Transparent Cattle Production Practices
Grass fed, grass finished and pasture-raised
Our goal is to have pastures with knee-high grasses to rotate our cattle and sheep through all year round. This would most closely reflect the way large ruminant animals (think buffalo, for example) lived before western civilization changed the land where we live today.
This is the way to raise cattle and sheep that builds healthy eco-systems and works in-sync with cattle and sheep biology. We lease land for our animals and sometimes it takes years to get the land to this state. In the absence of enough forage in the pastures to feed the animals year round without over-grazing, we offer grass hay or reduce our herd. We let the soil and land dictate how much grass-based animal protein we can produce.
About "Grass Fed"
True story, all cattle start out "grass fed", and for this reason, any producer could use this label without being outright dishonest. Sadly, it is a widely overused label that has many interpretations and this in turn weakens its meaning and value. So, for the moment let's put labels aside.
Here's what we should all be interested in knowing from cattle producers (and other protein producers for that matter).
- How was the animal treated during its life?
- Where did the animal live?
- What did the animal eat?
Our cattle are treated well, they are subjected to very few stress-inducing experiences. We do ear tag the calves for identification purposes, we transport them via stock trailer only a handful of times depending on the circumstances during their lives. They are not given growth hormones or preventative antibiotics. They would get a course of antibiotics if they are sick and need it. But, this would be a very rare occurrence because our animals live in a healthy natural environment, they typically stay healthy.
Our cattle live in open fields of grasses. These pastures, I lease them from landowners, where I am able. Sometimes the land is a part of a working ranch with great regenerative management practices and has an organic cattle operation running on it. Sometimes it is a residential property with 20-40 acres surrounding it that may have been over-grazed in the past and is in need of some rejuvenation. Our cattle are not living their lives confined in metal or wooden corrals standing on dirt and muddy ground, unable to get away from their own manure. We use barbed wire for perimeter fencing and single-strand electric wire for temporary fencing to help rotate them onto fresh grasses for grazing.
What do they eat? Mostly grass growing under their feet with supplemental hay as needed. If there is grass growing in the pastures to graze on then that is option number one. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that will be the case all year long in Montana. There is this great thing called winter stockpiling which is where good grass is purposely left in the pastures for cattle to forage on all year long. This is cool because it let's the cattle replace the tractor which removes the need for added petroleum products in the food supply. However, it doesn't work in all fields or all circumstances. The cows are offered grass hay whenever the forage quality falls below what is required to meet their nutritional needs and to prevent over-grazing. We also broadcast a diverse mix of perennial seeds in the spring and fall to help increase the biodiversity and biomass of the pastures we lease. I will also offer lick tubs of flaxseed and molasses for protein and energy a couple of times per year as needed if nutritional demands are high and forage quality is low. Our cattle are not offered corn or soy in any form, ever.