Oct 1, 2014
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April 2014 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.

Grass Tetany

Apr 28, 2014

 Don’t Kill your Cattle!


USDA released on April 21st its weekly rating of pasture and range conditions, showing that

Pennsylvania had an average of 3 days suitable for field work again this week.  Not exactly off to a good start considering we’re almost into May!  Spring field work is underway in most parts of the state. Soil moistures have remained fairly constant since last week with majority of the fields having adequate moisture.

"Adequate"?  If they mean some are so dry it’s like a sand box and others are so wet you need a tank to pull a plow through them?  Yeah I guess that would be "Adequate".


   Temperatures ranged from 75* in South Central PA to only 25* in North Central PA. Winter Wheat and Hay conditions are still fairly good. Apple trees are finally starting to bloom in the Southern Counties, but the cherry & pear trees up in Bradford County are just starting to open up their buds.  This is about 3 weeks later than they did last year.  Looking to the week ahead, temperatures in Pennsylvania will range from the high 40’s to the high 60’s with most over overnight temperatures finally above freezing except in the northern tier of PA where we’re still dealing with morning lows near 30*. There may be a few showers Tuesday – Friday of this coming week which will set us "Ridge Runners" back another week or two from getting into the fields to get them fit for planting.  Field activities in the Southern Counties for the upcoming week include spraying for insects, weed control, applying fertilizer, and readying equipment for first cutting hay which usually commences the weekend before Memorial day.


   Pasture conditions are an important driver for cow slaughter rates during the summer months (the other being the financial state of your operation).  So far, US beef cow slaughter rates have remained at relatively high levels as producers respond to very high prices for market cows.    The improvement in cow prices has helped reduce some of the debt burden incurred during this most recent Polar vortex of a winter that we thought would never end.  The USDA report for the week ending May 2nd showed that 63% of pastures and ranges in the 48 states were considered to be in good or excellent condition.


  But with the excellent pastures and rangelands of spring comes the potential of grass tetany.

Grass tetany will once again become a major concern for cattle producers this spring, if preventative measures are not in place.  The lack of magnesium intake by cattle is the cause of grass tetany.  Cows are most vulnerable when grazing lush green forages either low in magnesium and/or high in potassium after being accustomed to being fed dry hay all winter.   High levels of potassium will interfere with magnesium absorption by the animal. Therefore, pastures fertilized with products like potash, chicken litter and ammonium sulfate will increase the chance of grass tetany.  I don’t know why you would fertilize your pastures with any of these item’s but it’s done by many producers which is why I thought I’d share the pitfalls of using these items.


   Grass tetany generally occurs most commonly in early spring when cattle are grazing lush forages.  Cattle most susceptible are those calving during this time of the growing season.  A common indicator of tetany, is that your cattle will appear nervous and muscles can be seen twitching.   As the condition progresses, animals will have problems walking, will eventually go down and will normally lie on one side and thrash about. 


If the condition is not corrected, death may occur within three hours.


   Since nothing can be done to control the weather, the best alternative to prevent grass tetany is to feed a complete mineral with adequate levels of magnesium.  We have a free-choice Mol-Mag mineral block always available for our cattle relatively close to where their water source is.  Most high magnesium minerals will contain 14 percent magnesium.  At this level, cattle will receive the needed 12-15 grams per head per day to prevent grass tetany.    Your local Feed-mill should carry other supplemental tubs and blocks containing adequate levels of magnesium to prevent grass tetany.

   If you have an acute case of grass tetany, a sterile solution containing magnesium and calcium is given intravenously to the cow.   If you’ve never given an I.V. to your cattle before, please contact your closest Large Animal vet or someone who is familiar with the procedure.   I realize that in some parts of the country, especially the North-East, Large Animal Vet’s may be 100-200 miles away.   But an I.V. must be done slowly to prevent rapid increases in blood calcium levels, which can cause heart failure.  


The best way to stop grass tetany is to prevent it.


To accomplish this, provide a high magnesium mineral to cattle beginning early January.   Cattle are amazing at being able to limit the amount of mineral intake based off of their current available forages,  but the minerals need to be available for them to consume starting around February in most parts of the country.


   I would also encourage you to visually inspect your cattle often when first turning them out on new pastures

We generally will leave them on a new pasture for 1 hour a day for the 1st week, 2 hours a day the 2nd and by the 3rd week they can stay on pasture with free-choice dry hay to supplement their lush forage intake for the rest of the growing season.


Now get out there and GRAZE!!!

Don't try & deny it! We all do it.

