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May 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.

Figuring Out AU's per Acres Grazed

May 27, 2010
STOCKING RATE & GRAZING STRATEGIES
 
   Traditionally, pastures have been stocked on the basis of animals per acre per season. This approach presents problems because of variation in animal age and weight. Weights of different kinds of beef cattle have changed dramatically in the last 15 years because of genetic improvement and/or crossbreeding. Bigger cows wean heavier calves, and those bigger cows and calves also consume more forage. Because of this, pasture conditions have declined where cattle numbers or days of grazing per pasture have not been reduced.
 
   Animal unit (AU) equivalents for beef cattle are easily estimated by dividing the average shrunk weight of the class or herd of animals by 1,000. Animal unit equivalents for cattle can be based on their average weight for the grazing season or adjusted at monthly intervals. Cows with an average weight of 1,200 lb. would be equal to 1.2 AU. Some of our calves begin foraging as early as two weeks of age, but what they consume isn’t usable by their rumen (or underdeveloped gut) until they are about two months old. By the time the calves are four months old, they spend as much time grazing as the older cows. It is generally recommended that the average calf weight be added to the average cow weight to calculate AU equivalents for pairs when the average age of your calf is three months.
 
   Yearling cattle with an average weight of 550 lb. and a seasonal gain of 220 lb. would be 0.66 AU [(550 + 110)/1,000] for the season. About 60% to 70% of the total summer gain in growing cattle generally occurs in the first half of the summer grazing season. In the Northeast, that period would be from now until Aug. 1. Optimum stocking rates for economic returns to land, labor and management in yearling farm operations increase as the difference between buying and selling prices decreases. According to a report I read last year, the most profitable stocking rate for yearling cattle during a two-year period near Cheyenne, Wyo., was 60% to 80% above Soil Conservation Service (SCS) recommendations, but the increase in net profit over SCS recommendations was small and it was projected that range condition and forage production could not be maintained at the higher rate.
 
   Animal performance in response to a given stocking rate is variable from year to year because of differences in vegetative/forage availability. Forage production on semi-arid rangelands is influenced primarily by precipitation. When we were considering the option of ranching in northeast Montana, we found that that area (1.5 hours north of Billings) only receives approximately 15" of annual precipitation. Our stocking rate would have been approximately 4.25 acres per cow/calf pair. Here in northeast Pennsylvania, however, the average stocking rate is approximately 1.5 acres per cow/calf pair due to the ample amount of precipitation and abundant forage diversity. Even though stocking rates based on AU months (AUM) or AU days (AUD) per acre are practical units for grazing management, it must be remembered that cattle graze forage, not acres. Consequently, stocking rates often need to be varied from pasture to pasture and from year to year to provide adequate amounts of forage for livestock.
 
   When it comes right down to it, every farm/feedlot/rangeland/pasture is different -- sometimes even within the same farm or ranch, due to topography, elevation and overall size. If you need additional assistance with figuring out the optimal stocking rate for your herd or herds, contact your local FSA or University Extension office. Most Extension services still have grazing specialists on staff or at least a retired specialist in your area who would love to assist you and your farm/ranch with making sure your cattle can perform and gain as efficiently as possible.
 
   Understanding why domestic livestock select certain plant species or certain plants within a given species is not well understood. Plant-animal interactions are complex. You can’t just turn a herd of cattle out on something green and expect them to perform at a desired level if you don’t know what they're consuming. Cattle grazing patterns are dependent on factors such as available forage allowance, season of use, species available/consumed, site preferences and length of the growing season.
   
   When pastures are grazed two or more times, initially ungrazed forages are less likely to be grazed in following grazing periods. Preferred plant species are consistently grazed more intensively and frequently than less-preferred species regardless of the grazing schedule or stocking rate. Grazing schedules and stocking rates may have little effect on the height at which forages are consumed. Intensity and frequency of grazing tend to be greatest when forage growth is most rapid. When stocking rate and livestock distribution are properly controlled, season-long continuous grazing improves or maintains desirable range and meets livestock nutritional needs better than most specialized rest-rotation systems. Continuous grazing can be especially critical for the special growth requirements of replacement heifers that must reach puberty at 12 to 13 months of age if they are to calve as two-year-olds. A different pasture could be used for replacement heifers each year. The potential for livestock distribution problems to occur under season-long continuous grazing increases as the diversity of plant species, plant communities and topography increase within the pasture or paddock. Seasonal suitability of forage resources should always be considered when developing grazing strategies.

