Fed & Fit

Ep. 112: An Inside Look at Grass-Fed Ranching

On today's episode, we're getting an inside look at grass-fed ranching with Shelly Kreuder of 2XL Premium Angus.

We're back with our 112th episode of the Fed+Fit Podcast! Remember to check back every Monday for a new episode and be sure to subscribe on iTunes!

Find us HERE on iTunes and be sure to “subscribe.”

Episode 112 Sponsors

  • Aaptiv – be sure to enter the promo code “FEDANDFIT” (one word, all caps) at checkout, and your first 30 days are on the house!

Episode 112 Links

Episode 112 Transcription

Today’s show is brought to you by Aaptiv! Aaptiv is a fabulous app and robust online community that allows you access to top notch, motivating personal trainers who guide you through an audio-based workout that is timed to your choosing with fun, perfectly synchronized music. Like Netflix for fitness; Aaptiv gives members unlimited access to their entire bank of high-end, trainer-led workout classes. So if you’re looking for fresh, high quality, on the go, motivating workouts that adapt to your lifestyle, I highly recommend Aaptiv.

In fact; if you head over to the curator playlists, you’ll see a familiar face! I chose 7 of my favorite Aaptiv workouts so that you can get a well-rounded mix of workouts that will take you from intense cardio to restorative serenity; and these are some of my favorite workouts to do when I’m traveling, or if I just have a spare 20 minutes between activities. And because they're the best, Aaptiv is even offering Fed and Fit listeners a free 30-day trial. When you sign up for a monthly subscription at www.Aaptiv.com; be sure to enter the promo code FEDANDFIT, one word, at checkout, and your first 30 days are on the house.

Cassy Joy: Welcome back to another episode of Fed and Fit podcast. I am really excited about today's episode. I am chatting with Shelly Kreuder, also known as Michelle Kreuder, who runs 2XL Premium Angus, LLC. It is a grass-fed beef ranch up in Iowa. And to give you guys some back story on how we invited Shelly onto the show today, Amber Link, who many of you already know, is a trusted member of my team. She’s the project manager for the Fed and Fit Project. She attended PaleoFx, and acted as my proxy, because I could not be there this year. And she got to meet Shelly. And she was really impressed by their story, how they decided to go from more conventional ranching and farming to 100% grass-fed beef. And so she thought it would be a really neat story to invite her to come on the show, share a little bit about how they made that transition, what went into the decision process, and what day to day life really looks like for the guys. So, welcome to the show, Shelly! I’m so excited to have you!

Shelly Kreuder: I’m really glad to be here, Cassy.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, this is a lot of fun. We really worked for this show today, so {laughs} I’m especially excited about it. It was one of those; I was trying to tell Shelly. The very first time I ever signed up for a podcast, I was being interviewed by my friend Liz Wolfe, and we weren’t close friends back then, but it took me a long time to figure out how to work Skype. I will always love that episode so much because I felt like we really earned it. {laughs} So, anyways. I’m excited to chat with you today, and I’m excited for you to share your story with the Fed and Fit listeners. If you wouldn't mind, tell folks a little bit more about who you are, what you do, and how you really came to be in the business that you guys are in today.

Shelly Kreuder: Ok. Actually, we moved to Iowa back in 2006. We were originally from northwest Illinois, and we farmed conventionally there on my husband’s family farm that had been in the family for over 100 years. And we decided to uproot, and come to Iowan. All of our children went to Iowa State University. And we wanted to be closer to them, and there was also a lot of; well, many reasons we decided to move to a larger farm in Southern Iowa. So we moved there in 2006. And we farmed conventionally until 2013. And during that process, it was a different type of soil that we were used to farming back in Illinois, and it was very highly erodible. It was, what do you call, a shrink-swell clay soil, the particulate matter is really, really fine. So it washes away in heavy rain. So we tried many things to conserve the top soil, and nothing really worked to our liking. And so, my husband had always enjoyed cattle, raising cattle, and we had raised cattle conventionally in the past back in Illinois, and he really wanted to get back in the cattle business. And this area of Iowa is also very suited for cattle ranching. It grows a lot of really good grass. And we decided to convert it back to grass because of the topsoil.

