Jul 31, 2014
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June 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.

Herd Quitters

Jun 29, 2013

The Death of Conventional wisdom

 

   As cattle Breeders, calf pullers, grazers, stockers, growers and finishers, we are armed with an impressive arsenal. We seed and fertilize and some of you spray and mow and plow and burn.  Though we don’t practice it, some producers also vaccinate, drench, implant and supplement their cattle too.  We feed from barrels, blocks, bales and bags.  Some fight the weather to get feed to the cows and struggle to save calves born in winter and spring storms.  All of these things have made us productive, but they have also made us very tired. 

 

   How many times, and for how long have you or your significant other been saying "we need to simplify our process and or procedures", we’re not getting any younger".

 

   Rising energy prices are making it even tougher for us who are dependant on making  hay, irrigating fields and trucking cattle and hay. And the oil/diesel situation is only going to get worse because estimated fossil fuel reserves will be exhausted in 40-50 years.  Than what?  I don’t know about you, but farming with horses is for the Amish!  Not this Cowboy.  I actually enjoy mowing, raking & bailing hay for winter feeding of our Beefalo Cattle.  Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a rancher on horseback (not behind the horse), like folks we know out in Colorado?  Than I speak with them about how they haven’t had a substantial rainfall in almost 2 years, their wondering if the recent wildfires were going to devour what little rangeland they had left, and how are they going to feed their cattle this coming winter because their winter rangelands never recovered from the drought of 2011?

 

   It’s a good thing most of us trust the Lord to provide for us, our families & our farms, because Lord knows we can’t depend on our Government.  The Government turned their back on God many years ago, and look what it did to them.  Could you imagine if farmers and ranchers did the same thing?  We’d all have starved to death by now.

 

   Don’t let this make you feel like we’re fighting a losing battle as cattle producers.  We are fortunate to have a role model to help us make the transition to sustainability.  This role model I’m referring to was incredibly productive before we ever started building fences and barns, or grew and fed hay.  This operation I’m referring to has endured for centuries.  It is an efficient operation with no expensive infrastructure or capital costs.  It’s overhead costs are extremely low.  It uses a concentrated breeding season, and a strict culling policy.  It is the prototype of a profitable ranch today.  It is nature that was created by God, long before there were cowboys and farmers who thought they knew better.

 

   The most important thing in the process I just mentioned as a producer must be a "concentrated or controlled" breeding season.  To keep from having to "rescue" freezing calves in winter and early spring, start with how does nature do it?  Deer don’t have fawns in January, why would your cattle?  Birds don’t hatch chic’s in March, why would you subject your cattle and yourself to that un-necessary stress and high potential for loss?  Make things easier on your self, and in return it’ll make things allot easier, healthier and safer for your cattle.  Nature has been witnessing newborns out in the wild for…..well…..a long time.  And guess what?  We had nothing to do with it!   You should be encouraging your cattle to breed by the end of July at the earliest, so they calve in May of next spring.

 

   What would happen if instead of fighting nature, we worked with nature?  If we tried to help nature do what comes naturally?  Nature doesn't need equipment to harvest forages, although as I previously stated, I enjoy doing just that.  Nature uses four-legged combines.  Those would be your cattle folks.  And guess what?  You can too.  Nature doesn't have high capital expenses or overheads...and neither should we.  Ranching & farming  seams like a challenging profession because we are too busy working in our businesses that we don’t spend time working on our business. But most challenging of all is that we don’t think of ranching as a profession in the first place.  That’s probably because it’s too much fun, and work can’t be fun, right?  Nope, not if it’s "Sustainable Ranching".