Why we chose 100% Grass-fed

May 21, 2010
For those of you interested in learning why we decided to raise 100% GRASS-FED BEEF and Pastured Pork & Poultry let's continue.

 

The main reason was the increased health benefits for the animals.  Second was the increased health benefit’s of our customers.  As soon as we started talking to friends and neighbors about our plans for 100% GRASS-FED BEEF, & Pastured Poultry, to supplement our pastured Pig’s they were VERY INTERESTED.  We have customers reserving meat before the animals are even born!  Since we opened our on-farm store last October, we have meat orders out as far as 2011.  Like it or not, people are interested in Grass-finished and 100% Grass-fed Meat’sFirst and foremost because it's seen as being natural for the animals. For decades that was the only way BEEF was raised!  On the open range, completely grass-fed. We have no problem with growers and ranchers who produce BEEF through feedlots.  It's their personal choice, and it's what works for them.  Not to mention demand for lean Beef can never be met with just Grass-fed Cattle. We (American’s), simply don’t have enough open space left in our country to raise enough grass-fed cattle to “Feed the world”!  The majority of American raised lean BEEF comes from our Mid-West and even local Southern PA Feedlots.  We know a few Ranchers from Colorado and Mississippi who send their cattle to finishing feedlots.  And you know what?  THAT'S O.K.!!  Really. 
But we have chosen to do thing's differently on our farm. Isn't America Great?! 
You have a choice of how to raise your animals, and because there are different ways of doing that, Consumers have multiple choices when it comes to choosing what is right for them & their families.

Why we chose to raise 100% GRASS-FED cattle.  It's less labor intensive to raise our cattle completely on grass.  We don't have the input costs of planting, harvesting and storing corn or other grains.  Again that's our personal choice.  If Corn-fed/finished  cattle works for you, GREAT!  We don’t have a problem with the way you choose to do what you do. We only ask that you don’t attack us for choosing to raise our animals the way we do.  
 
Our families Pastured DUROC Pigs have always (since 1726), been on pasture with supplemental grain for feed. The main reason is that you cannot raise 100% GRASS-FED Pig’s. They have a “Simple Stomach”, just like humans. Cattle on the other hand have multiple digestive chambers (Rumen), which allow them to live on completely on grass. If you hold a pig up by their front legs (and you put on your X-ray vision glasses), their internal anatomy is almost exactly like ours. They need supplements such as grain and minerals when on pasture/grass. And having them on pasture help’s us keep our feed costs down and we feel (again as a personal choice), that it’s better for them to be outside when weather permits (May – November in the NorthEast).
 
Our Pig’s as well as our cattle have 24 hour a day access to the indoor’s if for example it’s to hot or cold. Our Pigs have their own pasturing area separate from our cattle. We rotationally graze our pigs because it helps keep their paddocks from being tore-up from overgrazing.
 
There is plenty of information on the web about pasturing livestock and loads of books and newsletters you can sign-up for, for no charge. We can’t mention any of them because we haven’t asked for permission to mention them. Simply do a search for “Pastured Livestock”. That’ll keep you busy until next week’s blog.
 
Have a safe weekend and try something different with your livestock! You might just surprise yourself.

Greening up may be Deadly!

May 06, 2010
The U.S. is GREENING UP!!
 
USDA released on Monday its first weekly rating of pasture and range conditions for 2010, showing that
US pastures are off to one of the best seasons of the last 15 years.   Pasture conditions are an important driver for cow slaughter rates during the summer months (the other being the financial state of the enterprise).
So far, US beef cow slaughter rates have remained at relatively high levels as producers respond to very high prices for market cows.    The improvement in cow prices has helped reduce some of the debt burden incurred during this most recent recession.  The USDA report for the week ending May 2nd showed that 63% of pastures and ranges in the 48 states were considered to be in good or excellent condition.
 
