Beef On The Gentlemans Farm
Why raise Miniature Herefords?
I am often asked: Why raise Miniature Herefords? Or how……
I hope to answer some of your questions.
Is it practical for the Gentleman Farmer, or a small property owner to raise an honest-to-goodness beef steer? From what I’ve seen in our San Francisco, Greater Bay Area I would say yes!!! You don’t need the back 40 acres to raise Miniature Herefords when the back four will do. Even on one acre, if you are keeping Dantre Ranch Miniature Herefords, you’ll find yourself raising up to 4 beef cattle with very little impact on your pasture. This has been “time tested” and proven on my own Ranch.
Shelter for your Cattle
A shelter can be simply a three-sided shed but really all the cattle need (in our area) is a roof to keep them comfortable during our hot summers and keep them dry during the wet winters. This way you can reduce the stress on your herd but remember, they have been around long before man has intervened.
A fellow bought a young weaned bull calf. He has a city lot with just over one acre and now has his own beef project underway with a minimum of trouble and investment. He tethered him out in his orchard. He kept the calf on grass through early spring, summer, and fall. In November, he started feeding some dry COB (corn, oats, and barley) and at the end of December he slaughtered the fattened calf. Naturally, if he were going to sell this young bull at market, he’d have to castrate him and then hold the animal for another 6 months. But for home use this young bull provided some excellent eating.
Fencing your livestock
Because of the size and gentleness of these cattle, you really don’t have to have elaborate fencing; cattle wire and t-posts will work well. Because of today’s liability, I would suggest a four foot high, three-rail fence.
A new device that has made keeping a couple of steers more interesting to the Gentleman Farmer is the portable electric fence. A single strand of electric fencing is adequate to hold a Miniature Hereford and it is, of course, easy and inexpensive to put up and move around from paddocks.
I told you earlier about a fellow who tethered his bull calf. Simply put, he drove some concrete stakes in the ground and used a 30-foot, light-weight chain kind of like a heavy-duty dog tether. This worked very well for him in the short term, and if you’re considering raising just one calf, this will work for you as well. He has now installed a proper, three-rail fence and he did cover it with wire because he bought some turkeys, chickens and kune kune pigs. They’re miniature pigs that forage on pasture, cute little things. (New Zealand’s kune kune pigs are friendly, compact animals with short, stumpy legs, a round, sturdy body, a short upturned snout and two tassels hanging from their lower jaws; but that’s a different web page). I must say however, if you’re going to have Miniature Herefords, you might as well have “The Whole Miniature Farm”.
Pasture and Paddock Management
I learned a couple of simple principles over the years: Divide your field into two or four paddocks and rotate your livestock as needed so as not to overgraze. By the time the cattle have grazed through the last one, the first is ready to be grazed again. As you see how your pasture grasses and clovers grow, you may want to increase or decrease the number of paddocks. The more paddocks, the more often you can move your cattle to fresh pasture. Since the animals will spend a week or more in each paddock, a water trough can be placed where the corners of several paddocks come together to serve them all. If you have two acres divided into four paddocks, you can place one water supply (less piping/plumbing) in the middle of the pasture where all four paddocks converge.
Every once in awhile your pasture may need re-seeding. A mix of 80% grasses with some sweet clover or other legume would be ideal to fill in the gaps. If you don’t reseed, then undesirable weeds will emerge. You want the animals to eat the weeds and less desirable grass before you move them. The few weeds they don’t like (thistles) can be hoed after you move the animals to the next paddock. Newly seeded pastures are likely to be weedy, but after one year of grazing and mowing, the clovers and grasses will be dominant. A few weeds in a grazing regimen are not bad. I’ve been told they’re often a better source of minerals than the grasses and clovers.
Let the cattle spread their organic fertilizer (manure) to feed the grasses and legumes. The legumes, especially red clover and alfalfa, will continue to grow lush when dry weather turns grasses brown. Legumes also provide nitrogen to the soil so no other chemical fertilizer will be necessary.
Follow this and the result will be a pasture that not only contains more plants per square yard…but healthier plants which contain more nutrients.
Feeding the Calf
It is healthiest for the calf to keep him with the mother. He will need the colostrum. (Colostrum is the first milk the mother produces. It is vital to the newborn calf. It is yellow to orange in color and thick and sticky. It has a high fat content and is high in carbohydrates, protein, and antibodies to help keep your calf healthy.) You can also purchase colostrum from a feed store.
A calf with his mother will consume small amounts frequently. This is ideal. If for some reason you end up having to bottle feed your calf, he will need to be fed 3 times a day for the first couple weeks. On average, feed four to five pounds (2 to 3 quarts) of milk per day. Milk should be at body temperature, and bottle kept very clean. Give the calf a dry pen, free from drafts. If he is not hungry, miss a feeding rather then trying to make him eat. As age and weight increases, gradually increase the amount of milk at each feeding and decrease the number of feedings a day. In time you can also wean him to a bucket.
Hand feeding the calf is definately more time consuming but the overall training of your cattle will be easier. Also by spending this extra time now they will be better adjusted to human contact and this will be much more rewarding in the long run.
