A Simple, Natural Approach for Grass Finishing Beef

beef-at-pastureThis was our first year of beef production here at the TraditionalCatholicHomestead, and now that it is officially finished, butchered, cooked and we’ve eaten our grass fed/finished beeves, I feel like I can share how I did it.

First I will say that the results were pretty much everything we were hoping for. The meat is tender, and absolutely screams with beef flavor. Not really any hint of the “gaminess” that you sometimes will come across with grass finished animals. The only negative was that the meat is very lean (could be a positive, if that’s what you’re into!). That is to say there isn’t much in the way of marbling, but there is some. If I had to put an unofficial USDA Grade to our beef, I would say it’s somewhere between “Select” and “Standard.” There is some inter-muscular fat marbling, but it’s pretty slight. The flavor is like nothing we’ve ever gotten before, and I mean that in a good way. Just a really intense beef flavor. With the meat being as lean as it is, you do have to take some care in the way you cook it. Low and slow is the general rule of thumb along with not cooking much past medium well.

My basic technique for grass finishing goes a little something like this…

grass-finishing-paddocksDuring the springtime when the grass is growing fast and is lush and green is the best time to finish your animals if you don’t have irrigated pasture. If you do, well then you’re luckier than I, and you can pretty much finish them off as long as the weather cooperates. Fist I subdivide the pasture into smaller paddocks. I’m talking something around 12 square yards per animal. This will vary according to your individual pasture and how often you are willing to move your animals. From there I would move them between 4 and 7 times a day. This varied on the amount of forage in the paddocks. To determine when it was about time to move them I would observe their behavior. Whenever they would stop eating and go to lay down I would check the forage levels and move accordingly. That is if most of the grass was eaten down below the 1/3 to 1/2 mark and the steers were going to lay down I would open up the next paddock. If there was still plenty of grass in that paddock then I figured it was time to let them chew their cud and relax for a little while. I would monitor their rumen for fullness by checking that area on the left side just in front of the hip. If that area was flat or bulging out a little I knew they were full. I set up between 5 and 10 paddocks every morning so that when it was time to move them I just went out and dropped a line of electric fence and stepped them through the pasture that way. It didn’t take long for them to get into the routine, and they would almost run to the corner where I was opening the line to get to the next paddock! Moving them from one paddock to the next was quick and easy this way. Setting up the paddocks for the day and moving the water trough were the most time consuming parts. All in all I would say I spent, on average, between 1 and 1 1/2 hours a day during the finishing process. The whole ordeal lasted right at two months. We could have put another hundred or so pounds on them, but the grass kind of petered out (weather was dry and the grass stopped growing) and I had to get the new cows on the pasture. I’m not finishing the new animals so I’m not as concerned with the quality of the grass. Much of the pasture now is pretty coarse as far as forage goes. This is fine for the cow/calf pair and bred heifer.

packaged-grass-fed-beefI supplement both my finishing animals and the breeding stock with apple cider vinegar (ACV) in their water (6 oz. per animal per day) and free choice diatomaceous earth (DE) mixed with their salt/mineral. The ACV and DE guard against parasites (internal and external) each acting a little differently within the body. The DE works by physically damaging the parasites and all of our animals here on the Traditional Catholic Homestead get a daily ration.

The ACV helps with general immune system response and provides copious amounts of enzymes which help the cattle to more fully utilize their feed. This is especially true as the forage gets more and more coarse as the season progresses. Dry forage and hay require more enzymatic action to be broken down and utilized in the rumen than does tender green grass/forbs.

Well there you go… that’s one way to finish beef on grass. As with most things there are more than one right way to accomplish the task. The end result is what you’re looking for. This technique has worked well for us so far at the TraditionalCatholicHomestead, but I’m sure as I learn and grow in this things will undoubtedly change.

Thanks to Dave Dahlsrud for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

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  • Willow says:

    Congratulations on an excellent outcome! Thank you for sharing your lessons learned. I am curious to know more about using DE as an ingested antiparasitic in cattle. In speaking with our state vet regarding using 100% DE as a poultry dust bath, she recommended woodstove ashes instead per anecdotal evidence from poultry farmers (respiratory and ocular concerns). When I mentioned I had a pet store coworker erroneously advising the public to feed dogs and cats DE for fleas and ticks, the vet strongly opposed it. DE is the equivalent of glass shards, which do a great job lacerating nearly indestructible flea eggs topically. Internally, she has seen bad results in some small animals (gastrointestinal issues, I have no idea of circumstances or doses). I asked why some DE is labeled “food grade”. She said it was rated as safe to use in food preparation areas for insect control, not as a food itself.

    Did you observe anything that might signal GI irritation in your herd from the DE? I know their gut is very different from dogs & cats. What was your plan for parasites migrating within the meat and mucosa? I ask because we got worms from eating our neighbor’s naturally raised (and excellent quality) frozen beef in our first year. The meat was a gift, so it was embarrassing to ask him if he worms his cattle — he doesn’t. So, worming our dogs and family members with Ivermectin is routine since.

    FYI for anyone interested: You can buy Pin-ex (animal wormer prettily packaged for humans) from the pharmacy. Ivermectin is widely used for humans in Africa (especially for River Blindness). It is not labeled for human use in our country. Ivermectin has been quick, affordable, and effective in our applications (albeit not organic if seeking certification).

