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January 2011 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.

Supplemental Winter Feeding

Jan 28, 2011

Supplemental Winter Feeding

Winter feeding should be managed so as not to degrade the pastures when re-growth has stopped for the winter.


   During the winter; "Quality" hay, "Mol-Mag" type mineral blocks or tub’s, and other supplements should be fed to help cattle produce enough energy to stay warm AND continue putting on their recommended daily gains. If feeding in a pasture during the winter months the feeding location should be moved often in order to avoid degrading the pasture. If animals are contained and fed at one central location a heavy use area protection (stabilized feeding area) should be installed to control manure and surface water runoff.


   Adjustments to energy intake must be made to cope with winter conditions like we’ve all have been experiencing so far this winter.  A practical rule of thumb is to increase energy intake by 1% for each degree of coldness below the lower critical temperature of a cow.  For practical purposes, a 20 degree F temperature can be used as the lower critical temperature.  If the outside temperature is 0 degrees F with calm wind speed, then energy intake should be increased 20%.  If daily TDN requirement during this period is 11.2/lbs., then an additional 2 pounds TDN are required to prevent stress on your cattle.


   Parasite control is also extremely important in a year-round grazing operation. Consult with your

veterinarian about a parasite control plan that works for your operation. Most parasites can be found at

the base of forage plants where the livestock are susceptible to ingesting them. If left untreated

internal parasites can cause problems with nutrient digestion and adsorption resulting in decreased

livestock growth and productivity. For more information refer to your USDA-ARS "Graziers Notebook". 

If you don’t have one, contact your local NRCS/FSA office and request one.  Their FREE!

Again, I would like to stress that every grazing plan is different based off of your location, forages, animal type (Breed), and obviously animal units (number of animals),  and it will need to be adjusted not only to growing conditions but also your management style.


   The National Research Council (NRC) indicates that a 1,300-pound cow requires a ration with 1.59 pounds of protein and 10.1 pounds of TDN during the middle third of gestation and 1.98 pounds of protein and 12.7 pounds of TDN during late gestation.  There is considerable variability in the nutritional values of forages; therefore, it is important to have a laboratory analysis of your forages.   Benchmark values suggested by the NRC include:  grass hay, 55% TDN and 10% crude protein (CP); mature alfalfa hay, 50% TDN and 14% CP.

A 1,000-pound, first-calf heifer requires approximately the same amount of TDN and CP as a 1,300-pound mature cow.  First-calf heifers should be fed apart from the cow herd because they typically will not compete well with mature cows.   Cows in good condition at calving will generally cycle well at 60 days post-calving whether they lose or gain weight after calving.  However, cows that calve in moderate or thin condition will usually cycle and conceive late.  Many will have difficulty maintaining a 12-month calving interval.


   Increasing alfalfa in a beef cow diet can be an excellent way to meet increasing protein requirements. This can be accomplished by feeding hay with a higher percent alfalfa hay, feeding a portion of forage as alfalfa or feeding the desired amount of alfalfa once a week.  

Winterize Your Cattle!!

Jan 23, 2011

Keeping Cattle healthy through winter


   Snow and high winds like we all have been experiencing this winter are a bad combination for previously healthy unstressed cow’s & calves. Not to mention it’s pretty hard on us and our diesel engines too!  We can always put on more clothing and have the option of going back inside to sit in front of the corn stove.  But to protect calves and full-grown cattle from the onset of respiratory problems, it’s advisable to keep them dry and out of the wind as best as possible.  Throughout America’s Heartland and even here in North-East Pennsylvania, many herds remain out on winter range and pasture with little protection from the wind.  Moving livestock into protected areas as soon as possible can reduce potential problems. Colder temperatures also raise nutrient requirements of both cows and calves. Extra, high quality forages andmineral suppliments will be necessary to help livestock maintain their core body temperatures and help keep their immune systems functioning properly.


