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When is the "best" time to harvest a steer? (pics)

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SRBeef

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I've had cattle for a couple years now. Most harvested (processed) to date have been when beef is needed/sold or when culling or by season (usually late fall).

Rotating my cattle to a new paddock this morning I noticed that one of my Baldy steers was looking pretty close to ready with some fat around his tail head and visible on his sides. He weighs about 1200 lb extrapolating from last time thru the scale. He's about 14 months old.

I was thinking he and a couple others would finish this fall grazing corn stalks. They have been on nothing but grazing all summer other than a little "treat" grain once a week or so to keep them coming into the corral when I call them. Not a significant amount of grain per head.

My question for you more experienced folks: Is this steer ready to harvest? The wrinkles on his side are fat not ribs. I was thinking I needed corn to finish but maybe not with the way the clover is growing this summer. Is there a problem keeping him until fall? Will he be "over ready"?

From a meat quality standpoint, what is the optimum time/growthstage/visual condition to harvest a steer for processing?

Here are some pictures from this morning. Thanks for any replies. Jim







 

angie1

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14 months is young, but not too young. Looks like you have enough there that depleting your resources (pasture) is not a concern. If you finish him off on corn, a lot of that weight will be fat and be cut off. I say keep him till fall, he will only get bigger and its not costing you a thing. I would be careful about feeding this guy corn though ~ your money there will lay on the locker floor. He is doing more than good on grass. Advertise grass fed beef and raise your prices.
 

SRBeef

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Thank you FW, I must have missed that thread the first time through. It has a lot of good discussion points in it.

I am probably closer to Angie's line of thinking. The photos don't show it as much as looking at him up close but this Baldy above (#81) already has a fair amount of fat visible on him. If I put him in the standing corn he may end up as a lard bucket.

My market likes lean, but tasty (some IMF) beef. I think I will keep him on grazing another month or so. I have been lucky so far with the clover, rotation and showers when I need them. That may stop in August and I don't want him to lose condition.

So I'll see how the pastures hold out and leave him on grazing as long as possible. This will be my no-corn experiment. We'll see how the meat turns out. By the way, #81 is out of one of my "target" 1200 lb Hereford cows rather than one of my 1500 lb cows.

It would be nice to develop a herd that can finish nicely mostly on grass. One of the things that caused me to post these were that I was not aware that a steer could put on this much "fat" by grazing alone.

Thank you for the replies. Any other comments are welcome. I also appreciate the comments in the previous thread above. Farm writer, I was looking at the picture of your steer on the day of his last trailer ride and to my eye he seemed a bit similar to my #81 above. How did the meat turn out from yours in the prior thread?

Edit: One thing that may have had an effect on #81's condition is that fact he was grazing corn all last winter. Here's a picture from Feb 22, 2009 when they were on the last section of standing corn. May this corn over the winter helped 81 put on fat on grazing now???

 

kscowboy

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Had the same results with mine this year , abundance of clover and fabulous grass and some decent angus calves this year and the angus look finished now without any grains. Even my lowly holsteins look better than I've ever had . I'm gonna grain em anyway before butcher . First good pasture and grass year we've had in a number of years. Still full and leafy and were still getting rain every few days . When it's good it's good and then there are the rest of the years.
 

SRBeef

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kscowboy":27jrhg4w said:
Had the same results with mine this year , abundance of clover and fabulous grass and some decent angus calves this year and the angus look finished now without any grains. Even my lowly holsteins look better than I've ever had . I'm gonna grain em anyway before butcher . First good pasture and grass year we've had in a number of years. Still full and leafy and were still getting rain every few days . When it's good it's good and then there are the rest of the years.

That is a good point to remember - weather may be the primary reason for the grass finish this year. Tough on the corn in many northern areas but good for the grass. Jim
 

angie1

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SRBeef":3e3sbap0 said:
Edit: One thing that may have had an effect on #81's condition is that fact he was grazing corn all last winter. Here's a picture from Feb 22, 2009 when they were on the last section of standing corn. May this corn over the winter helped 81 put on fat on grazing now???
It helps in the sense that often times yearlings come out of winter, like many cows, down in condition some to a lot. They need time to catch up. Yours was able to hit the ground running this spring. He did not have to build up from being down. See? Also SRB, your cattle all look to be very easy keeping. Consistently, in all seasons, they are in excellent condition. You are not doing anything out of the norm in their feed program. You need to give the genetic work you have been doing with them some credit. :clap:
 

farmwriter

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SRBeef":2u56t8m2 said:
Thank you for the replies. Any other comments are welcome. I also appreciate the comments in the previous thread above. Farm writer, I was looking at the picture of your steer on the day of his last trailer ride and to my eye he seemed a bit similar to my #81 above. How did the meat turn out from yours in the prior thread?
He went in halves to 2 customers - they're happy.
 

