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October 2010 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.

razing Stockpiled Forages

Oct 29, 2010

   Every 30 days of grazing stockpiled forage provides a co$t $aving$ that is practically equivalent to increasing your calving rate by 8-10%!  30 days of winter feed is usually the minimum producers can expect from stockpiling forages like Tall fescue in the Southeast if both new growth and subsequent grazing are well managed.  Further North (like where we’re located in North/East PA), stockpiled forages offer 2,000-2,500 lbs. of forage on a dry matter basis.  With fertilizer, production can be increased by 1,000-1,500 lbs./acre. This is for forages such as tall fescue and/or orchardgrass mixed with legumes like Red/White Clover or Alfalfa.   Letting cows harvest the forage (rather than making hay out of it), and then feeding it to them, is where the obvious savings occur especially now that Diesel is on the rise AGAIN!  

Stockpiled forages also provide flexibility.

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.

Stockpiling success

The key is to start "from scratch".   Either by grazing the pasture to the recommended minimum height, mowing a last cutting of hay or brush hogging the forage to a consistent height.   In the Southeast the chief stockpiling strategy for tall fescue is to fertilize pastures from mid August to early September.   Apply 40-50 lbs./acre of nitrogen.   Apply the same rate of N for Bermuda grass 6-8 weeks before the first expected frost.  If a tall-fescue pasture contains 35-40% legumes, extra nitrogen isn't required. If legume levels are less than that, apply up to 50 lbs./acre of N.  The later in the season you begin stockpiling, the less forage you will grow, but the quality of it will be better.

Economic potential

Just turning cattle out to graze stockpiled forages may only utilize 30-40% of the stands.

50-60% utilization may be accomplished with rotational grazing, 65-75% with "frontal grazing".

"Frontal grazing" is when you start your cattle in the part of pasture where water is available and move the grazing front further from the water every few days.  Allow cattle enough forage for 3-4 days and then move the fences. That will almost double the amount of utilization you can get.

When pastures contain legumes "flash grazing" can also increase utilization.  "Flash Grazing" is when you allow your cattle to graze long enough to utilize the legumes (which they consume quickest), then pull them back off until you're ready to utilize the grass stockpiled there.

If one of your goals is maintaining the sod in your pastures/paddocks (and it should be), you have to be concerned about crowding it too tightly and you may need to remove cattle from the pasture during a muddy period such as what we’ve been dealing with in the North/East since last April!

In the North/East, most producers will delay grazing stockpiled forage until at least the end of October. Many can graze it into December.   Making the decision to stockpile forage is about balance. There's the balance between available forage and the nutritional needs of cattle, as well as balance between management goals, resources and alternative strategies.


Measure What You Have

Measure your pastures forages canopy height at various locations within the pasture with a grazing stick that you can obtain through your local NRCS or FSA office. They are yardsticks that also include numeric tables with a range of estimates for pounds of dry matter (DM) per acre inch based upon the stand's density.   If you’ve never seen someone use one before it saves ALOT of frustration on the part of the producer if you/they ask someone at the NRCS/FSA Office (the Grazing Specialist if one is available), to show you how to use the information on the stick.

NOW GET OUT THERE AND GRAZE! Save your stored dry hay for February,  Your gonna need it!

It's Fall Vaccination Time!

Oct 22, 2010

Weaning time in cow-calf country means FALL VACCINATION TIME!

This can be a stressful time for the cow, the calf and the farmer/rancher.   The main objective of your fall vaccination program is to prevent Year-Round IBR & BVD.  Not try and treat it when it rears its ugly head at the most in-opportune time!

Common Diseases of Cattle


This is one of the most costly diseases for cattle producers. Signs may include scours, nasal discharge, coughing and fever. BVD can also cause infertility, abortion and birth defects. Type 2 BVD can cause hemorrhaging and death in susceptible young calves and adult cows.

Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC)

Also know as "Shipping Fever", BRDC is a general term for the pneumonia commonly seen in recently weaned calves. Stress is a major contributor to BRDC. Events such as weaning (which we spoke about in last week’s blog), dehorning, shipping and weather changes like what we’re all experiencing now, can compromise the animal’s immune system, making it susceptible to disease-causing viruses and bacteria. Stress cannot be eliminated entirely from the cow/calf operation, but it can be reduced considerably through careful handling and ensuring sanitary conditions.

Some important considerations when planning Fall Vaccinations include:

PREGNANCY - DO NOT use a "Modified Live Virus" vaccine in pregnant cows or heifers because abortions most likely will result.   The loss of a calf will on average, take the next 6 YEARS to make up for the profit potential loss!  This is the one part of your operation where you have the power to control mortality.  Read all vaccine labels.  When in doubt, call your vet!

CURRENT HEALTH OF THE COW/HEIFER - If using a "Modified Live Virus" vaccine, only administer the vaccine in healthy cows/heifers prior to breeding as an aid in preventing abortion caused by IBR.


CATTLE AGE – Breeding age and bred cattle can always be safely vaccinated with "Killed vaccines".

Breeding age cattle and heifer calves that are 5 – 6 months of age that haven’t been previously vaccinated will need 2 doses, 2 – 4 weeks apart.  If you are unable to age group vaccinate, an alternative is to catch-up heifers every spring and fall (April & October).

