All-Natural Beef Calves Raised and Sold From Lincoln and Catawba County

— Written By Judy Moore
en Español

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Three Hundred plus “all-natural” calves weighing 600 pounds left Lincoln & Catawba county in the last 2 weeks to graze on wheat fields or eat forage in feedlots. Cow-calf operations receive a higher price due to maintaining the requirements for “all-natural” fed beef. These county’s livestock farms can appropriately be called forage production enterprises – a business of converting sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into a high quality all-natural human food resource: namely beef. This is because cattle can digest foods that humans cannot use, mainly grass and forage.

With good management, grass & forage are an extremely valuable renewable resource. As such, it represents the least expensive feed resource to maintain animal health and production in cow-calf operations. A combination of excellent grass/forage production, grazing management practices, cattle genetics that match the forage resources, and a well-timed calving season results in minimum reliance on purchased and harvested feeds. On average, 50 % plus, of total operating costs in cow-calf enterprises are associated with nutrition because pasture management, harvested hay, and concentrate feeds make up the majority of that cost. Consequently, the nutritional program represents a major target to trim cost of production. However, it is widely recognized that nutrition status of the cow is closely related to reproductive performance. If too many corners are cut in the nutritional program, pregnancy and calving rates dramatically suffer. Occasionally, cow-calf producers need to feed a concentrate to further increase body condition of the cows. To implement and maintain an efficient supplementation program for grazing or forage fed cattle, the following must occur.

First, cattle producers identify specific supplementation needs. Second, they must estimate nutrient content of standing forage or hay which may vary greatly. Third, once the first and second nutrient requirements steps have been established, determining supplemental needs is simply a comparison of the first two steps. Fourth, it is a matter of finding feedstuff at the cheapest price to meet the animal’s nutrition requirements. When looking for feedstuffs, cattlemen have a set of priorities they look for to maximize intake and meet nutrient requirements.

The first priority is the protein requirement to maximize forage intake. Many years of research have consistently shown that protein supplementation is extremely effective for cattle grazing protein-deficient forage. In fact, energy supplementation will not be effective if dietary protein is deficient. Once protein is met, the second is energy intake. The decision must be made whether the cattle need to maintain body weight, or gain weight, or be allowed to lose some weight (in the case of some cows). This decision will dictate how much supplemental energy will be provided. Lastly, vitamin and mineral requirements should be compared to make certain the vitamin and mineral intake will solve any potential deficiencies. It should be noted that protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals all are important and necessary. One can think of a wooden barrel with each board representing each needed ingredient. In order for the barrel to hold water all board staves need to be at the correct level to maximize the water held. If one board is short that is where the water first leaks out. It also tells us how much water is held in the barrel. So it is with these ingredients. The ingredient which is low will limit the maximum growth of an animal. Since grasses do not have high levels of energy, it takes a lot longer for calves to grow to 600 pounds unless their mothers are high milk producers. Livestock producers understand and balance all these to provide you with beef. Now, some are meeting all the requirements to produce “all-natural“ beef which also does not allow the use of antibiotics or growth hormone stimulators (implants).

Livestock producers have a wealth of knowledge and “all-natural” is a way for producers to provide a high-quality product to meet the varied needs of beef consumers. Call the Lincoln County Livestock Agent, Glenn Detweiler for questions, (704) 736-8461.