Beef: More Than Cows, Grass and Sunshine

This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. I received compensation but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

If I asked you what went into the steak on your plate, what would your answer be?

Grass? Absolutely. Water? You betcha. You might even throw in a curveball like shelled or cracked corn, if you prefer grain-finished beef. But what about all the intangibles that go into raising cattle for beef? The aspects that are easily overlooked but are just as important as the grass, sunshine, and water that nurture the cattle and help them grow – where do they come in?

The beef community is more than just grass, cows and sunshine.

Take me for example. I’m a rancher, and my specialized skillset is animal wellbeing and behavior – I take pride in knowing about cattle’s instincts and natural tendencies, and using those skills to keep my cows calm and comfortable in all situations. But I need more than just my skills to raise cattle for beef. I need knowledge about nutrition, animal health, grass and soil management and much more to successfully raise healthy cattle for nutritious beef.

My husband is our go-to resource when it comes to deciding what kind of feed our cattle need – his educational background is in livestock nutrition. He evaluates the quality of the grass in our pastures and uses that information to determine what kind of supplemental feed our cows might need. Lower quality grass or forage requires supplementation of a protein source, such as soybean meal, to keep our cows’ bodies healthy and producing milk for their calves. But where does he get the knowledge of the grass quality? From an agronomist of course! We send off forage samples of our grass and hay to an agronomist who supplies us with the data we need to determine the next step of our cattle’s daily diet.

However, raising healthy cattle isn’t just about making sure they eat the right feed. We also need to ensure their metabolism and body systems are in exceptional working order and to do that, we work very closely with our veterinarians. I cannot adequately emphasize how important our veterinarian-client-patient relationship is for the health of our cattle herd. Our veterinarians advise us on the mineral to give our cows (similar to how we take a daily multivitamin), the type and timing of vaccinations, the treatment a sick animal should receive and even help us deliver baby calves if we have a cow experiencing severe difficulties. We would be up the river without a paddle if it weren’t for our veterinarians, and we rely on them almost weekly for advice and counsel of keeping our herd in tiptop condition.

Raising cattle seems like a lot of science, fresh air and getting our hands dirty and that’s absolutely true nearly every day (just ask my washing machine); but we also have to do the not-so-fun stuff to keep the wheels turning, such as bookkeeping. We must keep track of our inputs and outputs, cost of gains, expenses, sales receipts and so much more in order to track the profitability of our ranch. As a small business, if we don’t create income, we aren’t sustainable, so just like many other small businesses we utilize an ag accountant to help us make financial decisions that benefit our ranch and our family.

So you see, while the beef community may just seem like a lot of grass, cows and sunshine, it really boils down to many different people pursuing their respective passions to ensure that the beef you eat is safe, nutritious and sustainable. I love this lifestyle not only today, on National Ag Day, but every day I get to spend on the ranch, raising cattle with my family by my side.

That’s our story. It’s similar, yet different to every other beef farmer or rancher across the nation because there are literally hundreds of ways to raise cattle. Each farmer or rancher is doing his or her best to raise cattle as safely and sustainably as possible so that the beef we send to the grocery store or farmer’s market gives you a big smile when you put it on your plate.

Until next time,
~  Buzzard ~

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