   Calves that are showing signs of respiratory problems should be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible. The sooner calves are treated after showing signs of sickness, the more effective the treatment will be. Continuous use of antibiotics as a preventative treatment for respiratory problems is discouraged as drug resistance can become a problem. Another problem likely to arise following winter storm stress is bloody scours as a result of coccidiosis. It's not pleasant to talk about but it's even worse to have to try and cure.  There are various feed additives available at your local feed mill that are effective against the pathogenic bovine coccidia. Contact your veterinarian or nutritionalist for treatment recommendations.


   Another concern producers may be experiencing is water availability for livestock as a result of freezing temperatures, no electric service, or both! After a short adjustment period, cows will consume adequate amounts of snow to meet water requirements. Eating snow is a learned behavior rather than instinct, therefore an adjustment period is needed for the cows to learn how to eat snow. Generally it takes three days for cows to adapt to eating snow.  Cattle can do well when snow is their only water source, as long as there is adequate snow present, and it is not hard or crusted over. It is important to monitor your cattle and snow conditions on a daily basis. A lack of water will reduce feed intake, and cows can lose condition very rapidly when water is deficient.  If snow hardens and crusts over due to drifting, rain, or thawing and freezing, you will need to provide them with an alternative source of water. Substituting snow for water is not a cure-all, but it can buy some time until range/pasture conditions improve.


   Adverse winter weather, like what EVERYONE is experiencing this winter, can increase costs of production up to 20% or more. Whether in a feedlot or wintering pastures, proper shelter design and maintenance are crucial for keeping your cattle dry, healthy and comfortable under adverse climatic conditions. In the winter, cattle maintenance requirements can be over 50% greater in pens containing wet "muddy" cattle, versus dry clean cattle, causing reduced comfort and performance.


   Good pen/shelter/feedlot drainage is critical for minimizing mud. The basic goal is to remove water/urine as quickly as possible from the pen with minimum erosion of soil. Ideally a 5-8% slope away from feeding areas, especially when round bale feeders without bottoms are utilized, should be maintained in the protective shelter/area.  Shelter area’s should be designed so that the back of the area stays clean and open to allow drainage to discharge directly into environmentally friendly catch basins/manure holding facilities, until the accumulation of waste material can be safely spread on your fields.  In some areas that could mean needing an area large enough to contain waste until spring!


   Construction of concrete pads or aprons (generally 8 feet wide) along feed bunks and around water troughs eliminate much of the competition often associated with feeding areas when mud becomes a problem and good feeding spaces become scarce.  Mud tends to accumulate around feeding and watering places due to the soil being worked away while cattle are in these areas. Manure & urine also tends to be concentrated in these areas adding to the mud and moisture problems.


   It is essential that pens & shelter surfaces are cleaned regularly, sometimes daily, with any manure or undigested materials being removed from the animal protective area.  Also, it’s okay to change to a higher roughage diet when the next snowstorm hits, to minimize overeating or acidosis, but don’t be too aggressive in making those changes. The more stable we can maintain the rumen environment, the better off our cattle will be.  So start feeding better forages today so your cattle’s rumen can adjust and build up a resistance to what "Old Man Winter" is getting ready to dish out this week.





Marketing Your Grass-Fed Meats - Part 3

Jan 21, 2011

Welcome back to part 3 in a 3 part series on……




   The BEEF business is completely different from the cattle business. You need a completely different mind-set to market beef to customers. You will need a totally different set of knowledge and skills.

Pay attention to your competition.  Begin to read the food and business sections of your local newspapers.

Read on-line trade journals that will help you understand the beef, pork, poultry, lamb etc. businesses.   


Learn about regulations.


   Think about your geographical marketing area.   Are you located in a rural setting out in the middle of nowhere?  Are you within 15 – 30 minutes of a town, city or retail market or restaurant?  Learn about managing a business.  Look for training in marketing - selling approaches, demonstrating, negotiating with retailers or restaurants, and closing the sale.


• Be prepared for your business to take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years to take off.

• Your processor/butcher is key to your success. Choose it carefully.  And talk to them on a regular basis.

• Look for close markets first such as Farmers Markets, health food stores and especially restaurants who      prefer to buy locally.

• Be yourself and be professional. Capitalize on your down-home, family farmer image.  It’s how you live your life, be proud of your heritage.


