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October 2009 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.

Harvest Time is Weaning Time!

Oct 31, 2009
Harvest time in cow-calf country means weaning time. This can be a stressful time for the cow, the calf and the farmer/rancher.   Probably the most critical weaning decisions a rancher needs to make are gauging when and where to wean.  USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) reports that the average weaning age of beef calves in the U.S. is a little over seven months of age. Over three-quarters of these producers reported weaning calves between 5½ - 8½ months of age.
The interesting part of the NAHMS survey is that producers reported a lack of flexibility in selection of weaning time. Relatively few ranchers indicated that cow condition, forage availability or market price drove the decision of when to wean calves.
The objective of a weaning program is to get the calves separated from their mothers and on their own as efficiently as possible. This should be when lactation declines and calf gain begins to decrease.
Diets for weaned calves can be purchased or ranch-developed. The advantage to purchased feeds is they're more likely to be balanced for energy, protein, fiber and minerals. In addition, many of them can contain medications recommended by a veterinarian or nutritionist.

Some important considerations in weaning management include:
Dust - Dust causes severe irritation to the respiratory tract. If you keep calves in pen's, sprinkle the pens with water to keep dust down when using wood shavings.  The same is especially advisable in pig pens.  Wheat straw is a better bet, but if shavings is all you have access to, keep the pen's dust-free!  This time of the year is when pastured pigs are most susceptible to pneumonia, dust from shaving or even dry feed could instigate pneumonia.  We add water to make a "mash" of their corn & oat chop.  So it has a very thick oatmeal like consistency.  Not SLOP!!

Sorry, I got a little off track with the pigs.  Let's get back to things to look out for in your weaning calves.
Bawling - This is another irritant to the upper respiratory tract.  Not to mention your neighbors or weekend house guests.  To minimize bawling - unless “fenceline weaning” - separate the calves from the cows so they can't hear each other.  A good start would be to keep them out of site.  Either over the hill (if you have any), or on the other side of the barn.  Or better yet, if you have the option, on another farm.  Some producers are fortunate to have multiple facilities/farm locations.
Dehydration - Some calves are not acquainted with water troughs and are so busy bawling they don't take time to find the water and drink. Use of a water source similar to one they may have been around may help.   We've seen producers that use nipple waterers that are primarily utilized in pig production with the end of a nipple from a calf bottle secured over the end.  Place a water trough directly under the nipple and they'll learn how to drink out of the trough by experimentation!
Feed change - A change in diet (from milk replacer to calf starter/grower grain to strictly grass/hay/pasture), requires the growth of different organisms in the rumen to digest the feed. This change can take up to two weeks.  This is obviously only for producers that separate the calves from the heifers/cows such as in a dairy setting.  We don't separate our calves because that is what has worked best for us and our cattle.  We allow the calves (steers or heifers), to naturally wean themselves from the udder to the pasture.  In doing so, we relieve any weaning stress on the calf.  The only time we have ever separated any of our animals was when our "up and coming" BEEFALO bull calf was old enough (and tall enough), to breed our heifers/cow's out of season.

Why is stress the most important challenge to overcome when weaning calves? The University of Minnesota's Bethany (Lovaas) Funnell, DVM, explains that stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol - a catabolic steroid that has negative effects on the immune system.  This not only makes a calf more susceptible to respiratory disease, but decreases the calf's ability to respond to a vaccine. Because of this, it's important to get the first dose of vaccine into the calves while they're still nursing, when stress levels are low.  There are two major groups of vaccines that should be considered to assist weaning - those for clostridial diseases and those for respiratory diseases. If you're unsure which vaccines to use, contact your herd-health veterinarian.

Weaning strategies
There are about as many weaning strategies as there are BEEF Producers. Over the past 10-15 years, the beef industry has become more aware of the value of pre- and post-weaning calf health management and marketing management. It's worthwhile to explore the various “cookbook” weaning programs and regimes available.
·       One concept that's been getting a lot of attention is fenceline weaning, which allows cows and calves to have several days of fenceline contact, but calves are unable to nurse through the fence. This requires adequate facilities to allow for feeding and watering the calves, and the fence must be tight enough to prevent the calf from getting back in with the cow.
·       Early weaning is a management practice sometimes used during drought conditions, or when forage quantity is less than desirable. Early weaning is often used to improve cow condition for rebreeding, particularly when forage is limiting.
Research shows mixed results on the economics of early weaning.
·       Extended weaning may make sense in times when feed costs are high and when grazing forages aren't a limiting factor. A Florida study shows that fall-calving cows can nurse calves for up to two months beyond a standard weaning age of 7-8 months and significantly increase calf weaning weight without affecting cow reproduction.

For more information go to:

Winter Feeding and Grazing

Oct 19, 2009
Supplemental fall/winter feeding should be managed so as not to degrade the pastures when re-growth is slow or has stopped for the winter.
During the winter; hay, “Mol-Mag” mineral blocks, 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. Supplemental feed programs can be very profitable for dairy producers utilizing pasture a major source of dry matter intake. Consult with an animal nutritionalist to develop a supplemental feed program that fits the needs of your individual herd.
* Listed below are some guidelines for cool season grass and legume pastures resting periods based on weather conditions and growth. Also listed are Turn in heights and removal heights for cool season grass and legume pastures.
Figure 1. Rest Periods for Grass/Clover Pastures
Season Weather Conditions Growth Rate Rest Period (days)
Spring Cool, Moist Fast 10-14
Spring Warm, Dry Medium 14-20
Summer Hot, Moist Slow 30-35
Summer Hot, Dry Very Slow 40-60
Fall Cool Medium 14-20
Figure 2. Suggested Grazing Stubble Heights For Rotational Grazing
Species Turn In Height (Inches) Removal Height (Inches)
Cool Season Grasses
Kentucky Bluegrass 4-6 1-2
Kentucky Bluegrass/White Clover 4-6 1-2
Smooth Bromegrass 6-8 3
Orchardgrass 6-8 3
Orchardgrass/Ladino Clover 6-8 2
Reed Canarygrass 8-10 3
Perennial Ryegrass 6 2
Perennial Ryegrass/Clover 6 2
Small Grains 4-6 3
Tall Fescue 6-8 2-3
Tall Fescue/Ladino Clover 6-8 2-3
Alfalfa 6 1-3
Birdsfoot Trefoil 4-7 2-3
Ladino or White Clover 6-8 2
Red Clover 4-7 2
FALL Parasite control is also extremely important in a grazing livestock 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, 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.
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