Sep 16, 2014
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May 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.

That's HOT!

May 28, 2013

Grazing Sunlight!?


   Weather you raise your cattle on rotational pastures or out on the range, you need to capitalize on the one thing in life that’s still free.  Sunlight!  To be profitable in today’s cattle markets, you need all the free input’s you can get.  For most producers, sunlight is the only thing that is still free.  In the North East, we have mineral rights that are to protect our natural gas and crude oil that flow’s under our pastures, in the mid-West it’s water that land owners are trying to control/protect.  That’s especially important after receiving beneficial rains like last week in Colorado and parts of Texas. With good moisture and the return of warm-HOT temperatures, pastures and rangeland are poised to hopefully grow rapidly before the mother nature shut’s off the spigot again.


   Just because sunlight is free, don’t take it for granted.  As our forages capture solar energy, our grazing lands become more productive and our livestock more profitable. The only way to capture solar energy is with healthy, green leaves. The more land area completely covered by green leaves, the more sunlight that’s captured and converted into more grazable forage.  This is also an important factor for forage producers or "Grass-Farmers" as we’re referred to in the North East.  If you haven’t already taken off your first cutting of hay or haylage, remember to leave at average of at least 2-3 leaves per plant so that your forages will have the leaves necessary to capture your FREE solar energy and promote a healthy re-growth for future production.


   This season, as you check your livestock and forages, don’t just look out over the pastures.  Look down through the stands.  How much bare ground do you see?   Improving the amount of green leaves capturing sunlight begins with proper cattle stocking rate.  Once that’s accomplished, avoid grazing too short.  A good rule of thumb is to not move cattle into a pasture or paddock until it has reached 18" of height, and move ‘em out before there is 4" remaining.  Move your cattle to new pastures/paddocks while you still have lots of green leaves remaining to capture and utilize your FREE solar energy.  Then your plants will capture more sunlight, regrow more rapidly, and produce more forage for your animals to graze later on.  On our farm we seed our pastures with the same forages as our hay fields.  In a "good" weather year, we can expect our pastures and hay fields to regrow at about the same rate over a 4-5 week period.


Get the WEEDS out!


   While many weeds can provide satisfactory protein and energy for cattle when eaten, controlling weeds with heavy grazing pressure might not be healthy for the pasture.  Since some pastures stay relatively clean while other pastures become weedy, other factors undoubtedly influence the weed population.  For example, you might have the cleanest, most lush looking pastures that are meticulously maintained to the point that tourists might pull up to your house wanting to know when the Tiger Woods will be playing here next!  But if you neighbors don’t do anything with their fields and pastures that border your fields, it’s only a matter of time until your forages get "infected" with weeds like multi-floral rose, Canadian thistle and the like.  Simply grazing or controlling weeds by spraying or cutting does little to prevent weeds from coming back again unless these other factors are changed to better support desirable plants.  I never recommend commercial chemical sprays, they might kill what’s bugging you for the moment, but it’s never a permanent fix.


   To control weeds, it is much more important to manage grazing to support healthy desirable plants than to weaken or remove unwanted weeds.  Grazing that allows sufficient leaf area to remain following grazing to support rapid regrowth, allow good winterizing, and hold snow and rain moisture on the land rather than running off will benefit the desirable grasses and legumes.  Giving pasture plants adequate time to recover after grazing before grazing again is another way to improve or maintain pasture health and strengthen the competitive ability of desirable plants.  Weeds in a pasture indicate that the pasture itself and the desired plants in it are not in a healthy condition.


Heavy Hay!


   Let’s look at some advantages of a grass-alfalfa mixture.  If you regularly feed more than five or six pounds of alfalfa per day to stock cows during winter, they probably are getting way more than enough protein but maybe not enough TDN.  Mixing grass with alfalfa usually lowers the protein but slightly increases the TDN content of hay.  So your cows actually could receive a more balanced diet.  Also, if you sometimes graze your hay fields, grass will reduce the risk of bloat.  And when cattle are first moved out to lush spring pastures bloat and grass-tetany are real concern, especially if the legume to grass ratio is way off balance.


   A good way to help reduce bloat is to wean your cattle onto fresh grass/legumes.  AND allow them access to "free-choice" dry hay.  Free-choice means they have access to dry hay when they are becoming re-familiarized with fresh green pastures in the spring.  Cattle are amazingly smart when it comes to regulating their diets when given the proper options.  The best way to prevent grass tetany is to allow them a "free-choice" Mol-Mag mineral block. 