DURATION of IMMUNITY – claimed by any vaccine represents the absolute maximum window of protection you should expect. For the optimal immune response, vaccinate as close to 30 days prior to breeding as you can.   Just because you can vaccinate up to a year ahead of breeding doesn’t necessarily mean you should. If a vaccine is labeled for 365 days of fetal protection, it has met minimum standards set by the USDA to obtain that label.  It doesn’t necessarily mean the immune response is the same on the 364th day following vaccination as it is on the 3rd. Even the manufacturer’s own trial work that supports the product’s USDA license will show the protection begins to lessen as time passes.

SYNOPSIS - Vaccinate breeding heifers with two or more doses of modified live BVD vaccine

at least 30 days before breeding season.

Vaccinate all mature cows annually.  Preferably, prior to the start of the breeding season.

For more information go to:

Harvest Time is Weaning time too!

Oct 15, 2010

Weaning time is harvest time in cow-calf country

   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 pens, 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 are 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 ranchers. 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:





Multi-Species Grazing

Oct 01, 2010

Multi-species grazing is the practice of using two or more species of livestock together on the same pasture or paddock at one time throughout the season.  The place to start planning your multi-species grazing program is understanding the different grazing behaviors or characteristics of each species you plan to graze together.  Various combinations of livestock can be used to more efficiently utilize the forages in your pastures. 

   The main reason multi-species grazing is advantageous is because different species of livestock prefer different forages and graze them to different heights.

For example:  Sheep and goats eat brushy plants with fleshy stems and leaves better than cattle or horses.  Which will save you having to waste time brush hogging your pastures after rotating you cattle out to get rid of multi-floral roses and other non-desirable brushy plant’s cattle graze past.   Many weeds in a grass pasture are classified as forbs.  Cattle and horses tend to graze grasses better than small ruminants such as sheep and goats, so they compliment each other by having different nutritional requirements.

   Goats are browsers and prefer to graze with their heads up. Browse is the tender shoots, twigs and leaves of trees or shrubs that are acceptable for grazing. Goats browse like deer if given the opportunity. They will eat higher-growing plants such as forbs and shrubs as well as high-growing grasses.

   With their mobile upper lip, goats can select individual leaves and strip bark off of woody plants. Their unique lip allows them to eat the parts of a plant that are highly nutritious while leaving behind the less-digestible parts such as the thorns and branches of blackberries.  Both goats and sheep will eat weeds, although goats browse more than sheep.

   Although research indicates that multi-species grazing can contribute to more efficient and uniform use of pastures, the results will vary with the type of pasture and rainfall you have on your farm or ranch.  Land that includes grasses & forbs are best utilized with multi-species grazing.  Pastures that are uniform in grass may best be utilized for cattle or horse production.  Multi-species grazing can improve utilization of forages by less than 5 percent to more than 20 percent, depending primarily on the type of vegetation on the land and the variety of animals being grazed.

   This concept isn’t something new, cattle and sheep have been the combination used for multi-species grazing for many years.  This practice was due to greater multi-species grazing in Western states where there is greater diversity of plant species and elevation of land than here in the North Eastern States.   However, with the increase in popularity of goats & sheep around here, they now are often used with multi-species grazing on cattle farms.

   Varying terrain also lends itself to multi-species grazing.  If the terrain is steep and rough, goats and sheep are superior to cattle for handling the terrain.   Cattle prefer to graze grass and prefer more gently sloping land. It is the combination of grasses and desirable weeds, yes they do exist, that provides for the more efficient use of multiple species for grazing, sometimes increasing meat production per acre by over 20 percent.

   Although there are individual preferences, data does not define if forages are utilized more efficiently if small ruminants graze before or after cattle.  Some prefer to graze small ruminants before cattle so that the sheep and goats are less likely to be exposed to larvae from internal parasites on taller-growing plants. Cattle and small ruminants also may be grazed at the same time. Usually small ruminants are used to eat weeds that cattle do not eat.

   Concerns with multi-species grazing involving cattle and small ruminants include predator control and fencing for the goats or sheep. Those little suckers love to climb and jump over fence just to entertain themselves by having the owners chase them just to jump back over the fence and look at us like we’re the crazy ones.   Depending on the environment, time of year and rainfall, small ruminants may require a more extensive program to control internal parasites than cattle, which adds to labor demands and input costs.

   Predator control programs are essential with sheep and goats because they are more susceptible to wild dogs and coyotes than cattle are.  Some producers will run a donkey in with their goats and sheep and I’ve even seen Alpacas’ used as predator guards.   If a guardian animal does not protect the herd, it should obviously be replaced.

   Usually more exterior fencing is needed to keep unwanted coyotes away from small ruminants as well as to keep the small ruminants in the field.  Goats require a little more extensive fencing than sheep to keep them confined, but even more extensive fencing is required to keep coyotes out of the field where the sheep and goats are grazing.  Reinforcing existing fencing with electric fencing is usually the most economical method.

   Multi-species grazing can have additional benefits other than greater pounds of meat per acre.  Because gastro-intestinal parasites from goats or sheep cannot survive in the stomach of cattle and vice versa, multi-species grazing may decrease internal parasite loads.  The decreased level of parasites should result in fewer treatments for worms, which could slow resistance of parasites to conventional dewormers, an increasing problem with small ruminants.  In a field infected with a high load of larvae from sheep and goat parasites, cattle should be grazed first to pick up the larvae of parasites, and then goats or sheep could graze with less danger of parasite infestation.  Some producers may prefer to have small ruminants graze before cattle, as most of the larvae of internal parasites are located on plants within four inches of the ground.

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