Grass Fed Beef!
This is the year. We are going to purchase one or two steers or heifers to finish in 2018. We are very excited to add bovine to the Root and Sky family. There are a few reasons why this enterprise makes sense for us.
We have about 15 tillable acres on our 60-some of property. We debated back and forth about what to do with the those acres. We wanted to turn the whole property into pasture right away, but took advice from a more experienced farmer: take it slow. He was right. With the process of getting houses rehabbed and rented, adjusting to a new schedule for our family, the kids into new schools, Tiffany’s longer commute, and pasture raising pigs, we are very thankful we didn't bite off anything more!
We planted about five and one half acres in organic pasture and rented out the rest to a local farmer. Our farmer friend sowed for us a mix of orchard grass, rye, festulolium, and clover. Because of wet conditions, though, we planted late, in May--and then received no rain for about two weeks. THEN, a strong storm in the middle of June washed some seed away before it was established.
But the look of the thing when it sprouted! Amazing.
The period of August and September were the fourth driest in northern Illinois since 1895. All the way into October, it was looking bleak for the pasture, and I wondered if it would need to be replanted in 2018. But then, we got some terrific rain and the grass and clover took off and filled in beautifully! Whew.
When the ground thaws this spring we will install a field fence to surround the one-year-old pasture. This should keep our animals in, and hopefully other unwelcome guests, like coyotes, skunks, fox, raccoons, out.
An electric wire fence within the larger fence will keep the cattle in one area of the pasture at a time to concentrate their grazing in the way that is best for soil health. Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG) greatly increases the fertility of a field by mimicking the grazing patterns of animals such as the buffaloes that helped form some of our great midwestern soils. Like in those animal documentaries my kids are addicted to, large herds of grazers such as gazelle stay close together for safety. But in that sort of formation, grazing is concentrated, too. If there is grass in front of you, it might a good idea to eat even if it isn’t your favorite plant, because buffalo bill and buffalo betty are right next to you and eating what is in front of them. The concentrated grazing means that premium fertilizer--cattle waste--is concentrated in small area, too, which will give us more even soil-improving treatment. We’ll move them daily or every other day. When we move them, we don’t take them back to the same area for a long period of time (weeks or months) so the grass can recover from the intensive eating, fertilizing, and hoof action. Waiting like that also allows time for parasites from their waste to die in the grass before being ingested.
We still need to decide how many cattle to add to our herd. Theoretically, a decent pasture can handle one animal per acre, at the size we are looking to purchase. But this will be a new pasture, and I don’t want to push it and have to feed hay through the summer if the pasture gets exhausted. One option is to buy just one animal to sell as quarter beef to folks, and take care of a few cattle from a neighbor and get paid a daily rate for their care. Maybe a total of four head on the five acres. This would mean getting paid a little to have some thousand-pound, fertilizing lawn-mowers to help improve the pasture.
BUT, if we had customers lined up for beef--we might be able to purchase more than one beef cow to sell. We can’t store much beef long term, due to freezer space, and couldn’t handle the upfront costs of care and processing without committed customers. (And speaking of freezer space, we still have a couple of pigs left to sell, and our freezers are FULL of delicious pork (email firstname.lastname@example.org to order!).)
If grass fed beef is something you might be interested in purchasing, please let us know (email@example.com)! If we have customers reserve quarters of beef (or go in with friends to reserve quarters of beef, for those of you who’d like smaller orders) we could bring in more members to the Root and Sky herd. A quarter beef would amount to 85 - 100 lbs of meat, at $9 per pound, which is the a la carte cost of grass fed GROUND BEEF. This means that when you buy a quarter beef, even steaks and more expensive cuts (often priced a la carte at over $20/lb) are $9 per pound. A half beef is even better--$8.50 per pound, and a whole beef $8 per pound. Those prices would include processing and delivery.
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