Sunday, May 6, 2007

Pasture raised Beef - True Natural Beef for the Consumer


Grass fit for beef
At Betsy Ross' ranch near Granger the restored land produces natural munchies that make for tasty beef
By Patrick Beach


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

GRANGER — On the subjects of nematodes, microbes and the ever-popular saprophytic and mycorrhizal fungi, Betsy Ross sounds positively evangelical. They're the reason, she says, her beef tastes so good.

Ross, her sister, son and daughter-in-law run some 150 head of cattle a year through their operation near here, along the San Gabriel River, and once the cattle are weaned they're placed on a novel diet: grass. Rye grass, clover, Bermuda, alfalfa and native prairie grasses, grazing on 500 acres divided into 100 paddocks. They eat what, in other words, they were built to eat — as opposed to grain. Some of the cattle are sold to other producers; the rest wind up as about 20,000 pounds of packaged beef annually.

Betsy Ross beef, sold as frozen steaks, roasts and ground beef, is available at all the People's Pharmacies in Austin and, Ross says, should soon be stocked at the downtown Whole Foods Market.

Ross and a handful of other livestock producers in Texas and nationwide are no threat to conventional operations that raise huge numbers of cattle on corn: According to the Texas Beef Council, there are 140,000 beef producers in Texas alone. By comparison,, a site for "grass-fed food and facts," lists just 42 grass-fed beef producers in the state. (Ross believes the number to be closer to 100.) But with the obesity epidemic, food safety scares (contaminated spinach?) and books such as Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" raising public consciousness about what we put in our bodies, there are signs the movement is growing, albeit not at the rate of a pound a day as Ross' cross-bred cattle do.

The argument that Pollan and other believers make is that it's not necessarily our food that's making us sick, but what we feed our food. And when we raise cattle on corn, pump them full of antibiotics and fatten them to market weight rapidly, what winds up on a hamburger bun is invariably unhealthy.

And, flying in the face of the conventional wisdom that fat equals flavor, a lot of folks say the leaner grass-fed cow actually tastes better, too. It does. Really. A couple of years of personal eating research confirms a meatier, slightly stronger taste, but enough fat to keep the meat from being too dry or tough.

"People are connecting the dots," Ross says. "I mean, come on — people are having to drink bottled water."

Not that it didn't take Ross herself a while to connect the dots. After a career in Austin real estate and retiring as the Web master for the Texas Department of Insurance, this former West Texas ranch girl wanted to get back to the land. Ross' brother, Joe David Ross, had owned the former cotton farm 13 miles north of Taylor since 1975, and Ross and her elder sister, Kathryn, a retired geologist, moved there around the turn of the new century. They were feeding the cattle a lot of corn when they had to, Ross recalls. Not coincidentally, to her mind, they also kept a refrigerator full of antibiotics.

Her change of heart came when a grandson was born prematurely and she was worried about what the boy would eat.

"I wanted to give him some good meat," she said. "But I didn't know what that meant, either."

After perusing a booklet from the Soil and Water Conservation Society called "Soil Biology Primer" (carbon sequestration, anyone?), she was off to Oregon State University to study under Elaine Ingham, an authority on healthy soils.

The idea is simple: "Soil organisms decompose organic compounds, including manure, plant residue and pesticides, preventing them from entering water and becoming pollutants," according to the booklet. "They store nitrogen and other nutrients that might otherwise enter ground water, and they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, making it available to plants."

That means that nitrogen fertilizer, which is dumped onto farms and ranches by the barrel in conventional agricultural operations, is produced naturally.

As a result of switching to grass in the mid-'90s, Ross is known in some circles as "the crazy lady with the green pastures." But she doesn't seem to mind.

"This is sweet clover!" she exclaims in one of the paddocks. "This is just free! We're finding the old seed bank is still here. This is an old cotton farm that's been chemicaled to death. But Momma Nature is powerful. It took us 10 to 12 years to quit fighting nature. All of this is Old World knowledge that people have brought to the front again. The movement of people wanting to rehabilitate their land is moving right along with the good food movement."

