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.

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).

snow grazing - cows eating snow?

Cows eating snow?

We received our first measurable snow fall for 2013 this past week.  At our farm near Lincoln Nebraska, we usually have “open” winters, which means our pastures are not covered with snow for long periods of time.  When snow does arrive, we expect our cows to dig through the snow to find their meal.  Remember our cows graze 365 days a year.  To have grass for grazing this time of year, we set aside pastures during the growing season that are not grazed.  The grass left un-grazed during the growing season is “stockpiled” for grazing this time of the year (dormant season).

Snow Grazing

Calves learning to graze through snow by watching the momma cows.

Snow covered stockpiled green forage.

Snow covered stockpiled green forage.

As you can see from the photos, our cows are grazing down through about four inches of snow to find some excellent forage.  Cattle will easily graze through snow up to their eyes.  Further North, cattle herds graze through deep snow for longer periods of snow cover than our cows have ever experienced.  Our farm is located in what past UN-L Extension Educator Terry Gompert called the “Grass Finishing Sweet Spot”, so our cows have it easier than some other grass-fed herds this time of year.  None the less, our cows are well adapted to our farm forages and climate and the cow herd is improving with each generation.

It appears the cows are grazing snow, actually they are after the stockpiled forage and getting a drink of very cold water at the same time.  We are happy to give our cow herd the chance to be as cow-like as they want any time during the year and invite you out to see cows teaching calves to graze.

Look at hay as insurance and exercise.

Look at hay as insurance and exercise.

Have you heard the phrase; “Make hay while the sun shines”? Late July into mid-August 2013 was unusually cool, cloudy and sometimes damp! Conditions not welcome for hay making. The “make hay…” saying now holds real truth for our family as the conditions have changed!

We have made small square baled hay since the early 1990s. It is an activity I enjoyed as a youth on my grandparents farm. For many years, hay making served as stress relief from my day job and the opportunity to make additional income. Like many things, now that we have cattle, my view on making hay has changed.

Stored feed (hay) is a large cost in cattle production. Reports indicate cattle producers from Canada to the Gulf Coast feed hay for about 120 days every year (think about that). We now have a cow herd in this country that is largely dependent on someone bringing them a meal for much of the year. We currently feed some hay on our farm as we work to improve our forage base.

Our goal is to view hay in our operation as “insurance”. Hay in the shed provides insurance against short-term climatic events that prevent cattle from being able to graze. The rest of the year, we expect our cattle to forage for their own meal. It is our job to coordinate the herd movements in harmony with grass growth so the cow can do what God designed her to do. By the way, cattle love their job!