Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Supplements and why they are needed.

When most folks hear the work Supplement they immediately think grains, That isn't they type of supplementation we do, I'm talking minerals and micro-nutrients. A good mineral supplement formulated for your grazing area is a must for top performance. The lack of nutrients in the soil causes a lack of nutrient in the grass, and therefore a lack of nutrition for the animal. In our area the land is selenium, copper and cobalt deficient so we need to offer a free choice mineral mix to ensure that our cattle are getting the minerals that they need for good health, We use Redmond Salt(tm) and Redmond Clay(tm) formulated for our area using the guidelines detailed here: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/beef/as1287w.htm
Anyone considering raising livestock for any reason needs to have their soils and forages tested and provide the minerals needed for optimum health.
I recommend that anyone just starting out contact their local Agricultural Extension Service and request that their fields and or pastures be tested.
The same rule of thumb holds true for sheep, pigs and poultry. If you have ever lost lambs to White Muscle Disease or piglets to iron deficiency, you will learn real quick how valuable that salt block or mineral tub is!
 I see all the time where farmers and Ranchers say that the don't supplement, in my opinion this is a disservice to the animals in their care and can cause major problems for those animals. Mineral deficiencies impact gut health, coat condition, pregnancy, bone and muscle growth, and can cause a host of problems easily avoided by having free choice mineral available at all times. It's inexpensive insurance and good for your livestock! 
Next time: When are antibiotics a good idea, or "How do I keep from losing that good animal?"

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Breeds that fit. A look at the choices in small scale beef, lamb and pork production.

