Breed choice: A critical decision in cattle ranching

By August 28, 2019 October 28th, 2019 Audience: Everyone, G.A.P. Farm Life Sneak Peek

We’ve all heard it before or have seen it in action – farming is hard work and can be quite physically demanding. With beef cattle ranching, a multitude of tasks are labor intensive and can consume a lot of time:

What we don’t always realize is the amount of thought and planning that goes into successful farm management. The less physical, more thoughtful chores may not require as much blood and sweat, but they *may* involve at least a few tears! One necessary job that appears, at least on the surface, to be a brief mental exercise, can be complex: farmers must make decisions about the genetics of their herd.

At first glance, this decision appears simple and straightforward, but with thousands of recognized cattle breeds and innumerable cross combinations, you can see how this decision requires a great deal of knowledge and thought. The farmer or rancher needs to consider the traits they want and need in order to be successful. The climate, the ecosystem and level and type of vegetation, as well as desired qualities of the meat products inform the breed or combination of breeds that will be used on farm. Even when this decision has been made, it’s important to assess and re-assess it regularly.

Beauchamp Farms, a new G.A.P. Animal Welfare Certified Pasture Raised (Step 4) beef cattle ranch in Virginia, raises heritage Irish Dexter cattle. Where modern commercial breeds can be about 25-40% larger than Dexters, Beauchamp Farms has found a special niche with this breed, and finds they are a perfect fit for their G.A.P. Certified farm.

As their name implies, these cattle originally hail from Ireland and were brought to North America in the early 1900’s. They are among the smallest cattle breeds in the world and are known for being docile and easy to handle. Their small frame and lighter body weights make them well suited for small farms as they don’t cause as much soil compaction or need to graze as much as their larger counterparts. Maintaining specific levels of vegetative cover in pasture areas is an important animal welfare standard for G.A.P. beef certification. Mary Ganous of Beauchamp Farms says “Our gentle Irish Dexter cattle’s efficient use of available pasture allowed us to easily achieve G.A.P.’s Pasture Raised (Step 4) certification.”.

G.A.P.’s comprehensive standards are truly unique and are developed specifically for each animal group, while taking into account the different production systems and geographic climates around the globe. G.A.P. develops and sets the standards, our valued partners implement them, and our third-party certifiers audit every farm to ensure the standards are being met. It’s an important process that helps us impact the lives of more than 416 million animals annually.

If you are a farm or ranch, we would love to hear about how you manage your breed choices on-farm. If you’re thinking about the G.A.P. program, learn more about our standards here and click here to fill out a pre-application and be contacted by someone from our farm team.

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