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September 2012 Archive for 100% Grass-Fed

RSS By: Randy Kuhn, Beef Today

Our family farming history began with my great-great-... (nine generations ago) grandfather Johannes. He, his wife and three children left Saxony, Germany, on April 20, 1734, aboard the ship St. Andrew, mastered by Capt. John Stedman. They landed at Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and eventually settled our family’s first "New World" farm near Society Run in Frederick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., in 1743. Pig farming was our family’s specialty until the mid 1950s. A lot has changed since then. Our BQA cow–calf operation includes 100% grass-fed registered Red Angus, Hereford and purebred Beefalo; 30 to 35 pastured Duroc and Spot pigs; 100 Freedom Ranger broilers; and 90 Golden Comet and Buff Orpington layers. We organically maintain 80 acres, comprising 15 acres in rotational pastures, 15 acres in tillable cropland, and alfalfa/mixed grass hay on the balance. We have never used chemical pesticides or herbicides on our pastures or hay fields. We are not a "certified" organic farming operation, but we prefer the natural/organic approach to help promote sustainability.

It's weaning time

Sep 14, 2012

Harvest time is weaning time.

   This can be a stressful and somewhat noisy time for the cow, the calf and the farmer/rancher.   Probably the most critical weaning decisions a rancher needs to make are gauging when and how  to wean.  USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) reports that the average weaning age of beef calves in the U.S. is a little over seven months of age. Over three-quarters of these producers reported weaning calves between 5½ - 8½ months of age.  Of course with the drought experienced by the majority of Beef producers this past summer, weaning weights will be lighter because calves are being shipped to be back grounded / finished sooner than normal due to the lack of forages.

   The objective of a weaning program is to get the calves separated from their mothers and on their own as efficiently and stress-free as possible.  This should be when lactation declines and calf gain begins to decrease.  If for some reason you feed, or plan to feed your cattle grain, diets for weaned calves can be purchased or ranch-developed. The advantage to purchased feeds is they're more likely to be balanced for energy, protein, fiber and minerals. In addition, many of them can contain medications recommended by a veterinarian or nutritionist, as well as an obscene price due to lack of grain availability this fall.


Some important considerations in weaning management include:

·        
Dust - Dust causes severe irritation to the respiratory tract of almost all livestock.  If you don’t have the resources to allow your calves access to pasture and have to keep them in pens, "sprinkle" don’t soak the pens with water to keep dust down if using wood shavings.  The same is especially advisable in pig pens.  Wheat straw is a better bet, but if shavings are all you have access to, keep the pen's dust-free!  This time of the year is when pastured piglets are most susceptible to pneumonia.  With day’s that still reach the 80’s and cold rainy nights that dip into the low 40’s dust from shaving or even dry feed could instigate pneumonia.  To combat inhalated dust from feed we add water to make a "mash" of their corn/oat/alfalfa hay chop.  That way it has a thick oatmeal like consistency which also makes it more palatable for 6-8 week old weaning piglets.

Sorry, I got a little off track with the pigs.  Let's get back to things to look out for in your weaning calves.

·        
Bawling - This is another irritant to the upper respiratory tract.  Not to mention irritating your neighbors (if you have any), or weekend house guests.  To minimize bawling - unless "fenceline weaning" - separate the calves from the cows so they can't hear each other.  A good start would be to keep them out of site.  Either over the hill (if you have any), or on the other side of the barn.  Or better yet, if you have the option, on another farm.  Some producers are fortunate to have multiple facilities/farm locations.  Or do like we do and let them wean naturally.  We’ve found that our Beefalo calves naturally wean them selves by the time they are 7-8 months old.  Than the heifers or cow’s have 1-2 months to recuperate before they have their next calf.

·        
Dehydration - Some calves are not acquainted with water troughs and are so busy bawling they don't take time to find the water and drink. Use of a water source similar to one they may have been around may help.   We've seen producers that use nipple waterers that are primarily utilized in pig production with the end of a nipple from a calf bottle secured over the end.  Place a water trough directly under the nipple and they'll learn how to drink out of the trough by experimentation!

·        
Feed change – For most dairy producers calves, change in diet (from milk replacer to calf starter/grower grain to strictly grass/hay/pasture), requires the growth of different organisms in the rumen to digest the feed. This change can take up to two weeks.  This is obviously only for producers that separate the calves from the heifers/cows such as in a dairy setting.  We don't separate our calves because that is what has worked best for us and our Beefalo cattle.  As I previously stated, we allow our calves (steers or heifers), to naturally wean themselves from the udder to the pasture.  In doing so, we relieve any weaning stress on the calf.


   Why is stress the most important challenge to overcome when weaning calves? The University of Minnesota's Bethany Funnell, DVM, explains that stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol - a catabolic steroid that has negative effects on the immune system. This not only makes a calf more susceptible to respiratory disease, but decreases the calf's ability to respond to any vaccines that you might administer.  Because of this, it's important to get the first dose of vaccine into the calves while they're still nursing, when stress levels are low. If you DO NOT have a "closed-herd" there are two major groups of vaccines that should be considered to assist weaning - those for clostridial diseases and those for respiratory diseases. If you're unsure which vaccines to use, contact your herd-health veterinarian.  If you do have a closed-herd, vaccinations might be something to consider NOT administering.  On our farm, we have found that our breed of beef cattle do not need vaccines.  We don’t bring outside cattle onto our farm.  Every animal we have was born on our farm, and bred with a bull that was born on our farm to heifers/cow’s that were born on our farm.  This is the definition of a true "closed-herd"  This has worked for us, but might not work for everyone’s herd.