   Warm season grasses can grow in areas where alfalfa is not well-adapted or they will fill in spots as alfalfa dies out.  This is better than having weeds invade bare areas.  Grass-alfalfa/legume mixtures often dry out more rapidly after cutting/mowing for hay than pure alfalfa so you might get more hay made without rain and sun damage.  And if it does rain, the mixture usually suffers less injury as it re-dries in the windrow, while being raked and in the baler.  Yield-wise, protein yield per acre may be less with the a grass-legume mix, but total tonnage will be about the same or higher than pure stands.  Most of the grass yield will come at first cut, so regrowth will be mostly alfalfa.  Selling a mixture can be more profitable, because dairies producers find round bales, especially when ensiled, is more difficult to grind in their TMR mixers.  Not to mention the excessive weight of pure alfalfa bales can wreak havoc on the blades in their TMR mixer wagons.  A 4’ X 5’ wrapped/silage alfalfa bale can weigh in excess of 2,000/lbs.!  I can attest to those bale weights and knife damage.

Grass-fed PIGS?

May 18, 2013

    Pig’s on pasture are  possible.  Our Pig’s are pastured from the time they are approx. 4 week’s old, until there are taken to the processor.  Their have been allot of 100% grass-fed Pig’s claims out there.  And allot of those claims have been "called out" or dis-proven as not being 100% grass-fed simply due to the producers either lack of education or simple dishonesty.  I remember when we first started looking into attempting pure unadulterated 100% grass-fed/pastured pigs.  We went to some supposedly 100% grass-fed Pig producers web-sites and saw photo’s of the farmers feeding the pig’s grain on the ground from a bucket!  Hello!


   Our family had raised "pastured" pigs since settling in this country back in 1726.  But they had always been supplemented with grain, especially in the long North-East PA winters when forages were not available to graze.  But we were determined to find a way to limit the amount of grain required by the pigs to continue to grow and at the same time not jeopardize their health.  We weren’t interested in finishing them as soon as possible to make a quick buck by the time they reached maturity (250/lbs. by 6 months of age), if it would take an extra month or 2 to reach that "optimal weight" we were comfortable with that as long as they stayed healthy.  We than started looking at other breeds that may be better adjusted to living mostly on grass.  It took awhile, but we found the Tamworth breed was best suited to survive strictly on a 100% forage diet.   Due to what we found in the past, we decided to do additional research on this breed to make sure the few success stories we found about the Tamworth breed were not just isolated incidents. 


   Coincidently my wife knew someone through a past work associate that owns Tamworth Pig’s and has been successful at raising them on a 100% grass-fed diet.  I still wasn’t convinced.  So we made an appointment to go see them.  It was a few hours south of us, but it was still within our state so I knew we were due to experience close to the same climates throughout the year.  My main concern wasn’t with could they survive on 100% grass pastures 6-8 months out of the year during the forages normal growing season, I was wondering how they stayed healthy during the winter on either stockpiled forages or stored dry hay.


   The Tamworth is probably the purest of the modern breeds of swine.  They have been improved more largely by selection and care than by the introduction of the blood of other breeds.  Fortunately the class of men who had undertaken the improvement of some of the other breeds, by sacrificing almost everything to an aptitude to fatten, did not undertake the Tamworth; hence the preservation of the length and prolificacy of the breed. For a number of years previous to 1870 the breed received comparatively little attention. About that time the bacon curers opened a campaign against the then fashionable short, fat and heavy shouldered pigs, which they found quite unsuitable for the production of streaked side meat for which the demand was constantly increasing. The Tamworth then came into prominence as an improver of some of the other breeds, in which capacity it was a decided success owing to its long established habit of converting it's food into lean meat.  Tamworth pigs are especially hardy and tolerate our harsh NorthEast PA winters quite well.  The Tamworth originated in Ireland where they were called "The Irish Grazer".  Around the year 1812 it is said that Sir Robert Peel (being impressed with the characteristics of them), imported some of them and started to breed them on his estate at Tamworth, England. They have been bred quite extensively ever since they were imported into that country.


   Unfortunately the last paragraph you read was about all the information I could find on-line about the Tamworth Breed.  But have no fear if your interested in additional information about these promising pastured pig’s,  we have been raising them on our pastures for the last 2 years with over-whelming success!  If a picture is worth  a thousand words, go to our farms web-site and see for your-self!

