It is critical that a beef animal is fed on a rising plane of nutrition through its life. These young animals need to always be growing to yield a tender and well marbled eating experience to us.
A calf is born in the spring (May-June) and stays with its mother who nurses it and teaches it how to graze before it is weaned between 8 and 10 months of age (depending on winter grazing conditions). Importantly the calves stay with their mother for the early part of winter. When a calf suckles from its mother the milk it is receiving critical energy and protein which helps it develop properly without the addition of a grain ration. The calves are weaned mid winter onto a high quality baled hay (alfalfa, cicer milkvetch, and various grasses).
Come spring, these calves turn one year old and graze the top third of the growing pasture grasses and legumes. Through photosynthesis, the plants convert air and water into simple sugars that it stores in its leaves until after dark when it exudes these sugars into the rhizosphere. We move the cattle every single day during the growing season and only allow them to only graze the top 30% of the plants which means that they are only harvesting the feed with the highest energy and nutrition; it also keeps the plants in a highly vegetative and palatable state for the duration of the summer grazing season.
For their second winter the yearlings graze on very high quality hay. The following spring, they turn two, have grown almost to their full size and over the course of their third summer of life graze and layer on the fat layer that deems them as “finished”. We typically start butchering when the first frost kisses the pastures and concentrates the sugars in the leaves.
A ruminant is not designed to eat grain. Feeding grain to cattle is an energy intensive process that requires many inputs and yields a beef product of questionable flavour, nutrition, and safety. But a steer can be finished in a hurry. Compared to the 28 months it takes us to fatten a beef animal on grass, a conventional steer can be finished in 12-14 months in the feedlot system!
The beef industry is working on the metric of pounds per animal which totally ignores the land base and resources required to put the weight on that animal in a short time. We believe a better and more holistic metric of beef production is pounds produced per acre which absolutely accounts for the energy and feed inputs into the animal. If we measure for pounds of beef produced per acre, our grass-finishing system is absolutely more energy efficient than the conventional feedlot system.