A funny story: We had a newborn calf and I was milking the Mom for colostrum (sometimes colostrum has blood in it), because the calf was not sucking from the mom yet and too much time had elapsed and we needed to bottle feed. We had some friends over with their small children to witness the birth and one of the boys out of the blue exclaimed very seriously, “Wow, she gives chocolate milk!” It really did look like chocolate milk.
Raising a Steer at home
During the meat shortage (Mad Cow Disease Epidemic) there was a great revival of interest among small gentleman farmers, ranchette and estate owners in beef production for home use. This pattern also seems to follow natural disaster or a receding economy, sky rocketing fuel prices and other threatening world events.
If you’re on a small City Lot and the ordinance allows you to have livestock, these miniature cattle can easily be raised with readily available baled hay. If your place has enough good pasture and produces good quality hay, then you should consider raising some steers or even your own small herd.
How to put on Fat
The whole object in fattening a commercial steer is to make it put on weight. Ordinarily, beef cattle are shipped off the free-range ranches of the West to the Corn Belt where they are put in confining feed lots and finished with silage, grains (primarily corn), and other unmentionables (animal by-products) until they are fat enough to slaughter.
While cattle on pasture rarely get sick, those confined to feedlots are prone to disease, since their stomachs are not designed to ingest grains and fillers. It can lead to a variety of intestinal disorders, so most feedlot operators routinely feed antibiotics to prevent illness and hormones to accelerate growth. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, these antibiotics are entering the environment and the food chain, contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and making it harder to treat human diseases. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, reported in a U.C. Berkeley News story, close to 25 million pounds of antibiotics are fed every year to livestock; that’s almost eight times the amount given to humans to treat disease.
We as Americans have become accustomed to the flavor of cereal beef. Simply put, cereal beef is raised on the open range and finished in a stockyard for 90 days on grains, fillers and animal by-products. You might want to quit eating beef altogether and just eat the corn, wheat, oats, etc…. go visit one of these stockyards, processing plants or rendering yards and you’ll know what I mean.
The reason I finish steers is to change the flavor and the color of the fat; 4 to 6 weeks is all that’s needed. Cattle taken directly from the pasture and slaughter will have a yellowish colored fat. This yellow fat is what gives the meat a wild, gamey, more natural taste. This “natural taste” is not what we are accustomed to with mass-produced supermarket beef. So some consumers are disappointed by the flavor of grass-fed beef.
Feeding dry hay removes the moisture absorbed into the muscles from the “wet grasses” the steer has been feeding on. This extra moisture is a carrier of the grassy flavoring. By feeding a combination of fresh water, grain and hay, the flavor will be closer to what consumers want; the color of the fat will turn to white, and the flavor won’t be as strong as just straight grass-fed beef.
This is why I say a good pasture does make a good finisher for these Miniature Herefords, capable of raising a young steer to the tender weight of 600 pounds; it’s cheaper and oftentimes more profitable. In addition to good quality grass the cattle should have plenty of fresh air, water and a salt or trace mineral supplement block.
Feeding cattle from Dantre Ranch can be undertaken in two ways:
a.) “High-quality pasture may furnish the sole feed.” Miniature Herefords can easily put on size and weight straight from your pasture. This is part of the Old Fashioned Values that I speak of when breeding Miniature Herefords. It’s their genetics that have made them easy keepers. This is how I prefer it; beef taken straight from the pasture with grasses being the sole feed. Also, research shows that grass-fed beef contains higher levels of heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids.
b.) Pasture on high-quality grasses and then alfalfa hay and grain for 6 weeks to finish off, confining the cattle in a small pen to help relax the muscles. Six weeks is all that is needed to change the color of the fat; the meat will still have a good natural flavor, tenderness, and be juicy and free of antibiotics and hormones.
Benefits of Grass-fed Beef
For You: No antibiotics or hormones, lower in fat, calories and cholesterol, higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids (research shows these nutrients can play a part in reducing cancer, cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease).
For the Environment: Reduced soil erosion and improved air and water quality, reduced greenhouse gases and global warming, improved habitat and forage for wildlife.
For the Cow: Raised naturally with fresh grass, air and water. Raised in a low-stress environment and humanely treated. Raised healthy, peaceful and natural. Free from antibiotics and growth hormones.
Data courtesy the American Grassfed Association.
Slaughtering your beef
For me this is the worst chore on the farm. We’ve treated our animals humanely their entire lives, and taking the life of another animal is not pleasant. Out of respect for this creature I offer a prayer on its behalf and for giving his life to sustain mine. There is a reference in the Book of Ecclesiastes that seems to tie in with that thought. In Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, it says “…mankind needs to understand…that they themselves are beasts…” and they also die, and mankind and beasts “…have all one breath…” and “…man has no preeminence above a beast…” and “All go unto one place”….) I guess if both of us will end up at the same place, I’d better treat them respectfully during this process. I just feel it’s important to add this out of respect.
