BREEDS WE RAISE FOR 100% GRASS-FED BEEF
Our herd of 100% Grass-fed Beef Cattle are the stars of our farm (and definitely our Instagram), so we thought their fans might like a little more information about them.
Our breeding program is designed to produce animals that thrive year-round (and get fat) outside eating grass. So we focus on two breeds:
Like many farms there are some outliers (we’ve got a Hereford cross who leads the herd, and a couple British White cows who we were given by a neighbor)
WHY LOWLINE ANGUS ARE PERFECT FOR GRASSFED BEEF
Our original herd of cattle are called Lowline Angus. We bought them 4 years ago from a neighbor who raised grass-fed beef when he wasn’t busy running Vermont’s largest garage door company (its a long story).
The Lowline Angus breed was developed in Australia, by taking a herd of champion Angus cattle and selectively breeding for quality and small size.
This breeding gives the Lowline a few key advantages for grass-fed beef production
Because they are short and stocky, they have an enormously high ratio of gut space to body size. This is important because we need cattle with enough stomach capacity to digest the volumes of grass necessary for getting fat.
Lowlines’ small frames also mean that more resources are devoted to filling out instead of growing up. This feed efficiency improves the carrying capacity of a farm, meaning we can raise more animals per acre (even after accounting for their lower weights).
*A side note, this is a big reason grassfed beef used to have a lean or gamey reputation. People would take cows with feedlot genetics (a big frame to fill up using the dense calories offered by corn) and throw them out on pasture. Not a recipe for success!
A farming mentor of ours once said “I’m growing apples, not wood” when we asked him about his orchard full of scraggly trees. That’s pretty much how we feel about our stocky little Lowlines - no wasted space.
We caught a huge break when we happened upon them as our starter herd, and couldn’t be happier with the results!
WHY WE ADD RED DEVONS TO THE MIX?
The second breed we include in our program is the Red Devon.
The Devon is a perfect type of animal for grass farming. It's breed remains the same as it was before anyone had ever heard of a grain finishing feedlot (conventional farmers hate them because they get fat TOO fast on grain, but they are perfect for a grass-only system).
Because of this genetic purity Devon’s are a perfect candidate for cross-breeding with our Lowlines to take advantage of ‘hybrid vigor’.
For those of you who didn’t just take 10th grade biology, hybrid vigor is the superior qualities in an organism resulting from the crossing of two purebred parents (provided the purebred parents have good genetics themselves).
For us this means that the hybrid animals will grow 10-15% faster and larger than their purebred cousins. In farming you’ve got to take every bit of help you can get, and 15% is a huge payoff for a little bit of breeding discipline!
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
We absolutely love the small size and amazing efficiency of our Lowline Angus cattle. So in the future we are considering altering our program to incorporate a breed called the South Poll.
South Polls are similar in size to the Lowlines, but red in color and more tolerant to heat. A hybrid of the two should produce a fast growing, moderately framed cow with a huge gut and less heat stress in the summer months. The perfect grass-fed beef animal!
Hopefully this gives you a little more insight into how intentional the process of producing 100% grass-fed beef is, and context about the cows when you drive by or like an Instagram post!