mnmtranching

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# 81 is doing very good on the grass and clover. He would not grade choice yet. I would give him a dessert daily of about 10-15 pounds of corn for a couple months. :cowboy:
 

SRBeef

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angie":chkn0qfi said:
It helps in the sense that often times yearlings come out of winter, like many cows, down in condition some to a lot. They need time to catch up. Yours was able to hit the ground running this spring. He did not have to build up from being down. See? Also SRB, your cattle all look to be very easy keeping. Consistently, in all seasons, they are in excellent condition. You are not doing anything out of the norm in their feed program. You need to give the genetic work you have been doing with them some credit. :clap:

I think you made a key point here as to the value of the winter grazing of corn - he hit the pastures in good shape at the beginning of spring.

The question in my mind right now is that the corn did probably put some IMF on him over the winter. As long as he has not been stressed this season so far, does that IMF stay there thru the grazing season?

Angie I don't usually disagree with you but I will on my "genetic work" - I've only been raising cattle a few years now, probably not long enough to have any effect on the genetics. With my new bull T21 and this year's calf crop I should see a big jump in genetics.

So far though I think the progress is in management. The condition of my cattle so far is largely a result of pasture management.



And these are steps many folks can take, especially those with a smaller land base: soil test, renovate, clip, drag and rotate according to conditions. Timely rain helps a lot too. Coming from a corn growing background I tend to look at managing pastures more like managing a corn stand.

I am becoming a big believer in rotational grazing, at least in my location and conditions. Here is a picture of my rotation yesterday morning. They went from the pasture on the right of the wire to the left. These were each last grazed about 3-4 weeks ago.



This is a whole different ball game and way of raising cattle than shown in Randi's beautiful pictures in her pulling bulls thread. Which will also be very different than systems in the deep south or Texas.

Being able to compare different ways of raising cattle is one of the benefits of this site.

FWIW. Jim
 

linbul

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Hi Jim,
I'm not considering myself an expert, so don't bet your house on my opinion :) . I just want to share my thouts on your case. First of all, You did great! :clap: For a 14 months old steer, that's an achievent, (but only) if you are in short grazing season.
You are putting several questions there, so I'll try answering them one by one:

Is this steer "finished"?
Yes, he is. The IMF you are talking about is just another fat deposit, so it's considered when beef cattle gained enough fat in general, it has to be deposited some IMF as well. However, the marbling is function of genetics/handling as well, so it's not guaranteed it will be there. As the method for measuring IMF is hard and expensive (ultrasound etc.), we are assuming cattle to be "finished" when it has enough "back fat" (YG-2 or 3), looking at the tail base and flanks.

Do you need to put him on corn?
No! The corn feed is low on protein and rich of callories and fat, so it's used for the "conventional" finishing, when the steer was backgrounded on relatively low-callories/hi-protein diet and has no fat. The only exemption is if you need the "corn finished" taste and look, but you are risking to overfat the animal. As for the meat quality, there is a big difference between grass fed and corn finished beef. It's not much in the tenderness, no matter what you heard, but the color and flavour are very distinct.

About the pasture management - You are doing really great there, but you might reconsider your winter feeding.
Herefords (and British breeds in general) are used to more hardy conditions. That's the reason they tend to put more fat deposits during the grazing period and that's why their milk has much higher energy value. It seems that the steer #81 (and the cows on the pictures) didn't get much hay in the winter, with plenty of standing corn instead. I think that caused them to gain more fat, instead of burning the deposits. On other hand, their pastures seem to be relatively small, so they are not making any "fitness" :) , i.e. muscles.

I think you have two options for the future:
Early finished on grass steers/heifers - if there is niche market around for that. You just have to continue doing what you do and slaughter them 14-15mo old.
Corn finished beef - with the great pastures/management you have, lower "starting point" in means of fatness would give you more time for gaining muscle/frame weight untill the fall. Just increase the share of the hay feeding in the winter.
Best of luck to You...
 

SRBeef

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linbul,

Thank you for your reply. You are making a couple incorrect assumptions however. My cattle get plenty of exercise. Yes my paddocks are small but there are a number of them scattered up and down hills. I had a visitor yesterday who in fact remarked about that. I am finding many benefits of rotational grazing my cattle through smaller paddocks. They have quite a walk to and from a single waterer several times a day.

My cattle get plenty of hay over the winter - I have the hay bill to prove it! Grazing corn is just a part of their winter program. It is still a bit of an experiment. If you look back on some previous threads you will see how I accidentally got into grazing unharvested corn. I don't know if Wisconsin is considered a "short grazing season area" or not. What this board illustrates is that there are many very different ways of raising cattle successfully. Randi's "pulling the bulls" thread shows another, maybe more traditional, western, way. I'm experimenting to find one which fits my land resources and market. Thanks again. Jim
 
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