Here’s my list of Top 10 annoying things I hear about Grassfed beef.  And one really good thing.

1. All beef in the US is grassfed.

This isn’t necessarily a myth, but it’s misleading. It’s probably safe to say that 100% of the cattle raised in the US have forage as the single largest component of their diet. In that regard, they’re all grassfed. Unfortunately the USDA has chosen that same word – grassfed – to denote an animal that has been fed a 100% forage diet. It’s what is called an Animal Raising Claim, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service. It’s a voluntary program that ensures customers that what is on the label is accurate. Certified Angus is the most widely recognized claim. Two things about animal raising claims – First, they’re voluntary and second, they don’t denote any health benefit. We submit an affidavit with every animal we have processed, stating that it has never been fed grain.
2. It’s free-range. No. It’s not free-range. Free-range means it’s over at my neighbors.
3. It’s leaner. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. If it’s leaner, it means that the animal either didn’t get fed as long, or maybe it’s a breed that tends to just be leaner. If customers want lean beef, they shouldn’t be buying from us. Our steers are very fat.
4. It tastes gamey. This one really torques me off. It should never taste gamey, and if it does, somebody screwed up, and somebody got ripped off.
5. It’s tougher because the animals walk around more.

Maybe someplace else, but not on most farms. Most of the time, animals are limited in their grazing areas. It’s a practice called rotational grazing and it keeps animals from wandering all over the place. Cows are highly selective grazers, and given the opportunity, they will walk all over the place in search of their favored grasses, while walking all over (and rendering inedible) quality grasses that are on their “B list”. The point of rotational grazing is to make them eat everything on their plates, and not just dessert.
6. Cows just eat plain old grass.

Um… Where to begin with that one. There is no such grass as “plain old grass”. There are predominant grasses that are found in different regions, different growing conditions and in different seasons. If you see grass around here in spring and fall, chances are it’s Kentucky 31 tall fescue. It’s highly competitive and available in every home improvement store. It’s probably what’s growing in your yard. Unfortunately, it’s mildly toxic (that’s why it’s such a successful grass), so in spite of its prevalence, it’s not the best for cows. And it goes dormant in the summer. Providing quality forage to cattle doesn’t happen on its own.
7. All cattle need just grass. People feed grain because they’re ignorant or lazy. No. Some cattle can do quite well on grass alone. Some cattle need the added energy that grain provides.  It’s all about meeting the animal’s nutritional requirements.
8. It’s more humane.

It’s not any more or less humane than any other means of beef production. How can anyone suggest that the type of feed available has anything to do with how human handlers treat animals? There is absolutely no connection
9. It’s more environmentally friendly.

It can be, but if I let my grassfed steers get into the pond, which eventually flows into the Chesapeake Bay, how does that compare to someone who feeds grain, but keeps his steers out of the waterways?
10. It’s healthier.

There isn’t an answer to this one yet. There just isn’t enough research to say one way or another, and, as with any human health research, solid evidence is hard to come by. We know that there are differences in the meat from grassfed vs. grain-fed animals. But human health impacts are harder to pin down because we don’t do feed trial on humans.  Our farm is involved in some of the research on the animal side, and we really believe that the evidence is pointing to human health benefits, but no one can say for sure yet.

And One Really Awesome Thing!

So with all that, why would anyone bother with grassfed beef?  Even if there are human health benefits, that’s not reason enough to go to the extra effort to buy it.  Fact is, most of our customers buy it based on flavor alone.  That’s right.  Our beef is tender and juicy, with a bright, bold, complex flavor.  Every time.  It’s that simple!


Many people who take an interest in livestock are familiar with the concept of rotational grazing. The practice goes by many names and variations – management intensive grazing, limit grazing, mob grazing, cell grazing – but the general idea is the same – keeping livestock contained to a smaller section of their pasture, rather than giving them access to the entire thing. It’s a rationing system, and cattle may be moved to a new section of pasture several times a day, typically seen in grazing dairies, or they may spend several weeks in a pasture before moving to a new one.

