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February 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.

Swath Grazing & Health

Feb 25, 2011

Nutritional requirements and Swath Grazing


    Different livestock have different nutritional requirements.  Never is this more apparent or important as when the weather outside is freight full!  Here in North/East PA we’ve been getting really wacked with heavy snow and wind over the last few weeks and it doesn’t look like we’re gonna see spring anytime soon.  If it’s so cold outside that your face hurt’s, chances are it’s not very comfortable for your cattle either!  While your out there feeding your herd tonight or tomorrow, look them over.  I mean really check them out.  Do they look comfortable, do they look healthy?  Is there snow on their back’s or are they covered with ice?  Some folks think only calves need special care this time of the year.  Actually ever age group has nutritional requirements based off of their frame score.  Not just what they rated in October, but what they look like from week to week. Mature cows need 7 to 8 percent protein and 50 to 54 percent TDN in their diet.  First Calf heifers that are nursing calves need more than 10 percent protein and 62 to 64 percent TDN to milk, rebreed, and continue to grow properly.  If you feed poor hay to these nursing heifers, or even to mature cows, they may not rebreed, their calves will be weakened, and growth will be stunted.   For example, we have a 1 year old Herford steer that we bought locally when he was still a bull calf.  He was obviously not properly cared for prior to our bringing him home from the auction. We’ve had him now for over 6 months and he hasn’t grown at all!  He still looks like he’s 5-6 months old and he’s almost a year old!  He was either weaned way to early or just wasn’t taken care of from day 1.  We bought him when he was approx. 6 months old back in August, and he’s now our farm’s mascot.  Most folks would say cut your losses and cull him now.  But he’s lucky he’s so cute and doesn’t eat much.  Don’t get me wrong, his appetite is fine, he’s active and lively too, but he’s just stunted.  Hopefully once he’s back out on lush pastures this spring and summer he’ll put some size on.  If not he’ll be our first miniature Hereford.  Lesson learned. Stay away from Auctions!  Going to an auction is kinda like a box of chocolates.  Ya never know whatcha gonna get!

What to grow?

   Growing a forage crop for swath grazing differs little from procedures for hay production.  Major objectives are to optimize yield and nutritional value of the crop and minimize losses and waste. Cereal grains have probably been used most widely for swath grazing. In general, varieties of "cereal grains" such as oats or barley with rye, ryegrass and field peas that are adapted to an area for grain production are well suited for forage production.  As much care and planning should be taken to produce a forage crop for swath grazing as would be invested in crop intended for grain or hay harvest.  For example, optimal planting date will strongly influence total yield. Delays in planting will result in reduction in final yield. Likewise, timely harvest will optimize both yield and forage quality. Harvesting too early will sacrifice some yield, while waiting too long will reduce nutritional value.   Access to protection in case of winter storms like what we’re currently experiencing in the North/East,  and dependable perimeter fencing are also necessities.   Research has also shown that cows can obtain all the water they need from snow, but depending on snow to provide livestock water is risky if ice play’s a major role in your winter storms.  Cattle have been shown to graze for stockpiled forages through 18" of snow if there isn’t a significant accumulation of surface ice.

    Optimizing utilization of stockpiled forage windrows requires temporary fencing. In trials where feed was allocated for a week to ten days at a time, waste often exceeded 25%. In contrast, where fence is adjusted daily or every other day, waste can be limited to 5%.  That sounds allot better doesn’t it?

Preparing the Forages

   Preparing windrows so that they are deep, by raking several harvested strips into a single windrow, provides further advantage in efficient utilization. Cows can successfully graze windrows through a snow depth up to two feet. Again, the formation of deep/high windrows provides easier access.  As I previously stated, crusted or iced snow can be an obstacle, but can be overcome by driving along the windrow.  I’ve also heard of farmers that will pull their packer/harrow over the ice to break it up allowing cattle the advantage they need to get to the forages.  Careful planning which maximizes the use of windrows will be rewarded at the end of the season, since residues that interfere with subsequent farming operations will be minimal.

Why is there a calf in the Bathtub?

Feb 19, 2011

Why is there a calf in the bathtub!?

  As I was attempting to get a giddy-up in my hitch this morning, a feeling of "Ah HA!" came over me while watching This Week in AgriBusiness.  Every week Max Armstrong & Orion Samuelson feature a Farm Broadcaster of the week.  This week was Mr. Ron Hayes from the Radio Oklahoma Network.  He was talking about reviving newborn calves in your bathtub!  I felt a cense of relief come over me to learn that I’m not the only one who, (as my wife put’s it) "pamper my cattle".  She jokingly tells folks that if she would let me, I’d have winter born calves in our house.  I’ve never actually pressed my luck by trying to bring one in, but it’s just nice to know other farmers wives (although reluctantly), allow this practice of re-warming calves.

  Before telling her about what I heard, I decided I’d better do some more homework on this practice.  So here’s what I found……


Calves in the Bathtub 

This winter is proving to be colder and bringing more snow than our average. The old timers around here are saying it is more like the way winters used to be. Personally, I do not remember it being this bad since 1993. We had moved from South Florida to Missouri and I had told my husband that he needn't worry because the winters would be mild (I had grown up in Tennessee and he was from So. Florida). Up until 1993 winters were mild. 

