We will be weaning calves later this week.  Our grassfed cows work year round, but we do give the cows about two months off from providing milk to a calf.  The last calf crop was born mid-May 2014 and the calves have had momma’s milk for the past 10 months.  This allows adequate time for the calf rumen (special stomach for grass digesting) to become fully developed.  The calf is now ready to turn grass into nutrition and ultimately beef for the rest of its life.  Actually the amount of milk the cow has provided daily has probably dropped significantly over the past few months.  Yet the calf has been getting a nice dose of that all important drink to keep the calf growing through this important time of life.

sucking calf

This 10 month old calf is taking advantage of momma’s milk just before weaning day.

This photo is our smallest cow letting her calf suck just the other day.  We are not trying to wean heavy calves so we can brag about weaning weight.  I wish we did have a scale to weigh our animals but we just are not a big operation at this point.  From the looks of it, this cow, which probably weighs 950 lbs. will be weaning a calf that I estimate at 575 lbs. or greater.  She has accomplished raising this calf on an all grass diet of stockpiled forage with supplemental hay.  Lets take a look at the percentage of weight that the cow was able to wean.  Weaning a 575 lbs. calf / 950 lbs. cow = 60% of the cows weight weaned in the calf.  Not all of our cows are this small, but I think it is safe to say that most of our cows will wean a calf around 50% of her own weight.  Of course they will do it on an all forage diet.

Please contact us if you would like to visit the herd.

Last July we posted a few photos of the first steers we will have available later this year as grassfed – grassfinished beef.  The steers have lost some of that summer time sickness and put on their winter coats.  Finishing these animals are a work in progress.  We are not feeding these steers any different from what is available to our cow/calf herd.

Will these steers finish and provide a quality eating experience later this year?  Time will tell.  For now we continue on our journey to producing an all pastured beef (no corn or corn stalk grazing allowed).

Born and raised right here.  This steer has lived his entire life with his mother near his side.

Born and raised right here. This steer has lived his entire life with his mother near his side.

Fresh stockpiled forage available every day, no standing in manured feedlots.

Fresh stockpiled forage available every day, no standing in manured feedlots.

Green hay helps keep the rumen (stomach) microbes functioning.

Green hay helps keep the rumen (stomach) microbes functioning.

18 month old steer grazing stockpiled forage January 2015.

18 month old steer grazing stockpiled forage January 2015. In background, neighbors cows graze corn stalks.

This 2015 grassfed beef progress report 1 will be followed up with additional updates until these steers are harvested.  Feel free to post a comment or email any questions you may have.

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.