The concept is as old as animal domestication, (Ezekiel 34:14 – I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and [in] a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.) though the implementation has changed over the past few thousand years. Advances in electric fence charger technologies and fencing materials mean that rotational grazing is now a convenient and economical way to manage livestock.

This is a pretty big step from shepherds watching their flocks by night. My family had several of these weights we tied animals to so they could graze, and somewhere at my parents old house, is at least one wheel bearing, mounted to a stake that was pounded into the ground.

We had a bunch of these when I was a kid. This one is for a calf, and weighs about 40 lb.


This is what rotational grazing looks like now.

The cows actually grazed this too short, but these are the tools we use these days for rotational grazing.



Hope and one of her friends showing off their mad ranching skills.





People often ask me if we use heritage breeds.  I can’t say as I really know exactly what a heritage breed, is, but it doesn’t matter.  The answer is “No”, and the answer has nothing to do with whether or not a breed has genetic value somewhere.  What matters is if that breeding decision makes sense for our customers – all of them – not just our retail meat customers.
We use mostly use Red Angus cattle, the red version of the well-known Black Angus.  Given the popularity of Black Angus,  it’s not surprising that the reds aren’t as widely recognized outside of the cattle industry, but there are a lot of them.  Like the blacks, they’re known for their docility, feed efficiency and meat quality.  But their red color give them an edge over the blacks in the hotter regions of the country.  Though they have separate breed associations here in the United States, they’re considered the same breed in Canada and England.


Even the most die-hard Black Angus person will admit that this is a nice cow.

The other breed we use is the Murray Grey, an Australian breed.  Some people call them a heritage breed, but they’re quite popular in Australia (depending on the source, they’re either the second or third most common beef breed there), so I’m not sure where the “heritage” idea came from.


Murray Greys – Because everyone is a sucker for a Shorthorn.

Murray Greys are a Shorthorn-Angus composite breed.  A composite is different than a cross.  It’s a cross that has been developed and managed for certain characteristics for several generations, and has it’s own breed association.
By using these Angus-type cows, we get the best of both worlds when it comes to selling our calves.  The “best of the best” are retained either as heifers to go back into the breeding herd, or as steers to go into our grass finishing program.  Calves that don’t look like they’ll fatten quickly on grass, and those who have been treated with antibiotics, are sold as commercial cattle, and go into conventional beef programs.  Since our cattle easily adapt to a conventional beef program, we typically sell them straight off of the farm.
Last year I saw some Black Angus x Highland cattle sold at the local sale barn.  They were small, shaggy and had scurs, which look like horns – the top three things order buyers will avoid.  They were selling for over a dollar per pound less than the Angus type cattle of similar weight.  That’s an enormous difference in price on a 500 pound animal!  Everyone lost out on that deal, most of all, the cattle.  You can be certain that they didn’t end up on one of the “cushier” feedlots.
In my mind, one of the responsibilities of a cattle producer has a clearly defined vision who the buyer is for every animal he or she produces .  By having a large pool of willing buyers for all our cattle – not just the resounding successes – we can be sure that all our cattle become somebody’s bragging rights!




This little angel is a bovine rock-star in the making. She’s a Murray Grey heifer, and like most Murray Grey calves, she hit the ground running.  Murray Grey calves are tiny and vibrant.  They’re born easily and quickly, they’re aggressive nursers, and they’re intensely curious.

This girl is about 5 hours old in this picture, ready to face the world!


When I checked cows at noon on Tuesday, everyone looked fine.  When I went to re-check at 5, I found Y3 and Y10 both cleaning newborn calves.  Having two cows calve this close together isn’t too unusual, especially when you think about cows are managed.  Not only are Y3 and Y10 half-sisters – both are daughters of our Chunky bull, their mamas are half sisters!  On top of that, Y3 and Y10 were both AI’d (artificially inseminated) to the same bull, JSF Capiche 46U on the same day.

Twenty yards out though, I could tell there was a problem with Y10’s calf.  I was there literally within seconds of the birth, but the calf was not breathing, and there was no heartbeat.