So back in 2013, we started the heard with about 25 cows that were actually my son-in-law and daughter’s cattle. And they brought them down here to graze that summer. And now we have over 130 cows, and all of their offspring. Which ends up being over 400 head of cattle on the ranch.

Cassy Joy: Wow.

Shelly Kreuder: And we converted the 450 acres to all grassland pastures, and they were originally all in conventional row crops. So it’s been a challenge, to get it all converted over. But it’s been very rewarding, and we have really enjoyed the process. And then watching how much improvement we’ve had in soil quality, water quality. And we no longer have our topsoil running intermittent the creeks and ponds anymore. So it’s actually holding its own. So it’s been really good. My daughter and son-in-law are actually veterinarians at Iowa State University, and they are part owners in the business with us. And they take care of all of the, what do I want to say, health of the cattle and all of the breeding. And all of that stuff. So they’re a very beneficial part of the business. They come down about once a month on a weekend, and we do all of our heard health things, like vaccinations and checking and all of that when they are here.

And right now, what’s going on on the farm, is a lot of people ask us what we feed our cows for dinner time. And what we do is we actually chop the pastures what they eat in the summer, and we chop them up. We basically mow it down for hay. And then we chop the pastures and put it into what they call a silo bag. It’s a big white long bag, and that silage is actually fermented hay and grasses and stuff. And that’s what the cattle eat in the winter time. So right now, that’s my husband is out doing, right now. He’s got the choppers and all the wagons out there. And they’re putting that into the bag for winter feed.

Cassy Joy: Wow, that’s fascinating. I had no idea. So, this sounds like a pretty big operation. Is it just you and your husband that are there day to day, or do you guys also have additional help?

Shelly Kreuder: We do have one herdsman, his name is Bob Erickson, and he grew up in this area raising cattle. His dad had a cattle ranch. And we were lucky enough to have him come work for us a year ago. So he’s been with us since then. And he really has helped us a lot. Because now that we’re into the marketing phase of the business, we need to have some time to do that. And so he’s; like when we were at PaleoFx, he was back taking care of the cattle while we were gone. So he’s there on a day to day basis, and then we also have a gal. Her name is Jodi Finley, and she is our social media/marketing director. She helps with all of our postings, and also with marketing. And she works from her home. We do that remotely. She’s about an hour away from us. She does a really good job. She worked on our website, and she does everything with our online shopping and everything. She'd keeps track of all of that for us.

Cassy Joy: That’s nice. I get that. Sometimes you get so busy thinking and doing, it's hard to remember to sell, too. {laughs} Or find time for it.

Shelly Kreuder: Well yeah. Right, and we had that at first it was ok, because we didn’t have any beef that was ready to go for the first few years. It takes about 2 years from birth to market. So we had some time there during the transition phase to get everything in place and everything. And then once we got into the marketing phase, we realized we needed more help. And she’s been a great asset to us.

Cassy Joy: That's wonderful. So how big of a space do you have for these 130 to now 400 heads of cattle?

Shelly Kreuder: About 450 acres of ground, actually. So it’s about an acre per cow.

Cassy Joy: Got it.

Shelly Kreuder: Is what it ends up.

Cassy Joy: Is that is at a typical ratio for ranching? Grass-fed beef ranching?

Shelly Kreuder: I would say probably for grass-fed; if you’re going to do it grass-fed. But it’s not the average or norm for conventional cattle raising. Does that make any sense?

Cassy Joy: Yes, that makes perfect sense. And listeners here are probably relatively familiar with conventional cattle raising. But if you don't mind, would you mind doing a brief overview of the biggest differences between a conventional ranch and a true grass-fed beef ranch.

Shelly Kreuder: Ok. We have a lot of conventional cow calf operators in our area. And most generally, most beef is raised on pastures. And it’s basically grass pastures. And then once they’re weaned from their mothers, then they go into a feedlot sit. So we’re pretty similar in that regard, that up until weaning, they’re on pasture. But our pastures are more of a salad mixture of alfalfa, clover, and different cool and warm season grasses. So it’s more of a balanced diet for the cattle. And then what we do is we rotational graze them every day. So we put them on a few acres every day, and then we move them every day so they get fresh pasture every day. Which allows the grass to come back and the soil to rest. And then they’ll come back on that same pasture in say, 30 days once the grass has grown back up again. And most conventional operations, they don’t do that. They’ll put maybe 30 cows on 100 acres, and they just stay on that pasture all summer. And they stay on that whole thing. The grass basically doesn’t have time to recover between feedings. So that’s why they need more acreage to grow the same amount of cattle. Does that make any sense?

