Producing Meat on Grazing Systems Part 4 of 5
Other forage factors to consider
Two specific items to evaluate in a grass-fed beef system is the nutritional composition of various forages and the effect of different forages on the flavor of beef, specifically are there forages that contribute more to the “grassy” flavor than others. From the nutrition standpoint, cool season grasses tend to be much higher in degradable protein than warm season grasses. There are also differences in bypass protein where the tannin-containing legumes (such as birdsfoot trefoil) tend to have more bypass protein than others. There are differences in fiber with the theory that warm season grasses, when digestible, have a more productive ratio of protein:carbohydrates. One question is if the highly degradable protein of cool season grasses contributes to the so-called grassy flavor. Some people feel that wheat pasture gives an off flavor. A personal experience is that we have observed cattle harvested off crabgrass/bermuda pastures seemed to have better flavor than cattle on wheat pasture. We have now done this long enough that we just know that as long as we aren’t harvesting off of wheat pasture, our beef flavor is very good.
The impact of the differences in degradable protein and digestible fiber indicates that we should use different grazing methods on various forages. For example, we prefer to use a short duration, high stock density grazing method on cool season annuals and cool season perennials mixed with alfalfa or red clover. We can use a longer rotation with mixtures containing birdsfoot trefoil or lespedeza. One reason is type of growth and selectivity of grazing. If we have a lower stock density, the cattle take off the top of the plants rather than eating the majority of the plant. This diet is very high in degradable protein and low in digestible fiber. By increasing stock density, we can put more digestible fiber into the animal for a better ratio of protein:carbohydrates.
Other animal factors to consider
In addition to genetic potential (carcass and growth traits), body type and age of animal, we need to consider temperament and overall stress on the animal. Temperament can be important in that stress at harvest can negatively impact the meat characteristics with the potential for dark-cutters and less tender meat. Decreasing stress on animals (such as good handling practices) increases performance of the animal and decreases the potential for health concerns.
Aging of grass-fed carcasses has been shown to increase tenderness. Some producers age the carcass as long as four weeks. A concern to be considered here is how much fat cover does the carcass have and what kind of “shrinkage” is experienced as the carcass dries out while hanging in the freezer. For that reason, we age only two weeks, which we find to be adequate. In our case studies, we felt like we experienced too much loss in weight to age 3-4 weeks.
Another very important component of grazing and grass-fed beef is animal health. Decreasing stress and keeping animals on a high nutritional level are very important. A good rotational grazing program will also decrease parasite problems (internal and external). We can count on one hand the number of cattle, of any age, that we have dewormed.
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