Farm Feature: Grazing Days Grass-Fed Beef

For about 3/4 of the year, I get most of my food from my local farmers’ markets. Eggs, meat, vegetables, fruit, chocolate, and other fun things like cutting boards (bought 2 this year – I splurged but they’re just so beautiful!). I really enjoy buying my food from the person who produced it; it’s so much more personal and interactive than the supermarket experience. Even though I can talk with the farmer about their philosophies or how the food that I’m buying from them came to be, I’m more and more curious to see their farm in action. The tactile part of being able to feel something in between your fingers or underneath your feet, the smells, the sounds. Thus I’ve made it a fun personal goal to go one step further than my farmers’ market and try to visit some farms that produce the food I eat every week.

Grazing Days (pasture by Manotick Station)

I first became acquainted with Grazing Days through friends who had joined their CSA. Grazing Days is located super close to my vegetable CSA farm, Roots and Shoots, and is a grass-fed beef producer. They aren’t certified organic but as I’ve mentioned before here, the certification is not as important to me when the farmer who is producing the food is standing right in front of me, accountable for their actions. Organic is a way of living, not a logo or mark.

Anyways. As fall sets in, I had the great opportunity to visit Grazing Days and to learn about their 65 acre operation. Besides producing grass-fed beef, one of the huge selling points for Grazing Days is that they have a model that works for homes that only have a standard-sized freezer above their fridge and for homes that have chest freezers (like mine – we inherited it with the house and I was against having it for awhile until I realized the over-winter storage opportunities it offered to me). Every month for several months, farmer Paul can deliver reasonable amounts of beef so that you always have beef options in your little freezer, or you can opt for one bulk delivery for storage in your chest freezer. I’m eagerly awaiting my bulk delivery in October!

First of all, I learned that cows are extremely curious. They seemed anxious if we were too close to them and would walk away, only to return a few minutes later and stand in the pasture, looking at us.
The cows always have access to a watering hole (spring water straight from the ground), which is where you see them gathered above. They drink once a day but take in approximately 50L at that time. That’s a lot of water! As Paul approaches them, the cows ran off toward their pasture; he mentioned that their relationship is like predator-prey, except that he is their caretaker and not a real predator.
Once the cows moved away from their watering hole of the day, we got to take a closer look at what it looks like. It’s super muddy because it’s been raining for the past few days but look at all of that rich soil! There are several pump systems attached to small troughs that provide clean water to the cows when they press up against the pump; without this system, the cows would be standing in the spring, bringing mud and other potentially not-so-good things into the water (mmm bacterial growth). I thought that the pump contraption would be challenging for the cows to figure out but apparently within two days of being on the farm, all of the cows will have figured out how to use it! Again, curiosity!
Watch out where you walk! Cow pies!
The cows walk from their pasture-of-the-day to their watering hole and back again along designated paths. The set-up is really quite ingenious. The path is lined with electrified wire, which acts more as a psychological barrier than a physical barrier (cows are big…they could run through the wire if they really needed to). Paul’s role is to provide his cows with everything that they need so that they are happy staying within the confines of the wired area.
The farm uses intensive rotational grazing. The property is 65 acres and the rotation for grazing is 65 days long. Each day, the cows have access to 1 acre of pasture. That means every day, Paul bikes to the farm (20km one way) to move the cows. Here, he’s setting up a new electrified wire in preparation for moving the cows to their new pasture. The 65 day rotation allows the grazed pastures to recuperate and regenerate a good volume of high energy grass. It’s a fine balance between having the right amount of grass to feed them and ensuring that the grass is at an optimal stage for energy content.
Now that the cows have been moved, they’re able to enjoy nice lush grass for the next day. What a delicious feast! The typical day of a cow is about 8 hours of resting, 8 hours of eating grass, and 8 hours of chewing cud (regurgitated grass that they ate earlier). Not bad!

Because the cows just graze all day in the open and because they are exposed to grass of many varieties, Paul hasn’t had many issues with illness, save for one unfortunate case earlier this year (out of his 3 years) of a cow diagnosed with meningitis. He advocates the method that he uses to raise cows because it’s the least stressful for everyone involved. A quick visit to his land will help anyone confirm that his operation is completely grass-fed from start to finish. He purchases his cows when they’re about 1 year old (they’re directed by Paul – the customer – to only be fed grass from birth) and Paul raises them for the next 8 months until they go to the abattoir. Apparently, 24 months is the ideal age based on flavour for when cows are transformed into beef but with the Canadian climate, 18 months is pretty standard; after all, trying to fatten them up over a cold winter just doesn’t make economic sense.

It’s very impressive seeing the Grazing Days operation and I enjoyed seeing the cows (that I’ll be eating meat from very shortly…). One of the neatest things was hearing the herd of cows run around. There’s something incredibly powerful and humbling about that.

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