 

   Sustainable ranches & farms work with nature to minimize the use of fossil fuels, build stable healthy soils, and make a profit. The changes required to achieve sustainability are quite simple.  For those of you who grew up in the world of conventional feedlots & factory dairy farms, making this transformation isn’t easy.  Especially if your elders who built your empire are still around.  But it is possible.   It starts with seeing your operation as more than just a business.  It is however a business no matter how small or large you are, but you need to see it as more than just that.  You and your family are producing a product that helps feed the world.  Even if your only feeding a few families in your rural area, your still contributing to the over-all good, and it makes you feel good, right?  That’s one of the reasons you do it.  Another would be because you love working with animals.  Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a heifer calve or a sow deliver a healthy litter of 12 piglets?  We see it quite often on our farm and it’s experiences like those, that I never get tired of seeing.  Of course it’s nice to make a profit too, but if that’s the only motivator in your farm or ranch, your never going to be happy.  You need to look at farming & ranching as more than your job or your profession.  It’s a way of life.

 

   "Conventional wisdom" is that ranchers have to own a lot of fixed assets. The result of this strategy may have made your neighbors wealthy on their balance sheets but it’s left them broke at the bank. This is all too common especially in the dairy industry in our area.  It’s the "Get BIG or go broke" mentality that the banks have brainwashed farmers with that have depleted 80% of the dairy farms in our area.  "Conventional wisdom" also tells us that ranching and farming isn’t very profitable.  Logically, following conventional wisdom you should expect conventional results.  Over the last 40 years, input costs have risen five times faster than cattle prices. That means that continuing to follow conventional wisdom will lead to worse than conventional results.

 

   Well folks, on our farm conventional wisdom was put to death over a decade ago.  And we couldn’t be happier!  A wise man I know whom is a very successful grass-based cattle rancher in Colorado has abolished the conventional way of thinking when it comes to ranching & farming.  This way of thinking can also be applied to everything else you do in life.  He call’s it being a "Herd Quitter".

 

   A "Herd Quitter" is a term used to refer to folks such as us whom have enough courage to break away from the herd-mentality way of thinking.  Following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing is seldom (if ever) the best way to manage a business.  Once people are able to think for themselves, they are able to make the necessary changes in their operations. We’re seen as the round pegs in the square holes.  We’re not fond of rules and have no respect for the status quo.  You can praise us, disagree with us or vilify us.  About the only thing you can’t do is ignore us – because we change things and hopefully folks way of thinking.

Just remember, folks like us who are crazy enough to think we can change the world, are the ones who do!

 

Thanks Kit for your inspiration.

So whats for Dinner?

Jun 25, 2013

Stop killing your Cattle!

 

  It can be confusing when trying to decide on which grasses and/or legumes are best for your dairy or beef herd?  But it doesn’t have to be confusing.  Over the years, our experience in grazing both dairy & beef cattle has shown us that a balance (50/50), of grasses like Orchardgrass with fescue mixed with alfalfa and red clover will give you the best daily gain’s, milk production and an over-all healthy/productive herd.

 

  We’ve also found that to keep weight gain occurring over the winter, it’s best to seed down your hay fields with the same mix as you have in your pastures.  That way your cattle will be getting the same mix throughout the entire year just in a dry form in the winter.  Now that "dry form" of hay can either be in the form of baled/dry hay, or Stockpiled pasture forages that have been "set-aside" during the growing season for grazing in the late fall or winter when your seasonal pastures go dormant.

 

   If your currently feeding your cattle grain, STOP!  It’s not natural for cattle to eat processed grains.  It will make them sick.  Feeding grain to ruminant animals such as cattle will cause liver damage.  They will never recover completely from the liver damage that grains like corn cause, so don’t think that moving them to an all pasture diet will "heal them".  Once the damage is done, it’s done.  The best thing you can do for your herds future is to move expectant heifers & cows to pasture so their calves are born on grass and only live on grass.  Unfortunately,  once your calves are weaned at around 6 months of age, you should look into getting rid of those momma cow’s.

 

  When "transitioning" from a grain fed operation to a grass-fed operation you need to be ready to $ave money too!  That’s right, you will be saving money on feed bills because you won’t have any.  You’ll be saving on vet bill’s because you won’t have any need for them either!  Your milk production will decrease slightly, but what you lose in your milk check will be miniscule compared to what you won’t be paying out for feed and medications.  If your raising beef cattle, your animals will also be healthier.  And your cattle will command higher prices at harvest time than what you use to make when feeding them grain.  It’s a win-win situation for you and your cattle.