Always promote a positive impression of your products.


   In a world of unsafe food, consumers fears about food safety and quality outweigh any sociological considerations they may have about agriculture. You must appear to be well-organized, and committed to quality to build the trust you need to make the sale and have repeat customers.

• EDUCATE your customers.

  Compare your 100% Grass-fed BEEF to other species such as venison when referring to cooking time.

  If your customers cook your meat incorrectly they won’t buy more!

• Offer delivery for the elderly and restaurants that feature Locally raised food.

• Be positive when presenting your 100% Grass-fed BEEF, Pastured Pork, Poultry, Lamb etc.

• Building your niche market takes steady work.  Stick with it and be prepared for success!!


Target your marketing to the right customer.  We have found that individuals with an existing or new interest in healthy, lean meat are the choice consumer niche.   

The following points are some of the interests of consumers in the 100% Grass-fed BEEF marketing niche:

• Great taste.

• Pesticide-free food (for customers with chemical sensitivities).

• A healthy, high-protein diet (for reduction of cancer risk or for cancer patients).

• No artificial/injected/implanted growth hormones or animal by-product rations.

• Safe locally raised foods with no danger of E. coli or BSE.

• Lean meat.

• Humane Animal welfare.

• Cost-saving through prices lower than the chain stores.

• Convenience and TRACEABILITY!

• Desire to support farmers and eat locally raised foods.


   We hope the last 3 weeks have helped you with some of your questions and/or concerns about marketing your grass-fed meats.  Next weekend (weather permitting), we hope to see some of you in Latham, NY for Cornell Universities 3rd Annual "Winter Green-Up" Grass-fed Beef conference.  STAY WARM!!!!!

Marketing Grass-fed BEEF Part 2

Jan 15, 2011

Welcome back to part 2 in a 3 part series focusing on:


Marketing your 100% Grass-fed Meats


There are two good online sources for direct marketing information:


- Beef Marketing Alternatives is a publication from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service,


- How to Direct Market Your Beef, by Jan Holden is the second online resource. It is from the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the national outreach network for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


   If you’re going to direct market your 100% Grass-fed BEEF, Pastured Pork or Poultry, it’s important to accurately estimate how many pounds of meat or various retail cuts you’re going to have to sell after slaughtering and processing an animal. To estimate the amount of product you will have for sale:


-          Dressing percentage x live weight = expected carcass weight.

(dressing percentage is the percentage of live  weight that results in carcass weight).

-          Dressing Percentage = (hot carcass weight ÷ live weight) x 100

-          Expected carcass weight x expected lean meat yield (cutability).


            Example: 1200 pound beef steer with a 720 pound carcass.

            Dressing percentage = (720 ÷ 1200) x 100 = 60%


   When direct-marketing your 100% Grass-fed BEEF, Pork and/or Poultry, the actual pounds of saleable product will be determined by such factors as:


-          Carcass Fatness: The more trim fat an animal has, the lower the lean yield.

-          Muscling: Heavier muscling will result in a higher lean yield.


Meat Cuts Sold: The largest fat deposit in the carcass, by weight, is seam fat, not back fat, so cutting methods for marketing purposes greatly affects the amount of saleable product.


Bone-In versus Boneless: Bone-In products will result in more saleable pounds than boneless.


Leanness of Ground Beef: Selling a 90% lean ground beef versus an 80% lean ground beef will mean using less fat trim in the ground product. However, consumers generally like a leaner ground product. Especially when grilling.  And our customers have come to love the lack of burger shrinkage on their grills due to the lower fat content of our 100% Grass-fed BEEF products!


Trim: Closely trimming steaks and roasts will result in slightly lower yields due to more fat trim that needs to be used in other products.


Value-Added Products: Having the ability to make some sausage products, 100% BEEF hot dogs, etc. will greatly increase the ability to use fat trim.


   There has been allot of ill will focused toward this blog by readers who obviously feel that Grain-fed BEEF is best!  The reason these aggressive verbal attacks have been directed at 100% Grass-fed BEEF is because the Grain-fed/finished producers think only their process can produce tenderness that has been identified as the most important palatability attribute of meat, the primary determinant of meat quality, and consumer acceptability.

