By Tim Goodnight
In last week’s discussion on what is required to produce quality grassfed beef, I focused on animal genetics. While selecting the right genetics is essential to producing quality grassfed beef, there are several other factors to consider.
Grassfed beef producers face many challenges that the feedyards do not. Feedyards are very good at producing vast amounts of beef in confined areas using formulated rations. Unfortunately, many consumers feel these production practices produce beef that lacks flavor. A growing number of consumers are also concerned about the environmental, human health and animal welfare aspects of conventional production practices.
When it comes to producing flavorful beef that is better for the environment, the consumer and the animal, grassfed beef producers have an incredible story to tell. While this story is important, it must be backed by a high-quality eating experience.
Soil Health is at the top of the list when it comes to producing quality grassfed beef. While the chemistry of the soil may be useful in determining yield and dry matter production, soil biology is a better tool for predicting forage quality and animal performance. Moving away from the use of synthetics and tillage, while maintaining a living root system and introducing adaptive grazing principals will stimulate soil biology and build soil organic matter. Improving soil health will benefit animal performance and health, as well as the quality of the meat produced.
Forage Diversity is also important to both animal performance and meat quality. The benefits of species diversity in grazing programs has been well documented. The symbiosis that takes place between plant species when a variety of root systems exist cannot be ignored. Increased dry-matter production, improved animal health and performance along with significant increases in soil organic matter have all been documented. While introducing diversity is easy to accomplish in planted cover crop mixes, the latent seed bank present in our pastures can also be accessed to increase diversity through the implementation of adaptive grazing techniques.
Water Quality is another critical factor when it comes to animal performance and the flavor of the meat. The muscle of an animal is roughly 75% water. Water quality problems such as high concentrations of minerals, nitrates, bacterial contamination, algae growth, fertilizers and/or other chemicals can impact flavor. If water quality is poor or tastes bad, cattle will limit how much they drink. Limited water intake will reduce forage consumption and daily gains. Knowing that water consumption is essential for animal performance and that the rate of gain effects carcass quality, it should be no surprise that water quality impacts not only the flavor but several other meat attributes as well.
Finally, grass-finishers must place an emphasis on Stockmanship. Producers can do everything right when it comes to genetics, soil health, forage diversity and water quality but can lose it in an instant with poor stockmanship. Poor animal handling will stress cattle. This stress causes several chemical reactions that negatively impact meat flavor and texture. How the animal is handled from the time it’s a calf to the time it’s processed is critical in achieving quality grassfed beef.
Whether you are a grass-finisher or not… the issues discussed above are the same issues that determine your success on the ranch. This alignment between cow-calf producers and grass-finishers is one of the most exciting developments in the beef industry. Never have the interests of the ranchers and finishers been more closely aligned than they are in the grassfed beef sector.
We will continue this discussion next week…