It's happened... We've lost a sale because of breed, specifically Holstein. Here's the deal though. Holstein Friesian cattle make up nearly 15-20% of the beef industry in America, and about 10% on our farm. Next to Angus and subsequent cross bred cattle, it is boss. Why? It's abundant and research, scientifically proven "fact", shows that it is either an equal or superior beef. A little of that later in the article.
So why does it get a bad name? The short... hearsay. Don't get us wrong, the breed has shortfalls but those issues in most systems fall on the producer not the consumer. In ours, 100% falls on us. The first bit of information you'll find with a quick Google search is that Holsteins produce about 5% less beef than Angus cattle. Now mind you, we're talking industry here, feedlot not grass. So, 5% of a 1,250 pound feedlot steer, dressed to 450 pounds is about 20 or 30 pounds. That's quite a big hit in the pocket book!
Now, let's talk grass. Grass fed cattle take much longer to grow out and must reach maturity. In feedlots, grain and hormones equal fat. In grass fields, maturity and quality forage equals fat. If you will, they have to stop growing tall before they can start growing wide. Nevertheless, our cattle go to processing at about 1,000 pounds at around 24-28 months. In human terms, salad and water versus fast food takes longer. So we are looking at about 5% less beef on a 1,000 pound animal finished to about 325 pounds (some of this depends on breed, keep reading). That's around 15 pounds on average! That means that at our average price of $8 a pound for a whole steer someone's just lost $$$!
Who lost the money though? Depends. Most, not Rural Reverie, grass fed small farms sell you an animal and then you pay for processing and packaging. That means when you pay for processing, you pay for hanging weight. If a 1,000 pound Holstein and a 1,000 pound Angus went in together you're now looking at roughly 650 pounds of hanging weight. At this point the Holstein is still pretty much the same size... maybe a tiny bit smaller. We obviously researched this before buying and growing them for over two years, so we know crazy things like... the stomach of a Holstein weighs a little more, you see their stomachs haven't adapted to eating grain as well as Angus and thus they need more room in there to break down the material. So that's some of the weight. But, Holsteins have thinner skin... they get offended easier. Some of that comes back. For this article we'll call it a wash and say someone is still out $$$ although it would be less since you pay for hanging weight at processing not finished weight. Then butchering, this is where the money is lost. Holsteins are a large framed bovine versus an Angus. They are the Tight Ends versus the linemen. Taller, leaner, but able to throw a block when needed. What does that translate to in meat though. Bone to meat ratio. The larger and taller frame requires bigger and longer bones. When those bones get removed to create the meat in the freezer, you're now left with 5% less finished meat than an Angus. Now you've got 350 pounds of Angus and 320 pounds of Holstein. That's around a $240 difference! If you paid for processing and got back 30 pounds less meat.. be very upset! We are, we have bills to pay as well. Now imagine the loss on the difference being millions and millions of dollars, and it is in the industry, maybe they try and convince you to buy something else? Maybe tell you it's somehow better? Regardless, the ones who pay for processing, cover those losses. This is one of many reasons why we pay for processing! You only pay for the meat you get in your freezer. No confusing sales tactics to hide the true cost of what you'll be paying. So to move on to the what's great about raising Holsteins for grass fed beef.
Before we get to the scientifically proven "facts" on how great Holstein meat is compared to traditional beef breeds... Please know why we proudly raise them on occasion. You wouldn't know it now, but a couple years ago, when we started our farm, Holstein calves were being sold for $25 straight from the dairy... we've seen them go for as little as $3 at market! Since we wanted cattle that went from milk to grass with no grain ever, they were an easy choice... That we will absolutely never do again! Bottle feeding calves for months is brutal!!! Luckily there are small farms who do this because of the growing demand. Markets this last week saw Holstein bottle calves going for as much as beef calves, nearly $250 to $300! Covid craziness! You see Holstein steers have to be bottle fed, that's work that most beef producers aren't willing to put in. Do a quick Google search, up until recently these precious bovie babies made up the veal market for America. When that market was full, use your imagination... Nope don't, you don't have to. Think what's happening with all the pigs right now. Leave it to big ag to show their true colors when $$$ is on the line. They hide it pretty well when it's cheaper to bulldoze them into a pit... Google "what happens to Holstein bull calves". First article, "Dairy's Dirty Secret: It's Still Cheaper to Kill...".
So ethically, just like with every decision we make on our farm, we decided we would be part of a rapidly growing sustainable solution to a disgusting problem. We've calculated that our average beef breed bovine birth on our farm costs less than buying a Holstein and playing momma cow (or paying someone else to play momma cow). In fact, when we put it all together, the numbers on these animals aren't great at all. Profit margins in this industry are already very low for the amount of work associated. So why do we do it? We became farmers to be part of what agriculture could be again, not what it currently is! $$$$$$! We do it for the love of our current Holsteins: Christmas, Jack, Cheese, and just added to our farm this week Creepy. He likes to hide in the shadows and stare at us. Plus... as promised!
Their beef is scientifically proven to be un-discernible to professional meat managers! Don't take our word for it, collegiate studies at Cornell University proved this back in the 90's. The results were 49% to 51% correct, that means there was no difference in taste at all compared to the coveted Angus! We'll discuss why we've been duped into believing that American Wagyu (there is a difference) and Black Angus is the meat to have in another article. Stick with us and Dr. Dan Schaefer on Holsteins for now. He's a professor and former chair of animal sciences at the University of Wisconsin College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He has been researching Holstein steers since 1982. His research is clear, "Dairy steers have comparable quality grade attributes and higher marbling scores than the U.S. fed cattle population." Schaefer says, "There is also no repeatable breed difference between Angus and Holstein in taste or tenderness attributes, which are supported by histology and biochemistry." There are countless, and we mean countless, scientifically achieved factual results available for you to peruse at your leisure. Know that when we say "hearsay" is the reason for the negative connotations on Holstein beef, understand that to be marketing. The folks that want you to eat beef, want you to eat their beef, most of which is black and sometimes Angus. Please ask yourself if the color of the Angus effects the taste? It's more cost effective for the major producers to raise clone-like consistent black cattle so they tell you "it's what's for dinner!" The science proves otherwise and the ethical issues behind this must be addressed. Good news though, beef producers are finding it cost effective to raise Holsteins now... give it a few years and Daisy will be back on your TV screen for a whole new reason.
Lastly, we want you, our customers to be satisfied. My grandfather owned a red tractor, it's important that mine be red. If you believe it to be better, it will be. There is still something there when it comes to these types of decisions and that is important. We want you to know that at Rural Reverie, you have a choice. If you don't want a Holstein, that is 100% okay. You might have to wait your turn for a very specific breed, we currently raise mostly Black Angus. Then we have some Red Angus, Charolais, and yes Holsteins. We also raise some cross breeds like Brangus and Charbray. We hope to add Hereford in there very soon, I'm partial to those for very specific reasons. Maybe it's because in my childhood my uncle James had one named Ferdinand and helping him bottle feed him was a cherished life altering experience for me.
Give Holstein a chance, believe it or not you already have 15-20% of the time! You'll be helping to make agriculture in America a little more Rural Reverie-ish!