Weaning strategies

There are about as many weaning strategies as there are ranchers. Over the past 10-15 years, the beef industry has become more aware of the value of pre- and post-weaning calf health management and marketing management.  It's worthwhile to explore the various "cookbook" weaning programs and regimes available.

 

   One concept that's been getting a lot of attention is fenceline weaning, which allows cows and calves to have several days of fenceline contact, but calves are unable to nurse through the fence. This requires adequate facilities to allow for feeding and watering the calves, and the fence must be tight & HOT enough to prevent the calf from getting back in with the cow.

   Early weaning is a management practice sometimes used during drought conditions, or when forage quantity is less than desirable. Early weaning is often used to improve cow condition for rebreeding, particularly when forage is limited like this year.  However, research shows mixed results on the economics of early weaning.

   Extended weaning may make sense in times when feed costs are high and when grazing forages aren't a limiting factor.  A Florida study shows that fall-calving cows can nurse calves for up to two months beyond a standard weaning age of 7-8 months and significantly increase calf weaning weight without affecting cow reproduction.


For more information go to:

·         http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AN048

·         http://beef.tamu.edu/academics/beef/pub/health/vac_vaccine.pdf

·         www.extension.org/pages/Early_Weaning_Strategies

100% Grass-Fed Pigs?

Sep 05, 2012

100% Grass-fed Pigs?

Our Duroc Cross & Tamworth pigs are pastured from the time they're weaned (approximately six weeks old) until they are taken to the processor. There have been a lot of 100% grass-fed pigs claims out there. And a lot of those claims have been "called out" or disproven as not being 100% grass-fed simply due either to the producer's lack of education or simple dishonesty. I remember when we first started looking into attempting pure unadulterated 100% grass-fed/pastured pigs.  We went to some supposedly 100% grass-fed pig producers' websites and saw photos of the farmers feeding the pigs grain on the ground from a bucket!

Our family had raised "pastured" pigs since settling in this country back in 1726. But they had always been supplemented with grain, especially in the long northeast Pennsylvania winters, when forages were not available to graze. But we were determined to find a way to limit the amount of grain required by the pigs to continue to grow and at the same time not jeopardize their health.  We weren’t interested in finishing them as soon as possible to make a quick buck by the time they reached maturity (250 lb. by six months of age). If it would take an extra month or two to reach that optimal weight, we were comfortable with that as long as they stayed healthy. We then started looking at other breeds that may be better adjusted to living mostly on grass. It took a while, but we found the Tamworth breed was best suited to survive strictly on a 100% forage diet. Due to what we found in the past, we decided to do additional research on this breed to make sure the few success stories we found about the Tamworth breed were not just isolated incidents.

Coincidentally, my wife knew someone through a past work associate that owns Tamworth pigs and has been successful at raising them on a 100% grass-fed diet. I still wasn’t convinced. So we made an appointment to go see them. It was a few hours south of us, but it was still within our state, so I knew we were due to experience close to the same climatic changes and challenges throughout the year. My main concern wasn’t whether they could survive on 100% grass pastures six months out of the year during the forages' normal growing season; I was wondering how they stayed healthy during the winter on either stockpiled forages or stored dry hay.

The Tamworth, in my opinion, is the purest of the modern breeds of swine. They have been improved more largely by selection and care than by the introduction of the blood of other breeds. Fortunately, the class of men who had undertaken the improvement of some of the other breeds, by sacrificing almost everything to an aptitude to fatten, did not undertake the Tamworth; hence the preservation of the length and prolificacy of the breed. For a number of years previous to 1870, the breed received comparatively little attention. About that time, the bacon curers opened a campaign against the then fashionable short, fat and heavy-shouldered pigs, which they found quite unsuitable for the production of streaked side meat, for which the demand was constantly increasing. The Tamworth then came into prominence as an improver of some of the other breeds, in which capacity it was a decided success owing to its long established habit of converting its food into lean meat. Tamworth pigs are especially hardy and tolerate our harsh winters quite well. They are known for their vigorous rooting ability and ability to reclaim brushland for use as pasture and hay production. The Tamworth originated in Ireland, where they were called "the Irish Grazer." Around the year 1812, it is said, Sir Robert Peel, being impressed with their characteristics, imported some of them and started to breed them on his estate at Tamworth, England. They have been bred quite extensively ever since they were imported into that country.

Unfortunately, the last paragraph you read was about all the information I could find online about the Tamworth breed. But have no fear: If you're interested in additional information about these potentially promising pastured pigs, I will keep you updated about our progress in raising 100% grass-fed pigs! If you or someone you know has experience with the Tamworth breed or another breed of purely pastured pigs, please share your experiences with all of us. Thanks in advance, and stay tuned for additional information as it becomes available. We have another litter due Oct. 4!

 

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