Sep 17, 2014
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September 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.

No Stress Weaning

Sep 30, 2013

Harvest time is weaning time for most cow-calf producers.  And with the silage choppers humming through the fields and the trucks and tractors roaring down the roads, some or most Beef producers begin the stressful season of calf weaning.  Don’t forget his can be a stressful time for the momma cows too.   Probably the most critical weaning decisions a rancher or farmer needs to make are gauging when and where 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.

The interesting part of the NAHMS survey is that producers reported a lack of flexibility in selection of weaning time. Relatively few ranchers indicated that cow condition, forage availability or market price drove the decision of when to wean calves.  The objective of a weaning program should be to get the calves separated from their mothers and on their own as stress-free & efficiently as possible. This should be when lactation declines and calf gain begins to decrease.  Diets for weaned calves can be purchased or farm produced such as dry hay, haylage or baleage.  The best option is obviously to produce your own stored forages that way all your cattle will get a constant diet throughout the year.  We produce 4X5 dry round bales and small square bales from fields that are planted with the same forages that our Beefalo cattle graze on in our rotational paddocks during the grazing months of the season.  Luckily mild temperatures and beneficial moisture has graced our pastures and hay fields this season and we haven’t suffered a killing frost that would have shut-down legume and grass production yet.  If the forecast holds true to what it is currently stating, we should be able to continue grazing well into mid-October.  That will be a welcomed blessing because we won’t need to feed our hay until that time, and the longer they (the calves and Momma’s), can graze green grass the better!

Some important considerations in weaning management include:

Dust - Dust causes severe irritation to the respiratory tract. If for some reason you’ve decided to  keep calves in pen's,  please sprinkle the pens with water to keep dust down when using wood shavings.  The same is especially advisable in pig pens.  Wheat straw is a better bet, but if shavings are all you have, be sure to keep the pen's dust-free!  This time of the year, when the over-night temperatures are in the upper 30’s and the afternoon temperatures are in the mid 70’s is when pastured pigs are most susceptible to pneumonia, dust from shaving or even dry feed could instigate pneumonia.  We like to add water to our piglet rations to make a wet "mash" of their corn & oat chop.  So it has a thick oatmeal like consistency.  Not SLOP!!  It makes it much more palatable for the young piglets and helps wean them from their mothers before the Sow’s look like a skinny rail by week 6.

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 your neighbors or weekend house guests.  To minimize bawling - unless "fence-line 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.

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 - A change in diet (from momma to strictly grass/hay/pasture), requires the growth of different organisms in the rumen to digest the forage.  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.  We allow the 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?  Because 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 a vaccine.  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.

There are two major groups of vaccines that should be considered to assist weaning - those for clostridial diseases and those for BRD. If you're unsure which vaccines to use, contact your  veterinarian.

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 weaning programs and regimes available.


·       One concept that's been getting a lot of attention is fence-line weaning, which allows cows and calves to have several days of fence-line 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 enough to prevent the calf from getting back in with the heifer/cow.


·       Early weaning is a management practice sometimes used during drought conditions like what The South West has been experiencing this season, or when forage quantity is less than desirable. Early weaning is often used to improve cow condition for rebreeding, particularly when forage is limiting.  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.

Your "Certified" alright!

Sep 27, 2013

Certified Organic!  Really?


   Does anyone raise truly Organic Livestock?  Are you sure?  How do you know?  Are you certified through an Organic organization or the always trustworthy Government?  Do you think that the Government knows what Organic means to producers, what about the general public?  I’ve done research on this subject over the last decade, and every time I ask a question (or find information about becoming certified Organic), for either livestock or commodities, I wind up with more questions because everyone including the USDA has different requirements or rules that change as often as the price of corn, oil or Natural Gas!


   There are so many producers out there that are claiming to be "Organic" or "Certified Organic" that when you see their operation you wonder, why would I want to be associated with that?!  Don’t get me wrong there are a few honestly certified producers that are doing everything in their power to be truly organic.  But after having spoken with our local PA Dept. of Agriculture health inspector, he stated that "there are so many producers out there claiming to be organic that the Dept. of Agriculture can’t regulate or check on all of them, so they don’t. "  So if you wanted to, you could claim to be organic or certified organic and no one can legally challenge your false claims.  I believe this is because the rules and regulations have so many loopholes and confusing propositions that are constantly being changed, that it’s hard to tell if someone is telling the truth.


   In a proposed "Certified Organic" rule the USDA defined a dry lot as ‘‘a confined area that may be covered with concrete, but that has no vegetative cover.’’  Two similar edited versions of the definition were also received.  One of the version received, which the USDA accepted, replaced the word ‘‘confined’’ with the word ‘‘fenced’’ That sounds nice doesn’t it?  They also modified "vegetative cover" as ‘‘little or no.’’ meaning NO GRASS/vegetation.   Responses asserted that ‘‘dry lot’’ is commonly used in certain regions to describe outdoor access or exercise areas.  Commenter’s that recommended revising the definition to include ‘‘little or no vegetative cover’’ were concerned that areas of sparse vegetation could qualify as pasture.  Otherwise known as a Feed-lot.


