Grass Finish

Posted January 1st, 2008 — Filed in Bud's Musings

This is not something new. Ever since the first person ate an animal, we have eaten grass finished animals. In fact, at one time almost everything was grass finished. Grain feeding animals is reasonably new. It mainly came about as a way to market grain. Transportation was slow and very expensive, so it worked well to feed animals and sell them. Not only did it help the people growing grain, but the livestock owners also liked it. Now they had a very easy way to sell their animals.

Before this market opened up it was not always easy to sell at a decent price. My dad butchered and sold all of our meat animals right at our place. Not many people could or would do this, so they were more than happy to sell to the grain finisher. That would have been alright except that this slowly took all of the business away from the local abattoir. As they started to go out of business, it got harder to get grass finished animals butchered. By now, very few people know how to butcher at home. While we were letting the local abattoir go out of business, someone was making laws that would make it very difficult to butcher at home anyway.  Today it is very expensive to get animals butchered.

Things happen because of changing circumstances more than because they are good or bad.  Let’s kind of look at the past.  While I don’t try to guess what the future will be, sometimes understanding how and why things happened will help us prepare for what could happen in the future. Growing grain happened because with a team of horses, plow, and some seed a person could get started. As farms got farther from the market, transportation started to be a problem. With a team and wagon they didn’t go very far in one day and could not haul very much. My grandparents lived about 25 miles from town. They went to town twice a year. It was one day in with loaded wagons, one day in town and one day back home with supplies. There were seven children in the family.  Two got to go with each trip to town. So every year and a half or two years each child got to go to town. I wonder how young people or even older folks would like that now?

After the Second World War, farming really started to change fast. Tractors began taking the place of the horses and mules. New hybrid seeds, irrigation, and other new things allowed for increased production per acre. Now the farmer could go to one or two crops and make a living. This was great except now it was easy to produce more than what was needed. Now we had lots of inexpensive feed. This is when grain feeding really started to expand. We were building roads everywhere.  There were trucks to haul the feed and animals and we were not limited to the railroads. Also the cost of fuel was low, and it was possible to move feed and animals to where it was best to feed them. It was only natural for the abattoirs to move to the major feeding areas.

The livestock people also really liked this. Where we lived, the ranchers kept their steers and spayed heifers until they were 3-years old and sold them right off grass. Now a new market opened up and allowed the rancher to sell weaned calves, yearlings, or send them to a feedyard and let someone else feed and sell them. This was great.  Now we could just have cows and calves or just buy calves and have a stocker business or any combination. Life was good, but the grass finish business was almost done.

Then something new, that was not really new, started to happen. Some people started to think that eating grass finished animals would be more healthy. To some people, new opportunity just opened up. To others, there were just so many problems they felt that it would not work. The ones who saw it as an opportunity now have very successful businesses. We have been away from grass finish long enough that some things were forgotten or not easy to get. Of course, that is where the opportunity is for the person who figures out the answer to the things that are difficult.

Now we may have something new or very different that is happening that is not that different from some things that happened in the past. When I was young, transportation was slow and expensive. To us, grain was also expensive since we had no money to buy it, no matter what it cost. Transportation and grain is now getting very expensive when compared to what they were two or three years ago. This will offer great opportunity or many problems, whatever we want it to be. If the cost of gain goes up, this will make our grass more valuable. It might be wise to relearn how this was handled in the past and use some of those things to help us today.

Ranchers didn’t keep animals until they were three years old just because they liked to look at them. It was to get the most pounds to sell from the grass they had. Just think about this.  If they had two cows that produce two calves that weigh 400 pounds each, it would take the grass or feed for two cows for a year and for two calves for six months to get 800 pounds to sell.

Or, for about the same amount of grass they could keep four calves that weigh 400 pounds each for a year and easily get 1200 pounds or more of gain.  If they just got 1200 pounds of gain, the calves would now weigh 700 pounds each. They could now take three animals that weigh 700 pounds each on the same amount of grass and get at least 1200 pounds of gain. With the two cows in these two years they would get four calves that weigh 1600 pounds total.  With about the same amount of grass they could gain 2400 pounds by keeping four calves that weighed 400 pounds for two years.

When the grain feeding took over and the cost of gain was low, people could pay a premium price for calves. Most cow/calf producers like to have lots of cows. They could sell calves and have feed to run more cows. So again, almost everybody was happy.  Life was good.

My dad raised animals, finished them, and butchered them right on our place. He could only butcher between October and March since we had no refrigeration, and he could only do it when the evenings were cool enough to cool the meat. We never fed grain to anything but the hogs. He was still able to finish the animals and have a good product. At that time people had very little money, and if the meat wasn’t good they would bring it back and tell everyone they knew and you would not sell any more. He knew how to keep the animals gaining and finish even in the winter with feed we grew. If we are going to finish large numbers without grain, we may need to use some of these things again.

Remember, grain prices up or grain prices down, there are lots of opportunities. Fuel cost up or down, transportation cost up or down, there will be lots of opportunities. Learn how to get the most out of the grass or feed you have. Be willing to change as conditions change. In the coming years that may be often.

Stay prepared and things will be good, maybe even great!