Welcome to our inaugural post on our new Sangres Best Blog! We’ll be posting two or three times per month with information on our ranch, grass finished beef, delicious recipes, and other interesting and fun topics. We hope you’ll join us!
As I write this, the view out of the window over my desk is spectacular. The jagged fourteen-thousand food peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range rise precipitously from the valley floor not more than eight or ten miles from my home. The grazing lands and hay fields that surround my house and stretch to the aspen and ponderosa forests of the range lie quiet in winter splendor. Snow covers everything, blanketing the landscape in dazzling beauty.
Although that’s a wonderful image of winter here in the Wet Mountain Valley, this delightful word picture is actually a segue to our topic today. As a consumer of grass-finished beef, your focus is probably where to get the most delicious tasting beef at the best value, or perhaps how to best prepare a particular cut. My focus, as your grass-finished beef rancher, is the next cycle of production, even though our growing season is still months away.
(I have to diverge for a moment and let you know that “focus” is an extreme challenge for me… partly due to my nature and partly due to building three related but distinct enterprises. So hang on because it is always a wild ride with Elin!)
Seasonality – Why isn’t Grass Finished Beef a Year-Round Product?
First, a brief understanding of the difference between feedlot beef and grass finished beef. Feed-lot beef is produced in a man-made artificial environment – the feedlot. It requires its own science and management in order to keep cattle healthy and fatten them in the shortest amount of time, and because it doesn’t require any pasture, it allows for year-round production of the finished product – grain fattened beef.
In contrast, grass-finished beef is produced in the natural free-range environment which requires a deep understanding of beef and range plant science for our geography. The finished product – top quality grass fattened beef – is strictly seasonal because cattle can only be fattened on grass during the growing season.
Why all Grass Finished (Fattened) Beef isn’t the Same
Just because beef is “grass fed” does not guarantee a delicious product. In order to achieve high quality grass-finished beef, the cattle must be on a robust, sustained diet of fresh, flourishing grasses, forbs and sedges. Basically a smorgasbord or buffet that will fill out the cattle and produce marbled, tender, flavorful beef that isn’t dry. (Incidentally, this diet also gives the beef have a much healthier nutritional profile – a subject we will delve into another day.)
It takes at least 90 days of this diet – which produces a rapid rate of gain of about two pounds per day – to “finish” the beef. There is another critical component however. The starting weight of the cattle in the spring has to be high enough so the end weight of at least 1,000 pounds and the finish (fat cover) can be achieved. This being the case, the frame size of certain breeds of cattle is an important factor to consider when you’re grass-finishing a herd. Large framed cattle typically can’t finish well.
The Importance of the Plant Cycle, (or Why Our Beef Tastes so Darn Good!)
It is critical for a rancher to be deeply familiar with the plant cycle in the Colorado high country. Our growing season is only about 100 days from June 1st – September 10th. For the month of May we are able to provide the cattle ample dormant grass through stockpiling dry-land pasture from the season before. In other words, with bits of spring green coming up through the old (dormant) grass the cattle are able to prosper and gain weight. By mid-June the irrigated meadows have enough growth to start their part in the rotational grazing cycle, which allows the dry-land a rest/grow period once we’ve moved the cattle into the meadows. Comprehensive knowledge of when pastures are ready to be rested and when they’re ready for grazing is key to rangeland care that is not just sustainable, but actually improves the land.
Here at Sangres Best, we source the right cattle (size, breed, weight, pastured stock) from ranchers in our area in the spring, grow them on our ranch during the summer, and have delicious beef ready by August. Although we can get snow as early as September the cattle are in great shape with winter coats and plenty of grass. By the end of October all of the cattle are off the ranch before winter really sets in.
After dry aging the beef for two weeks the beef is vacuum packed and flash frozen for safe freezer storage which enables us to provide customers with beef throughout the winter months.