Now that you have some Idea about what is needed to raise a meat animal lets look at what breed types may or may not fit your goals.
If you are raising just for your own consumption some things to consider are the amount of meat that your family will actually consume, For example; A miniature cow weighing 800 lb at slaughter will have a carcass weight of about 400lbs.(you "lose" about half of the live weight of the animal at slaughter, the head ,lower legs, hide and internal organs are not considered part of hanging carcass weight)After further processing (hanging, cutting, and wrapping) your yield of freezer ready beef will be about 280lb or roughly 60% of the carcass weight.
A full sized beef steer steer weighing 1800 lbs at 28 months will yield an approximately 900lbs carcass and roughly 600lbs of freezer cuts.
A steer with dairy influence will average 15% less than a beef breed because of the heavier bone structure.
Live weights vary dramatically but a good rule of thumb is half of live weight minus 1/3. There is no hard and fast rule for final yield as different cutting styles will impact your final take home weight. As an example, Bone in cuts will be heavier than boneless, Ground meats will yield less than cuts, and dry aging will cause shrinkage of a pound or more a day after about 10 days of hanging in the cooler.
All beef should be aged a MINIMUM of 5 days in my opinion.
Okay back to choosing that steer!
Always Purchase from a REPUTABLE SOURCE! Many breeders of registered stock sell very nice weanlings that just aren't what the want in their breeding program, these animals will be priced at about half of what you would pay for a breeding class animal. If you are going to put it in the freezer don't get caught up in breed hype. You don't eat papers!
If a mini is what fits your bill I prefer the Miniature Hereford. It's just my personal choice because I know what kind of yield to expect and they are pretty predictable. There are some people out there getting some nice crosses as well using Lowline Angus crossed to the mini Hereford for a Mini Black Baldie. Another breed gaining popularity is the Dexter, they are a dual purpose breed that doesn't have quite the yield of the mini beef breeds and is the smallest of all of the miniature cattle breeds, When crossed on a lowline Angus they average about 600lbs live weight at slaughter.
If a full sized steer is your choice I really like the Simangus. This cross is what we raise for production beef and is very consistent, and marbles exceptionally well on grass and forage. I am also a big fan of the Piedmontese Angus cross.
If a purebred is what you want, Nothing beats an Angus for conversion, flavor and texture but the Hereford and Belted Galloway come close in my opinion, with Maine Anjou and Criollo right up there.
It all comes down to personal preference. If you want 8-10 ounce Porterhouse steaks (based on 1" thick cut steaks) and 4-6 ounce rib eye, go with the mini. If you want an 18+ ounce Porterhouse and 8-12 ounce rib eye then the full size breeds will make you happy. You get the same number of steaks, roasts, etc no matter the breed,( ground meat yields will be very different due to animal size) the size and flavor profiles of your cuts are the only major differences.
No matter which size animal that you decide fits your Ideal, it is going to take a year or more of feeding and or grazing to get that animal ready for slaughter. Grazing animals to finish weight will take twice as long as grain feeding no matter the steer, and in my opinion, the time spent on pasture is well worth the wait!
Now. Lets look at Lamb:
Again, and I can't emphasize this enough, Buy from a REPUTABLE Source! If smaller lambs with a finished yield of  35lb or less is what you want to put in your freezer, with bite sized rib chops, beautiful little loin chops, and 3-5lb leg roasts, then I would recommend the Border Cheviot, or Southdown as a wool breed choice and St Croix or Khatadin if you prefer a hair sheep. If a larger lamb is what you are looking for, I like Suffolk and Hamshire sheep for meat if you like wool sheep and Nothing beats a Dorper if hair sheep are what you like. There are many other breeds out there that produce great lamb, these just happen to be my personal favorites. We even have a few rare breeds for fun, but when producing meat for the home freezer I feel that the first timer should focus on yields and wait a bit to jump into breeding, I want you to be successful your first time out and not be overwhelmed by cost or confused by breed specific hyperbole.
Any lamb you choose will be ready for slaughter between 7-10 months of age anything over a year is considered mutton and has a MUCH stronger flavor. Hair sheep tend to have a milder flavor than Wool breeds because they do not produce Lanolin that imparts that gamey hint people either love or hate! Our commercial flocks are a composite cross of Dorset, Dorper, and Suffolk which I find gives us the best of both worlds, less lanolin production, and I personally like a loin chop that is 5" across and 60-80lbs of lamb in my freezer.
On to the Pigs!
Yes, you have size choices here too! And again, find a REPUTABLE BREEDER!
Most of the smaller breeds of hogs are rare breeds like the Mule Foot, Kune Kune, and American Guinea. At 7 months they weigh about 100lbs compared to standard sized pigs that weigh 200 to 250lbs at the same age. I like my hogs to be about 235-250lb at slaughter and have a definite preference for pastured pork! In my experience, a good crossbred pig does fine outdoors, and the old style breeds like the Berkshire, Duroc, Tamworth, and Red Wattle excel in a pasture environment. I also believe that with pigs, as opposed to other livestock, breed characteristics do make a HUGE difference. An animal that has been raised to live in confinement will NOT excel in a pastured environment. However if that sow is cross bred with a breed that is suited for the outdoors the offspring finish out fabulously. One of the best crosses out there is called a Blue Butt, it is not a breed but a cross of several different breeds to develop a marketable pig that does well outside. Another thing you need to know so that you are not shocked when your pig comes back from the butcher, is that the meat from pigs raised in a pastured environment will have a MUCH DIFFERENT appearance than confinement raised pork. It is darker, and much more red than its pen raised counterpart, and will even exhibit some marbling. This is a GOOD thing! it shows that the animal moved around during its life and lived like a pig! Pork IS a RED meat, and should look like it! Pigs also need a varied diet unlike beef or lamb, Pigs are Omnivores and cannot survive on grass alone! Root vegetables, leafy greens, and dairy products are great for pigs and really enhance the flavor of the meat. A pig is one of the few animals where what it is fed is expressed in the meat, we finished hogs on Persimmons one year and that was the sweetest pork I have ever had! I don't use any corn or soy feeds PERIOD. So won't even go into the perils of commercial hog feeds here. We will save that for another day!
Okay back to yields,
The average hog yields about 73% of live weight.
So a 250lb hog will dress at about 185lb and yield about 140lbof finished cuts. a small breed hog 100lb will dress at about 75lb and yield about 60lb of finished cuts. here again it is a choice, and it boils down to preference.
I am not a poultry expert and will have a guest post up in a few weeks by someone that is for those of you wanting to raise their own Poultry.
The biggest thing to remember is to make the right choices for you and your family, and don't fall into the trap of buying a name. Buy what works for you and ask your breeder for suggestions, they are always glad to help and advise.
Next time:  What kind of supplements do livestock need for good health.