Our feedlot operation back home has raised freezer or finished beef for as long as I can remember. In fact, a half of beef is usually how we barter our friends and family for helping around the farm. Some producers have gone above and beyond selling to just their friends and family and have made it a business.
Farm fresh beef has been on the uptrend for the past few years. The trend began when consumers started to question where their beef was coming from and producers realized there was profit by nixing the middle men.
The farm fresh beef trend has now become more apparent with the Covid Pandemic. After grocery store meat coolers were left empty, and processing plants were temporarily shut down, more producers started to finish a few head on their own to sell directly to consumers.
Adele Harty, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist, says feeding and managing a grain-finished animal can be done on a small scale but it does takes time, management and appropriate rations. “It’s not something that can just be done always the easiest, you have to take some time and do some planning” Harty also notes it’s important to, “make sure that feeds are analyzed for nutrient quality and then build that rations around those feeds you have available.”
Things to Consider
Nutrition is the biggest challenge when faced with raising freezer beef. Before even diving into specific rations, there are a few things to keep in mind according to Harty.
- How many animals do you plan to finish out?
- Do you know start weight and what they should weigh at finish?
- What equipment do you have available to feed them in or with, i.e. bucket, feed bunk, mixer wagon, loader tractor, pitchfork, etc.?
- What feed resources do you raise or readily have access to?
- What is the nutrient content of those feed resources?
- Do you have a good understanding of management of fat cattle, i.e. feeding times, step-up rations, acidosis, pen maintenance, etc.?
- Do you plan to hand-feed or put them on a self-feeder?
The nutrition aspect and what you’re feeding is the most important when your end goal is a good grade and delicious taste. “When we balance rations for these animals, they need about 10.5% protein but they are going to be on a 90% concentrate ration. Meaning they are going to be getting 20-25 lbs of a corn or grain type mix with adequate protein and just a small amount of forage. Which a lot of our cow calf producers don’t feel comfortable doing because it does take a lot of management.”
Acidosis is a primary concern when moving to such a concentrated diet. An extreme change to a diet does not allow time for the rumen microbes to adjust to the new environment. To avoid acidosis, you gradually add feed stuff to their diet. “you’re going to want to step them up to full ration over probably a months’ time.”
Feeding times also come into play. Hardy says you can end up with a lot of peaks and valleys if your feeding once a day. It is ideal to feed the total amount of feed over two or three feedings per day.
Bunk and pen management as well as environment all fall under the same running umbrella. It is important to understand the basics of these three areas so your beef cattle are gaining at an appropriate rate.
Overall, Harty left us with this, “freezer beef is one of the trends we are seeing a lot more of . I think one of the biggest challenges is making sure you have a facility that can harvest those animals when they are ready and setting that up is one of the key factors.”
If you’re interested in raising freezer beef, I would recommend reaching out to your local extension agent, nutritionist, or beef group to help you get started.