Cassy Joy: Yeah, that does make sense. Interesting. What do those differences look like once summertime is over?

Shelly Kreuder: Then when summertime is over, our cattle still have complete access to pasture. And they will still graze throughout the winter. We try to have what we call stockpile forages that they can graze on during the winter. But in Southern Iowa, we will have periods that the pastures are open, and we have periods where the pastures are covered with snow and ice. And so then we have to supplement feed them, and that’s when we scoop the feed out of those silage bags, and they get supplemented with that at winter time.

Cassy Joy: Got it. And then a conventional ranch would look a little different in terms of the feed, right?

Shelly Kreuder: Yeah. They would be probably; I would say most of the calf would probably still be out on pasture, and they would probably supplement feed them with hay. The big difference is what we call the finishers. The ones that are being fattened to finish. That’s where the big difference is. They will go into a feedlot and get fed a mixture of basically they get fed a mixture of byproducts from the ethanol industry. They’ll be fad dry distillers grain, and gluten, and things like that. And also some corn and other grains, and other proteins; soy and some other proteins. And probably some hay. But ours, when we finish our cattle, the animals will stay out on pasture grazing up until they're finished. They never go to a feedlot. They’re out on pasture the entire time.

Cassy Joy: Got it. Very interesting. And I think you very lightly touched on this, but what caused you to decide to go 100% grass-fed versus maybe conventional, with which you guys and your family had experience in before?

Shelly Kreuder: It was interesting in the sense the we needed to do it for the farms sake. For the ranch. Because we wanted to leave it; hand it down to the next generation viable and sustainable. And it just, conventional row crops were not sustainable on our farm, in this area of the country. Now, we're rolling hill, and we can have extreme temperatures. We can have extreme rainfall. So it was just really a way for us to preserve the land. That was one of the main reasons. And then, also, we just really didn’t like worrying everything artificial; herbicides, pesticides. All of that stuff. It really made us worried that it was all just getting in the ground water. You know what I mean?

Cassy Joy: Yep.

Shelly Kreuder: We just didn’t like that idea. So with the way we do it now, the cattle eat everything. They eat the weeds, and we don’t have to spray, and we don’t have to put insecticides; we don’t have to do any of that. None of that. So it’s a much more natural, cleaner way eight to raise cattle. And it also mimics the way the buffalo grazed on the plains back before we came and put fences up and changed everything. Because they would go to a pasture, graze, and then they would come back to it later. You know what I mean? After it had rested. So it more of a natural way mother nature intended it.

And also, we didn’t want to; when you feed grains to cattle, it’s not really what they’re designed to eat. They’re designed to eat grasses. That’s how mother nature intended them. Because the way their stomachs; and it’s not really a stomach, it’s a rumen. They are designed to digest grasses. And when you give them too many grains, it actually makes the body acidic, and it can cause long-term health problems for them. As well. And when they are fed that way, then it lends itself that they need to have more antibiotics, and growth hormones, and things like that. To make them grow better, because it’s actually stressing their bodies. Does that make any sense?

Cassy Joy: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. So, when it comes to hormones and antibiotics, is that something that you’ve ever introduced into your cattle?

Shelly Kreuder: What we do is we never growth implant them. We never feed any antibiotics. On occasion, we will have an animal that needs to be treated with an antibiotic for a temporary health issue. And then we go through all the necessary protocols and withdrawal periods and all that for the cattle. But very rarely do they ever need anything like that.

Cassy Joy: Just like a human being, you know. We wouldn’t take preventive antibiotics, but we might if we had a severe infection of some sort. So that makes perfect sense.

Shelly Kreuder: Right. So we do treat them for that. But in a lot of the conventional cattle industry, if they’re all convened in a feedlot situation, a lot of times that’s when they have to be fed the continuous dose of antibiotics, to prevent outbreaks of disease and to improve their growth rates and things like that. We don’t do any of that.

