We wanted to expound a bit about how our beef and our farm practices differ from some of the other farms out there. In this 2nd installment, we’ll talk about the benefits of grass/hay-only beef, and also about the scale of our operation.
2) grass fed and grass finished
No grain, repeat, no grain! Not a handful right before butchering, just none at all. We purchase our calves from our neighbors at about 9 months of age, and the calves have never had grain at any point in their lives. Rich goes to the neighbors’ ranch to train the calves to get used to him, and associate him with good things, which is a good beginning to their lives with us. It doesn’t take long for them to learn to come to the fence edge when Rich is out doing chores, eagerly awaiting the next move to a grassy, clovery feast.
Why don’t we feed any grain? The health benefits of foods high in CLAs (Conugated lineolic acids) and Omega 3 fatty acids are pretty well documented. The problem is, when grain is included in the finishing ration, even tiny amounts, it throws the proportions of good : bad fatty acids out of whack, and it can take weeks, or even a month of exclusive grass feeding to get them back to where they were.
It’s a shame that a day of feeding grain can kick the high quality grass fed beef down to something that is commodity-grade, from a health standpoint, but that’s the nature of nutrition. We don’t make the rules; we follow them.
3) small (scale) is beautiful
We’ve learned too much about the farm crisis of the 1980’s to be comfortable with going into debt to farm. So our philosophy of farming has always been to start small, and grow slowly.
We purposely named our farm “Mossback Farm“, not “Mossback Farms“… we have no interest in growing super big, or creating an agricultural empire. We don’t wish to wholesale. What we want to do is raise a small number of animals which help us manage our landscape, while also providing artisanal-quality food for a dozen or two families a year. While we do partner with our neighbors, the Thorntons, to get calves and hay and to offer our “Neighborly” beef in the fall, we do so in a way that is mutually beneficial, and allows us both to retain our autonomy, and practices that work for our scale.
Our scale… it’s small because our land holdings are small. We have 33 acres, but only about 20 are actually in pasture. The rest is forest, riparian buffers, road frontage, and the homestead area. While some people choose to have a higher stocking rate, we prefer to keep ours low so that we can better manage the grass and the animals. (see Intensive Rotation, above) This way, we don’t skimp on quality for the sake of quantity. As our water and other farm infrastructure improves, we’re slowly increasing our herd, monitoring the impacts on our land and lives, and making sure that nothing gets out of balance.