What to Look for:
part 2 (continued from part 1)
3. Environment: Ideally, select breeding
stock that originates from an environment similar to your own.
However… by virtue of the relatively small numbers of quality grassfed
beef genetics available in North America, this may prove very difficult
to accomplish. But try.
The reason: animals adapt to their region/climate over time, and the less
time your animals spend adapting, the sooner they will hit their maximum
What are some adaptation hurdles? Heat and humidity in summer, and extreme
cold and wind in winter. Remember, your breeding season will likely fall
in the hottest part of summer if you live in a region with real summer
weather. For unadapted females this could translate to open cows at fall
Winter: While most cattle will grow an extra inch or two of hair in
winter, some of our North American winters can only be described as brutal.
Cattle native to such regions are adapted to the harsh winter weather
and can get by with a windbreak of hay bales or trees. But transplants
from the Southeast U.S., for example, would require more protection and
a better plane of nutrition than those native cows and their calves.
Is this a permanent situation? No. Time is the key. Often calves gestated
and born in the new environment are much better adapted than their dams,
as will be there offspring after them. Transplants into hotter more humid
areas will adapt, though possibly not all of them, as will animals moved
from 'winterless' regions to the frigid north.
Another reason for buying your grassfed beef genetics from an environment
similar to your own is the forage base. Believe it or not, moving animals
to new locations often involves a learning curve for them, as they get
acquainted with which plants on the pasture buffet are tasty to them.
Imagine if you were suddenly up and transplanted to Cambodia, where the
standard fare is extremely different from our American diet. How long
would it take you to adjust to this new menu?
Calves learn foraging habits from their dams, partly through grazing
proximity, and, say some researchers, partly through their dam's milk!
Mechanisms aside, know that changing forage types can impact animal performance
in the short term. For example, moving from the hard grasses of Montana
to endophyte infected fescue pastures in Missouri is a significant change
in diet and nutrition, as well as the challenge of adapting to the presence
of the endophyte. Some animals never adapt to endophyte, but most will.
The grass-based cow needs to have good rumen capacity, because she needs
to be able to harvest a large amount of forage to take with her to her
resting and rumination spot. 'Soft' grasses such as brome and orchard
grass in the Eastern half of the U.S. contain much more water than the
hard grasses found in the more arid states. Water takes up volume, which
means pound for pound, nutritionally speaking, those hard grasses are
delivering a more concentrated load of nutrients.
The cow developed on pasture and hay alone will have much better rumen
capacity and a healthier, better functioning rumen too.
4. The final factor in the equation:
How are they raised? Do not, under any circumstances, fail to ask
this question! If the breeding stock you buy and the calves they produce
are going into a low input system, they need to come from a low input
system. No exceptions.
Here are a couple of questions you must
ask a prospective breeding stock supplier:
a. "What is the cowherd's diet
in winter? Bulls diet? Weaned calves and yearlings' diets? What supplements,
if any, are fed at any time of the year? What percent of their diet
is comprised of concentrates and silage during any given period of the
b. "Are you currently producing
grassfed beef with these genetics?" If yes, what is age and weight at
harvest, dressing %, and what are your primary forages?" If no,
"are your genetics being used in the grassfed beef programs of
other producers?" If yes, ask for names and phone numbers. Contact
these people. Ask these references how the genetics have performed for
them, and in what environment and under what type of forage base. If
the answer is no, they are not or have not been deployed in grassfed
beef enterprise, keep looking; unless you just feel like being a Guinea
Pig for breeders!"
Check out the breeders listed on our Grass-fed
Beef Genetics Breeder's Directory They represent a wide range of
environments and regions. Contact them, dialogue with them about your
needs and plans, and ask plenty of questions.
Be selective, be informed, be successful!