Cassy Joy: So interesting. So, consumer-wise, most of the folks listening here are most likely not in the business of cattle ranching. We’re more consumers. And trying to just get really good, healthy foods on the tables for ourselves and for our families. And I know that is something that a lot of folks struggle with, is going to the grocery store. And I think I’ve done an episode on it before, but just what grass-fed really means, and all the different ways we can how to sort through marketing, and then what's true. And so a question that I get a lot is, how do I find really good beef? And some folks like to go to the grocery store, and they’ll see grass-fed beef, and then after some investigating they find out that maybe some of those cows, like you were talking about, the finishing, those were actually finished on grains. But they could be labeled as grass-fed in certain areas. And then going to a farmer’s market; really knowing the right questions to ask. So do you have any tips on some questions to ask when you're looking maybe at a ranch, or you’re trying to figure out if you can go in on the cow share. And I’m going to ask you in a little bit, also, about if you guys distribute. But if somebody is just trying to figure out how to best arm themselves. We don’t know what we don't know, if that makes any sense. We don’t know the right questions to ask, and aren’t familiar with the system. So what would you say would be a couple good ones to keep in our back pocket if we’re looking at maybe bringing some new proteins into our home?

Shelly Kreuder: I would definitely ask if it’s grass-fed and grass finished. Because there are some grass-fed producers that don’t believe they can finish cattle on grass. And you definitely can do it; we’ve proven it, and we have very high quality, high marbling, and we finish them on high energy grasses, basically. We’ll actually plant like sorghum grass and things like that that have a lot of carbohydrates in them, and so it will do the same thing as grain. They don’t have to be finished on grain. So that’s one of the big things you want to make sure. That it’s grass-fed and grass finished.

And then also, find out where it’s coming from. Because a lot of grass-fed beef is sourced out of this country. And a lot of it comes from; and I’m not saying it’s bad meat. I would have no way of knowing that. But if it’s important for the consumer to have it be locally raised, or at least raised in the United States, and to know where it comes from, that they look and see. And because we don’t have to label country of origin labeling, that they have to put it on there. But they usually have it. It will either come from New Zealand or Australia or Uruguay, wherever. Even Tanzania, or whatever. So in that regard, I’m not sure that that is what everyone would choose if they knew that. You know what I’m saying? If it’s important to them that it comes from a rancher or grass-fed beef farmer in the United States, or even closer to them, even, would be better. That’s one of the main things that I would ask.

And also, like with our cattle, we can trace everything that happens to that cattle from conception to finish. We keep track of everything that ever happens to the cattle. We have their ear tag numbers, and anything that’s ever happened to them, and what they were fed, and everything. And if you're sourcing from another country, or even a coop of growers, that’s different than if you know. You know what I’m saying? Exactly where that cattle came from. What farm they came from. And what number they were. That gives me some comfort, and I would say maybe a lot of people appreciate that. Knowing where they’re coming form.

Cassy Joy: That's great. I think that's great information. And I agree. If it's important to folks that the food they’re putting on their table has a smaller carbon footprint, then going local is definitely the way to go. And that’s the advantage of going to your farmers market, getting to know a local rancher, just like you're saying. And that if that’s important to somebody.

It’s interesting; have you found that in the United States, from what I understand you guys are just doing a fabulous job; but I would think there’s a pretty high demand for the beef that you guys are working really hard and very diligently to produce. Do you find that there are a lot of other ranchers out there that are doing it as truly as you are?

Shelly Kreuder: There’s a lot of difference in how grass-fed beef is raised, as far as the genetics of the cattle. We’ve chosen blank angus genetics because it’s predictable, and we’ve chosen our bulls that are high marbling and tenderness. So there’s a lot of different breeds out there. I’m not going to say one is better than the other, but we’ve been very happy with our results with our angus cattle; blank angus cattle.

And then also, a lot of difference will be seen in the type of grasses and forages they are fed. And if somebody just throws a few cows out on grass and never check them all year, and it’s not a good balanced diet, the meat will taste differently. So there is a big variation in the quality of grass-fed and the flavor and tenderness of grass-fed.

Cassy Joy: That makes a lot of sense.

