For a successful 100% grass-fed beef program, the cattle must have certain genetic traits. British breeds tend to function better on grass than continental European breeds and also produce tastier meat, but producers may find individual animals or sub-sets of many breeds that have the right genetic traits for a grass-fed beef program. With good foundation animals, careful breeding can develop a herd with the necessary traits.
A good “grass sire” will stamp his progeny with physical traits that indicate good functioning on grass. Females should be evaluated for easy birthing and good lactation and mothering as well as body confirmation. The cattle should be rugged, docile, easy fleshing, able to flourish on grass and forage alone, and produce a high volume of tender and tasty meat.
Some of these traits can be discerned by an examination. At one year of age both males and females should be wide and moderate in height, with shoulders as wide as their rump length. Mature females should be 48-50″ tall and mature bulls should be less than 56″ tall. Structural correctness indicates durability and longevity. Animals that are long-lived and will breed consistently for many years are critical for financial success. Linear measurement allows us to predict volumes of meat. Bulls that exceed the excellence standard indicated on our Spider Graph will have a higher percent of meat in the high-value areas of the animal – the loin and rib areas – and will pass the characteristics on to their progeny.
Herds developed for commercial meat production should be bred to take advantage of hybrid vigor by cross-breeding; the offspring of such a cross will be sold for meat and not go back into the herd. Cattle that are developed for seed stock, however, should be bred for purity and the best traits of the particular breed.