When raising grass-fed beef, know the difference between organic pasture-raised vs. grain-fed. Read through our best practices for having a cattle farm.
Raising grass-fed beef on your pasture land is the best way to know that the meat you are eating is truly organic, non-GMO, and hormone-free.
Then, you will be ready to learn everything you need to know before butchering grass-fed beef and the best cuts of meat from a grass-fed cow.
Listen below to the full podcast, episode #23, Raising Your Own Grass Fed Beef of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
Growing Up On a Cattle Farm
I grew up on a small cattle ranch nestled against the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. My father raised beef for years, and it’s one of my favorite memories. White-faced Herefords dotted the green pasture like daisies.
The sound of my father’s old red Ford pickup truck rolling across the dirt track of the long abandoned railroad track called the herd better than any cattle dog. Besides the few times we ate at restaurants, I rarely experienced the taste of store-bought beef.
When my husband and I married and bought our own butchered cow meat, I would have benefitted from knowing how to plan for a year’s worth of meat.
We miscalculated the amount we would need, ran out of beef, and had to purchase it at the store until the next butchering time rolled around.
I had never cooked store-bought meat and had no idea how different it was. While the smell and taste were utterly different, I was shocked by the amount of liquid I had to drain off, even though I had purchased the leanest meat.
Benefits of Raising Grass-Fed Beef
There are many great reasons for raising grass-fed beef. Most of the reasons will fall under knowing what’s in your meat. We have now started adventuring into raising Scottish Highland cows in addition to our regular herd and the benefits are the same:
- Creating Resiliency – Raising your meat without dependency on the grocery store is always a goal.
- Land Management – If you own acreage and have sizable pasture land, beef cattle will help with brush management and rotational grazing can improve soil and pasture land.
- Natural and Organic – If you are the owner, you control the animal’s food and medicines. No risk of growth hormones or antibiotics if that is an essential factor in your family’s life.
Grass-Fed or Grain-Fed
When raising grass-fed beef, there are two common ways to fatten cows for maximum beef production. Grass-fed cattle are strictly given a grass diet through grazing and supplementing with hay in the winter.
Some farmers raise cattle on pasture grasses and supplement their feed with grain. Adding grain will put more weight onto the cow more quickly. A cow will reach maturity and be ready for the butcher earlier if fed grain.
However, the most common form of grain that farmers use is corn. The detriment of feeding corn is the likelihood it will have added GMOs. If you feed a cow GMO corn, the beef meat will also have it.
How Much Property Will I Need?
The recommended acres of pasture per head of cattle is one acre. This acreage is sufficient for a cow’s summertime eating. If you live in a cold climate, and the pastures freeze in the winter, you will likely have to purchase hay for several months’ feed.
Practicing rotational grazing by moving cattle from one paddock of field to the next will help improve the soil, resulting in better quality feed for your animals.
If you don’t own enough pasture land, another option is leasing a property from a neighboring farmer. The general responsibilities of the cattle owner usually include lease payment, maintenance of fencing, and primary care of the cattle.
How Many Cows Should I Own?
Cattle are herd animals and feel safest in a herd. It’s best to raise more than one cow. They will be lonely, skittish, and jumpy if single. You may also find a single cow pushing through your fences in search of its herd.
Regarding how many cows to raise to feed one family, you only need to butcher one cow. The average size American family will need about half a cow for one year. Of course, there are variables, but this is a general average.
Good fencing needs to be a top priority. The cows’ owner is usually liable if your cows push through a fence and get hit by a car.
Cows are strong and stubborn, and you know the age-old saying, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” If a cow can get its head through a fence, it will usually persistently push until it breaks through.
Some farmers use electric fencing, but we have found that tightly stretched barbed wire and regular maintenance work just as well. Placing metal stays at the halfway point between fence posts helps keep the wire tight.
There is no need for a barn to shelter cows, but you will need to provide shelter from the elements. Part of our pasture is forested, providing protection from rain and snow and giving shade in the summer.
Keeping animals cool in the summer heat is just as crucial as providing shelter in the winter cold.
Food and Water
Understanding the nutritional requirements of cattle is essential when raising grass-fed beef. As mentioned above, cows are grazers. If your pasture land produces good quality grasses during the growing season, the cows will have sufficient nourishment in the summer months.
Fresh water is a given and just as necessary in the winter as in summer. Your work is complete if you have a freshwater source such as a pond or creek. However, not all properties have this, but there are options.
In the past, we’ve converted two old bathtubs into water tanks, and they work great. Plug the drain hole and fill it with water from your well; your cows won’t know they don’t have a fancy stock tank.
Installing automatic waterers will ensure the tank (or bathtub) stays filled. The design of these waterers works to fill the tank when the water lowers to a certain level. Tank heaters are also great for wintertime to keep the water from freezing.
When Is It Time to Butcher?
Butchering time depends on the size of your cows. For example, if you purchase a yearling in the spring, it should be ready for butchering in the fall. You always want to butcher when the cow is gaining weight. More weight equals more beef.
Purchasing a yearling (between 12 and 24 months of age) is more expensive than a calf, as you pay more for a larger animal. However, you won’t need to feed the cow throughout the winter, eliminating the cost of hay.
Most people prefer butchering their steers. Steers are neutered male cows and are larger, giving more meat. We usually butcher when the cows are two years old and have reached a mature weight suitable to our needs.
To keep your herd size growing proportionately to what you need, you must breed the heifers. Breeding is also essential for milk production if you choose a dual-purpose breed for meat and dairy.
While we have been focusing primarily on beef cows, you can also learn everything you need to know about dairy cows so that you can preserve dairy products, ferment dairy products, and make creamy yogurt before you know it.
Cows have a nine-month gestation period, and springtime calving is preferred.
- Natural – Track your cow’s heat cycle and put it with your bull at the right time. If you don’t own a bull, make arrangements with a local farmer to use his bull. Generally speaking, this method is usually more successful.
- Artificial Insemination – This method uses frozen straws of semen to impregnate a cow. This can be a more expensive route and isn’t guaranteed to take.
Keep records and avoid inbreeding by either rotating cows yearly or selling any three-year-old cows at the sale barn.
Other Posts You May Enjoy
- Planning Our Livestock to Raise a Year’s Worth of Food
- Stocking Up on Animal Feed (+ How Much to Feed Animals)
- When Butchering a Cow the Best Cuts of Meat to Get
- Raising Grass-Fed Beef – What to Know on Butchering Day
- Beef Liver: How to Mask the Taste and Reap the Nutritional Benefits
- Dairy Cow 101: Everything You Need to Know
- How to Butcher a Chicken
- Tips on Raising Chickens for Meat
- Raising Meat Chickens for Profit
- Raising American Guinea Hogs
- American Guinea Hogs – Were They Worth It?
- Tips on Raising Pigs for Meat
- A Guide to Raising Goats
- Raising Sheep for Fiber & Naturally Dyeing Wool
- Everything You Need to Know About Raising Rabbits for Meat
- How to Keep Animals Cool in Hot Weather