5 days ago
Monday, August 15, 2011
Question about holstein bull calves & my notes about feeding them for beef quality
"Hey Bruce was just reading your blog and had a couple of questions for you, I hope you don't mind the email.
There's an organic dairy nearby that sells their Holstein calves, and I'm thinking about getting a couple, one to raise as a milk cow and one to raise for meat. Was thinking I would use the bull to breed the heifer @ 14-15 months and then butcher him, rinse and repeat each year. "
That's pretty much the standard dairy cow dance; the cow needs to give birth periodically to continue to produce milk. What you're proposing is pretty standard. What you're missing is my experience with dairy bulls: Hands down, dairy bulls are the meanest bulls i have ever encountered, as a group, and a bottle-fed bull would be even worse than a dam raised bull. Bottle feds have no fear of you, and they get really big.
"How long are you raising your Holsteins before butchering? Could you estimate how many pounds of hay it takes to get them to market weight? What weight do you butcher at? We bought a 1/2 steer this year, 1200lbs on the hoof, our half was 600lbs, 325lb hanging weight, and we got back 188lbs of meat including packaging. For a family of 7, that doesn't last long. Anyway, I have no idea what market weight for a cow is, and I've no idea what breed steer we bought, but I'm sure it was a meat breed."
I prefer to eat an older cow; and the holsteins benefit from additional growth time. The reason that holsteins sell at a discount is that at the same age the percentage yield of a holstein carcass vs a beef carcass is lower. I've found that holstein beef is very tasty -- with some notes, below.
(I don't know if these are the first cows you've raised for beef, so if you can't answer some of these, I understand.) If I did my plan, and didn't castrate him, is there any issue with beef from an intact male? I know there is supposedly boar taint, but I've not heard if cows have something similar. I can of course, make a bull calf a steer, but part of the appeal is to be able to breed him to the cow to keep her in milk LOL."
No issues on the beef from bulls tasting different, but behavior of an bull vs a steer is pretty dramatic. I'd talk to your local dairyman about their bulls and experience.
I purchased 4 bull calves, bottle feed and castrated them, and eventually ate this one because it was annoying my girlfriend by being too aggressive, and then ate this one because it got hit by a truck on the road in front of my farm.
Notes on quality:
Unfortunately for me, both of the cows that I ended up eating were just coming off a diet of mostly hay. The one that got hit by a truck was still on hay because of our cold, wet spring and lack of grass, and the other one just had to go, so we ate it.
Both steers were SUPER LEAN, which sounds like a good thing, but actually wasn't. It was very dry, and not very enjoyable.
The next one I slaughter will be this fall; probably in December, and I'll be feeding it some grain prior to the slaughter. A quantity sufficient to add some fat to the cow and for a duration sufficient to get some marbling going. I've eat lean, grass-fed Holstein, and while I appreciated it, and it's tasty, isn't just not my thing.
So my recipe for a tasty cow:
Bottle feed and wean to grass at 3-4 months.
Grass and hay for the first 2 years, some minerals, salt lick, occasional treat (spent brewers grain, for instance).
And for the final 4-6 months, 10lbs of feed per day as well as all the grass it can eat, with slaughter timed for the end of the growing season.