Apr 16, 2014
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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.

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

What the Hay!?

Mar 30, 2014

 The cost of hay


The cost of producing hay will be weighing heavy on the minds of most producers heavier this coming season than probably ever before.  Especially if you live in Pennsylvania & New York States.  With the cost of diesel hovering around $4.50 gal. for the last 3-4 months, one can only brace for the undoubtedly higher prices as we near the Memorial Day (1st cutting) & 4th of July (2nd cutting) holiday’s.  It happens every year folks, and I doubt it will be any different this coming year.  Diesel will most likely be the largest input cost for all of us, so lets try and figure out now what we’ll be spending to put up quality hay in the coming months so we’re not surprised in the fall when we start selling whatever surplus hay we will hopefully have.


Lets start at the "ground level".  According to the 2008 Penn State Agronomy Guide, each ton of grass hay removes 50 pounds of nitrogen, 15 pounds of phosphate (P2O5) and 50 pounds of potash (K2O). Using average bulk fertilizer prices, urea (46-0-0) $750 per ton; DAP (18-46-0) was quoted at $1,150 per ton and potash (0-0-60) $700 per ton. Using these antiquated prices to replace the nitrogen, phosphate and potash removed in a ton of hay resulted in a cost of $84 per ton!  Besides the fertilizer cost, there should be something figured in for spreading the fertilizer. Using the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Custom Rates, the average cost for spreading dry bulk fertilizer will be $10.60 - $10.70 per acre.


However, hay can be produced without fertilizing.  We’ve been doing it for over 15 years!

So, should fertilizer cost be part of determining the cost of hay?   That all depends on how you maintain you fields and pastures.  If you have a good balance of grasses with legumes like red clover and alfalfa, the legumes will feed the grasses and replace the nitrogen that the grasses will normally deplete from the soil if grown alone.  The same goes for your pastures.  If you don’t rotate your animals and allow your forages ample rest/re-growth periods your "replenishers"  such as the Clovers and Alfalfa will die out and your pastures will suffer greatly in a matter of 2-3 years.  If maintained properly, you might only have to "Over-seed" legumes into your hay fields and pastures every 6-8 years, and with Alfalfa costing $300.00 a bag that only covers 3-4 acres, that cost will mount quickly.


Every year I hear producers say they will fertilize in the future, or they are waiting for fertilizer to get cheaper because it is too expensive.  Seriously!?  Do you really think any input costs like fertilizer are going to decrease?  That would mean the chemical companies would be willing to make less money.  Funny huh?

I’m just happy we don’t need to fertilize any of our 150 hay acres.  A little extra time spent planning now will save you thousands of un-necessary costs in the very near future.  Don’t be in such a hurry to do what the neighbors are doing or what a Chemical company tells you that you "need" to do.


The next part of calculating the cost of hay production is machinery or equipment expense. I used average cost figures from the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Custom Rates. (These rates are based on survey responses of Pennsylvania farmers).  Your own equipment costs will vary based on your local diesel fuel costs, and if you know what they are, plug those in. For those who don’t know, this is a good place to start. Mowing/conditioning is valued at $18.10 per acre, raking at $11.00 per acre and large round bales are $8.40 per bale.  Wrapping is an additional $6.90 per bale in addition to the $8.40.  If you still feed small square bales, it’ll cost $2.10 per bale.  Than you have to figure in your delivery costs if your customers can’t haul your hay themselves.  And the BIGGEST cost will be your time.  What is your time worth?  Yes, there are A LOT of variables to coming up with a fair price that will attract customers and at the same time help you make a living or at least help supplement your main income.


You can get exact prices for your area and additional costs for other custom work by visiting farmprogress.com and going to the USDA 2014 Machinery Custom Rates.

Exploding Cattle

Mar 09, 2014

 She’s gonna Blow!!


   Most, if not all of us Cattleman are looking forward to warmer temperatures and green grass. As temperatures begin to warm, (Yes believe I or not it will eventually happen), cool-season grasses and legumes begin a rapid growth phase resulting in the production of large amounts of lush, palatable, green pasture.


   Unfortunately, early in the growing season, these forages are very high in moisture content and nutrients are diluted. The result is that it is difficult for animals to eat enough dry matter to meet all of their nutrient requirements even if you provide dry/baled free-choice hay. Two important problems are commonly seen early in the grazing season, grass tetany and bloat.   And until Gas-X produces a really big tongue strip for cattle, you’ll need to wean your cattle onto fresh grass so they don’t blow up!


Grass Tetany

   Grass tetany, sometimes called "grass staggers", is a metabolic disorder in cattle related to a deficiency of magnesium (Mg). Early lactation cows are the most susceptible, with older cows considered more susceptible than heifers with their first or second calves.