   Keep in mind this is a weighted average based on reported acres, not a simple average.  Moisture conditions in the Midwest and Northern and Southern Plains are in good shape and that has contributed to the good pasture conditions.   The most recent reading of the Palmer drought index points to very positive longer term drought conditions for much of the pastureland in the country. Pasture conditions in states with a large beef cow inventory are well ahead of last year’s levels.   Last year only 29% of Texas pastures and ranges were considered to be in good/excellent condition while 40% were rated as poor or very poor.  
 
   This year, 57% of pastures in Texas were rated in good/excellent condition while just 9% were rated as poor or very poor.   
In Oklahoma, 60% of pastures and ranges as of May 2, 2010 are in good/excellent condition compared to 38% a year ago.  These two states accounted for almost a quarter of the overall beef cow inventory in the US on January 1.   Conditions in all other states including Pennsylvania, also show significant improvement over a year ago.   Last year, poor pasture conditions in the Southern Plains pushed a significant number of beef cows to market.   That may not be the case this year.
 
   High beef cow slaughter in Region 6 (which includes TX and OK), has so far contributed to the year over year increase in US beef cow slaughter.  It seems that it is only a matter of time when a combination of a much better profit outlook, and very positive short term feed supplies finally put an end to the ongoing liquidation of the US beef cow herd.
 
 But with the lush Pastures and rangelands of spring comes the potential of grass tetany.
Grass tetany could become a major concern for cattle producers this spring, if preventative measures are not in place. The lack of magnesium intake by cattle is the cause of grass tetany. Cows are most vulnerable when grazing lush green forages either low in magnesium and/or high in potassium.   High levels of potassium will interfere with magnesium absorption by the animal. Therefore, pastures fertilized with products like potash, chicken litter and ammonium sulfate will increase the chance of grass tetany.
 
   Grass tetany generally occurs most commonly in early spring when cattle are grazing lush forages. Cattle most susceptible are those calving during this time of the growing season. A common indicator of tetany, is that your cattle will appear nervous and muscles can be seen twitching.   As the condition progresses, animals will have problems walking, will eventually go down and will normally lie on one side and thrash about. 
 
If the condition is not corrected, death may occur within three hours.
 
   Since nothing can be done to control the weather, the best alternative to prevent grass tetany is to feed a complete mineral with adequate levels of magnesium. We have a free-choice Mol-Mag mineral block always available for our cattle relatively close to where their water source is. Most high magnesium minerals will contain 14 percent magnesium. At this level, cattle will receive the needed 12-15 grams per head per day to prevent grass tetany.    Your local Feed-mill should carry other supplemental tubs and blocks containing adequate levels of magnesium to prevent grass tetany.
 
   If you have an acute case of grass tetany, a sterile solution containing magnesium and calcium is given intravenously to the cow.   If you’ve never given an I.V. to your cattle before, please contact your closest Large Animal vet or someone who is familiar with the procedure.   I realize that in some parts of the country, especially the North-East, Large Animal Vet’s may be 100-200 miles away.   But an I.V. must be done slowly to prevent rapid increases in blood calcium levels, which can cause heart failure.  
 
The best way to stop grass tetany is to prevent it.
 
   To accomplish this, provide a high magnesium mineral to cattle beginning early January.   Cattle are amazing at being able to limit the amount of mineral intake based off of their current available forages, but the minerals need to be available for them to consume starting around February in most parts of the country.
 
   I would recommend that  you visually inspect your cattle often when first turning them out on new pastures
We generally will leave them on a new pasture for 1 hour a day for the 1st week, 2 hours a day the 2nd and by the 3rd week they can stay on pasture with free-choice dry hay to supplement their lush forage intake for the rest of the growing season.
 
Now get out there and GRAZE!!!

What is "Quality" BEEF

May 02, 2010
What is "Quality" Beef?
 
A large part of the beef industry’s job involves making sure that beef is safe and wholesome for consumers. 

BQA (Beef Quality Assurance), began as an effort to ensure that violative chemical residues were not present in marketed beef.  Originally called “Beef Safety Assurance,” the program's early emphasis was on assuring the real and perceived safety of beef.  However, BQA has become much more than a safety assurance program.  Today, BQA programming is expanding with information to help producers implement best management practices that improve both quality grades and yield grades of beef carcasses.  Do your part.  We will be holding the "Chute-side" portion of the PA BQA training at our farm on May 13th.  We feel so strongly about increasing the positive public perception of the BEEF Industry that we feel this is the least we could do for our local Beef & Dairy producers.  Education is knowledge, and knowledge is the first step in growth.  If your not willing to learn, your not going to be productive or profitable!  NCBA also has been at the forefront of promoting safe, LEAN, wholesome BEEF for the entire world.  NCBA's MBA program has helped us and hundreds of other producers from around the country be Advocates for the BEEF Industry. 

