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March 2013 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.

Meat Marketing 101

Mar 23, 2013

This week’s lengthy blog is Part 1 in a series of 3, that has been designed to:


-          Introduce producers to 100% Grass-fed BEEF marketing opportunities.

-          Investigate the constraints, rules, regulations etc. of direct marketing.

-          Answer some common questions.


One of the strong demands for 100% Grass-fed BEEF has come from farmers’ markets.

Creating and marketing a desirable 100% Grass-fed BEEF, Pork or Poultry product

is both an art and a science.


The keys to successfully marketing your MEAT products are to:

Identify the opportunities and barriers in your area.  

Set realistic goals and benchmarks for your farm.  

Learn from others mistakes and experiences!


Elements to consider


-          Your current grazing management practices.

-          What resources (grasses to be seeded), are needed.

-          What resources are available?  (local University Co-Op’s., extension agents).

-          The timing of calving.

-          And the age of your animals when you harvest them.

-          When your processor/butcher can harvest them for you. (most in our area are closed to everything but deer for the month of November, and summer months are iffy due to local fairs).


   Whether you are a new Grass-fed Beef, Pork and/or Poultry farmer interested in direct marketing, or a veteran farmer, you should lay out the questions that you have for your farming operation.   Start by writing down a list of these questions.   As you list them, you can decide the importance of each one. This will help you in preparing a plan of action with time frames for completion.  Trust me it works!  My wife and I have quite a lengthy list of items needed to be taken care of around the farm, and we regularly re-prioritize the list.  It helps you to stay on top of things and refresh your memory with repairs or needed improvements that would otherwise be forgotten until it breaks down or fall’s apart and than it’s an emergency.


   Think about using the 80/20 Rule, to focus 80 percent of your time and energy on the 20 percent of your work with the greatest return for the project. The business of value added is different than being a producer. You need to prepare to learn as much as you can about being in the "food business".  If you have no experience with direct marketing, you might start with going to several farmers’ markets.  My wife & I did in 2009 and what we experienced with hands-on learning has been invaluable!


Managing Grazing


   During all of the weather challenges of this past winter I was reminded that pastures are often last on the list of management priorities on many farms. I have noticed a lot of fields overgrazed and yet many others were allowed to over mature. This seems wrong because with proper management pastures can be used to reduce feed costs, improve animal performance, and boost farm income. 


   Managing grazing can have a greater effect on the pasture than any other part of pasture management.

When planning your rotational pastures/paddocks, you might want to consider having more, smaller paddocks.

This is based on three grazing management principles:

-          allow the plants rest,

-          keep grazing times short

-          and use a high enough stocking density to harvest the forage.

Adequate Pasture Rest Periods

As we discussed 2 weeks ago in our "MOB" grazing blog, plants need rest to recover from stress and to re-grow.  Plants rest by removing the animals. By providing a rest period we allow the forages to recover and re-grow.   Overgrazing is a term used to describe inadequate rest periods.  Most producers think that having too many animals in a pasture causes overgrazing. Overgrazing is not having too many animals in a pasture, it is having your animals in the pasture for too long!


Body Condition at Calving Time


   Spring calving cows, and particularly heifers, in poor body condition are at risk for calving problems. The result may be lighter, weaker calves at birth, which can lead to a higher death loss, and more susceptibility to things such as scours. Animals in poor condition before calving, provide inferior colostrum and lower milk production. This can lead to lighter weaning weights or fewer pounds of calf to sell. Therefore body condition at calving affects the current calf crop (milk production) and next year’s calving date (rebreeding date).   In most years hay and stockpiled forage can adequately provide the needed nutrients, but it can very widely and should be tested to make sure it is adequate. Your local Extension Office may have a test probe and can help with submitting the sample to a laboratory for testing.  This report can also be advantageous when marketing your hay either at your barn or when taken to auction.


   Another tool producers have to help determine if what they are feeding is adequate, besides forage testing, is Body Condition Scoring (BCS). In the last trimester of pregnancy a cow should have a score of 5,6 or 7 on a 1-9 scale. If a cow is going down in BCS then the ration is inadequate and should be improved.


Water in MGS (Managed Grazing Systems)


   Water is important. It makes up around 60 to 70 percent of an animal's live weight.  In the body water performs many functions. A few that come to mind include:


-          Water consumption will have an affect on dry matter intake.

-          Dry matter intake is highly correlated with daily gain.

-          Cattle on a high forage diet produce enough saliva to fill the rumen each day.

-          Water is needed for saliva production.

-          Water is needed in milk production to feed your calves.  Dairy producers have reported increases in milk production when cows have easy access to water. Typically two to five pounds of additional milk per cow, per day is observed.


Marketing Your Product


   Direct marketing of 100% Grass-fed Meats can be a profitable venture.  However, it can be very involved.  Here are a few food safety regulations that you need to be aware of.

