We have been receiving a lot more requests for frozen locker beef than ever before in the last couple of weeks. This is great and we wish that we could deliver the meat immediately! However, unfortunately our beef will be ready no sooner than December 2020, simply because this is when the calf will reach the correct weight and maturity.
Grades and Yield
One of the main challenges to raising grass-fed beef is keeping the daily weight gain high. If the calves do not gain weight on a daily basis (around 3 pounds per day) then they may begin to burn fat to make up for the lost nutrition and if too much fat is burned then the finished meat may result in a lower grade.
In general, grades consist of Prime, Choice, and Select. Prime is considered the best grade due to it’s high content of marbled fat, resulting in the most tender steaks. Prime also yields the most meat from a carcass. Select is the lower grade, has less marbled fat and may not be as tender. Select also yields less meat from the same carcass. So when you purchase a carcass, you get more cut up beef from prime than you would from select; therefore, prime is the better deal since you get more meat for the same dollar.
Why such a long process?
We usually reserve calves born in the spring (March) for our beef program. The calves will be raised by their mothers until they are 8 or 9 months old and then we take them and wean them, usually in November. At this point the calves weigh about 650 pounds. After they are weaned we usually sell 700 pound calves in January, so the calves are now about 10 months old. The calves that we sell will be put on wheat pastures and they will continue to gain around 3 pounds per day; however, the calves that we retain for our beef program will be grazing stockpiled forage, hay, and they will be given protein supplements. The retained calves will be lucky to gain 1 pound per day.
In May when the grass turns green and begins to grow, the retained calves begin gaining weight. They are left to graze all summer and fall and typically reach a final weight of about 1300 pounds by December, depending on the grazing conditions during the summer. At this point they are about 22 months old.
The point being made is that this is a long term process. It takes 22 months to make a finished product and it takes 12 months of advance notice to know how many calves to retain. If we think that there will be high demand, then we hold back more calves in January. If we think the demand will be low, we hold back fewer calves in January. We must know 12 months in advance what the demand will be.
The next problem is inventory on hand to deliver meat in a more timely fashion. As discussed above, the delivery is always around November or December because we are only holding back calves born in the spring. There is a way around this issue, we can hold more calves back (both born in the spring and fall), graze them to 1300 pounds, and then butcher once a month for monthly delivery.
A Final Note
Finally, a note about the national meat supply: Calves are usually born in the spring or fall, but as you saw above they can gain weight at different rates in the winter causing cattle to approach harvest weight at different times throughout the year. Feedlots are used to control weight gain on the cattle as well and keep the beef supply matched to consumer demand. In a normal situation, beef is prepared for export, grocery meat cases, and restaurants. During this abnormal time we still have the same amount of beef but it is not getting to the end user as quickly because the restaurants are now closed. Eventually, the amount of beef headed to grocers will increase and there will be plenty of meat available on shelves again. Once the restaurants reopen, there will be another supply jolt as beef is rerouted from grocers back to the restaurants, meaning you may see an under-supply at the restaurants and an over-supply at the grocers; eventually this will work out and supplies should return to normal.
At Grant Creek Ranch we are continuing to raise calves for the national market and our freezer beef program. We are also trying to increase our herd size so that we can provide even more calves to the market. We will continue to grow our freezer beef business and continue to provide 700 pound calves into the national beef chain. We are glad to see that beef is a product that consumers desire!
Here are some pictures to illustrate the post!
Pictured below are the cows
And here are the bulls
New crop of baby calves that have just been born
Weaned calves, these weigh about 700 lbs and are 10 months old
These steers are mature, they are 21 months old and they weigh about 1200 pounds.