   Other commenter’s recommended revising the definition to clearly characterize dry lots as areas for continuous total confinement.  The prohibition on dry lots in the proposed rule has been stricken from this final rule due to comments received asserting that ‘‘dry lot’’ is a term which, in some regions of the U.S., describes a feature that can be compatible with organic livestock production. Accordingly, the definition of ‘‘dry lot’’ has been amended to clarify the characteristics by which a dry lot would be acceptable for organic ruminant livestock. They may be fed organic feed stuff’s, but what is their quality of life?


   The USDA also accepted the commenter’s suggestion to modify "vegetation" with ‘‘little or no’’ in order to prevent the incorrect usage of dry lots that have some vegetation, as pasture.  The definition of ‘‘Dry lot’’ reads: ‘‘A fenced area that may be covered with concrete, but that has little or no vegetative cover.’’ 

So basically cattle can qualify under USDA criteria for Certified Organic when the majority of their lives are spent on concrete or as they put it "a dry lot".  Next week we’ll take a look at Certified Humane guidelines.  You thought Organic had allot of loop holes and wishy washy definitions, wait till you find out what we’ve experienced with regards to "Certified Humane" criteria!


"Access To Pasture"

   Under this provision the terms feedlot, yard, feeding pad are used interchangeably under the rule. Feedlot, yard and feeding pad are terms used to describe an area that functions as a space to provide feed rations, other than pasture, to livestock.  Beyond their functional similarity, these attributes do vary in how they are used (the amount of time that animals spend in feedlots) and designed (how much space do animals have in the feedlot). During the non-grazing season and when animals cannot be out on pasture, organic producers need an area to feed their livestock. Animals cannot be continuously confined in a feedlot, yard or feeding pad. When animals are in a feedlot, yard or feeding pad, they must have enough space to eat simultaneously and without competition for food.


Soooo, can Certified Organic Livestock be confined in a "Feed-lot" or not?  Re-read the last paragraph. In one sentence they state "Animals cannot be continuously confined in a feedlot".  Than in the same paragraph they state "When animals are in a feedlot,….."  Which is it?

I guess you really can have your concrete and eat it too!?

Winters coming!

Sep 18, 2013

Prepare for Winter Tetany


Grass tetany is a nutrition-related health condition that generally occurs when cows are grazing cool-season grasses in early spring or wheat pasture in the fall.  In all actuality, tetany can occur in some form at any time of the year.  Fall or "Winter tetany" can occur in wintertime when cows are fed harvested forages. Grass hays, including cereal grain hays, tend to be low in magnesium and need to be properly supplemented. Feeding legume hay may alleviate the problem, but it will not fix an immediate problem.


   Non-legume hays may average 0.18% magnesium, but some hays may be as low as 0.03 to 0.05% magnesium on a dry matter basis. Forage levels below 0.18% magnesium are marginal, while levels less than 0.12% will cause your cattle to suffer from winter tetany.  Cereal-grain hays and grass hays may be high in potassium, but calcium and magnesium levels may be low.  A plant magnesium level of 2-2.5% is considered a safe level. Normal blood levels are 1.7-3.2 mg./dl in mature cows.


Mature animals are far more susceptible than younger animals because of their inability to mobilize magnesium from their bones to meet their requirements.

This is especially critical during lactation.


   Cows with young calves are more at risk than steers, heifers, dry cows and cows with calves more than 4 months of age, but heavy milking cows are the most susceptible to tetany.  Tetany-afflicted cows may show signs of nervousness, reduced forage intake, reduced milk production and muscular twitching along the face, shoulder and flank. It progresses to staggering, when cattle fall on their sides with the head thrown back, excessive salivation and grinding of the teeth.  This is no laughing matter folk’s! The time between the first signs and death may be as short as four to eight hours.


   Obviously, treatment must begin as soon as possible. It's important to quickly get some form of magnesium into the animal and relocate the cattle until preventive measures can be taken.  The treatment of choice is an intravenous (IV) injection with calcium-magnesium gluconate because it gives the most rapid response. Another way to treat your cattle if your not comfortable with starting a bovine I.V., is by drenching the animal with a source of magnesium, such as magnesium sulfate, or using a rectally-infused enema of magnesium sulfate are other options.


   With an IV treatment, the blood levels rise rapidly but fall back to the previous level within three to six hours, so additional measures must be taken.  To prevent winter tetany on tetany-prone grass or harvested feeds (grasses, cereal grain hays), feeding alfalfa or other legume hay may reduce the risk. Cows at this time of year (off green graze-able pastures), should always have a mineral source available to them that includes a source of magnesium and calcium.  We always (year-round), have a free-choice "Mol-Mag" block in a mineral feeder to prevent this from occurring.


