the grass.

Grazing Tall

Stringing temporary poly wire fence through eastern gamagrass is a challenge. Here the cattle have moved into a fresh patch on the far side of the wire.

Greg Judy of Missouri has a chapter devoted to eastern gamagrass in his book “Comeback Farms“, which is worth the read.  He describes using a mob of dry cows to graze eastern gamagrass down further than what we show here.  It just depends on your goals.  In our herd we have cows with calves, yearling steers and grass finishing beef (2-year-old steers).  So we are now grazing with animal condition in mind.  This winter after the grass finished beeves are harvested, we will graze a little more with the land in mind.

As we have stated before our herd is 100% pasture grass-fed, no grain feeding.  One unique note about eastern gamagrass is that it is believed to be related to maize (corn).  The root systems are not similar at all.  The leaves of eastern gama are wide like corn and take a look at the seed head in the photo below.  Note that above the seed, the male portion of the plant is similar to a corn tassel.  The seed is large but harder than a kernel of corn.  None the less I am sure our cattle consume some of these ice cream grass seeds:

  • It helps spread the plant around the pastures
  • It is the closest thing to corn our cattle will ever consume!

easterngama_seedhead