She points to another section: "That's an alfalfa patch right there. They told us we can't grow alfalfa in this part of the country. It's not easy to rebuild this whole system. All grass is not equal. Until we found the soil biology, we really didn't have the cattle humming."

But all this requires a fundamental shift in thinking, summed up by Ross' son, J.R. Builta, who works the ranch with his wife, Kim Builta:

"What a row farmer considers a weed, we consider food," Builta says.

It also requires careful management vastly different from conventional farming. Each paddock, containing different warm- and cool-weather grasses, is grazed seven or eight times a year and rested otherwise. Natural nitrogen is being slowly released into the soil.

Ross likens it to conducting a symphony.

"Once the biology is in there, it has its own community," she says. "These are live critters. When you come in with a tractor (and a disc) four or five times a year, you kill the community. This is spotted clover. This is free clover! I didn't have to plant it."
Jimmie's Comment: (This clover is an example of 'free clover', both planted and sustained by nature's work.)

On the other side of the road from the clover, a calf born hours earlier is beginning to nurse while its mother eats the placenta. And next to an outbuilding there's a huge compost pile, another critical part of the operation. Running the compost through an extractor with water can produce 3,000 gallons an hour of organism-rich — 25,000 species per teaspoon — of irrigable water. (Ross is also founder and co-owner of Sustainable Growth Texas, which uses liquid compost to fertilize homes and agricultural operations.)

Ross now laughs at the memory of what her brother said when he paid a visit years ago: "Whatever you do, don't go organic." The operation follows organic principles but the beef is not certified organic. ("We just don't see any sense in it right now," Ross says of the rigid certification process.) Nonetheless, Ross says again, there's evidence the end product of all this work is better for you — less fat and better fats, including Omega-3s and no hormones or antibiotics.

No hormones also means it takes longer to raise a beef to slaughter weight: A conventionally raised animal is ready in about 14 months to 16 months; Ross' can take as long as 29 months. (That means from pregnancy to finish, it takes three and one-half years to make money on a beef.) And if the animals have to be treated with antibiotics or fail to gain weight on schedule, they're sent to the sale barn.

The market-ready animals — what Ross calls "a block of butter with four little legs" — are harvested humanely at Readfield's in Bryan. Then the cuts are aged 14 days, cut, wrapped in Cryovac and hard-frozen. In addition to People's in Austin, Old Thyme Garden, an organic nursery in Taylor, sells the meat, and Ross is partnering with Whole Foods' producers alliance to get their products into Austin's flagship store. They also do a mail-order business and will deliver if it's to a nearby destination.

Because grass-fed operations tend to be small, they can't hope to achieve the economies of scale of so-called factory farms and that translates into higher prices, even though it costs eight times as much to feed a cow out of a sack as on grass: A 12-ounce to 18-ounce bone-in Betsy Ross ribeye is $13.50 per pound, New York strips $14.25 and ground meat $5, a good bit north of supermarket prices.

But customers say the meat doesn't evaporate when it hits the grill and the more flavorful product — there's more than just texture to this cow — often means it takes less meat to feed a crowd. Ross and her sister usually split a single-serving sirloin.

There's often a three-month wait for tenderloins.

Their customers come looking for them.

They don't want economies of scale.

They want to make food that's good for you and, not to get too high-falutin', reflects the web of life.

"There's more than one way of doing things," Betsy Ross says. (And yes, that's really her name.) "Nothing sits alone. We're all so connected."; 445-3603

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Economics of AI Breeding vs. Maintaining a Group of Herd Sires

Suggested Guidelines for Beef Heifer Selection

**Moderate frame & milk - 425 lbs at Weaning, 600 lbs at Yearling, 700 lbs at breeding, Frame Score of 4

**Large frame & milk - 500 lbs at Weaning, 750 lbs at Yearling, 875 lbs at breeding, Frame Score of 5

"The University of Minnesota maintained records and summarized the net profit or loss for heifers sold during a developmental period during a three-year period. Heifers culled on the basis of pelvic area, average daily gain, reproductive tract scores, disposition, or structural soundness at the time of the prebreeding exams and finished in a feedlot had a 3-year average net profit of $9, whereas heifers diagnosed as nonpregnant shortly after the breeding season were sold for a net loss of $86. The loss for pregnant heifers that were then diagnosed nonpregnant after wintering on native pasture and sold at a sale barn was $133."

