I wrote and article for an upcoming edition of Cowboy Wisdom, the quarterly newsletter of The American Herbataurus Society. In that article, I was asked to outline the Genetics, Mineralization, rumen development and using our God given talents in combining these tools on our farms. You can go to americanherbataurus.com to read other articles on the AHS website.
From Grass Genetics to Grass Finished in 16+ months by Steve Campbell
Where was that starting point? I guess I have to go "back to my future" twelve years ago, when I first got into the grass finished beef business. At that time, I was simply selecting what I thought were the animals that looked like they could finish on grass. I had been custom grazing steers for 14-15 years at that time and I had observed that a small percentage (less than 5%) that would get fatter on a summer of high mountain grazing.
I have to back up. One fall, approximately three years before I ventured into grass-finishing, an order buyer and I were looking through the cattle after we had weighed them for shipment one cold fall morning. He said he had three animals he wanted to “cut off.” I totally understood the first two, as one was limping and the other was just skinny. The third one perplexed me. I asked the order buyer why he was cutting that particular animal out. (I must tell you, he was approximately 5' 5” and weighed 300 pounds.) His reply was, “He is too much like me. He is so short and fat already and he will be finished in the feedlot in 45 days!”<!--more-->
I was introduced to Red Devon genetics in the spring of 2003. Later that summer, I enjoyed spending two day with Gearld Fry. As a result of that trip, I went home with a vision of selecting cows/heifers that had the meat quality characteristics, calving ease, butterfat and volume of meat that he had spoken about to build a herd of cows with the express intent of finishing beeves on an all forage system.
We had Gearld come to our farm and teach AI along with all of the other things Gearld somehow knows how to see when he visits our farms that are keeping us from making a profit, even though they are under our noses every day, but I digress. Up to this point, I had never been able to find animals that had enough heart girth to survive and thrive in an all forage system. As I learned later, every extra inch of heart girth adds 37 pounds of red meat in the carcass! Within about 4 years, virtually every one of my heifers was replacement quality (not just that 5% mentioned above) and some were bordering on too thick.
The winter after Gearld's first visit, I read Maynard Murray's book Sea Energy Agriculture and Charles Walters’ book Fertility From the Ocean Deep. As my sister told me years ago, “The thing you enjoy most in life is learning something new!” In this case the information was not new, just new to me. This started me out on a re-mineralization path that was every bit as important as the Red Devon Genetics. Dr. Murray had brought sea water and sea minerals back to farm ground in Nebraska and over the course of twenty years he had recreated that “immunity to disease” he had found in ocean grown lifie in both plants and animals on the land. I poured over the two boks trying to find a clue as to how I could do that on my ranch with products that were closer to home.
In early 2006 I found a copy of Fateful Harvest by Duff Wilson in a used book store. As I read through this book I realized what I had only suspected through the years of livestock husbandry. The majority of the minerals we “fertilize” with and feed our animals are contaminated with heavy metals. At that point I decided I was going to eliminate everything “coming from China” that had been going into my grass finished beef program. Within a couple of weeks of “getting the lead out” (actually Cadmium) my mineral and cattle woes started to melt away.
At that same time I started using Redmond Livestock salt in the mineral feeder, and then in the pastures, garden and on the kitchen table. I used both foliar and dry applications on the pasture and hay as the crop and money would allow. Over the years I have seen results in the garden and pastures that gave me a glimpse of the successes Dr. Murrays experiments showed in the 50’s and 60’s.
In November of 2012, I was at the AHS conference talking to one of the attendees on Saturday afternoon. We were visiting about how the fly and pinkeye situation had been so terrible in the summer in his part of the world. I had previously mentioned to him about making a brine out of the salt and adding it into the water supply. Dry inorganic minerals are only about 20% bio-available. Once you make a brine (which clarifies and balances the minerals in the non-cloudy portion of the liquid) the minerals become 50% bio-available. Attached to a carbon atom in your grass and hay, they are 90% bio-available. We talked at length and finally agreed that we would both go home and put the brine out free choice every day for the animals. I called this man during what should have been the worst of the pinkeye season in 2013 and he said he had not had one case of pinkeye this year.
Another Redmond product was introduced shortly after the salt. Redmond Conditioner is a volcanic overlay on top of that old ocean floor. It is classified as a montmorillonite, bentonite clay. It is highly negatively charged and readily attaches to toxins that are in the cows system (and works the same way in humans as well). Getting the cattle to consume an average of 2 ounces of clay per head per day has freed up their immune systems and enhanced their glandular function along the way.
Why is this necessary you ask. In 1978, Dr Schubert, et,. al, were conducting feeding experiments with rats to determine how much Lead, Mercury and other toxins the FDA could allow in our food system. An LD1 of Lead is the amount of lead that is required to kill one out of a hundred rats. He also found the LD1 of Mercury and other toxic minerals. (Interesting, “Amalgam fillings are lead and Mercury, Hmm...this next part should scare you.) They decided to see what the effects would be if they combined the Lead and Mercury. To the surprise of the researchers they found that an LD1 of Lead and only 1/20th of an LD1 of Mercury killed all one hundred rats (An LD1 of Mercury and 1/20 LD1 of Lead did the same thing). A thousand fold increase in toxicity. And we have 10,000 plus toxins in our environment that are getting combined into I don’t know how many different combinations.
So now we have the genetics, mineral rich grasses, hay, and balanced, bio-available minerals along with the Clay, which remove toxins out of the animals all combining to allow them to function at a much higher level.
The third leg of this grass finishing story is all about allowing the heifers to grow up enough before having their first calf which enables them to nourish both themselves and their calf without losing too much body condition in a 10 month lactation. Leaving them at their mothers side that first winter, even if I had to “waste” feed on the mother, developed their rumen where they could get 65-70% out of every bite they consumed for the rest of their life instead of the average 50-55% of the typical American cow or grass finished steer or heifer.
A program of: building in Red Devon volume, tenderness and consistency of meat from the bulls; fine-boned, high-butterfat cows eating good grass and hay; and leaving the calves at their side for 10-11 months has allowed me to harvest truly FINISHED animals at 15.5 16.5 months with carcass weights on heifers and steers ranging from 660-775 pounds (Remember, the very best males are kept as bulls and the very best heifers are now my replacements!). This is fully an average of 9 months earlier than when I began! I could not have done this without large heart girths, highly mineralized feed and animals that had a PROPERLY developed rumen.
So I read back over this article and see that my animal only has “three legs.” The fourth leg is each one of us, on our own farm using our God given wisdom in combining the animals and resources that are at hand, natural, clean and adapted to our environment and lifestyle. Take a pasture walk and “see” what you look at, and the adventure begins!