Y10 didn’t care though.   She figured she’d just take Y3’s calf!  Y3 wasn’t too happy about it at first, but she’s sort of resigned herself to that fact that she’s sharing her calf.

Bet you can’t guess the baby’s nickname!



Y10 AKA Princess Squishy

As producers, we like it when our cows have calves on a predictable schedule.  We call it our “calving window” and from a management perspective, there are a lot of good reasons to maintain a tight calving window.  When a group of cows calves at the same time, it helps us closely monitor their pregnancies, for instance.  Knowing that a cow (or better yet, a group of cows) is within a week of calving means that we can move them to more sheltered pastures, alter their ration, or simply just keep a closer eye on things.

In some regions, particularly where severe weather is the norm, cows are brought to special calving barns.  Here in Virginia,  cows are expected to calve outside, and most of the time, it works really well.  Last month at a rental farm, one of our groups of cows calved, and I was out there at least once a day, and often twice a day to make sure they were safe and well and where they belonged. It involves a lot of walking around and just watching how the cows look and act.

In that group, all 23 cows calved within 30 days.

A a week off from that, I’m watching another group of cows here at the house.  When we’re calving out at home, we bring the cows to the pasture right by our house, and I can easily watch them from the comfort of my living room, using my trusty binoculars.

In this group is a first calf heifer we call Princess Squishy.  She is what is called a commercial cow.  She was born here on the farm, sired by a Red Angus bull, but her mama is out of a cow that we bought, and we really don’t know much about her. What we do know is that Princess Squishy is the sweetest, nosiest, silliest cow we have and she always just makes us smile.  And in spite of the fact that she’s not tame, we AI’d (artificially inseminated) her to a Shorthorn bull, in hopes of getting a flashy red heifer calf to show.


JSF Capiche 46U

So every hour or so, I grab my binoculars and run into the living room to see what Princess Squishy is up to.  Is she standing up?  Is she laying down?  Is she standing funny?  Is she away from the group?

I wish she’d hurry up.  I have stuff to do.



I pass this every day on my way to check cows.


Where’s the baby?

During calving season, I spend hours looking for cows and calves.  Even when there is little cover, a 1300 lb. cow can be hard to find, and her 90 lb. calf even harder.


There he is! Awwww.


Grafting calves is as straightforward as it is maddening.  The idea is simple – get the calf to nurse the cow.  Not too big a deal.  Except for the part where the cow tries to kill you.  Or the calf.

The stars pretty much have to align for this whole thing to work.  First off, you need the dead calf.  This part isn’t 100% essential, but it helps.  You have to able to get the cow up to a safe working place (this is why it works best with old show cows – at least you can lead them).  You have to have a newborn calf to graft to the cow.  You have to have a couple of days to devote to the process.  And you have to be willing to get your face kicked in.

Two years ago, on a Saturday morning, Dixie’s calf was born dead.  Scott and Marlaina skinned the dead calf, and brought the skin and Dixie up to the working pen.


Dixie hasn’t noticed that there is something different about her calf.

Scott and Marlaina went to the dairy and came back with a Holstein bull calf.


Scott bought me this calf cart because I hate hauling calves in my minivan

Sometimes these Holstein bull calves aren’t the most vigorous nursers.  They’re newborns and some take longer to figure things out than others.  Fortunately this calf is definitely interested in nursing.  For grafting, the calf has to be an aggressive nurser.


Here’s Stinky, looking quite dapper in his calf-skin sweater.

The reason this works is that cows are smell oriented, rather than sight oriented.  But even with that, some cows are harder to fool than others.


The Queen is not amused

After several attempts to kick this calf across the pen, we resort to plan B, the squeeze chute.


Dixie considers her plan of attack

After four days of this, Dixie and Stinky are out with the herd.


Dixie, the proud mom

A month later.


Stinky is 35 days old in this picture

We don’t use Holstein bull calves for our grassfed beef program.  When he was about 6 months old, Stinky was sold into a conventional beef program.  Dixie is still here, along with her 2013 bull calf.  She’s now one of our donor cows.