Monday, October 26, 2020

Grass Based Genetics

There is a set of tools that are required for most every job. If you lack those correct tools the job will be harder to accomplish and the quality of the job may suffer. Grass fed beef is no exception. The most obvious requirement is land and grass. Managing this resource is a challenge on its own, but in the south, we have a long growing season and many options to keep grass available most of the year. The other obvious requirement is cattle. This is where the nuance comes in. Most beef cattle breeds have been bred for years to perform well at a feedlot. A feedlot is where commercial cattle go for their last 100 days of life. They are penned in large groups and fed all the high energy feed (Grains and corn silage) they will eat. These cattle use that high energy feed to add weight and marbling (intramuscular fat that adds flavor to beef). Grass fed beef producers, like yours truly, skip that last step. We allow our cattle to finish their growth on pasture. It would be almost unfair to ask those cattle that were bred for the feedlot to perform well in a grass finishing system, even though some people try to do that exact thing. It's like putting a square peg in a round hole. So what should we do? We need another tool in our toolbox. In the past few years, we have started working with South Poll Cattle. This breed was developed by Randy Owen of the country music group Alabama. Their mission is to establish a cattle breed that will tolerate the southern heat and still perform well on grass. The photo posted above is our South Poll Bull. Our first calf crop from him is currently on the ground and a few months old. He is a direct descendant from a long line of genetics at Bent Tree Farm (Randy Owen's farm), and we couldn't be more happy. This is the tool grass fed beef has needed for a while. Genetics that are selected for their ability to perform on grass. We will be getting more involved with these south poll genetics, and look forward to seeing what they bring to our farm in the future. Like everything else in this clean food movement, this is an iterative improvement. We didn't move our whole country to an industrial food system overnight, and we won't move back overnight. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Improvements like this and many others have me convinced that we are moving in the right direction.