   Grass tetany usually occurs when animals are grazing lush pastures in the spring, but it can occur during the fall and winter too. Grass tetany is typically seen in early lactation cows grazing fresh, green, early/cool-season grasses after having been accustomed to eating dry hay all winter.  Rapidly growing, lush grasses create the greatest problem.   But this condition isn’t only limited to grazing legumes in early spring, it has been documented that it has occurred on Orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass, timothy, tall fescue, crested wheatgrass,

Bromegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, annual ryegrass and small grain (wheat, oats, barley, triticale

and rye) pastures too.  The risk of grass tetany decreases on pastures that contain over 30% legumes

(examples: clovers, alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil) or animals wintered on grass-legume hay.


Risk Factors

   The greatest risk for grass tetany is when pastures soils are low in available magnesium, high in available potassium and high in nitrogen.  Pastures where a significant amount of manure has been applied often have this mineral imbalance and are considered more vulnerable.  That alone is a good enough reason to not spread manure on your pastures and hay fields.  I have always discouraged other producers from this practice because it just doesn’t seem logical to "infect" especially your hay fields with manure.  Its bad enough that we can’t potty train our cattle to go in one localized area of their pastures so they aren’t "contaminating" the entire pasture.  Obviously I’m kidding about the potty training.  Nobody has time to train their cattle to do that, even if it were possible.


Signs & Symptoms

   Unfortunately in many cases of grass tetany, symptoms are not immediately noticed and the only evidence is a dead cow.  In mild cases, milk yield of dairy cattle is decreased, and the animal appears nervous. These signs

indicate the need for preventive measures.  Animals affected by acute grass tetany may suddenly stop grazing, appear uncomfortable, and show unusual signs of alertness, such as staring and keeping their heads and ears in an erect position.  Cattle may also have a staggered walk, have twitching skin, especially on the face, ears, and flanks, and lie down and get up frequently. Once cows get to this point, they are easily excited and any stimulation may lead to startling reactions, such as continuous bellowing or running.  A staggered gait pattern typically develops followed by collapse, stiffening of muscles and violent jerking convulsions with the head pulled back.  And the most obvious sign is they look really pregnant when their not.  Like their gonna blow!!


   Animals often lie flat on one side with periodic foreleg paddling, twitching of the eyes and ears, and a chewing motion that produces froth around the mouth.  Between convulsions, the animal may appear relaxed. During this phase, any sound or touching of the animal, such as when administering treatment, may result in violent reactions. Animals usually die during or after a convulsion unless treatment is given.


   This info. Isn’t meant to scare you beginning farmers & ranchers from grazing your cattle, but just be mindful of conditions before just turning your cattle out on fresh, green, spring pastures for the first time this coming season.  There is actually a lot of thought and planning that should come first.

Stop Being LAZY!

Mar 03, 2014

 Don’t Wait for Spring!


   During all of the weather challenges this winter I was reminded that pastures are often last on the list of management priorities on many farms.   In our area I have noticed a lot of pastures that were overgrazed late into last season and still others that were allowed to "stockpile" before winter hit in November.  And these pastures were a common combination on many farms.  This is due to a poor grazing plan and or laziness on the part of the producer because with proper management pastures can be used to reduce feed costs, improve animal performance, and boost farm income especially in the winter months.


   Plan now on how your going to manage grazing late in the 2014 season (August-October),  this can have a greater effect on the pasture than any other part of rotational pasture management. While working with beginning grazers I often find myself suggesting that they consider having more, smaller paddocks, rather than one BIG pasture that allows their stock to be too selective and in return allows their pasture to become "WILD" with invasive weeds and an explosion of un-favorable/un-palatable grasses that will quickly take over the entire pasture.


   Set aside a few pastures in mid-August and don’t mow or graze them.  Let them grow as long as they can into the fall/winter and use them as your winter pastures.  This is commonly referred to as "Stockpiling Forages".  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.


Grazing management principles:

  1. Allow the plants rest at least 30 days after grazing.
  2. Keep grazing times short (MOB Graze).  Move, Move, Move!!
  3. Use a high enough stocking density to harvest the forage.


   Grazing/removing leaves from forage plants is stressful. It eliminates photosynthesis, stops nutrient uptake from soil and in legumes it stops nitrogen fixation.  Plants need rest to recover from this stress and to re-grow. We give the forages rest by removing the animals before all the leaves are eaten off the plants.  No leaves, no photosynthesis, no regrowth.  And those three negatives in your grazing program equal bigger input costs for the following season, and with Alfalfa seed hovering around $300 a bag that only re-seeds approx. 2.5 acres, that should be enough sticker shock to give you the kick in the pants to move your cattle more often and keep a better eye on the grazing height of your rotational pastures!


