It’s late July, and we’re back into our BC Certified Organic and AWA Certified Grassfed beef! Like everything we produce at Spray Creek Ranch, beef is a seasonal product. Luckily, we have vac-packing and freezers to extend the enjoyment. But why don’t we have steaks available until July? Read on, dear eater, and then heat up that grill.
To finish cattle well on grass takes time. It takes us a full year longer to raise a steer or heifer to slaughter weight than it would in a feedlot, where they are fed protein supplements, antibiotics, growth-enhancing hormones and grain. It is also much more challenging to produce a consistently premium quality beef on forages alone — there are many variables to consider and tweak in building a good pastured beef enterprise.
To produce a quality eating experience, with the incredible flavour, sufficient fat for dry aging and the tenderness that a customer expects from premium beef, we need to ensure our cattle are gaining weight well throughout their lives. That involves developing a ‘grazier’s eye’ and an effective rotational grazing strategy, keeping the herd on the move to fresh, high-quality paddocks and keeping the forages growing in a vegetative state. When the forage is overmature, the quality declines and our ability to keep the cattle gaining is lost. If weight gains slow, stop or reverse into weight loss, the eating quality of the beef declines. Learning how to graze a herd properly through the entire growing season, and how to stockpile high-quality forage for winter grazing, takes trials, mistakes, and lots of experience.
A key factor in producing premium grass-fed beef is recovery from the nutritional deficit of winter on the quality forage of summer pastures. Our cool-season perennial forages take off in late spring, and by summer the cattle have regained their body condition after a winter of dry, less nutritious stockpiled dormant grasses and hay. We don’t begin to harvest this season’s premium grass-finished beeves until they have sufficiently fattened on the summer’s lush pastures, and it turns out that day comes in late June or early July.
When all the pieces come together in our pastured beef enterprise, we’re looking at a 24- to 30-month-old steer or heifer that has grown from a birthweight of about 80 lbs to a finished weight of around 1100 lbs on nothing but forages, organic hay, Coast Mountain water, salt with supplemental minerals and a little kelp. We’re looking for a broad, rounded rump and flat back; we want to see the tail head and brisket filling out with fat deposits. To my predatory eye, this will be a plump and tasty looking animal!
After our two-year-old ‘finishers’ are harvested, they hang for three weeks of dry-aging, which balances improved flavour and texture against the trim losses that come from even longer hanging times. After butchering, wrapping, freezing, inventory and labelling, it will be four to five weeks from when we slaughter our cattle until we can deliver them to you at a farmers’ market.
Watching our cattle turn sunshine and water into fertile soil and healthy, delicious beef is inspiring and fulfilling. It has been an amazing experience developing this system, and we are excited to refine and improve each season. Thank you for supporting our family farm, and a better way to raise livestock that regenerates land and livelihoods.