Answer: Part of the idea of sustainable agriculture is matching the right animal or plant with the appropriate environment. Ecological farmers know that organisms that are adapted to their climate and habitat do much better than those placed into situations nature might not have intended. Selecting the right genetics for pasture-based production is therefore of utmost importance.
In general, you will want an animal that combines maternal traits like milking ability with early maturity and tenderness. These three traits are important because cows must calve on pasture, raise a thrifty calf that lays down fat quickly (which is important in pasture systems because growing seasons are limited), and produces a carcass that yields high quality beef that provides a positive eating experience for the customer. For this reason the moderate body-typed English breeds usually fit best with grass operations. They are also well adapted to Montana's harsh winters. Breeds in this category include Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn, and other, rarer breeds such as Devon and Dexter.
Select animals from herds that have mature weights under 1100 pounds, as these will most likely finish at the proper time. Grass-finished cattle are usually marketed between 16 and 24 months of age. Information on rare breeds can be found at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy website at www.albc-usa.org/index.htm. For more information on livestock breeds see the Oklahoma State University Animal Science website at www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/.
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