How They’re Raised-Cattle


Starting with calves has been an interesting experience. Every species is unique and within each species, each member has their own quirks. I’ve heard “sheep are dumb” and “cows are dumb.” Let me just tell you, that’s a lie. Animals are instinctual, but they sure aren’t stupid. Cattle are some darn smart creatures and it gets them (and/or their owner!) into loads of trouble at times. Despite being on only my second pair of cattle, they have taught me so much about their species, so much so that I won’t do much more than only begin to help you understand these awesome giants. But I’ll at least start with how I raise cattle from bottle babies to half-ton toe-crushers.

Cattle raised on the WPP farm are bought as calves. The first two were holstein/hereford crosses that arrived after they were about a month old. The second two are holstein/angus crosses. Holstein is a milking breed and both Hereford and Angus are meat breeds. The first ones looked like dairy cows, but the second pair, twin girls, look like beef cattle. They were brought to the farm on their second day of life, after receiving their mother’s colostrum, which is a vital component of milk during the first 24 hours that provides antibodies to help the calves fight off bacteria and viruses.

Once the calves arrive here, they are bottle fed milk replacer for about 3-5 months. It’s not as ideal as having them with their mother who, naturally, would provide milk for the calf for nearly its entire first year of life. The calves are fed a little grain early on as they transition from milk to pasture to help their stomach turn from a milk-digesting stomach to a solid-food digesting stomach. Grain helps to jump start this process so that the calves are able to get the most nutrients out of the grass as possible.

But the yummy nightly snacks don’t stop there. Since it is usually the end of spring when the calves are coming off milk replacer, the sheep are also coming off their winter grain ration as they no longer need the extra sugars and proteins to stay warm and make milk for their lambs. Everyone transitions together onto alfalfa pellets. These are soaked to prevent them from choking on the dry pellets. Alfalfa is a high protein plant that herbivores love. It gives them a small boost of protein and encourages them to come when I call for them! This makes for retrieving wayward bovines a breeze! When I call “come on big cows” and shake the grain bucket, it’s a lovely sight as they come raising towards me kicking up their heels in excitement!

For the summer, the cattle enjoy the fresh green grass of the pasture and their nightly snack of alfalfa pellets, but once winter rolls around, grain and hay are on the menu. Around late October, early November, when nights start getting nippy and the daylight starts fading fast, they start eating almost entirely stored forage and a few pounds of grain. The grain helps the calves continue to grow well through winter and stay warm with the added sugars that the hay may not be able to provide. By this point, the calves are around 7 months old and well over 500lbs.

As yearlings entering their second spring, they again are switched back to alfalfa pellets and released back onto the pasture. During winter, they are stuck with the “sacrifice paddock,” that is to say, an area of the pasture that is sacrificed for the winter so that the rest of the pasture can have a rest and begin to regrow in the early spring. This sacrificial area will then be fenced off to hopefully give it some time to rest as well before the next winter. The cattle enjoy their second summer as they push past 1,000lbs each.

Once the cattle reach their second winter and before they again need to start eating hay and grain, they will go to the butcher. By this point, the goal is for each heifer or steer to weigh around 1,200lbs. They will have eaten minimal grain and been provided with 99% of the food coming in the form of fresh or stored forages by way of pasture plants, alfalfa, hay, or cut grass. By keeping grain feeding to a minimum, the beef from these grass-fed cattle is heart-healthy and provides a number of other health and taste benefits.

The best part for me, though, as the farmer, is being able to provide as close to natural of an environment for the cattle as possible with the current resources available. While it may not be natural for cattle to receive chin scratches and tummy rubs or be saved from getting stuck somewhere, they sure do seem to appreciate it. Cattle seem to be just as intrigued by humans as humans are by them, and while I don’t always appreciate a giant, slimy cat tongue lick from a cow, I know that’s just one way that they let me know I’ve been accepted as part of the herd.

What’s Up With This Whole “Grass-fed” Thing Anyway?


You eat because you have to eat to live right? And because food tastes good too, of course! Healthy, delicious food sometimes looks just the same as some less healthy options. Grass fed beef and feed lot beef don’t look all that different and some people don’t find it to taste very different. It’s a subtle difference that can make a big difference to your health.

Grass fed, pasture-raised cattle at WPP aren’t stuck in a stall their entire lives, being handed all the food they need. The calves brought to the farm are only about 24-48 hours old after being sure to receive the necessary antibody containing colostrum from their mothers. This ensures that they are able to fight off potential illness and infection as youngsters. Once they join the flerd (flock/herd), they cattle are allowed to roam the pastures, starting to nibble perennial grasses and legumes.

Just about a month old!

Grass fed doesn’t mean they only eat grass. Clover, dock, plantain, and many other broad-leafed “weeds” as you might call them, make up the diverse diet of herbivorous ruminants like cattle and sheep in addition to the numerous species of grasses. The benefits of being out on pasture, eating what’s natural for cattle aren’t always measurable, but most of them are. So let’s get into what those benefits are and why on earth you should care!

Some benefits are related to the health of the cow, some to your health, and other benefits are for the earth itself! But today, in this blog post, we’re going to focus on YOUR health and how grass fed, pasture-raised beef isn’t just good for your taste buds, but your heart and other organs too!

I’m betting you’ve heard of how awesome Omega-3 is for your cardiovascular system, right? It is said to lower inflammation and increase heart health. Feed-lot beef is found to contain similar amounts of Omega-6, which is necessary, but it’s found to be in a ratio to Omega-3 that appears to have negative impacts on health. In lab tests, grass fed beef is found to contain up to 5.5x more Omega-3 than conventional beef.

She finally stood still long enough for a picture instead of trying to lick the phone!

Another important component of grass fed beef is in the fats it contains. Grass fed beef has more conjugated linoleic acid or CLA, a type of fat. This is linked to lowered rates of inflammation and aids in boosting the immune system. It’s also thought that CLA has cancer-fighting benefits. But grass fed beef also tends to have less fat overall due to the cattle spending more time moving around finding tasty plants to eat and the fact that grain tends to encourage packing on the fat, especially fat like saturated fat.

At WPP, cattle are also never given hormones, steroids, and rarely, if ever, given antibiotics or vaccines. Conventional cattle are injected under the skin with a hormone that is slowly released over their short life to boost growth rates. Due to the unsanitary conditions of feed-lot beef, cattle are often given antibiotics and steroids. Out on the pasture, however, this is unnecessary as they are able to move away from their own excrement and the chickens that they co-exist with move in to spread out their piles of dung, eat the bugs, and allow it to be absorbed into the ground more quickly.

Sometimes they get some treats like freshly mowed grass or corn leaves and stalks.

Sometimes, it is necessary to use antibiotics if an animal gets an illness or infection and some cattle are given vaccines to prevent against things such as tetanus. For instance, the first steer brought to the farm was given a tetanus shot when he was banded to become a steer rather than a bull since this process can allow for that bacteria to enter his bloodstream, but since that point, none of the cattle have received vaccinations. At one point, I was concerned about the potential infection that could have sprung to life through the one calf’s naval as it was slow to heal. For that, I bought long-acting penicillin, but waited to see if it would be necessary. Thankfully, her naval did heal on its own, so I never needed to use the penicillin, but I would have used it to save her life if I had to because to not do so would quite simply have been animal cruelty.

There are so may more benefits to grass-fed, pasture-raised beef, but we won’t get into all of those today. We will go into more benefits in the post “How it’s Raised: Cattle” when that gets written. We will also talk more about rotational grazing and how it impacts the environment and the animals. For now, though, look forward to winter 2020 when beef will again be available!

They’re pretty friendly creatures, too!