At Ferme L’eau du ruisseau we produce grass-fed beef, meaning that our cattle eat grass rather than corn or other grains. The cattle, landscape, and people are all much better off if we keep cattle eating grass rather than sending them off to eat corn in feedlots for the last part of their lives (see more here).
We purchase our cattle as yearlings from other beef cattle farmers in the region that run what are called 'cow/calf operations’ (see more here), whose main product is calves that are typically sold at 6 to 9 months of age. By bringing these animals onto our farm we are diverting them from the feedlots that they would have otherwise been sold to. They live a much healthier and happier life wandering our pastures and eating grass for the time that they are with us than they would have had packed into a feedlot. Using this model of purchasing yearlings allows us to focus on the production and sale of really high quality beef without having to take on all the responsibilities of maintaining a herd of cattle all year round. That said, we may still start a herd of our own at some point in the future.
We practice what is known as rotational or regenerative grazing, where we rotate our herd of cattle through a series of pastures over the course of the season, having a higher intensity of animals for shorter periods of time followed by allowing those fields to rest and recover. This can grow more forage for the cattle, reduce their exposure to disease, improve biodiversity on our landscape, and even sequester carbon in the soil. When done properly, the landscape is actually getting healthier over time (regenerated) rather than degraded. We make sure that each field is well fenced and supplied with water and trace nutrient salt licks, which are important for maintaining cattle health. We are able to keep cattle on pasture for about six months of the year, from May into November. Since our steers go to the abattoir by late fall, this means that we have only a short time period where we feed hay, which is simply the grasses that are cut and baled during mid-summer.
We do feed a very small amount of grain, mostly oats, as a management tool. By bringing a bucket of this extra tasty food with us when we visit the cattle, it makes it very easy to move them to new fields or into a trailer, and to get close enough to regularly inspect their health. This grain makes up less than 1% of their diet. Grain is almost like candy to cattle. It is much more digestible and higher in sugar than grass, and like candy for a person, should only be given as an occasional treat. This is in contrast to feedlots, where cattle eat only grain for the last several months of their lives and therefore begin to have all sorts of health complications.
When it comes to the beef itself, you really can taste the difference between our grass-fed beef and what you’d find at the grocery store. As they say, ‘you are what you eat’, and our cattle are getting a wide variety of forages that they are choosing for themselves rather than being served corn out of a trough. This varied and natural diet really brings out the ‘beefiness’ of the meat. Cattle eating grass don’t put on the same amount of fat as those finished on grain so the meat tends to be leaner than what is found in a typical grocery store, but it is still very tender. We give our cattle no hormones or drugs, except for the very rare occasion where a sick animal would need medical treatment from a veterinarian.
All of our beef is dry-aged the traditional way for at least two weeks which improves taste and increases tenderness. The meat is then processed into retail cuts and packaged into reasonable sized portions, usually around one pound each. All of our beef is packaged into heavy duty vacuum sealed bags and immediately frozen, and is kept frozen until it gets to you. When handled in this manner, the meat will keep very well for many months without any freezer burn or loss of flavor, and will be almost the same even a year or more after it is first packaged.