Shelly Kreuder: So that’s another thing. Some people, we sell quarters of beef, we sell online. We do the whole range of marketing. But I do recommend anybody to, before you buy a quarter of beef someone that you try some of the cuts prior to that to make sure that you like the flavor of their beef and the quality of their beef.

Cassy Joy: That’s a great tip. You know, I married a man who grew up with ranches and sections of land and all that good stuff, from out in goodness, what is it, West Texas area. And the land out there is pretty dry. You know, it's covered with mesquite. And the running joke in that family is that grass-fed beef is extremely tough. That's no good beef. And that’s the joke out there. But to your point, the grass-fed beef that they are “raising” is exactly what you just described. They’re putting these cows out there, and of course they go and check on them on occasion, but they’re not rotated strategically through different fields, and making sure that they're getting a variety of salad, like you referred to earlier. And then making sure during the wintertime that they are supplemented with really high quality, high energy I think you called it, type of grasses that had been harvested earlier in the year.

So I think that's a really interesting point, because that’s a misnomer that is out there. Is that grass-fed beef is really tough and not flavorful, and I have not had that experience. Especially when I am sourcing from a reliable rancher or cattle raiser such as yourself. So that’s wonderful. I’m glad you brought that up. And then I would love it if you would tell folks a little bit; I know that you do distribute. Do you distribute nationally, or are you just local right now?

Shelly Kreuder: Actually, we sell locally at the Des Moines Farmers Market, if anybody is in that area. Des Moines farmer’s market is one of the best farmer’s markets in the country. They have over 300 vendors, and we’re there every weekend on Saturday. And then we also have an online store on our website. And we ship nationwide, through the continental United States.

Cassy Joy: Wonderful. That’s really great news. And Shelly, I will go ahead and link up to your online store in the show notes so folks can easily find and click on it. But this has been really, really fascinating. And what I love the most; oh, a question I'd be remiss if I didn’t remember to ask you this. The fact that the land healed itself so much, and the fact that your erosion essentially halted, and really repaired after you started the grass-fed cattle initiatives, did that surprise you in how quickly the land bounced back in terms of soil and water quality? Or was that expected?

Shelly Kreuder: Well, we thought it would improve. But I really didn’t know that it would improve that much. And also, the biggest thing that was so wonderful to me was the minerals and vitamins and everything that are in those grasses that the cattle are eating; the healthier the soil is, the healthier the plants are, just like we are if we eat good organic vegetables that are grown on really good healthy dirt. So that’s the big thing that I’m excited about. And also what we found improved so much, this was what I really didn’t think about, but what happened when the improved biodiversity of the farm. And by that I mean; ok, you can dig up our soil because it’s a shrink-swell clay. The word clay is the key word there. It gets really hard, and it can basically get so hard on top that the water just washes off, if it gets too hard. So when we planted it all to the pastures, what it did was it improved the microbials in the soil, meaning the funguses and the earthworms and different critters living in the soil. And also all of the wonderful roots that went down, breaks up that soil. So now the soil is really mellow, and it’s not hard. It’s just really easy to work with. You know what I’m saying?

And then we found that we have so much more diversity in the different animals that are living on the farm. The birds, the insects. We actually had, when we first started this, we had a couple of swarms of bees that came to the farm. And now I actually keep; I’m a beekeeper now. Because so many came, I put them in boxes, and now I raise honey. Because we constantly have flowering pastures all summer. And the bees have actually been attracted to the farm. To the ranch. I think because of them. You can just smell the clover out there. So now I actually have swarms that come every summer; new ones. They just keep coming. And my bees are extremely, extremely healthy because they don’t have to contend with sprays. Or, like when you grow corn and beans, it’s a monoculture. It’s not a diverse different grasses and flowering plants, because alfalfa and clover, all of those flower all summer. So they have a constant forage source.

And one of the main reasons bees are in trouble in this country is because we’ve gone to monoculture agriculture, and there’s nothing on a corn plant that a bee can forage on. And then, all of the sprays they put on it, and the insecticides and stuff. I had one bee keeper tell me that there’s enough insecticide on one kernel of treated corn to kill a whole hive.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness.

