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Backyard Beef

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Each day after school, our eleven-year-old son, Matt, trudges outside to feed ten head of cattle that he and one of his sisters own. Another sister bailed out saying she didn’t want to risk losing money on a cattle venture. She may be right. Every time Matt fills the five gallon bucket with yellow corn for the animals it costs him and his partner about $5. As the steers get older they’ll be requiring more and more $5 buckets per day. Admittedly, it’s not a very efficient system for raising cattle.

We know cattle feeders who feed hundreds of cattle a day and they’ve got it down to a science. Nutritionists are hired to figure out the best ration of feed for each pen of cattle. While the Becker cattle are herded from pen to pen to eat weeds and grass, the larger feeders give their cattle just the right amounts of hay, chopped corn silage and corn ethanol co-products for each head of cattle in their feed bunks each day.

After four months of hauling buckets of corn and pitching hay in increasingly inclement weather, Matt and his sister will have enough beef to feed about 30 families for a year. Our cattle feeding neighbors in their tractors with heated cabs will at the same time be able to feed thousands of families.

Just like our cattle feeding friends, Matt will use antibiotics if he has a sick animal. He and his sister aren’t using growth hormones for these ten head- not because they have anything against using them – there’s natural hormones in many foods, even broccoli. They just don’t want to take the time to do so. Because of that, their cattle won’t use the feed as efficiently so they’ll be hauling more corn to them for a longer amount of time. Matt’s anxious for the volleyball season to be over when his sister can hoist a few buckets, too.

As far as money in their pocket- when all is said and done, their opting–out sister may be the wiser one here. Still, our bucket toters are learning about responsibility, business ventures and what it takes to get hamburgers on the table.