 
For more information about how you can become an Advocate for the BEEF Industry through the MBA program, contact Melissa Slagle at 303-867-6306 or mslagle@beefboard.org

Previous National Beef Quality Audits have summarized that the number one leverage point to improve competitiveness and regain market share was to improve beef quality, uniformity and consistency. Additionally, the sectors that sell beef products indicated that improvements were needed in tenderness, palatability and a reduction in excess trimable fat.   Many consumers are familiar with quality grades and may make purchasing decisions based on quality grades at retail.   But, within the consumer atmosphere the term “quality” can be confusing.  Consumers and even producers often find it difficult to distinguish between the various and different ways to define “quality” with regard to beef.   We can better understand “quality” if we dissect the various contexts in which we consider quality. 

Eating Characteristics

Quality beef
consistently satisfies customer expectations for eating and preparation characteristics.  Expectations may include tenderness, flavor, juiciness, color, leanness, packaging, ease of preparation -- and price.  Studies suggest that beef from carcasses grading at least USDA Select are likely to be acceptable in eating quality for most U.S. consumers.
The desire for improved consistency in beef products comes through loudly in every phase of the beef consumer research.  The genetic base for beef is relatively wide due to the wide range of environmental conditions in which cattle are raised in the U.S. Many breeds and genetic lines are used, making it difficult to produce uniform animals important for managing getting consistent products to consumers.  Value for the money is also very important to consumers as they select beef products against other competing meat and vegetable proteins.

Safety and Wholesomeness

Beef
products are harvested and processed under strict government inspection systems that ensure it is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.        The nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is subject to established federal or state inspection requirements.  The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is charged with ultimate responsibility for protecting the U.S. meat supply under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA).
For more information go to: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/home/index.asp.
 
 
The food safety system employed by FSIS to accomplish its mission has evolved to one in which a science-based framework is used to identify and prevent food safety risks. This framework is known as the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (PR/HACCP) system.   PR/HACCP allows for the use of science and technology to improve food safety in order to prevent the introduction of pathogens in the products we consume.   The implementation and verification of PR/HACCP plans have led to a dramatic decline in the incidence of food borne illnesses.
Foreign countries that export meat, poultry, and egg products to the U.S. are required to establish and maintain inspection systems that are equivalent to those of the U.S. FSIS audits foreign inspection systems and re-inspects meat and poultry at the port-of-entry to ensure that foreign countries have maintained equivalent inspection systems. Recently, the U.S. Bioterrorism Act of 2003 regulations included; (1) the registration of food facilities exporting to the U.S. and (2) the prior notice of imported food shipments.

USDA Quality Grading

A beef quality grade is a composite evaluation of factors that affect palatability of meat (tenderness, juiciness, and flavor).  These factors include carcass maturity, firmness, texture, and color of lean, and the amount and distribution of marbling within the lean.
Beef carcass quality grading is based on (1) degree of marbling and (2) degree of maturity.  USDA beef quality grades are Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner.   Since quality grading is voluntary, not all carcasses are quality graded.   Packers may apply their own “house brand” to merchandise their beef. Carcasses merchandised as ungraded beef usually are those that do not grade Choice or Prime.  They generally are termed "No Roll" beef by the industry, because a grade stamp has not been rolled on the carcass.
 
USDA Yield Grading

Beef yield grades show differences in the total yield of retail cuts.  Yield grades estimate the amount of boneless, closely trimmed retail cuts from the high-value parts of the carcass – the round, loin, rib, and chuck.
The USDA Yield Grades are rated numerically and are 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Yield Grade 1 denotes the highest yielding carcass and Yield Grade 5, the lowest.  Thus, we would expect a YG 1 carcass to have the highest percentage of boneless, closely trimmed retail cuts, or higher “cutability,” while a YG 5 carcass would have the lowest percentage of boneless, closely trimmed retail cuts, or the lowest cutability.
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