"These figures indicate the importance of identifying heifers that will not breed during the breeding season and culling those heifers before they become an economic liability. Heifers that were diagnosed pregnant during the breeding season were allocated to three groups: first-service AI, second-service AI, or natural mating. Average profits were $163 for first-service AI heifers, $139 for second-service heifers, and $83 for heifers naturally mated. These figures take into account all synchronization costs."

"Therefore, the advantage of AI over natural mating is certainly evident from these analyses, but without sound data these results could not have been noticed. In fact, many people would (and still do) shy away from AI because of the initial costs associated with synchronization, management, and an AI technician. Nonetheless, these results would encourage a producer to seriously consider AI, realizing that the profit potential is far greater than just using natural mating.

Net Profit or Loss Associated with the Sale of Heifers at Various Stages of Reproduction . . . follow the link in the article title above for the remainder of the cost analysis provided by this Cattle Network article.

Source: Steve Boyles OSU Extension Beef Team

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Natural Beef? Doesn't Sound Like it......Do You Find Grass Mentioned Anywhere?

Stika Says CAB Natural Product Line Developed To Meet The Needs Of Consumers

(Nashville, TN) "John Stika, president of Certified Angus Beef®, said the company made the decision to enter the natural beef market to meet the demands of their food service and retail partners. Stika, speaking at Ivy Natural Solutions conference for natural beef producers and brand managers, said their customers had been requesting a CAB natural product for more than 7 years. CAB made the decision to enter the natural market in 2004.

“Over the past 30 years CAB has earned a reputation for exceptional quality and consistency based on sound, science-based specifications. We decided that for us to enter the natural market with a brand other than Certified Angus Beef Natural would not be taking advantage of the franchise we have developed and would not serve us, our partners nor our customers very well,” Stika said.

“CAB does not see natural beef as better, than conventional beef. Both are excellent, safe, wholesome products. There are consumers, however, that feel natural production systems are important and are a critical part of their buying decision. By placing Certified Angus Beef Natural in the meat case along side our conventional CAB products, we are offering these consumers a choice,” Stika added.

Certified Angus Beef defines their natural program as a “never ever” program. To qualify, the animal must not have been administered any supplemental hormones, beta-agonists, antibiotics, including ionophores, nor have been fed any animal by products any time during its life.

Stika said, “Our Natural program is projected to be only 1.5 % of CAB sales in 2007, up from 0.5 % in 2006. However, the demand is increasing rapidly. The growth of CAB Natural in our food service division is currently limited by product supply.”

The conference for natural beef producers and branded beef managers was held during the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in Nashville. Ivy Natural Solutions (INS) sponsored the conference as part of their first anniversary celebration. INS was founded a year ago to meet increasing natural beef producers’ demands for natural production inputs.

INS provides “plate friendly” products and services that enable cattlemen and beef brands achieve their brand specifications. INS products include ProTernative® Continuous Fed Formula – a natural, rumen-specific yeast that enhances performance and maintains rumen health and function when natural beef programs do not allow the use of ionophores, antibiotics or implants – and ProTernative® Stress Formula, a natural GI tract-specific yeast that helps improve feed consumption and health when cattle are under stress. Helping keep cattle healthy minimizes the fall-out rate if cattle are being fed in a program that does not allow therapeutic antibiotics."

Jimmie's Comments: Natural CAB beef remains unnaturally raised beef as long as it is predominantly grain fed and finished beef product. All 'natural' beef programs that fail to indicate the diet source are feeding essentially 100% grain in their programs, and as you can see from the final paragraph above, they are already looking for and using some unnatural natural additives to help boost performance.

Carbon Monoxide - Future Source of Ethanol?