 

   Studies have shown time after time that a high concentration diet of grain fed cattle will make them grow faster than a 100% Grass-fed diet.  If that’s the only thing that’s important to you as a beef producer, you shouldn’t be raising cattle.  A diet of grain can be very stressful for cattle.  These diets allow fermentation acids to accumulate within a digestive compartment called the "rumen"  In ruminant animals, fiber digestion depends on fiber-degrading microorganisms which occur naturally in cattle.  These microorganisms supply the cattle with useful protein, vitamins and short-chain organic acids. Without fiber such as grass and hay, these acids are not absorbed as efficiently, and the animal's physiological mechanisms will end up severely out of whack.

 

   Acid buildup can cause ulcers in animals consuming grain. Then that infectious bacteria created by the grain, go from the rumen through the ulcers, into their blood, and finally into the liver, where they cause abscesses. Feed additives such as antibiotics can counteract such ailments, but they further alter the ruminal microbial ecosystem.  Grains can accumulate in an animal's intestines because they lack starch-digesting enzymes.

A high-grain diet can also promote an overgrowth of Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium associated with sudden death in feedlot cattle.  Sounds like fun huh?

 

   I know this might be allot to digest, but think about what your cattle must feel like when you force them to eat grain!?  Lastly, grain-based diets promote Escherichia coli (E. coli) within the digestive tract of cattle, and these E. coli are more likely to survive acid shocks that mimic the human gastric stomach. This "discovery", first reported in 1998, has now been confirmed by scientists at the USDA.  These scientists have likewise shown that cattle switched from grain-based diets to 100% Grass-fed/hay didn’t shed harmful E. coli 0157:H7 in their feces.

 

So what’s for dinner?

Money in your Grass Tank

Jun 15, 2013

GRA$$ Weight

 

The cost of cattle production is rising and producers seeking to put more grass weight on their cattle are finding that sound pasture management has never been more attractive and/or profitable.

 

Here are some tips on increasing your forages, with the first one being….

-          Consult your county extension experts about the specifics of your local area before proceeding.

-          Stockpiled forages. Setting aside a supply of forage to use after forage growth has ended in the fall is called "stockpiling" or "deferred grazing."   When pastures or rangelands are managed for deferred grazing, a compromise sometimes has to be made between yield and quality, since the highest yield often produces lower quality forage.

 

   Forages adaptable to stockpiling include perennials such as…

-          Tall fescue

-          Orchardgrass

-          Ryegrass

 

Overseeding a pasture or hayfield will increase both quantity and quality of forage.  But beware!  As I learned from adding too much clover and alfalfa to our pasture mix, if you plan to take a "1st cutting" off your pastures in the spring prior to turning out your cattle, It’ll take forever to dry and bail.  And if you do small square bail’s, your wife will complain the whole time your unloading the wagons!  Up here in North-East PA sometimes drydown can take as long as 5-6 day’s depending on the relative humidity and overnight temperatures.  However, summer pastures over-seeded with Legumes work best for providing a nitrogen source and improving pasture quality.   The legumes that work best, no matter where in the country you live, are red and white clovers.   But you also need to watch for bloat and/or grass tetany in early spring if your cattle have been accustomed to dry/baled hay all winter.

 

Cool season pastures. "Cool season grasses which obviously aren’t growing in the North/East this week, can help you extend the green period across as much of the growing period as possible and improve livestock weight gain.   Perennial cool season pasture grasses grow in dry land conditions not drought stricken area’s and can supplement native range by providing a month or more of nutritious grazing in the spring and possibly again in the fall.

 

Rotational grazing.   A rotational grazing program such as what we use on our farm/ranch, uses several pastures/paddocks with one being grazed while the others are rested.  We divide our pasture into smaller areas

called paddocks and move our cattle from one to the next, determined by the number, size and condition of our Beefalo cattle, rate of forage growth which is directly related to weather (or the lack thereof), and layout of the paddocks.

