I have many people come up to me and ask, if our cows are only eating grass why isn't our meat less expensive than the grocery store meat.
The first, most important reason is that because we want our ranchers raising great cattle - no hormones, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides - Bastrop Cattle Co. pays above market. My philosophy is that ranchers need to make a living being ranchers. I grew up on a ranch watching my parents struggle to make a living. Back in the 1970's the beef market crashed. In one week, the price of live cattle went from .78 cents a pound to .28 cents. It didn't come back for years.
The ranchers that I work with – who are part of the Bastrop Cattle Co. program – are dedicated, family ranchers. Several of these ranches have been in their families for a couple of generations. They have kids who want to continue to be in the business. And as many of you have heard from me over the years, ranching is not particularly easy work! Like any job that you are passionate about, it has its ups and downs.
Another reason grass fed is not less expensive even though grass is “free”, is that grass isn’t “FREE”. Just like the ranchers, big and small, corporate or family owned, our ranchers, to be successful, must be grass farmers first. This also takes a lot of work, and money.
Traditional ranching done right requires lots of fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, hormone implants, fence building and repairing, feeding, haying, predator control, veterinarian calls, and all the things that keep ranching operations going.
So do grass-fed operations – we just do it with different tools!
My fertilizer bill is for compost tea, fish emulsion, and seaweed extract. Organic fertilizer is not cheap (and it hasn’t gone down in recent years, but chemical fertilizer has gone up! Which allows me to tell ranchers they should switch to the less expensive, better product!).
Instead of dousing my fields with herbicides and pesticides, I shred. I point out to people that it costs the same whether the tracker pulls a sprayer or a shredder across the same acreage – and actually, with the cost of chemical herbicides and pesticides going up, I can now shred three times a year for the same price! We shred just before the weeds start to seed. If we’re lucky, they stop coming back in about two years. Plus, I get free compost to help the grass.
Of course no hormones and antibiotics does save money (hormone implants are about $10 a calf). But right now, I’m going through a fence repair and re-building phase. And to increase our carrying capacity on the ranch, we are gradually cutting the whole ranch into 12 acre paddocks so we can do intensive rotation and mob grazing. This by itself will cost over $20,000. And that’s not including the piping to make sure each paddock has water.
None of the cattle on our ranches eat grain, but during the winter when there is no grass, cattle still have to eat. Hay is expensive. If we’re lucky we can cut our own fields, but the last few years have seen us “unlucky”. No rain, no grass, and no hay. This year is looking better. I’m cutting hay right now. Still an expensive proposition, but it’s my hay and I know what’s in it and on it. And I know what I’m feeding my own cows come winter.
My point in all of this is that whether a calf goes the feedlot route or the grass fed route, the costs are pretty much the same for the rancher that raises them.