If the new technology discussed below proves to be a viable approach to Ethanol production one day, it will surely improve the air quality of the USA due to captured and utilized carbon monoxide emissions, and perhaps take some pressure off the demand and thus price of corn. A continued increase in the price of corn effects not only the cost of gains in a feedlot and on the family farm, but also is having 'trickle down' ramifications throughout our economy that will become increasingly apparent to the American consumer.
An alternative for the family farm is to raise their cattle on grass and legumes, rather than depend on corn and it's byproducts, and that requires moderate-framed easy-fattening grass genetics.
Pictured here is a British White grassfed yearling bull, grassfed from conception onwards.

New Zealand company converts carbon monoxide to ethanol

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, April 24 /PRNewswire/ ‒LanzaTech, the leader in technology using bacterial fermentation to convert carbon monoxide into ethanol, officially announced April 24 that it has secured US$3.5M in Series A funding, led by Khosla Ventures and supported by two existing New Zealand based investors.

This funding will support further technology development, establishing a pilot plant, engineering work to prepare for commercial-scale ethanol production and positions the company to raise significant capital in the near future. This technology could produce 50 billion gallons of ethanol from the world's steel mills alone, turning the liability of carbon emissions into valuable fuels worth over $50 billion per year at very low costs and adding substantial value to the steel industry.

The technology will also be a key contributor to the cellulosic biofuels business as it can convert syngas produced through gasification into ethanol.

"We have proven in our laboratories that the carbon monoxide in industrial waste gases such as those generated during steel manufacture can be processed by bacterial fermentation to produce ethanol. Garnering the financial and strategic support of Khosla Ventures is a significant validation of our approach, and we welcome Khosla Ventures Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Doug Cameron, to our Board of Directors," said Dr. Sean Simpson, Chief Scientist and Founder of LanzaTech.

Vinod Khosla commented, "Technology to produce fuel ethanol from waste material, such as the carbon monoxide produced in steel manufacture and other industries, makes use of a low cost and plentiful point source carbon feedstock. The opportunity is a large one as carbon monoxide is a significant byproduct of steel manufacture. LanzaTech has developed technology and a process to cost-effectively convert carbon monoxide into ethanol -- this ground breaking technology provides the tools to address the challenge of reducing emissions and turns waste into a valuable product, while developing new businesses based on innovative science."

LanzaTech was co-founded in 2005 by Dr. Richard Forster and Dr. Sean Simpson, who both have many years of experience in biotechnology and biofuels. The company is aggressively pursuing the development of advanced gas to ethanol technologies based on work developed in its laboratories in Auckland, New Zealand. As part of its two-pronged strategy of technology development and deployment, LanzaTech has sought international patent protection for its ethanol production process and is forming partnerships to commercialize its technologies and processes.

Khosla Ventures offers venture assistance, strategic advice and capital to entrepreneurs. The firm helps entrepreneurs extend the potential of their ideas in both traditional venture areas like the Internet, computing, mobile, and silicon technology arenas but also supports breakthrough scientific work in clean technology areas such as bio-refineries for energy and bioplastics, solar, battery and other environmentally friendly technologies.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Favorites From my Spring Calves

This little beauty was christened 'Dixie' by the girls Easter weekend. Her dam is JWest's Brigit and she was sired by JWest's El Presidente. Dixie was 14 days old in this photo and is obviously a healthy, thriving little heifer. Her dam is one of my favorite cows, having an excellent nature as well as being a really beautiful, well made British White cow that she passes on to all her calves.

Lucy Rae also had a quite friendly, well made heifer sired by El Presidente. In the following video clip I am sitting just a few feet away. She is 7 days old in this clip. Lucy Rae's Heifer

This bull calf is out of JWest's Emily and JWest's El Presidente, and is pictured here at 18 days old. His sire's thickness and muscling are apparent and his dam is one of my best cows. In the following video clip he is 8 days old. The girls didn't decide on a name for this beefy little guy, so any suggestions are welcome. :)
British White Bull Calf

This Spring has seen zero calving problems and last fall I had none as well, which makes a full year and a half without any vet calls to assist with calving, and the last one was a breach birth, which was a first here at the ranch. The typical British White herd has few calving problems, the birth weights being an average 75 pounds, and my moderate framed cows calve with ease, as well as my smaller 1000 pound cows. Check out the slideshow of my British White cow Wanda Mae giving birth to a young bull calf at Cow Calving Slideshow