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Optimum time to harvest beef?

SRBeef

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MN's reply in the grass fed post reminded me of a question.....when is the optimum/best time to harvest a steer or heifer? Not sure if this is the right forum for it but it does fit with the grass fed discussion.

Now I am not a "grass-fed" fanatic. I do sell freezer beef. After last years successful experiment grazing cattle in standing corn, my plan was to harvest a group or a couple groups after grazing the standing, unharvested corn. This seems to produce a corn-fed taste without the hassles of feeding the grain. I think it is important to also have good hay and mineral available to them while grazing the corn so it is a modified system. Not pure grass, not pure grain. It seems to work.

My plan for this fall was to start harvesting groups after they have at least 30 days or so grazing corn.

I weigh my small herd every couple weeks, usually as they pass through the corral for a treat or between rotating pastures. They have sort of gotten used to this crazy guy stopping them briefly in the alley as they make their way to new grass or a treat.

One yearling BWF steer in particular, off of one of my 1200 lb cows, seemed to hit 1175 lb and then stopped gaining, even though he was on very good clover mix pastures. This is on grazing only about a month ago. I posted some pictures and the consensus was he was ready. There was a bit of smooth fat around the tail head which I've been told is a sign they are ready

This one is for my family rather than sale and we are running low in our freezer for fall. I thought I would modify the plan and see what I have here. Took him in for processing about a month ago, they hung the carcass for 2 weeks and I picked up the beef. Even the processor mentioned how good the beef looked as he cut and packaged it. Seems marbled reasonably well. It tastes excellent! It even "smells good"!

So back to my question: when is the optimum time to harvest beef? This steer was 16 months old at processing. He wintered on cornstalks/hay last year but no grain at all since early March.

If I had held him longer to finish on grazing corn would quality likely be better, worse, same?

As a beginner, I'm trying to judge how much "elasticity" there is in harvest time. How long a time period do you have if the goal is the top quality beef? Should I just keep track of weights and process them as they stop gaining? Not meaning to get into a grass/corn discussion, just want to learn about the best time to harvest beef.

Are heifers different or similar to steers? Is there much difference between animals or breeds? This one is a BWF but out of one of my earlier maturing 1200 lb Hereford cows. He seems to be ready ahead of some of the other pure Herefords but I sense that is a function of his dam and her size/genetics.

I appreciate any responses/experience.

Jim
 

farmwriter

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We've been feeding/selling freezer beef a few years, and 16 months isn't completely out of line with what we do either.
In previous posts, there have been varying opinions about what to look for in finish/fat deposits, timing, etc. I can only vouch for what we do.
That 'leveling off' is probably the biggest factor for us. When they're just eating all their feed (as in trough is cleaned up but not licked slick, and yes, ours get grass or hay, too) and don't seem to be gaining anymore weight, we call the processor to schedule delivery.
We don't want them over about 1200 lbs or the steaks are bigger than most people want.
And the heat is an issue as well. We have late winter/early spring calving, so at 16 months, the mercury is beginning to rise in our neck of the woods. And when it gets so dang hot and the humidity is high, they just won't eat as well. So, we try to get em out of here before the weather becomes too much of an obstacle.
And as you mentioned, there are differences among the individual animals growth rates and gain, so we don't typically take them all at once. We try to keep them in pairs at the very least though, so no animal has the added stress of being alone. We don't treat heifers any differently, although most of our females are kept for replacement.
Feels like I'm rambling, but I hope it helps!
 

mnmtranching

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I don't like the idea of taking cattle off corn and put on grass or grazing. 1175 is some small for 16 months if he would have been left on corn he probably would have been 1250 at 14 months or so. IMO that would have been the route to take. I know cutting feed costs are important. And it's hard to time the corn grazing with the right size and weight of the feeder cattle. Probably be better to harvest the corn and feed it accordingly so the corn becomes the finishing ration other then grass, corn then grass again. Or save the corn grazing for just the fed cattle, cows will do well on hay.
Best age for most cattle feeders, the age to shoot for is in the 14-16 month range, 1300 pounds.
 

terra8186

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I have a lot less experience on this then others. I take them in when it costs me more to feed them then I get back in weight gain. They also seem to get a little meaner just before they go. (Or that could be another reason why the go at that time)

I asked my butcher a similar question, and he pretty much said it didn't matter when you take them in. His questions were: Do you like more fat on your meat? Do you like larger steaks? It seems it a customers preference, and I don't eat at their house. It is hard to tell the exact way they like their meat.

I shoot for 600 lbs hanging weight, which I am guessing 1000 lbs. I reach that after holding them for 9 months. I purchase them at 350 lbs. It works for me and my friends and family like the meat.
 