Apr 21, 2014

 Grazing Management  Part 2


Management Intensive Rotational Grazing, otherwise known as MIRG, not to be confused with what most folks have a hard time doing when entering a highway from an on-ramp!   MIRG is a BIG part of Prescribed Grazing Management.  It’s a system of grazing in which ruminant and non-ruminant herds are regularly and systematically moved to fresh pasture with the intent to maximize the quality and quantity of forage growth. MIRG can be used with cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks and other animals. The herds graze one portion of pasture, or a paddock, while allowing the others to recover. The length of time a paddock is grazed will depend on the size of the herd and the size of the paddock.  Resting grazed lands allows the vegetation to renew energy reserves, rebuild shoot systems, and deepen root systems, with the end result being long-term maximum production. MIRG is especially effective because your livestock will do better on the more tender younger plant stems.  MIRG also leave parasites behind to die off minimizing or eliminating the need for de-wormers.  Pasture systems alone can allow your grazing livestock to meet their energy requirements, and with the increased productivity of MIRG systems, your livestock will obtain the majority of their nutritional needs without the supplemental feed sources that are required in continuous/un-managed grazing systems.

Animal Health Risks

   Bloat is a common problem in early season grazing systems for ruminants (although not for pigs or poultry), that if left untreated can lead to animal death.  This problem occurs when foam producing compounds in plants are digested by cows, causing foam to form in the rumen of the animal and ultimately prohibiting animals from expelling gas otherwise known as farting!  It’s O.K., don’t try and deny it, we all do it.  As a side note, Sorry if your eating breakfast, dinner or supper while reading this blog.  Just though some of you might be interested in knowing exactly what causes bloat.  The risk of bloat can be mitigated by seeding non-bloating legumes with the grasses.  Animals are especially susceptible to bloat if they are moved to new pasture sources when they are particularly hungry. ESPECIALLY THIS EARLY TIME OF THE SEASON, if they’ve only been getting dry hay all winter!   For this reason, It is important to make sure that your cattle are given plenty of free-choice hay while on lush green spring pastures, this will help limit the potential for your cattle to gorge themselves when turned onto new paddocks.

Animal Health Benefits and Animal Welfare

   Herd health benefits will obviously increase when any animal has access to open space, sunlight and fresh air.  Freedom of movement within a paddock results in increased physical fitness, which limits the potential for injuries and abrasion often suffered when cattle (specifically Dairy), are never allowed to leave their "free-stall" while in lactation, Sometimes for up to a year and a half!!   Allowing your cattle access to the outdoors (even if only for a few hours between milkings or overnight),  reduces the potential of exposure to high levels of harmful microorganisms like those that can cause mastitis and milk fever.  Outdoor activity also helps cattle keep their hooves naturally maintained, allowing your hoof trimmer more time at your neighbors and potentially cutting your vet bills almost in half too.  The only drawback for most dairy producers is the initial loss of milk pounds per animal.  But the over-all increase in herd health and decreased medical bill’s offsets the loss of production.  

* Although milk yields are often lower in MIRG systems, net farm income per cow is often greater as compared to confinement operations.   Additionally, a transition to management intensive rotational grazing is associated with low start-up and maintenance costs.

Ready, Set, Graze!

Apr 10, 2014

 Prescribed Grazing Management Part 1

(information available from the NRCS Rangeland and Pasture Management Handbook)


   The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides assistance to Ranchers & Farmers who wish to apply grazing management to their operations. The primary conservation practice used is prescribed grazing. Prescribed grazing is the vegetation management practice that is applied to all land where grazing is a planned use. The grazing may be from domestic livestock, semi-domestic animals (buffalo and reindeer), or wildlife. This practice has been developed to incorporate all the methods and concepts of grazing management.


Prescribed grazing

the controlled harvest of vegetation with grazing or browsing animals,

managed with the intent to achieve a specified objective.


   The objectives developed with the Rancher/Farmer during the planning process determines the level of planning and detail necessary for the application of prescribed grazing. The minimum level of planning for the prescribed grazing practice includes enough inventory information for the landowner to know the proper amount of harvest to maintain enough cover to protect the soil and maintain or improve the quality and quantity of desired vegetation.  The available forage and the number of grazing and browsing animals must be in balance for effective management of grazing lands. This is done by developing a feed, forage, livestock balance sheet. This part of the inventory identifies the available forage from the land and the demand for forage by the livestock and wildlife.  It identifies where and when shortages or surpluses in forage exist.


   Grazing is one of the major forces in defining what plant species will dominate a site.  Different grazing

pressures by different grazing and browsing animals favor different plant species.  If the grazing is severe,

undesirable plants are generally favored.  Grazing management can be planned and applied that favors a particular plant community or species. This can be done to meet the objectives of the landowner and the needs of the resource.  Grazing management has been successfully planned and applied that has favored the

re-establishment and increase in woody plants along riparian areas while still providing quality forage for the grazing animal.  Where plants have died possibly due to overgrazing, recovery depends upon establishment of new plants. Although plants of the original community are invigorated by the reduction of grazing pressure and may suppress the successor species, the seedlings of the original species can become established in competition with the undesirable species only under favorable conditions.

   Rate of plant re-growth following grazing is dependent on the amount of leaf area remaining for

photosynthesis and the availability of active axillary buds to initiate new tillers.