Meat Inspection is Not Voluntary.  It is Mandatory for any meat product that is sold either at your farm, at a farmer’s market or to a retailer as an individual cut, to have a USDA processing plant number on your label.

If your only selling halves or whole animals to a consumer, the inspection regulations are less restrictive, and finding a processer is somewhat less complicated.  Establishments/Butcher shops operating under a "custom exempt" status, MUST provide a "not-for-sale" label on ALL CUTS processed for whole, half or quarter animal sales.


The laws regarding labeling claims for meat and poultry are extensive. The USDA web site for information is:

We’ll talk more next week about Marketing your Products.  For now I think that I’ve given us all allot to think about.  It’s not as complicated as you might think to market your meat products.  Simply take your time and ASK QUESTIONS!

Cattle Nutrition & Swath Grazing

Mar 04, 2013

   Different livestock have different nutritional requirements.  Never is this more apparent or important as when the weather outside is frightful!  Here in North/East PA we’ve been getting really wacked with heavy snow and wind over the last few weeks and it doesn’t look like we’re gonna see spring anytime soon.  If it’s so cold outside that your face hurt’s and your mustache freezes within a minute of being outside, chances are it’s not very comfortable for your cattle either!  While your out there feeding your herd, look them over.  I mean really check them out.  Do they look comfortable, are their backs arched?  If so, they aren’t warm enough!

   Do they have snow on their backs or are they covered with ice?  Some folks think only calves need special care this time of the year.  Actually every age group has nutritional requirements based off of their frame score.  Not just what they rated in October, but what they look like from week to week.

   Mature cows need 7 to 8 percent protein and 50 to 54 percent TDN in their diet.  First Calf heifers that are nursing calves need more than 10 percent protein and 62 to 64 percent TDN to milk, rebreed, and continue to grow properly.  If you feed poor hay to these nursing heifers, or even to mature cows, they may not rebreed, their calves will be weakened, and growth will be stunted.   For example, a few years ago before we had a closed herd we had a 1 year old Herford steer that we bought locally when he was still a bull calf.  He was obviously not properly cared for prior to our bringing him home from the auction. We had him for over 6 months and he still hadn’t grown!  He was either weaned way to early or just wasn’t taken care of from day 1.  Most folks would say we should have cut your losses and culled him.  But he was lucky he was so cute and didn’t eat much.  Don’t get me wrong, his appetite was fine, he was active and lively too, but he was just stunted.  Once he was back out on lush pastures in the spring and summer he put some size on, but didn’t finish at a weight that he should have.  Lesson learned. Stay away from Auctions!  Going to an auction is kinda like a box of chocolates.  Ya never know whatcha gonna get!  That’s why for the last 3 years we’ve had a closed herd, bred by our own born on-farm bull’s.

What to grow?

   Growing a forage crop for swath grazing differs little from procedures for hay production.  Major objectives are to optimize yield and nutritional value of the crop and minimize losses and waste. Cereal grains have probably been used most widely for swath grazing. In general, varieties of "cereal grains" such as oats or barley with rye, ryegrass and field peas that are adapted to an area for grain production are well suited for forage production.  As much care and planning should be taken to produce a forage crop for swath grazing as would be invested in crop intended for grain or hay harvest.  For example, optimal planting date will strongly influence total yield. Delays in planting will result in reduction in final yield. Likewise, timely harvest will optimize both yield and forage quality.  Harvesting too early will sacrifice some yield, while waiting too long will reduce nutritional value.   Access to wind and weather protection in case of winter storms like what ranchers from Texas to Main have recently experienced,  and dependable perimeter fencing are also necessities.   Research has also shown that cows can obtain all the water they need from snow, but depending on snow to provide livestock with water is risky if ice plays a major role in your winter storms.  Cattle have been shown to graze for stockpiled forages through 18" of snow if there isn’t a significant accumulation of surface ice.

    Optimizing utilization of stockpiled forage windrows requires temporary fencing. In trials where feed was allocated for a week to ten days at a time, waste often exceeded 25%. In contrast, where fence is adjusted daily or every other day, waste can be limited to 5%.  That sounds allot better doesn’t it?

Preparing the Forages

   Preparing windrows so that they are deep, by raking several harvested strips into a single windrow, provides further advantage in efficient utilization. Cows can successfully graze windrows through a snow depth up to two feet. Again, the formation of deep/high windrows provides easier access.  As I previously stated, crusted or iced snow can be an obstacle, but can be overcome by driving along the windrow.  I’ve also heard of farmers that will pull their packer/harrow over the ice to break it up allowing cattle the advantage they need to get to the forages.  Careful planning which maximizes the use of windrows will be rewarded at the end of the season, since residues that interfere with subsequent farming operations will be minimal.

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