Shelly Kreuder: So that was the one thing that has been really, I would say, a blessing to us. Is that it got me into bee keeping, and it’s really opened my eyes to the effects of chemicals on the other species that we need in this world to keep everything going, you know. In balance. So that was one of the main things. I was not anticipating becoming a beekeeper when I started this! {laughs}

Cassy Joy: {laughs}

Shelly Kreuder: I really wasn’t. But they’re doing fantastic, and I have really enjoyed it. That’s a whole nother area of farming basically.

Cassy Joy: Mm-hmm. Wow. That is so fabulous. It sounds like such a fairy tale, and I love it. It just kind of plays into the concept that so many listeners here really understand, is that there are no isolated incidents. No man is an island. And no practice is isolated. And it's just so interesting how you brought the land back to life! It just sounds like it's thriving in so many different areas, and so many different types of ecosystems. So that is just so exciting. And now I want to schedule a trip to the Des Moines farmers markets so I can come and meet you guys! And see if you’ve got any honey.

Shelly Kreuder: We would love to have you come to the farm. I mean, we love to show it to people. We love it so much, and we feel like it’s an oasis of green, you know. An oasis of clean, healthy soil and water. And all of that. We love it to grow further, you know what I mean. To be able to touch other people with it. We love to have visitors. We have several farm visits of people, like yourself, that are coming this summer. Just to get the tour and get the experience of it.

Cassy Joy: That’s wonderful. We’ll, I’m just so thrilled for you guys. And you started this whole thing in 2013, you said, right?

Shelly Kreuder: Yes. That’s when we started. And actually how we started was kind of funny in a way. My husband thought about raising goats. So we went to Texas to the San Angelo area.

Cassy Joy: That’s where my husband’s from!

Shelly Kreuder: Oh really!

Cassy Joy: Yeah!

Shelly Kreuder: Well we know the San Angelo area. Yeah. And we decided that Texas is much more suited for goat production than southern Iowa. {laughs}

Cassy Joy: {laughs}

Shelly Kreuder: And when we saw what they were grazing on, and climbing trees to nibble the branches, I thought it was fantastic. I loved it. But it was a trip that we took, and it actually pointed us more towards cattle than goats. And I have a couple of brothers that live down in Boerne, Texas. So we went to visit them, as well. Because I actually lived in Texas when I was a kid. We lived in the San Antonio and Boerne area.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness. Well we have so many connections, because that's where I live now. {laughs}

Shelly Kreuder: In Boerne?

Cassy Joy: I’m in San Antonio, but we’re near Boerne, we’re kind of on the outskirts.

Shelly Kreuder: Oh, ok. Ok. Yeah, we actually stopped and saw my brothers when we went to the paleo show. Because they’re still living in Boerne. So it was a nice little trip.

Cassy Joy: Got it.

Shelly Kreuder: And it was so much greener than the last time we were there, which is nice to see.

Cassy Joy: It is. It’s been really lovely here. The amount of rain we’ve gotten has been really great. I have just a very humble backyard garden, and it has really loved this year. So this is just so exciting. And I'm really, I'm in awe that you started this in 2013. So in less than four years, you’ve really been able to heal the land and bring it back. It just gives me so much hope, and so many warm fuzzy, and so excited that you guys are doing what you're doing. And Shelly, thank you. I'm really honored that you took the time to come on the show today and share what you guys are up to.

Shelly Kreuder: Well I really appreciate you having me on. I like telling our story.

Cassy Joy: It’s a wonderful story, it's very encouraging, and I'm telling you I have half a mind to come up there {laughs} to Iowa now. So I'm very excited. And I will continue to support you guys. Do you want to tell folks where they can find you online really quickly, and I’ll be sure to recap that in the show notes?

Shelly Kreuder: Ok. Our website is www.2XLPremiumAngus.com.

Cassy Joy: Easy enough! I like it. And like I said, I’ll go ahead and link up to all of this stuff in the show notes. The show notes, of course, is where we have the complete transcript for today’s show. So if you missed something or you wanted to take notes, you can go back and refer to that. Those can be found over at www.FedandFit.com. Thank you again, Shelly, for coming on. This has been a true pleasure, a highlight of the week. I learned a lot, and I’m very encouraged. And to everybody else who dialed in to listen; thank you so much for dialing in. We'll be back again next week.

   

Leave a Comment





As Seen On...