Colorado grazier finds Choice grade easily obtainable with fully grown two-year-old grass fed steers

by Allan Nation

PUEBLO, Colorado: A combination of irrigated pasture, mountain range and pasture silage have produced a grassfed beef product that has grain fed packer National Beef wanting more.

Southern Colorado rancher, Russ Maytag, said he got his grassfed production ahead of his marketing in 2003 and still had a handful of two-year-old 1450-pound Red Angus steers on hand with winter coming on.

Through a friend with a small feedlot, he contacted National Beef about harvesting the steers. National Beef was extremely skeptical about the quality of a grassfed product and said they would only do it on a grade and yield basis.

“The results were that every steer graded Choice and the fat color was also acceptable,” Maytag said.

“I was extremely skeptical when Allan Nation told me to take my heavy steers through another winter, but he was right. My cattle aren’t fully grown until they weigh around 1450 pounds. And, cattle won’t marble until they are fully grown.”

Maytag said it takes him 26 to 27 months to grow the steers from birth to harvest. This is an average daily gain of 1.85 pounds for the entire period which is competitive with Argentine graziers.

Cattle must gain at least 1.7 pounds in their final finishing graze in order to marble.

GOOD GAINS YEAR AROUND

He said his background was in stocker cattle and it took a little mental tweaking to get out of the “rough them through the winter and pop them out on mountain pasture” mindset.

“Now, I want my animals gaining well year around.”

To help do this he has replaced winter hay feeding with direct-cut, unwilted grass silage. This is used to supplement stockpiled irrigated fescue and orchardgrass which is his primary winter feed.

His home ranch in dry, southeastern Colorado lies at the same latitude as Virginia and Kentucky and has very little winter snow. This allows direct grazing for most of the winter.

Unfortunately, this latitude also produces very hot summers with daytime temperatures of 100̊F or higher.

For this reason, his steers are taken to mountain pastures as soon as they green up in the spring. The lowland pastures are then cut for grass silage.

High summer temperatures have made it necessary for him to “tweak” the recommendations for making un-wilted grass silage.

“At 100 degrees, you have to get the air out of the silage very quickly to prevent over-heating and losing your silage quality. (The plant sugars will caramelize at high temperatures.)

“While the recommendations are to not pack the silage stack but just suck the air out with a vacuum pump, we have found a slight packing really helps to maintain silage quality if it is made under hot weather conditions. This is particularly true if the stack is going to be made over two days rather than one.”

Maytag uses a small Bobcat with a front scoop to shape the stack. He then runs over it several times to help push the air out. “We don’t pack it to the extent you would if you were making un-vacuumed silage. It’s just a little packing.”

The silage is self-fed in the winter.

To do this, a strip of poly-tape is stretched across one of the faces of the silage stack with the fiberglass fence posts driven into the silage face so that they are horizontal to the ground. The posts are driven in far enough that the cattle can reach the silage face.

Every day or two, Maytag taps on the end of the fence posts to move the tape closer to the silage face. This allows the cattle to eat their way through the pile and self-feed themselves. There is no need for a tractor or feed-out wagon.

In the dry Colorado climate mud at the face is not a problem.

Early in the winter the cattle are given access to both the stockpiled pasture and the silage. He said it takes from ten days to two weeks for the cattle to get adjusted to the silage.

“At first they will eat just a few nibbles and return to the pasture but once they get used to it they just love it and will lick it off the ground.”

“It’s a great system but it takes some tweaking in hot weather areas,” he said.

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