Grass-fed Cattle

Finishing cattle on grass is an art and science. Here’s where we swap stories about how to do it right.

A couple of years back, we learned about "carbon ranching" at the Quivira Coalition conference, and decided to experiment with adding compost to selected areas of our pasture. Carbon ranching, building up soil carbon, is supposed to enrich the soil, increase forage yields, and enhance water retention. Makes you feel good too, as it pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and helps reduce the planet’s greenhouse gas burden.

First, we needed some baseline data. We sent some soil samples to Kinsey labs, which gave us the percent humus. More samples were taken by Professor Richard Conant at Colorado State University, to measure carbon content. I’m not quite sure of the relationship between humus and carbon, but from these baseline figures, we’ll be able to know whether carbon and humus are going up or down after several years of soil treatments. Read more on Carbon Ranching at Sylvan Dale Ranch…

Can ranches and farms in the Poudre-Big Thompson watershed improve the quality of water used by Front Range urban dwellers?  That question is being addressed by a pilot project at Sylvan Dale Ranch, a 3,200-acre working guest ranch located at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland, Colorado.  Read more on Water Quality Improvement at Sylvan Dale Ranch…

Mr. Alexander

Mr. Alexander

Kolohe Bull

Kolohe Bull

Mr. Alexander and Kolohe joined our Sylvan Dale herd in July 2013.

Some breeds of cattle do better than others when it comes to getting fat on grass.

Come meet our new bulls; Mr. Alexander is a registered Red Devon bull, an English breed preferred by many in the grass-fed beef world for flavorful, tender meat.

Kolohe (Koh-LOH-hay), which means “rascal” in Hawaiian, is a registered Lowline Angus bull, the original angus breed before it was selectively modified over the years for maximum weight on feedlot grain.

Both breeds produce smaller offspring than most cattle used in commercial feedlot operations. This means fewer pounds of meat per animal, but more pounds of meat per acre. The reason: these breeds need a lot less forage to mature.

In other words, they are more efficient in converting grass to meat, so you can have more cattle on a given amount of pasture.

Most of our cows are a mixed red angus breed, also known for tenderness. We’re eagerly looking forward to the offspring produced by this combination. Check back in two years to see the result.

The results are in, and our pure grass-fed beef scored a win.

Every year we retain one small rib-eye steak out of most processed animals to send to a local meat lab to be independently tested for tenderness. Out of forty-one steaks tested, forty scored as tender. The breakdown is as follows:

Very Tender (Shear test score less than 3) 61%
Tender (Shear test score 3-4) 27%
Medium (Shear test score 4-5) 10%
Not Tender (Shear test score greater than 5) 2%

We’re pleased that our Heart-J Beef score high in tenderness, it confirms we’re on the right track in our beef-raising practices. For a more complete discussion of the factors that contribute to tenderness, see The Grass-Feeder’s Dilemma.

Of course, tenderness is a consideration mainly for steaks, about 25% of the cuts in a side of beef. Ground beef—about 40% of what’s included in a bulk purchase—is always tender, because it’s, well, ground.

And the remaining 35 percent of the cuts, mostly roasts and stew meat, are wonderfully tender when properly cooked, slow and over low heat. Six to eight hours in a croc pot is great.

For cooking tips, download our free Heart-J Beef Cooking Guide.

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Sylvan Dale Ranch Heart-J Beef

As of July 24, 2013, we have ground beef on hand, as well as some organ meats.  The ground beef is super-lean, 10% or less fat, and comes in 1 lb. vacuum-wrapped packages.  Ten pounds is the minimum purchase.  Prices are shown below.

10 lbs. – $7.45/lb.  ~~   20 lbs. – $6.95/lb.   ~~   40 lbs. – $6.45/lb.  ~~   80+lbs.  $6.25/lb

Organ meats (heart, liver, tongue) are $4.00 / lb.  We also have some oxtails and some marrow bones at $3.00 / lb.

We are taking advance deposits of $100 on wholes, halves and quarters for beef to be processed this fall.  The demand for grass-fed beef is growing fast, and we are already three-quarters sold out for our fall availability.  Beef is provided in the order that deposits are received.  As of July 24, those who place bulk orders can expect to receive the beef in late November. 

To place an order, please contact Kathi at 970-691-9373, or email Kathi.  More information available at our Heart-J Beef website.

Sylvan Dale Ranch in Loveland, Colo. has been awarded funding to incorporate new breeding stock into the farm’s cattle herd. Animal Welfare Approved announced the 2012-2013 Good Husbandry Grants which help promote sustainable, forward thinking farming techniques and Sylvan Dale Ranch was among the 42 grants that have been awarded to farms and slaughter plants across the nation. The grants are intended to improve animal welfare and allow pasture-based farmers to increase productivity for their operations. This is the fifth year of the program. Read more on Sylvan Dale Receives Grant from Animal Welfare Approved…

Calf - just born 2 84dpiMonday, April 15.

Springtime in the Rockies.  Hah!  We’re in the midst of the biggest snowstorm of the season, nine inches and counting.  We delayed our calving season this year on the theory that mamas calving in April and May (as opposed to our past practice of February-March) would fare better on the spring flush of grass and save us the expense of feeding hay in corrals.  Not to mention being a lot warmer.  Looks like Mother Nature has up and changed her season too.  Guess she thought we’d miss taking care of newborns in the freezing snow.

Calf 2012 01 - mama 010 - 1 smallWednesday, April 10, 2013.

From Linda J:

One sign of spring:  After helping move our fifty-five yearlings across the highway and onto Red Ridge, David J, Promise and I went into the Big Valley where the first little calf was just hours old.  A sweet looking little red heifer with ridiculously long eyelashes, was lying in a little hollow in the dirt.  A very bitter wind was blowing, and as we left, I saw her mama actually lie down with her, to keep her warm. I’ve never seen a cow do that before.  She’s a good mama.  Mango, our cattle manager, was coming to walk them down to water and some better cover, but I hated to think of them out in that cold all night.

PS. From David J:  The calf is doing great at 4 days old.  Her mama, #010, has stashed her baby in the tall grass in a hollow close to the irrigation ditch.  Anytime you approach the calf, Mama comes running and mooing.  Don’t mess with her baby!

Every few months, an outbreak of sickness and death caused by lethal strains of E. Coli  and other “super bugs” makes the headlines.  These bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics.  Why?  One reason, according to scientists, is that unlike grass-fed beef, low levels of antibiotics are being routinely fed to industrially-raised cattle to make them grow faster and protect them from diseases caused by their living conditions.  Thousands of animals are crowded together into massive feedlots for months at a time, where they stand in their own wastes and gorge on grains that upset their normal digestive systems.  The bacteria happily seize the opportunity to multiply and evolve into new strains resistant to the antibiotics.  And they aren’t choosy about their hosts– humans do quite nicely.

Someone must be doing something about this, right?  Think again.  According to David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA doesn’t even know what antibiotics are being fed to our food animals.  Legislation authorizing the FDA to collect this data can’t get out of a Senate committee.  Too bad.  As Kessler says, the problem is rapidly becoming a matter of life and death.

David Jessup

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