Adam will probably agree with me. We are stunned at the quality of our beef so far. I and the staff at Wholesome Valley Farm – Aden and Leon – have been experimenting with genetics for the last 3 years. I think the genetics and selection of high protein grasses are producing well marbled, tender grassfed beef.
Grass-fed beef means that the animal has eaten nothing but grass its entire life. This is important because beef, unlike hogs or chickens, can live entirely off of grass. They are considered ruminant animals. This means they have additional digestive organs that help them break down plant based fiber (cellulose) into nutrients and glucose (sugar/energy). They do this primarily with digestive enzymes in an organ called the rumen. It’s pretty cool stuff.
So one of my biggest pet peeves is the term “all natural.” I hate the marketing behind all natural because it is such an empty phrase. For beef, all natural beef generally means that the package contains only beef – no fillers or preservatives. For me, understanding that bovine are unique and their bodies are designed to live entirely off of grass, I believe all natural beef should be 100% grassfed. That’s why our beef is 100% grassfed.
But there are challenges in producing grassfed beef. First, it takes a lot more time. Feedlots can finish a steer on high energy corn and soybeans in 14 to 16 months. With our grassfed program, we give our animals between 26 and 30 months.
The second challenge to grassfed is marbeling. Intramuscular fat makes beef tender and tasty. We all want a big, fatty steak! Corn and beans are like candy to a steer. They add fat quick.
For 100% grassfed, we’ve had to address this challenge with genetics, grass selection, and a rotational grazing program. We have purchased genetics in that perform well on grass, including lowline angus. OK, that’s a kind way of saying our bulls are lowline angus. The lowline is a small framed, easy fleshing beef. Their small carcasses can add fat more easily on grass than other larger breeds. We cross the lowline angus with traditional angus to get a steer that has characteristics of both – medium frame and easy fleshing.
We then focus on grasses high in protein, such as white clover, red clover, and alfalfa. These legumes help fatten a steer faster. In the drier summer months, we have to plant warm season annuals like sudan grass or sorghum grass to also help provide the energy the animals need.
I’ve probably rambled on too long now. If you have any questions about how the beef are raised, please be sure to find me in the store this weekend. – Trevor