If your still skeptical like I was before breeding these pig’s, make a point of stopping by our farm if your ever in the "neighborhood".  I’m sure you’ll be as impressed with them as we are everyday.


May 09, 2013

The Best Spring ever!  Well, so far.


   Here in NorthEast Pennsylvania we have been experiencing the nicest "ease into" spring in memory.  Usually we go from winter snow right into summer sweltering in a matter of a week!  But this year we have had just the right amount of precipitation, sun and gradual warming that has made everything burst back to life and an unbelievable abundance of fruit blossoms that if they all produce fruit will make up for last years loss due to a freak slush storm.


   But just as everyone is out planting their corn and greasing up their disc-bines for what seamed to be an earlier than usual first cutting…..the forecast for this weekend is showing dangerously close to freezing temperature overnight, with daytime temperatures in the mid 60’s!  I guess if it was February and the Sap was still running, these temperature extremes would be great.  But aright already!  I’m ready for hay fever and tank tops, not the Flu and sweat jackets AGAIN!


   Our pastures are about a week away from being ready to start rotational grazing for another season, and some of our hay fields are looking ready for 1st cutting already.   For the last 2 weeks we’ve been reaching daytime high’s around 70 with overnight lows around 40-50.  That’s why everything is growing so well.


   But before you head out to knock down your first blade of hay, let’s look at some factors to consider when planning your early season hay making.   Of all the factors affecting hay quality, stage of maturity when harvested is the most important and the one in which greatest progress can be made. As legumes and grasses advance from the "green" to "seed" stage, they become higher in fiber and lignin content and lower in protein content, digestibility, and acceptability to livestock.  Making the first hay cut early permits aftermath growth to begin at a time when temperature and soil moisture are favorable for plant growth and generally increases total yield per acre, and most importantly, early cut hay results in high-quality feed and superior animal performance such as reaching that much needed average daily gain most producers are attempting to achieve.


   After mowing, poor weather conditions can lower hay quality.  Rain can obviously cause alfalfa (legume)  leaf loss and can leach nutrients from plants during the dry-down process.  Sunlight will also lower hay quality through bleaching and lowering Vitamin A content.  Raking and/or tedding dry, brittle hay will also cause excessive leaf loss.  Hay with an 80% moisture content must lose approximately 6,000 pounds of water to produce a ton of hay at 20% moisture.  Crushing or "conditioning" at time of mowing will cause stems to dry at more nearly the same rate as leaves.  Conditioning will usually decrease the drying time of leafy legume plants by about one day and can result in leaf and nutrient savings.


   Hay handled in a rough manner before it gets to your livestock will lose an excessive amount of leaves. For the average small square bale (14 inches x 18 inches x 30 inches), about 29% of its total volume is contained in a 1-inch depth all around the bale.  For large round bales, the outer 4 inches contains roughly 25% to 30% of its total volume.  


   Legumes such as Alfalfa & clovers are higher in quality than straight-up grasses, but within each group there can be a wide range of quality based on the level of plant maturity when harvested.  When both grasses and legumes are harvested at the proper stage of plant growth, legumes are usually higher in total digestibility, rate of digestion, protein, and many minerals and vitamins.  A mixture consisting of an adapted grass and legume is usually of high quality when properly managed.  In addition, grasses can improve the drying rates of mixed stands compared to pure legume stands, sometimes by as much as 2 days!   And as any "Grass-farmer" can attest to, every day in the field is another chance of rain diminishing your quality.  Perennials, such as alfalfa, orchard-grass, timothy, fescue, Bermuda-grass, etc., are usually more economical for hay crops than annuals, although annuals, such as sorghum-sudangrass and ryegrass, can be fed with comparable feed to meat conversions if properly supplemented with mineral blocks.


   Hay that is cut early, green, leafy, soft and has a pleasant odor will be of high quality.  If you’ve ever gone to a hay auction at your local sale barn you’ve undoubtedly seen prospective buyers sticking their noses and sometimes their entire faces or heads into the center of a hay bale to get a whiff of that sweet smell of quality.

The most practical way to determine the nutrient content of hay is through forage nutritive analysis.   It sounds like a fancy process, but it’s really not that complicated.  The use of an instrument to obtain a core sample of hay has been one of the most reliable methods of getting a  sample for nutritional analysis. Matching hay to different classes of livestock based on nutritional content of the forage and the requirements of the animal can lead to a more efficient livestock.

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