Here’s a little bit about how we do things ’round here with our cattle! At Hayfield Farm, our cattle are free to roam acres and acres of pasture all day long. That being said, we do implement rotational grazing where we keep the cows off a field for at least a month before they make their way around and get back on it again (depending on the season). There are many benefits to rotational grazing. Mainly, it increases forage production. By keeping the cows on the field for just a short period of time, they don’t eat the forage down to the root. This allows for the delicious vegetation such as clover, fescue, and alfalfa to grow back nice and strong, which keeps out the weeds and unfavorable plants who jump at the opportunity when the yummy grasses are weak. And, of course, everyone’s favorite topic- manure! With rotational grazing, cattle spread their manure more evenly as they explore all the fresh grass on their new field. By holding them in one field all the time, the cattle eat the grass down, then concentrate their manure around the feed bins and waterers, which would be simply a missed opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of free, rich organic matter that will greatly increase the quality of our fields. In the winter, when the vegetation is minimal, we provide hay that we have cut here at the farm.
Speaking of feed bins, we do give our cattle access to grain. Cattle are given the option to freely access a grain feeder, all day long, which follows them throughout their rotation from field to field. By allowing our cattle to supplement their foraging as they wish, we have no need to confine them to a production-style feed lot to meet our product demands. Production-style feed lots have no grass and confine cattle to a small area where they are only offered grain.
To give you an idea, a large, traditional feed lot in America consists of 3,000-5,000 cattle in a 30 acre parcel. No kidding, check it out on Google. For comparison, at Hayfield Farm, we have about 150 cattle on approximately 60 acres.
There are many factors we consider in the rearing, feed program, and processing of our cattle. Generally, our cattle go to the butcher between 18 and 24 months of age. Feeding too much grain too quickly, will make the cattle too fat before it’s time for the market, not enough grain will set us up to butcher a cow that is too close for the age limit for slaughter. Our butcher shop is USDA-inspected and they are just plain friendly. They are top-notch and hold themselves to a high standard of the quality. They go above and beyond the guidelines set out by USDA to ensure that every cut is done right. We wouldn’t go anywhere else.
As far as our feed program goes, we feed a grain mixture of corn, barley, wheat, minerals, and soy bean meal. We choose to provide this grain to our cattle because it, ultimately, creates marbling in the finished meat. In short, marbling makes meat taste good, and who doesn’t love a good steak? In long, marbling is the streaks and bits of white within the meat. Marbling adds flavor to the meat and is actually a primary criteria in judging the quality of meat. Generally, the more marbling, the better the quality. Now this isn’t the large layer of fat on the edge of your roast or steak that your uncle likes to chew on for 45 minutes; it’s just the small flecks that occur within the meat itself. That being said, marbling is primarily determined by the diet of the cattle. Grass-fed only beef will have very little to no marbling while grain-fed only beef will have an overabundance of thick fat. We’ve found that our sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, shown below!