You can improve the quality of meat if you pay attention to the rule often voiced by old-time cattle ranchers: Know your pasture.
We graze our cattle on open grasslands made up of hundreds of different species of grasses. Native perennial grasses are nutrient-dense because they have root systems that can penetrate up to six feet deep, pulling up a wide variety of rich nutrients.
Historically, our grasslands have fed much more than grazing animals: many native grasses also provided seeds for the staple diets of Native Americans. But by 1891, A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California, described our county as being:
A mountainous county, its eastern third being covered by the Coast Range, or Trinity Mountains, [some peaks] are also remarkably steep, shooting up in spires so precipitous, that the snow is unable to lie upon them, but sliding off into the deep rents remains there all summer. Nearly the whole of this county is heavily timbered with pine, spruce, fir and cedar, oak, and madrona, forming a part of the forests at lower altitudes, while the wild grasses afford much pasturage.
These “wild grasses that afford much pasturage”, with their deep roots, translate to a twelve-fold increase in carbon taken out of the atmosphere and robust soil health. With a deep, probing root system, these grasses can sometimes stay green nearly year-round without irrigation. This extended growing season means more food for wildlife and livestock, but our steers will also nibble on shrubs, clovers, and random leaves if they can find them. Basically, they’ll eat whatever’s in reach, green, and leafy. And because our cattle are eating a wide variety of grasses, sedges, rushes, shrubs, and herbs—each with its own nutrient profile—they’re getting a wide selection foods in their diet. Of course, that nutritional profile depends on the quality of the soil, also known as terroir. Our vineyards depend on that same terroir, which is the interaction between climate and soils that contributes to the characteristic health and flavors of the plants growing on particular piece of land
Here are a few of the grasses growing on our Northern California hillsides: Bromus carinatus (Calfornia Brome), Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted Hairgrass), Elymus glaucus (Blue Wildrye), Festuca californica (California Fescue), Hordeum brachyantherum (California Meadow Barley), Koeleria macrantha (Junegrass), Leymus triticoides (Creeping Wildrye), Nassella cernua (Nodding Needlegrass), Nassella pulchra (Purple Needlegrass).