SANBORN—Aaron Alons considers himself more of a grass farmer than a beef producer.
The rural Sanborn man, his wife, Renee, and their four young children own and operate the Tallgrass Cattle Company.
“If you don’t have good grass, you’re not going to have good beef,” Alons said. “Don’t be worried about your beef; be worried about your grass.”
The part-time family business raises 100 percent grass-fed beef cattle — a crossbreed of British White and Red Devon cows — for direct sale to consumers.
“The people that buy our meat are buying it because they’re primarily health-conscious,” Alons said. “They desire a healthier cut of meat.”
Alons listed off the health benefits of meat from grass-fed beef cattle that the company’s customers look for:
- Less total fat.
- More heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- More conjugated linoleic acid, a type of fat that is thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks.
- More antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin E.
Alons mentioned not everyone will enjoy eating meat from grass-fed beef cattle.
“If the meat was finished properly and the cattle were fed properly, you will have the most amazing tasting piece of meat,” Alons said.
He explained there is more to raising grass-fed beef cattle than just buying cows and having them eat grass all of the time.
For the three pastures the business’ herd of about 20 grass-fed beef cattle rotates among for grazing, the key word is diversity.
“The pasture has to have multiple types of grass, clovers and alfalfa,” Alons said.
In one of the pastures this year, the company did something so different with the grasses it was growing for grazing that he thinks probably no one else in N’West Iowa is doing it.
“We let the cattle eat the grass all the way down in June,” Alons said. “Then we brought in a drill and we drilled in annuals into that pasture.
“We were growing annuals like sorghum sudan, cowpeas, millet,” he said. “Those are plants that thrive in heat.”
He noted there are types of grasses in the region that do not grow when the air temperature is above 86 degrees.
“In the spring, your grass will go crazy,” Alons said. “Then when your temperatures creep up, your grass isn’t going to really do anything because you’ve got cool-season grasses that aren’t going to grow when it gets to about 86 degrees.
“These annuals in that pasture took off and they grew eyeball-high,” he said. “The neighbors thought we were growing weeds because nobody really understood what we were doing.”
Alons and his family bought their first British White cows and calves about four years ago.
“That’s how our herd started,” Alons said. “We’ve been purchasing a couple cattle here and there, but pretty much that’s what started our herd.”
About a year after the British White purchase, he found another breed of cattle with British origins that he wanted to introduce into the business’ herd.
“Red Devon is known for its ability to marble,” Alons said. “The meat can be marbled on grass.”
Marbling refers to intramuscular fat interspersed in lean cuts of meat that adds flavor and has that name because the white streaks of fat look like a marble pattern.
“In America, our desire is to have a marbled piece of meat,” Alons said.
“You’ll always hear people talk about, ‘Oh, I want a steak with marbling.’ That’s a uniquely American thing.”
Alons, the manager of SP Heating & Cooling of Sheldon; his wife, Renee, a Sanborn Christian School kindergarten teacher; and their four children — Asa, 11; Bella, 9; John, 5; and Ezra, 4 — have busy lives, which include taking care of their grass-fed beef cattle.
“We do our best to make every day a good day for our cattle,” Alons said. “People buy beef from us because they know that cow has been raised humanely. We do treat our animals as good as we can.
“They’ve got fresh water,” he said. “They’ve got all the grass they can eat everywhere they can roam. They’ve got places to get out of the wind. They’ve got trees in their pastures that they can lay under in the shade.”