They call it “beer beef.”
Local beef operations and a brewery have teamed up to provide a protein-packed supplement to cattle that translates to better health for them and a better end-product to consumers.
The Blue Mountain Brewery has been recycling its brewer’s grain, or the spent mash produced as a by-product of brewing beer, and giving it to two local farms that in turn feed it to cattle.
Massie and Joyce Saunders, the owners of Rose Isle Farm in Roseland, and Casey Smith, who owns farms in Nelson and Augusta counties, said the process so far has been successful.
“We’re trying to take a local product and put it back into locally raised beef,” Smith said.
For about two years, the Saunders and Smith have been picking up spent mash from the brewery and using it as an additive.
“We’ve given it the nickname ‘beer beef,’ ” Massie Saunders said, referring to the meat that comes from the steers that have been fed the corn/beer mash feed.
Saunders said he had heard other people refer to leftover mash as a high-protein supplement for cattle.
Smith, who lives in Augusta County but spends equal time at his farm in Nelson County, has had experience using brewer’s grain for several years. He has been working with local breweries, such as the Wild Wolf Brewing Company in Nellysford, for about three years, but before that had partnerships with the Miller Coors facility in Elkton and the Anheuser-Busch facility in Williamsburg.
When the Blue Mountain Brewery started building its barrelhouse facility in Colleen, Saunders checked to see if anyone had made a claim to the spent mash that would be produced at the brewery house.
Since no one had, Saunders said he and Blue Mountain Brewery co-owner Taylor Smack worked out a deal for him and Smith to get the mash from that plant.
When employees at the facility brew, they contact the farmers.
“And then sometime during the day, I’ll stop by there and drop off an empty wagon and pull a full one back home,” Saunders said.
They pick up the spent mash every time the facility brews, which on average is several times in a given week.
The brewer’s grain then is recycled as an additive fed to the cattle.
“We’re feeding [Smack’s] grain to our cattle but also to some steers that we’re trying to market as natural beef,” Saunders said. “…We’re feeding them corn and this brewer’s grain together. One’s got a high-protein content and the other has a high-energy content, and the two of them together make a good feed.”
So far, the process has “been very successful,” Saunders said.
The beer mash has several benefits for the cows that he and Smith have seen.
“It appears that the cattle are cycling quicker, which gives us a higher percentage of cows that get bred back quicker,” Saunders said.
He said he’s observed that protein from the brewer’s grain has helped the cows to carry more flesh and be in better condition, which could be translating into quicker breeding.
Smith also has noted this effect, but he partly contributes it to the human interaction that comes along with feeding the cattle brewer’s grain at a time of year when most cows in Virginia would be grazing on grass, Smith said.
“There’s the human interaction when you’re feeding it daily that there’s no science for,” he said.
“You end up with these herds of cattle that basically are like pets,” he continued. “When you feed in the morning, you can rub their head, you can rub their backs.”
He said this helps the cattle become more patient, calm, content and easier to handle, which is good both for the cattle and the farmers.
“It provides a very relaxed, conducive environment for them,” Smith said, adding, “As long as their environment is better for them, they gain better.”
Saunders and Smith both said the benefits also translate to the quality of the meat they sell in the community.
“Most of my customers are repeat customers and most of them won’t go to the meat counter anymore because the flavor is so different,” Saunders said.