Adam mentioned anticipating a demand on steaks. Because we dry age our beef at least 14 days before cutting, that means we had to harvest an additional animal two weeks ago to prepare.
But how about predicting demand 3 years out? That’s what farmers need to do. When Adam and I started thinking about this concept of a retail grocery and whole animal butcher shop, we knew we had to have consistent supply. I had to invest in livestock, particularly beef, for a harvest 3 years out.
Grass-fed beef takes longer to raise. Our animals range from 26 to 30 months of age to get a full finish. This depends on genetics, grass, time of year they were born, etc., but let’s say I need to increase supply for 2020.
I first have to decide what to do with last year’s heifers (females who haven’t had calves yet). Do I raise them out for meat or as mothers? Generally, we select mothers because they aren’t as meaty as a steer (castrated male). So if we select mother, we need to run them with the bull and let recreation happen (I don’t need to explain any further).
So once the heifer or cow “catches,” her gestation is approximately 283 days – a little over 9 months. So a cow bred in June would calf in March of the following year. That calf would require another 26 to 30 months to fatten for market.
Meanwhile, the farmer has to consider his whole herd and land. He now has to have resources for the brood cows and their calves, the year old “weaners” that are off of the cow and on their own, the bull, and the finishers (18 month old to market weight). That’s a lot of land, fencing and work.
A brood cow requires about 1.5 acres of land just for herself. So, 10 cows require a 15 acre pasture. That can be reduced some if we understand that in the greenest months the grass grows back much faster, and in the winter the forage is hay and bailage.
A herd of 10 cows requires about 15 acres. The 10 weaned calves may require another 10 acres. The 10 finishers require about another 15 acres. So, a hard of 10 cows, 10 weaners, and 10 finishers requires about 35 acres, not including land needed to grow the hay for winter feed.
When I get asked by customers who are buying 5 acres in the “country” about what they should do to start farming livestock, the short answer is buy 50 more acres. Cattle in particular are land and time intensive.
This is in contrast to conventional farming in which there are cow/calf operations that raise calves to sell off to feed lots. They keep the calves approximately 8 months and sell them off before the cow “freshens” with a new calf. The calves are bought by farmers who will finish them on pasture or feed out on a feed lot. This model often relies on high energy corn and soybeans to shorten the time to market to only 16 months.
I hope you can appreciate the work that goes into raising an all-natural, 100% grassfed beef and the quality and nutrition it brings to your dinner plate. – Trevor