SRBeef

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mnmtranching":16d0e1op said:
I don't like the idea of taking cattle off corn and put on grass or grazing. 1175 is some small for 16 months if he would have been left on corn he probably would have been 1250 at 14 months or so. IMO that would have been the route to take. I know cutting feed costs are important. And it's hard to time the corn grazing with the right size and weight of the feeder cattle. Probably be better to harvest the corn and feed it accordingly so the corn becomes the finishing ration other then grass, corn then grass again. Or save the corn grazing for just the fed cattle, cows will do well on hay.
Best age for most cattle feeders, the age to shoot for is in the 14-16 month range, 1300 pounds.

MN, I agree with you - I would like to go from the corn to processor too. But I feel strongly about calving in late March to early April in my area of WI. This would mean that they would come off of the corn in Feb at the latest or only about 11 months old. I was going to try a couple of the quick maturing/earliest born steers like that this coming year. People want good beef in the freezer in spring for the late spring and summer grilling season. But we'll see how that compares to the 14-16 mo beef.

I really wonder if spring calves are wintered on standing corn then go back to good clover pasture before harvest say in July at maybe 15 mo, does the time on corn have a lingering positive effect on marbling, taste etc even though they are off of it for awhile before harvest?

Granny I know many folks harvest at a certain weight but I see a big difference in wt between calves.

My 1200 lb cows seem to have calves that mature faster and maybe at a lower weight than my 1600 lb cows.

Here's a picture I posted earlier when I had two different extremes of my cows side by side in the corral for their occasional treat. These two cows (1200 and 1600lb) have calves that grow and mature at very different rates. The steer I posted about above matured at about 1175 came from one of the (2) 1200 lb cows pictured while the steer from the bigger cow on the left still looks like he's growing into a basketball player.

 

SRBeef

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farmwriter":38ry3iee said:
We've been feeding/selling freezer beef a few years, and 16 months isn't completely out of line with what we do either.
In previous posts, there have been varying opinions about what to look for in finish/fat deposits, timing, etc. I can only vouch for what we do.
That 'leveling off' is probably the biggest factor for us. When they're just eating all their feed (as in trough is cleaned up but not licked slick, and yes, ours get grass or hay, too) and don't seem to be gaining anymore weight, we call the processor to schedule delivery.
We don't want them over about 1200 lbs or the steaks are bigger than most people want.
And the heat is an issue as well. We have late winter/early spring calving, so at 16 months, the mercury is beginning to rise in our neck of the woods. And when it gets so dang hot and the humidity is high, they just won't eat as well. So, we try to get em out of here before the weather becomes too much of an obstacle.
And as you mentioned, there are differences among the individual animals growth rates and gain, so we don't typically take them all at once. We try to keep them in pairs at the very least though, so no animal has the added stress of being alone. We don't treat heifers any differently, although most of our females are kept for replacement.
Feels like I'm rambling, but I hope it helps!

Not rambling, very helpful information. Would help to know about where you are (Texas?)
I like the idea of taking at least two at a time to the processor. Very good point to try to reduce stress. Please "ramble" any time! Thank you! Jim
 

Jogeephus

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I think you have a good plan. I've played around with weight/gain measurements, diminishing returns and various other things just for my own curiousity. From what I've seen is the 16 months is pretty good average to plan on but as you say some of the cattle could vary from this either way. Weighing them and determining when they peak is a smart move IMO. Keeping an eye on the tail head and the sac (if its a steer) is too - no need to raise an overly fat animal.

I've also played around with the extremes on feeding. In this I mean I have grain fed them from weaning to slaughter on one extreme and conversely feeding them for as little as 7 days on the other. All were good but as anyone can imagine the first method is a fools game. My conclusion is to grass feed the calves until they reach at least 7-800 pounds and put them on feed. I feed a complete 14% ration made of peanut hulls and grain free choice until they peak and or are finished based on physical traits. When I do this, I get some extraordinary gains and can have them finished in as little as 30 - 45 days but some will take 60. Also, the meat is consistant which I think is important to the customer.
 

mnmtranching

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SRBeef, you do have a good system going. Another thing nice about selling beef off the farm is you are in control not the packer. Harvesting at a smaller weight is fine. And I think it is OK to have various maturing cattle especially if you say, take 2 at a time to the butcher.
I believe when a critter is taken off corn and put on pasture it has to readjust the rumen, probably causing a weight loss for a week or so. And yeah I believe it would lose the corn fed taste during that time.
I think the ideal thing for what your doing is to go ahead and put them on the clover pastures. That for the extra protein and pail feed 10 pounds of cracked corn. MAN! you'll have tasty beef.
 

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