   We, as BEEF Producers, are the best defense against tetany.  As part of your fall/winter management plan, a complete forage analysis should have been run on hay & pastures at some time during the grazing/haying season.  If you have a known problem with tetany or suspect a problem, the forages in question should be analyzed specifically for magnesium, calcium, nitrate and potassium.


   When your receive your forage analysis information, a "tetany ratio" can be easily calculated to see if the forage is tetany-prone. The formula is: tetany ratio = % potassium % calcium + % magnesium.  If the ratio is greater than 2.2, then the forage in question is tetany prone and preventive measures should be taken immediately.  And NO, you shouldn't sell it to an unsuspecting customer!


   If grazing wheat pasture, crested wheat or tall fescue or feeding straw (which I do not recommend), cornstalks or other low-quality "filler", tetany-prone roughage, you should be prepared ahead of time to plan preventive measures and reduce losses.

Why set aside pastures

Sep 08, 2013

It’s once again time to start checking out your stockpiled forages that you will be turning your cattle onto in possibly the next few weeks.  Up here in North East PA we’ve already had frost!  I don’t know why this surprises me, we can usually expect an early season frost up here anytime after Labor Day, but it still surprises me when it happens in between day’s where the afternoon temperatures still reach well into the 80’s.


You might wonder why we set aside pastures or paddocks starting in early August to "stock pile" forages, when we could be feeding our animals with it?


Every 30 days of grazing stockpiled forage provides a co$t $aving$ that is practically equivalent to increasing your calving rate by 8-10%!  30 days of winter feed is usually the minimum producers can expect from stockpiling forages like Tall fescue in the Southeast if both new growth and subsequent grazing are well managed.  Further North (like where we’re located in North/East PA), stockpiled forages offer 2,000-2,500 lbs. of forage on a dry matter basis.  With fertilizer, production can be increased by 1,000-1,500 lbs./acre. This is for forages such as tall fescue and/or orchardgrass mixed with legumes like Red/White Clover or Alfalfa.   Letting cows harvest the forage (rather than making hay out of it), and then feeding it to them, is where the obvious savings occur especially now that Diesel is on the rise AGAIN!  

Stockpiled forages also provide flexibility.

One stockpiling advantage is it assures grasses will be replenishing and storing carbohydrate root reserves during the critical fall period, which will build stronger root systems.  If the grass to be stockpiled is Tall fescue, this may be the best use for it.  Cattle that reluctantly graze fescue in August and September find fescue in November & December to be very palatable.  In addition, fescue will maintain its forage quality and tonnage better than other cool-season pasture grasses throughout the winter.

Stockpiling success

The key is to start "from scratch".   Either by grazing the pasture to the recommended minimum height, mowing a last cutting of hay or brush hogging the forage to a consistent height.   In the Southeast the chief stockpiling strategy for tall fescue is to fertilize pastures from mid August to early September.   Apply 40-50 lbs./acre of nitrogen.   Apply the same rate of N for Bermuda grass 6-8 weeks before the first expected frost.  If a tall-fescue pasture contains 35-40% legumes, extra nitrogen isn't required. If legume levels are less than that, apply up to 50 lbs./acre of N.  The later in the season you begin stockpiling, the less forage you will grow, but the quality of it will be better.

Economic potential

Just turning cattle out to graze stockpiled forages may only utilize 30-40% of the stands.

50-60% utilization may be accomplished with rotational grazing, 65-75% with "frontal grazing".


"Frontal grazing" is when you start your cattle in the part of pasture where water is available and move the grazing front further from the water every few days.  Allow cattle enough forage for 3-4 days and then move the fences. That will almost double the amount of utilization you can get.

When pastures contain legumes "flash grazing" can also increase utilization.  "Flash Grazing" is when you allow your cattle to graze long enough to utilize the legumes (which they consume quickest), then pull them back off until you're ready to utilize the grass stockpiled there.

If one of your goals is maintaining the sod in your pastures/paddocks (and it should be), you have to be concerned about crowding it too tightly and you may need to remove cattle from the pasture during a muddy period such as what we’ve been dealing with in the North/East since last April!

In the North/East, most producers will delay grazing stockpiled forage until at least the end of October. Many can graze it into December.   Making the decision to stockpile forage is about balance. There's the balance between available forage and the nutritional needs of cattle, as well as balance between management goals, resources and alternative strategies.

Measure What You Have

Measure your pastures forages canopy height at various locations within the pasture with a grazing stick that you can obtain through your local NRCS or FSA office. They are yardsticks that also include numeric tables with a range of estimates for pounds of dry matter (DM) per acre inch based upon the stand's density.   If you’ve never seen someone use one before it saves ALOT of frustration on the part of the producer if you/they ask someone at the NRCS/FSA Office (the Grazing Specialist if one is available), to show you how to use the information on the stick.


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