Monday, August 15, 2011

Question about holstein bull calves & my notes about feeding them for beef quality

Question from email: 

"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.


sheila said...

My experience is if you are going to butcher a totally grass fed cow or steer then it's best in the early summer after a couple of months eating really lush forage. There will be some fat then. Winter butchered with only grass and hay and the meat is super lean and a bit gamey. Wild venison is the same. Meat quality varies greatly depending on the quality and quantity of food available.

I think you will be happier with the winter butchering if you follow your plan of some grain feeding along with all the forage they can eat prior to harvest.

Anonymous said...

I've heard that you want to butcher any animal on the 'gain'. That is when they are putting weight on. So for grass fed, that would be late spring? Grain finishing, I would think it a different critter

Alder Ridge Farms said...

I don't know of any local dairy's that even keep bulls around. they are just too dangerous. Somewhere over a 1000 people are killed or critically injured every year by Holstein bulls. If you want to raise one for meat you need to cut the bull and raise a steer. if you are raising dairy cows for meat it should take you around two years,give or take a little. If you want a milk cow talk to the dairy you got the calfs from and they should be able to help you inseminate your cow while they are working with their own heard(for a fee). I know thats what we've done in the past with the old dairy I used to work with.

Cat said...

Thanks for answering, Bruce! (I am the one who emailed about this)

I ended up going with a heavy bred Dexter heifer, hubby is hoping for a bull calf, I'm hoping for a heifer :-)

Hubby's after meat, I'm after milk and meat, hopefully this girl is going to fill the bill, and over time we will have a small herd of them going.

I've done much more reading about cattle since I emailed you, and I think the only breed bull I will have around is a Dexter. Hopefully I can find an AI tech that will store Dexter semen for me, and then that won't be an issue either.

Unknown said...

We have been raising free dairy bull calves on grass for a few years now and it has worked out quite well. We get 2 (one four the four of us and one to sell, they keep each other company) bull calves (Jersey/Holstein mix) each spring, bottle feed them for 2 to 3 months while offering calf starter if the weather is bad or they aren't filling out well. They are out on about an acre of grass the remainder of the year, and need about 50 to 75 bales of hay each in the winter (we're in central PA so it gets pretty cold in January!). Then in the spring I rotate them around our remaining 3 acres of grass until early November when we send them out for butchering. I don't keep them a second winter because by this time they are 500 to 700 lbs, and their hay bill would probably double and not make the extra 100 to 200 pounds really worth it. The meat has always been sweet and tender, but with much less intramuscular fat than grain finished beef, so it's easy to trim off and save some calories. We castrate them, and I didn't de-horn this year so I feel less safe around them than before. They also find their horns useful for destroying my fences and scratching my car the last time they got out! Bruce is right when he says they think they're big pets, coming right up to you to smell, lick, rub against or chew on you. I think that is also a trait of the breed, dairy cows may be much more comfortable around people than beef cattle.

Unknown said...

My experience with holsteins bull calves has been very positive. These are a couple things that have worked for us.
1. Leave the calves bulls and they fill out much better, not so tall and bony. They can be dangerous so you need good fencing.
2. No grain, only hay and grass.
3. Do not butcher them until 24 months and the steaks are so tender they can be cut with a fork.
One other thing is they cannot be around cows at all.