We have been getting a lot more request for frozen locker beef than ever before in the last couple of weeks and we wish that we could deliver the meat immediately. However, our beef will be ready for pickup in December 2020 and no sooner because that is when the calf will be the correct weight and maturity. One of the main problems raising grass fed beef is the challenge of 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 grade lower. In general, the grades are prime, choice, and select. Prime is the best grade, prime has the most marbled fat and results 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 a better deal than select since you get more meat for the same dollar.
We usually reserve calves that are 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 weight 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, the grass turns green and begins to grow. At this point the retained calves begin gaining weight. They are left to graze all summer and fall and they 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 ones born in the spring and fall), graze them to 1300 pounds, and then butcher once a month for monthly delivery.
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, so you will have cattle approaching harvest weight at different times during the year. Also, feedlots are used to control weight gain on the cattle as well, and keep the beef supply matched to consumer demand. In the normal situation, beef is prepared for export, grocery meat cases, and restaurants. In our abnormal times now, we still have the same amount of beef, but it is just not getting to the end user as quickly since the restaurants are now closed. Eventually, the amount of beef heading 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 re-routed from grocers back to the restaurants, so you may see an undersupply at the restaurants and an oversupply 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.