   Let’s break it down. The two primary determinants of meat tenderness are maturity of the connective tissue, and myofibrillar toughness. Right?! One mis-conception that exists in the BEEF industry is that 100% Grass-fed BEEF systems always result in carcasses that have less tender steaks compared with grain-fed systems.  However, this is not always the case.  In two studies where a forage based system was compared with a grain based system, the carcasses from grain-fed cattle had a higher marbling score, and whiter fat, but there were no differences in Warner-Bratzler shear force or muscle tenderness as rated by trained sensory panel scoring. This same finding was reported in 2006, while comparing forage versus grain finishing, however, in that same study there were no differences in marbling score, with carcasses in both groups being USDA Select.


Well that’s enough for this week.  Let’s meet again next week and finish this 3 part series on Marketing your 100% Grass-fed Meats.

Marketing Grass-Fed BEEF

Jan 09, 2011

This week’s blog 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.

Unfortunately it’s not because we’re always completing tasks, it’s because we’re always thinking of new things to do!  Writing things down will help you stay on top of things and refresh your memory with regards to 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 & 2010 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

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


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.


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:

From PAsture To Plate

Jan 01, 2011

This week’s blog will focus on "Preparing 100% Grass-fed BEEF"


from Pasture to plate


   I recently read an article about the practice it takes to prepare 100% Grass-fed BEEF correctly.

It was written by Chef Michael Formichella.  He stated that while he was working with a large beef group, he had many discussions about how our food makes it’s way to our tables here in the U.S.  These discussions than made him wonder if the simpler ways of the past were better for cattle and the consumer? 


   Chef Formichella than noted that "before WWII all American BEEF was "Grass-finished," meaning that cattle ate pasture grasses for a large portion of their lives.  Today, the vast majority of cattle spend anywhere from 60-120 days in feedlots being fattened with grain before being slaughtered."   Chef Formichella also stated that "Unless a consumer deliberately chooses Grass-finished, 100% Grass-fed or Free-ranged meat, the beef bought at your local grocery store will be of the corn-finished variety."  Because the corn-finished method brings cattle to slaughter weights faster, the result is less expensive beef products for the mass consumers."


   With sustainability becoming more common, consumers are becoming educated about the health benefits of Grass-based farms and the animals they produce.  Many "Grass Ranchers/Farmers" from Big Sky Country to the East coast say their ranching methods create happier animals that are ultimately a better product for the consumer.


   Chef Formichella also stated that "Grass-fed ground meat & steaks are sold in specialty food stores for substantially higher price per point per pound than ordinary BEEF."   "Consumers will pay the higher price even during these tough economic times."  Grass-fed meat products are also beginning to become readily available in stores right on the farm where the animals are raised.  For most consumers that is a BIG selling point.  Because of a high occurrence of recent Level 1 Food Recall’s across the United States, consumers want to know where their food comes from.  Not just what country, but what farm in which State.  If you can provide a safe BEEF product with traceability to the pasture it was born and raised on for it’s entire life, you’ve got the confidence of the consumer!   Traceability is where your success as a BEEF producer is.


   The secret to ageing 100% Grass-fed BEEF is short hanging time (generally 7-10 days), and than "Wet ageing" the BEEF for 5-7 day’s BEFORE vac-sealing and freezing it. 

   100% Grass-fed meat has distinct flavors depending on the season and which grass was fed to the animals.  Another important thing to remember when preparing grass-fed meat on the grill, stove top or oven is that it will cook much faster than traditional grain-fed meat.  In some cases (depending on the cut of meat), it could cook in half the time!  This is simply due to being much lower in fat.  However, the lack of fat doesn’t mean a lack of flavor.  Nor does it mean the meat will be tougher.  If you don’t know how to cook meat any cut (Grain or Grass-fed), will be as tough as a shoe. 

   100% Grass-fed BEEF will also have less shrinkage on your customers grill.  That’s another thing they will remember.  When they put 4 pounds of steaks or ground beef on their grill they don’t want to end up with 2 pounds of meat on their plate.

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