    Every management unit has certain characteristics that influence the distribution of grazing.  Among these characteristics are soil, topography, size of pasture or feed-lot, location of water, fences, riparian areas like tree and shrubbery plantings available through NRCS/FSA Grant Programs like CREP, natural barriers such as strips of grass a minimum of 30’ wide that animals are not granted access to, and the kinds and distribution of plants.   In addition, weather conditions, insects, location of salt and minerals, type of grazing management being applied (frequency and severity of grazing such as "MOB" Grazing), and habits of the grazing animals affect the pattern of grazing use.  For these reasons it is impractical to prescribe grazing use for every part of a large grazing unit, rotational paddock, feed-lot or to prescribe identical use for all enclosures of a farm or ranch.  Determining the key grazing area(s) in each enclosure and planning the grazing to meet the needs of the plants in the key area are more practical.  If the key grazing area of a unit is properly grazed, the unit as a whole will not be excessively used.  The key grazing area in a management unit is a relatively small area within the grazing unit. This key area(s) is used to represent the grazing unit as a whole.   Most plant communities in a grazing unit consist of several plant species in varying amounts.


   Even though the entire plant community is of concern to management, to attempt to attain the desired use of every species would be impractical. It is more practical to identify a single species (or in some situations two or three) as a key species to serve as a guide to the use of the entire plant community.  If the key species within the key grazing area is properly grazed, the entire plant community will not be excessively used.




Characteristics of a key grazing area:

• Provides a significant amount, but not necessarily the greatest amount, of the available forage in the grazing unit.

• Is easily grazed because of even topography, accessible water, and other favorable factors influencing grazing distribution. Small areas of natural concentration, such as those immediately adjacent to water, salt, or shade, are not key grazing areas, nor are areas remote from water or of limited accessibility. However, riparian

areas are of special concern when establishing key grazing areas. Riparian areas are of generally small extent in relation to the surrounding landscape. These areas represent a significant resource in terms of forage production, buffering surface water flows, controlling accelerated erosion and sedimentation, capturing and

transforming subsurface pollutants, and providing essential wildlife habitat and local biodiversity.

• Areas of special concern can also be designated as key areas. Areas of special concern could include habitat for threatened or endangered species, cultural or archeological resources, water quality impaired waterbodies, and critically eroding areas.

• Is usually limited to one per grazing enclosure. More than one key grazing area may be needed for an unusually large enclosure, enclosures with riparian areas, enclosures that have very rough topography or widely spaced water where animals tend to locate, when different kinds of animals graze the enclosure, or when the enclosure is grazed at different seasons.  The entire acreage of small enclosures can be considered the key grazing area.


Key grazing areas should be:

• Selected only after careful evaluation of the current pattern of grazing use in the enclosure.

• Selected to meet the objectives and needs of the resources, livestock, and landowner. Objectives and needs must meet the FOTG quality criteria.

• Changed when the pattern of grazing use is significantly modified because of changes in season of use, kinds or classes of grazing animals, enclosure size, water supplies, or other factors that affect grazing distribution.


Degree of grazing use as related to stocking rates

   Because of fluctuations in forage production or loss of forage other than by grazing use, arbitrarily assigning

a stocking rate at the beginning of a grazing period does not ensure attainment of a specific degree of use. If the specified degree of use is to be attained and trend satisfactorily maintained, stocking rates must be adjusted as the amount of available forage fluctuates.  When determining initial stocking rates, grazing distribution characteristics of the individual grazing unit must be considered.


   Many methods are used to determine the initial stocking rate within a grazing unit. Often the past stocking history and the trend of the plant community are the best indicators of a proper stocking rate.  The Multi Species Stocking Calculator in the Grazing Lands Application (GLA) software is one method for determining stocking rates, especially when the area is grazed or browsed by more than one kind of animal.


Prescribed grazing schedule

A prescribed grazing schedule is a system in which two or more grazing units are alternately deferred or

rested and grazed in a planned sequence over a period of years. The period of non-grazing can be throughout the year or during the growing season of the key plants.  Generally, deferment implies a non-grazing period less than a calendar year, while rest implies non-grazing for a full year or longer. The period of deferment is set for a critical period for plant germination, establishment, growth, or other function.


Grazing management is a tool to balance the capture of energy by the plants, the harvest of that energy by animals, and the conversion of that energy into a product that is marketable.





This is done primarily by balancing the supply of forage with the demand for that forage.

Such systems help to:

• Maintain or accelerate improvement in vegetation and facilitate proper use of the forage on all grazing units.

• Improve efficiency of grazing through uniform use of all grazing units.

• Stabilize the supply of forage throughout the grazing season.

• Enhance forage quality to meet livestock and wildlife needs.

• Improve the functioning of the ecological processes.

• Improve watershed protection.

• Enhance wildlife habitat.


   Many grazing systems are used in various places. Prescribed grazing is designed to fit the individual operating unit and to meet the operator's objectives and the practice specifications.  The basic types of grazing

management systems follow. Many others can be developed to fit specific objectives on specific lands.

• Deferred rotation

• Rest rotation

• High intensity—Low frequency

• Short duration

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