The cattle production cycle is a bit confusing. Here are the cliff notes, followed by a more in-depth explanation.
Cattle are born on a cow calf farm, the calf will stay on that farm and have access to mainly milk and grass. Once the animal reaches 6-8 months old it will be weaned from its mother (weaned means not get milk from mom). After that the animal is 400-600 lbs and will go to a backgrounder operation (backgrounder/stocker/grower just to confuse things are the same terms for this stage). During the backgrounder stage the cattle will receive all or mostly grass as their diet. They will move on to the Finishing stage at 12-16 months. Depending on which type of finishing they will go to the finishing stage for; grain finished 90-120 days, or grass finished 120-360 days.
New Penn Farm is a seedstock operation. A seedstock cattle operation is a purebred operation where their goal is to breed for higher quality animals that will improve the next generation of cattle. Through genetic selection and using the acquired knowledge from purebred breeding operations, cattle have improved drastically over the last 40 years. In the United States we produce the same amount of beef with 33% fewer cattle. This is because of genetic selection, better health care and nutrition. Quality has also increased in that time. Creating more meat, better meat with less resources. Seedstock operations market their higher genetics by selling breeding females and breeding bulls.
Cow Calf Operation
A cow calf operation is one where multiple female cows are raised year round to have a calf each year it is mature enough to do so. The calf is raised on the cow and when old enough that the calf no longer needs milk for growth will be weaned. A seedstock farm is usually a cow calf farm. However a cow calf farm may raise commercial or cross bred cattle and may not choose to raise registered purebred cattle. Often cow calf producers will keep the high performing calves for breeding animals while the cattle that don't have the best genetic potential will be sold to a backgrounder. This keeps the best cattle producing better calves.
A backgrounder operation buys cattle from cow calf producers. They usually buy once the animal has been weaned, no longer is with mom drinking milk, and raise them to 12 to 16 months of age. The majority of the diet at this stage is grass (hay, baleage etc).
The finishing stage for cattle is when they go from the backgrounder stage to final market (slaughter) weight. This is usually a 90-120 day stage for grain finished and 120-360 days for grass finished.
Finishing Stage at a Feedlot
Feedlot is where cattle are grouped together by size and age and fed a grain based ration with distillers grains, corn wheat and or barley. The cattle love this feed and are happy to eat it. Many by-products from human food that would otherwise be waste are utilized as a feed resource for cattle making them great up-cyclers. Although Grass may be part of their diet, it is in not the majority of their diet in most feedlot finishing operations. This helps the cattle to meet their genetic potential for growth and marbling with a calorie dense feed source. Cattle are allowed room to move around and exercise but are typically housed on a dry lot.
Finishing Stage on Grass
Cattle can be finished on grass. This can be in an open pasture situation or in a dry lot with hay brought to them or a mixture of both those options. Whether finished in a pasture, open fields, dry lot with hay or baleage, the cattle are fed grass through the finishing stage and not fed grain products. The cattle may be purchased from a backgrounder operation and raised to final market (slaughter) weight. This is a longer process for grass finished cattle lasting 120-360 days. The carcass weights of grass finished cattle are lower and less beef is taken from an average grass finished carcass compared to a grain finished carcass. Increased time and lower amounts of meat are why grass finished beef is often more expensive.
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