If you’re a meat-eater you’re now just beginning to assume that kind of responsibility. We slaughtered our beef around 18 months of age. A butcher can do the slaughtering for you, there are some advantages of hiring a professional, mostly it removes the emotional aspect; considering you’ve spent the last 18 months with this beautiful creature. You can transport your steer to the butcher’s ranch or he can come to yours, he will do all of the work, haul off all of the waste, and deliver the carcass to the meat locker for dry aging, cutting and packaging. This is all done for a reasonable fee.
So you still want to do this yourself but the job scares you, get an old-timer to lend a hand the first time you butcher. You shouldn’t butcher your first steer unless the weather is cold. December is a good month for two reasons, one: it’s now cold enough here in California, which reduces the chances of spoilage (you will be slow the first time), and two: you won’t have to feed your steer through the winter.
I prefer to use a single shot with a 20-gauge shotgun to the head from a distance of 12 inches, this is the quickest and most humane method, the steer will loose consciousness instantly. Aim as if you were drawing an X from the eyes to horns. I immediately cut the throat with a sharp knife and quickly hang him up by the hind feet to bleed. This way you’ll have no trouble getting a rapid drainage of blood from the meat.
Skinning isn’t as complicated as it may seem, the best tip I can think of is to keep your skinning knife sharp. There’s no substitute for a high quality sharp knife, keep that in mind, and the whole job will go a lot easier.
It’s traditional to hang an animal for butchering by making a cut between the tendon and bone on each hind leg and inserting a rope or hook. Hang your steer at a convenient working height so you’ll have easy access to both sides of the carcass as you dress it out.
It’s also a good idea to wash your hands in clean, warm water from time to time during this skinning process to keep loose hairs or other contaminates off the carcass. For ease of handling and transport to the meat locker, quarter the carcass and wrap in large plastic garbage bags.
If you choose to raise and butcher at home, every morsel will be more rewarding than any supermarket steak you’ve ever eaten…. since you have been intimately involved with every single step; breeding, weaning, raising, fattening, butchering, dry-aging, packaging, and freezer storage of the animal.
We’ve been involved with the raising and butchering of our cattle also other livestock and we’ve always enjoyed the meat just as much. No, I’m not saying that everyone should eat meat…. or even that we’ll always eat meat. But we do think that there’s a lot to be said for the meat-eaters among us who are willing to take responsibility for every step in the long chain of events that puts those steaks, ribs, and roasts on so many of our dining room tables.
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Dry-Ageing promotes a robust beef flavor and refines tenderness. This process involves a reputable butcher as the beef must be stored in a meat locker at near freezing temperatures for 14 and up to 21 days prior to being hand cut into steaks, roasts, ribs…..
Most commercial beef producers use wet aging, a process whereby the carcass is injected with chemicals to sustain the red color, promote tenderness and as a preservative. It is then sealed in plastic, waiting for you to buy it at the local grocery store. This is a poor substitute for dry aging.
Only the highest grade of meat can be dry aged, as the process requires meat with a large, evenly distributed fat content, typical of the Miniature Hereford breed. This process enhances beef by two means: first, moisture is evaporated from the muscle. This creates a greater concentration of beef flavor and taste, (kind of like the intense flavor of beef jerky) As an example, your 16oz. steak after being aged will weigh 14oz. Second, the beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscle, which leads to even more tender beef.
Dry Aged beef appears very dark in color. This beef typically has a darker red color than normally seen in a supermarket. I would suggest having your butcher vacuum seal your beef, this process eliminates oxidation, and thereby greatly extends the life of the product. The lack of oxygen sometimes causes beef to lose some of its bright red color. Once the package is opened the meat will “bloom” into color again. This meat is still all natural and dry-aged to perfection.
The quick-freezer is doing still more to stimulate interest in home production of beef. The home freezer means that it is entirely possible for a single family to utilize the 400 pounds of dry-aged dressed meat obtained from your home grown Miniature Hereford steer. Four hundred pounds is not nearly as much as it sounds when you consider that the average annual consumption of beef is 65 pounds per person. You can however make some corned beef, smoked beef, dried beef, or use the chuck in delicious canned stews. I’m partial to a nice brisket highly seasoned and pickled. “pastrami” or how about……..
Because of the Miniature Hereford’s size you don’t have to divide your beef 50/50 with a neighbor, slaughtering his steer one year and yours the next. Also, you know the quality of your beef and the genetics for tenderness of your animal. Who knows what the neighbor bought at the auction. You have to start out with good stock to get a good steak.
Frame Score Charts
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A number of people have been buying our cattle because their property is small (20 acres and less) and the Miniature Hereford beef is “just the right size.” We’ve had a lot of interest from the commercial rancher, but typically our clients haven’t previously owned cattle because of their intimidating large frame size and some just want to keep them for pint-sized pets.
There’s nothing quite as peaceful as a field full of these splendid little creatures!
Dantre Ranch Miniature Herefords are easy to handle, well-bred and of the highest quality!
I hope I’ve answered some of your questions. If you have others, please feel free to contact me.
Sources and Special Thanks to: Natural Resources Defense Council and American Grassfed Association
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