US - Comparing grass-fed and feedlot beef models must use the “best examples” from each, according to a staunch US grass-fed beef advocate who says grass-fed beef remains largely at "hobby" level in his state.
Texas rancher, Ted Slanker, is of the opinion that the “average seriousness” of optimizing grass-fed output is “not as serious – yet” when compared to the feedlot sector.
Based near the Oklahoma state border in northeast Texas, Mr Slanker’s operation mainly produces linebred polled Herefords with some cross-bred cattle, although he notes grass-fed beef in his area is a little less commercial.
“Most of it is managed by folks who work in town,” said Mr Slanker. “So the ranching part is a hobby mostly - the average cow herd in Texas is 25.”
He told TheBeefSite that, when you take into account factors like cropland usage, sequestration and rangeland management, grass-fed beef is an efficient and sustainable model.
He said this was why he jumped on the grass-fed "bandwagon" in 1999.
Lamar County is home to around 75,000 head of cattle, which has an area of 30.5 miles (49 square kilometres), he added. His system finishes cattle the year round, expecting around 46 inches (116 cm) of rainfall a year, a level he says is comparable to much of the southeast US.
But in terms of feed efficiency, he says there is “no way” grass-fed can be shot down by the feedlot sector for feed efficiency, because of the effort required to grow what goes in feedlot rations.
He said he bases feed efficiency on pasture management, breeding, the environment, and business goals.
“I've had cattle come off winter pastures to lush spring pastures and gain up to as much as seven pounds a day for some weeks,” said Mr Slanker. “The very best pasture management systems coupled with breed selections can have gains exceeding two pounds per day for the animal’s life.
He said this can result in a weight of 1,175 pounds (532 kilos) in 550 days.
Looking to the future, Mr Slanker predicted possible growth in the practice of congregating cattle to be then fed forage and more use of growth technologies and “growth enhancing management practices” in the grass-fed sector.
Discussing rangeland biodiversity from grass-fed operations, he said: “The ranch lands have been pretty much the same for many, many decades.
"The wild creatures are here like they have always been. Pasturelands with some cover are their natural habitats.”