Overgrazing is a term used to describe inadequate rest periods. Most think that having too many animals in a pasture causes overgrazing.  Overgrazing is not having too many animals in a pasture, it is having animals in the pasture for too long.


What causes overgrazing?

   Allowing animals to re-graze plants before they are able to replace root reserves used for re-growth.

When most animals are turned into a new pasture they will select the plants they prefer. If kept in the same field long enough the plants grazed first will re-grow.   New growth is always preferred to old growth.  But remember that these recovering plants with new growth must be protected. Overgrazing keeps these plants stressed.  In the short term it can slow plant recovery/re-growth.  Long term it can lead to the loss of some plant species in the pasture and the loss of forage yield.  As stated before, this is simply due to a combination of poor pasture rotation planning and laziness.  And laziness equals un-necessary $$$$.


Stocking density

   If we keep the grazing times short then we need enough animals to harvest all the forage we want in a paddock. Stocking density is the number of animals in an area at a particular moment. High stocking density increases the uniformity of gazing.  Grazing management typically increases stocking density. Livestock are no longer spread over one large pasture but consolidated, for a point in time, into a smaller paddock. Increasing stocking density frequently improves grazing distribution and harvest efficiency.  There is greater competition for the available forage. With heavy grazing pressure more forage is consumed by livestock and less is lost to such things as trampling, spoilage by animal wastes, and plant maturation and leaf death.

Graze your Woods

Feb 24, 2014

 Ever Try Forest Grazing?


   Prior to 1940, farmers turning their pigs out into the wooded areas of their farms in the Southeastern part of this country was a very common practice.  In the winter the pigs were than brought back to the farm "proper" and fed left-over corn stalks and other crop residues.  The hardwood species of tree’s such as the mighty oaks and chestnuts throughout the Appalachian region provided nut’s which pig’s love, and fortunately do very well on.  Pigs are still fed chestnuts but by a much smaller percentage of producers, and those pigs that are, are reported by consumers to be the sweetest tasting pork they’ve ever had.  The tall broad branched Chestnut tree’s also provided much needed shade during the sweltering heat of the summer.   Pig’s fed acorns are very low in saturated fat and high in healthy Oleic Acid, which is another advantage for producers and consumers alike.   In Spain this type of pork sell’s for up to $40 per pound!!  Unfortunately you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone in this country willing to pay $15 per pound for healthy Pork.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but don’t let the prior mentioned statistics dash your dreams.


This kind of land clearing/pasturing is most commonly know as silvo-pasturing.


   Silvo-pasturing is relatively new in the Northeast as a deliberate and recognized land use. Silvopasture practitioners, or "silvograziers", may arrive from a starting point with small or large-scale traditional livestock production, woodland management, or other agricultural interests.  Silvopasturing is an agroforestry system used to produce both livestock and forest products on the same land over an extended period of time. It can be thought of as a hybrid between well-managed pastures and well-managed woodlands. The term implies skilled management, beneficial outcomes, deliberate attention to multiple objectives, and symbiosis between grazing animals and their wooded environment. A silvopasture can be developed from one of two perspectives: enriching open pastures with trees, or modifying natural forests and plantations through thinning to develop

forage plants in the understory. But regardless of the origin, silvopasturing requires careful attention to the production of sufficient quality forage, to sound livestock husbandry, and to sustainable woodland practices – and also to the practitioner’s goals.


   If you’ve seen the movie FOOD INC., than you know who Virginia farmer Joel Salatin is.  He is the best example of a sustainable farmer that I can think of.  If you ever have the time to hear him speak or visit his farm DO IT!  You’ll be glad you did.  Joel say’s that pigs are excellent at taking recently logged forest land and transforming it into lush pasture.  And with the current and future outlook on diesel prices, especially in Pennsylvania, we can use all the cost savings we can get.  Joel also stated that pig’s love the roots and bark of left-over saplings and will eat the left behind roots and bark from cut trees.  A fellow producer of ours in Caton, NY found this out first hand when we expanded his pig pastures to include what was at that time a wooded area.  2 years later it’s mostly open pastures now.  He didn’t even worry about cutting the trees down, the pigs did that!   Joel’s oldest pig pastures have naturally produced a mixture of perennial ryegrass & crabgrass.  He has no idea where the seeds came from because he didn’t seed the pastures with those varieties.  And those pig pastures are the only pastures on his sprawling Virginia farm with perennial ryegrass.  Pretty cool huh?

   So if you have land that has been logged recently and in most cases the pitch of land is much steeper than you would like to try and mow with your brush hog & tractor, try a forest hog!  Berkshires, Hampshires, and our favorites TAM-ROC PIGS, are best suited for this kind of land clearing.

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