Generally most farmers either breed cattle or fatten cattle. If you breed cattle you keep as many cows as your property will support, and a bull. You expect one calf from each cow each year, you raise them to weaning age (around 6-9 months) and then you sell them at the sale yards. If you fatten cattle, you buy a mob from the sale yards, either weaner or stocker steers or heifers, and fatten them, usually over spring/summer, until they are big enough for the abbatoir or to go to feedlots to be fattened further on grain. Not all beef cattle in Australia are grain finished, and I couldn't find any figures to give you on the ratio of pasture or grain fed. According to Nourishing Traditions (and common sense) grass fed beef, being a more natural diet for cattle, is more nutritious, and the cattle can also be raised with less reliance on chemicals and antibiotics to keep them alive.
|here's our first mob of steers at the sale yard|
Very few farmers breed AND fatten cattle as it adds too much complexity to the business. You have to keep the older calves away from their mothers, and you have to make sure the bull doesn't try to fight any of them, you also have to manage your pasture very carefully to have enough feed for all animals under changing conditions (pregnant cows, lactating cows, growing weaners etc). Unless you have a very large property, most farmers find it easier to either breed or fatten. We chose to fatten steers at first because its a quick way to get into the industry. At the same time we'd like to start establishing breeders, as we figure out how many cattle we can keep. Breeding makes handling the cattle easier, because they're used to you and the property, but you have the extra risks of birthing and the stress of weaning. Buying a mob of steers to fatten is also risky though, you don't know their temperament or their background, but it does allow for greater flexibility, you can have no animals on your property for a few months and go on holiday!
One day we hope to raise chemical-free beef (not sure if we'll get all the way to organic certification). This means that we will have to have breeders AND fatten the steers/heifers, as every time we buy and sell steers at the sale yard nearest to us they need to go through the "dip" and swim through pesticides to kill ticks, not to mention chemicals used on them since they were born! We can buy from tick-free yards, but they are further away (our property is tick-free, so all cattle that we buy from tick areas must be treated), and we would have to try to buy from an organic property. That's just too complicated, so eventually we'll need to breed our own.
We would also like to follow Joel Salatin's example (and probably many other less famous farmers) and manage to both breed and fatten on a relatively small property, without using grain. Joel keeps the weaner calves on his property and fattens them to slaughter weight on pasture, selling beef directly to the public. This system means that you can't produce as many calves per year, however as they are heavier when sold, they are worth more. This is a very delicate balance to get the right number of animals and keep them until they are ready to eat, with just the right amount of pasture. Joel also buys steers if he has excess feed, so I suppose that's one reason he doesn't bother with organic certification - it just makes buying steers more difficult! We would also like to follow Joel's example and sell directly to the public, rather than our beef ending up in the conventional beef feedlot system, this seems like a better system for the farmers, the cattle and the consumers.
|Our first mob leaving our yards....|
|little Donald lying down....|
|and standing up - doesn't make much difference, his legs are very short!|
If you want to know more about house cows, my eBook is available for purchase on Scribd. Its only $4.99, and it includes lots of information about keeping a house cow in Australia. There's more details about the eBook on my house cow eBook blog. If you don't want to go through all the Scribd/paypal effort, just send me an email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com and I can arrange to email it to you instead.