 

The practice of rotational grazing can increase net profit$

by reducing the cost of machinery, fuel and storage facilities;

and by cutting back on supplemental feeding and pasture waste.

 

Extended Grazing.  We leave our herd on pasture into the late fall, utilizing perennial pastures held in reserve, otherwise referred to as "stockpiling forages".   For those of you who supplement your cattle with feed, it has been estimated that each day your cattle graze on pasture, your feed costs could be cut in half.

 

Another advantage to grazing your cattle in rotational pastures/paddocks.  Costs of hauling manure is reduced, and nutrients are returned to the land naturally to be used by growing forages while in the rest cycle of your rotational grazing program.

Fencing, Feeding & Fly's

Jun 07, 2013

Fencing

   Fencing is a way to alter grazing habits and manure distribution.  Fences can separate areas that need different grazing management such as:

-          riparian areas

-          irrigated pastures

-          areas subject to seasonal use

   Fences can also be used to subdivide large pastures into more manageable sized "paddocks".   If multiple livestock species are to be grazed, use the appropriate fencing materials for all species you want to keep in.  In some parts of the country you may wish to take into consideration the predators you want to keep out or away from your livestock.

When establishing fencing, make the best use of existing ponds or proposed frost-free watering troughs.  Permanent/frost-free water troughs should serve more than one pasture if at all possible.  Make sure that each fenced area has enough watering points to accommodate the number of cattle you have in each pasture or paddock.  Consider the range site and potential forage production when possible.

 

Supplemental Feeding

   Because livestock tend to go from water to grazing to mineral blocks like a "Mol-Mag" free-choice mineral block, it is not necessary to place mineral blocks at watering points.  To encourage grazing in areas where livestock need to be drawn, place mineral supplements where it is accessible within those areas.

   Purposely locate minerals and other supplements not less than 580 yards (1/3 mile) from water on pastures of 640 acres or more.   On smaller pasture/paddocks, place them no less than about 350 yards (2/10 mile) from water.   Because bedding areas are already being used, locate supplements away from them.

   Move supplements frequently except during birthing seasons.   Protein and energy supplements or salt-meal mixes are more likely to be effective in influencing grazing patterns than salt alone.   Place pelleted or cubed supplements on the ground or in movable bunks to encourage animals to move from feed grounds to poorly used areas.   Grazing behavior and distribution are also affected by the feeding interval for supplements.

 

Kind of Livestock

   Match the kinds of livestock you want to graze, to the vegetation you have growing or are planning to plant. Place cattle in a habitat where grass is readily available. Consider using goats in areas that have a high proportion of woody plants like multi-floral rose.   Some classes of livestock may fit your farms terrain better than others.   For example, yearling cattle are more agile and tend to travel farther than cows with calves, and, therefore, make better use of rugged terrain.   Animals may have difficulty adjusting to new foraging environments even if the new location has abundant forage.   Previous grazing experience affects the kinds of

plants, plant parts, and grazing sites the animals select.   Although animals can make the transition to new locations, it usually takes about a year to adjust.   This transition can be eased if the food and terrain in the new location are similar to what the livestock already are familiar with.

 

Shade

   Cattle routinely seek shade around midday on summer days when temperatures exceed 80 degrees F.  Sometimes a higher humidity will bring them into your barn or building at lower temperatures especially if there is no breeze and there is high fly pressure.   Brahman and similar breeds of cattle are less likely to seek shade during the hot midday and more likely to rest in open areas.  Cattle with dark hair coats tend to seek shade earlier and for longer periods.   Cattle are more likely to stay around water if shade is available in those areas.   In comparison, sheep are less likely to rest and loaf near water.   Providing shade has been shown to increase summer-long weight gain in yearling steers.   On desert or prairie ranges that have few trees or tall shrubs, artificial shade may help attract animals to under-grazed areas.

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