Farming Practices - 100% Grass Fed Beef
We currently raise 120-30 grass-fed beeves on pasture for harvest every year. Usually half or less of these will be ready for processing in late June or early July, depending on how much fat cover they put on with the spring and early summer pasture. The rest we harvest in late fall when they are coming off the good fall forage.
At the present time we do not maintain our own beef breeding herd. After much research, we finally located a certified organic, grass-based rancher near Springfield that raises 200 - 250 calves per year. Mostly Angus and Beefmaster bloodlines, he has refined his genetics to produce calves that thrive on a 100% pasture diet.
We purchase weaned 6-8 month old calves from him in the late fall or early spring, and then bring them here to our farm in Barrington to "finish" on our pastures over the next year, ready for processing at approximately 22 - 28 months of age (feedlot beef fattened on corn is usually processed at 18 months).
We also purchase yearling calves and sometimes finished beeves from other local farmers that meet our high standards for 100% grass fed beef - no hormones, no antibiotics, raised on pasture.
Growing on Pasture
We rotate the beef herd to fresh pasture every day, moving them to a new temporary paddock using portable electic fencing from April through November. That gives each paddock 3-5 weeks to regrown and rejuvenate before it is ready to be grazed again. Often we will move the flock of laying hens to the paddocks 3 - 4 days after the cattle have grazed it, as they enjoy picking apart the manure for insects and spreading the cowpat around more evenly.
During the spring, summer, and fall the cattle eat only fresh pasture forage, with our fields consisting primarily of bluegrass, ryegrass, timothy grass, meadow fescue, red and white clover, and a number of healthy forbs and legumes. Since we don't use any herbicides, we do have a few "weeds" in the pastures, but they are often very tasty and nutritious for the cattle - dandelions, plantain, white clover, to name a few. The cattle will also eat some of the tree branches and leaves they can reach for extra roughage.
We also provide the cattle with a free choice organic mineral supplement which is 1/3 Fertrell Nutribalancer, 1/3 Thorvin icelandic kelp, and 1/3 sea salt. They don't eat much of this supplement in the spring and summer as our pastures provide most of the minerals they need in the summer, but in winter when they are eating mostly hay they will get more of their minerals from these supplements. We don't feed the beef cattle any grains - no corn, no soybeans, no milo - cattle are herbivores and their digestive systems are designed to eat grasses not grains. In the winter, once the stockpiled forage is all gone, we feed the cattle high-quality grass and alfalfa hay until the fields are ready for grazing in the spring.
The beef cattle are very hardy and don't require shelter in the warmer months. However most of our pastures have 1 - 2 trees in each paddock area, so during the heat of the day or during heavy rainstorms they will get under the trees for shade or shelter. During the winter months, they usually will stay in the barn during the storms and cold snaps, but we leave the barn doors and gates open so they can get out into the pastures for exercise and to scratch up any remaining grass to munch on (unless the fields are wet).
We use a deep bedding system in the barn for the cattle as well as the chickens. Rather than clean the barn out every day, we simply add additional straw, wood chips and pine shavings to the existing bedding, which absorbs the manure and urine and builds up into a very nice compost by spring. As this active compost pile builds over the winter, it also provides heat and a comfortable, dry lounging area for the cattle. In the spring we turn the pigs into the barn to root through and aerate the compost, then we spread it on our fields and gardens.
In nature, herbivores such as deer, elk, buffalo, and wild cattle are herd animals, and they are constantly on the move, grazing and then moving on to the next field or meadow for fresh pasture. We try to replicate that natural behavior as closely as possible in raising our beef cattle. Our cattle are never penned or confined, and essentially spend their entire lives on our farm on pasture.
We use several local custom processing facilities which are inspected by the USDA or the Illinois or Wisconsin state agricultural departments. They humanely process each animal according to our specific directions, so that if a customer prefers extra thick steaks and lots of roasts, we can accomodate them, or if they prefer no roasts but lots of ground meat, we can request that as well for all quarter beef and larger orders. They will also dry age the beef for up to 14 days for extra tender steaks.
If you order a quarter, half, or whole beef, you will be instructed to contact the processor with your cutting instructions shortly after we take the beeves in for harvesting. We will forward on some guidelines to help you decide what options are available. When your order is ready, you will pick it up directly from the processor and pay them the processing fee, usually about $100 per quarter. We will then bill you for the remainder of the beef based on the hanging weight of your portion.