    Our retired doctor recommended eating whole cloves of garlic and raw pumpkin seeds for
    humans with intestinal worms. I wonder about the practicality, efficacy, and history of putting the same in our animal’s diets. (Hmmm, beef that already tastes like garlic appeals to me!) Garlic is such a wonderful antibiotic and medicine food already. I use and advocate DE & herbs (like clove, peppermint, rosemary, and lemongrass) as topical small animal and poultry antiparasitics, especially since I had a pesticide specialist of 30+ yrs experience teach me for a pesticide to be toxic enough to kill flea eggs, it is also very toxic to humans. (No wonder my hands would burn even touching the paper packaging on Advantix and Frontline when selling it. Most people got the message when I’d don dishgloves to sell those products. I turned more folks to herbal remedies…)

    I’m also curious if anyone may know if the variety of natural forage in a given area may include plants that have anthelminthic properties (are they already eating things that are helping keep the worms at bay?) I’m sure the animals know which ones to go for! I’d like to know too!

    Likewise, I’d like to know what historical / traditional SAFE wormer methods (for poultry and people too) have fallen out of fashion but would be good to look at bringing back into practice.

    Thank you for your education and inspiration Dahlsrud family! Wishing you continued success!

    1. Dave says:

      I didn’t notice any signs of GI distress. They were fed DE free choice along with their trace mineral/salt supplement. I believe that DE has a high calcium content and can cause GI problems that you would associate with a diet with too much calcium if over consumed (i.e. intestinal compaction). Food grade DE is actually edible, but like anything else too much of it will cause harm. That is what I suspect she noticed in the small animals that suffered problems. It is my understanding that most of us ingest DE everyday as it is very commonly used in grain storage silos to keep the insect populations in check, so it gets ground up with our flour, etc. There is a pretty good article here ( http://www.richsoil.com/diatomaceous-earth.jsp ) that explains many of the benefits of DE.

      Thanks for the insightful comment, and information on the parasite control you utilize for your family!

  • Bert says:

    That’s a funny picture of a guy resting with his boots on… observing his herd as if from a hammock

    At typical pasture yields of 300 lb / acre-inch, and typical pasture take of 8″ to 3″, a fully healed and recovered pasture yields say ~1,500 lb fodder dry matter, called DMI or Dry Matter Intake. (The water part of a cow’s diet doesn’t matter… live wet or “as eaten” weight of pasture is probably on the order of 2.5 times that.) The standard 1,000 lb animal unit needs 3% dry matter, or 30 lbs, so an acre (43,560 s.f.) of typical pasture will typically feed a herd of 50 cows for one day. (The 50 cows may need to an additional 50 acres, to allow the roots of this one acre sufficient time (say 50 days) to fully recover, before cows are returned back to it …) Doing simple math, each animal needs 43,560 sf / 50 animals = 870 sf of healthy pasture per day, or dividing by 9, roughly 100 sq yds per animal per day. At a paddock size of 12 sq yds per animal, he needs 8 regular changes per day, which would be pretty much cover both day and night, 24 x 7.

    Not mentioned is the fact that pastures (grasses and forbs) need full recovery after grazing pressure, to allow full root recovery (and thus prevent pasture root loss). Recovery times vary, depending on the pasture ground cover that gets left behind, and the season, from say 20 days in spring to 60+ days in summer, 40 days in fall, to dormancy and stockpile in winter, asssuming traditional management of grazing pressure, with 1/3 taken for fodder, 1/3 for trampled for ground cover (to prevent moisture evaporation from the soil), and 1/3 left behind as green, to provide the energy (photosynthesis) needed for 20 to 60+ day recovery by the roots.

    Meaning, that farmer is going to be walking in one very busy pair of shoes. And good shoes are expensive (haha, but only half kidding).

    It’s actually a nice article though … is simplifies the process and young farmers need to start there.

    1. Dave says:

      I thought that picture was pretty funny too! I’m actually sitting in a lounge chair like you might find by a pool someplace. The backstory is that morning after I got off work (12 hrs graveyard shift) I moved those cattle six times between 0700 and 1000 hrs and then we both (cattle and I) gave up and went down until the afternoon when I moved them three more times before I left for work! They were extra hungry that day!!! Moving them 4-7 times was kind of a daily average range.

      The pasture had 60 days recovery before I put the new set of animals in there. Thanks for pointing that out I should have been a little clearer. That recovery period is essential for proper pasture management.

      The information you provided as far as feed requirements and typical pasture output is fantastic stuff! It seemed like it was really difficult to find that kind of information when I was doing my research before starting this project last year. Most of what I found was very vague and ambiguous. That was a big part of the inspiration for writing this article. I thought folks might like a somewhat detailed explanation of how grass finishing your cattle could be done. Most definitely aimed at a young/beginning farmer (i.e. me)!

      Thanks Bert

  • Sharon says:

    Helpful article! We’re new at homesteading, and trying to create a permaculture sustainable environment for our family and livestock – on about 6 acres. We have a milk cow (and three calves coming along – actually one is approaching yearling), and wondering how to grow our own best grasses, grains and fodder. What kinds of grasses and grains are best to grow for feeding the cows? How much of them? And how to prepare for winter fodder?

    Thanks for your input!

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