   We were in the process of building a herd and had used AI (artificial insemination for city folks) to breed about 300 first calf heifers (no one in their right mind would do this). We did not want to purchase older cattle to build our herd and prefered to start with healthy, young heifers. Only problem is a heifer will run the chance of having a dystocia (difficulty calving) a lot more than a cow. Hence, they have to be watched more. We breed our heifers to calve about a month earlier than the rest of the cow herd (gives them more time to recover before trying to rebreed). That puts these heifers calving in Feburary where the rest of the cows start the calving season in March. 

   Heifers are a bit goofy as mothers the first time around and sometimes just don't know what to make of that new calf. They don't always have a strong enough instinct to do what they should.  I have seen them run off and just leave the calf or look at it without a clue as to where it came from. That and the likelihood of problems calving (dystocia) means we watch our heifers every 2 hours (day and night) while they are calving. We alternate this duty during the night.

   In '93 we had 300 head and along comes a whale of a snow storm. It was bitter cold and over the course of the day and night we got over 14 inches of snow.  Since this is extremely unusual in our area, we do not have indoor calving facilities. As we checked the heifers through the night it became increasingly difficult to do so and finally had to resort to using nothing but the tractor as it was the only thing that would go through that much new snow. We had moved all our "girls" into the front pasture so they would be easier to check. 

   It is always best for a newborn calf to have its own mama clean it up and prompt it to drink its first milk (colostrum). The maternal stimulation is actually necessary.   As luck had it, this particular night was a birthing bonanza. We had 8 or 10 calves born that night. We would typically observe that the calf was born . . . yet wanting to give the mother time to clean it up on its own we would check the other heifers then come back to check to see that the calf was up and nursing.   It was cold enough that if their mama had not gotten them up right away they would already be suffering from hypothermia (low body temperature) by the time we got back. In a couple of the cases the water from the placenta had actually frozen to the ground and the calf had to be pried free. 

   Several calves succumbed to hypothermia and needed immediate help or they would be dead in a short time. Sometimes you can put these little fellows in the pickup truck and use the heater on high to warm them up in the floor board. 

   But this night we had too much snow to use the truck and by the time we got them in from the pasture they were in pretty bad shape. We needed some heroics to pull these calves through. So, we brought them in to the house and filled the bathtub up with warm water. We submerged these nearly comatose animals (weighing 60-80#) in the warm water and would leave one of our boys with them. 

   The boys kept the calf's head out of the water so he could breathe as they poured cups of water over the newborn. It is the neatest and most miraculous experience. As these cold and near dead animals began to revive . . . they would start to suck on your finger.  In a short time, they would be struggling to get out of the tub. We had spread out quilts and these newborns who had never yet stood up would wobble to their feet and another boy would begin to dry him with a hair dryer.  By the end of the night, we had repeated this procedure 4 times and by daylight the bathroom was becoming a bit cramped so we also blocked off an area in the kitchen to hold them. At daylight we walked the mama heifer/cows into a stall in the barn and took their babies back to them. 

All accepted their calves and they received a full warm belly of mama's milk. It had been a long tiring night for the entire family,but good tired when it ended with the saving of 4 newborn calves who would have otherwise been dead by morning.  It was a memorable evening for our family. One that we often laugh about now and yet not one I would want to repeat. On cold winter nights, I can still see those gangly calves in the bathtub.

Dr. Patricia Whisnant 
Grass Farmer and Veterinarian




Re-warming Methods for Severely Cold-stressed Newborn Calves

   Several years ago, an Oklahoma rancher called to tell of the success he had noticed in using a warm water bath to revive new born calves that had been severely cold stressed. A quick check of the scientific data on that subject bears out his observation. 

   Canadian animal scientists compared methods of reviving hypothermic or cold stressed baby calves. Heat production and rectal temperature were measured in 19 newborn calves during hypothermia (cold stress) and recovery when four different means of assistance were provided. Hypothermia of 86 degrees F. rectal temperature was induced by immersion in cold water. Calves were re-warmed in a 68 to 77 degrees F. air environment where thermal assistance was provided by added thermal insulation or by supplemental heat from infrared lamps. Other calves were re-warmed by immersion in warm water (100 degrees F.), with or without a 40cc drench of 20% ethanol in water. Normal rectal temperatures before cold stress were 103 degrees F. 

   The time required to regain normal body temperature from a rectal temperature of 86 degrees F. was longer for calves with added insulation and those exposed to heat lamps than for the calves in the warm water and warm water plus ethanol treatments (90 and 92 vs 59 and 63, respectively). During recovery, the calves re-warmed with the added insulation and heat lamps produced more heat metabolically than the calves re-warmed in warm water. This represents energy that is lost from the calf’s body that cannot be utilized for other important biological processes. Total heat production (energy lost) during recovery was nearly twice as great for the calves with added insulation, exposed to the heat lamps than for calves in warm water and in warm water plus an oral drench of ethanol, respectively. By immersion of hypothermic calves in warm (100 degrees F) water, normal body temperature was regained most rapidly and with minimal metabolic effort. No advantage was evident from oral administration of ethanol. (Source: Robinson and Young. Univ. of Alberta. J. Anim. Sci., 1988.) 

   When immersing these baby calves, do not forget to support the head above the water to avoid drowning the calf that you are trying to save. Also it is important to dry the hair coat before the calf is returned to cold winter air. If the calf does not nurse the cow within the first few hours of life (6 or less), then tube feeding of a colostrum replacer will be necessary to allow the calf to achieve passive immunity by consuming the immunoglobulins in the colostrum replacer.

   Obviously not every calf born in cold weather needs the warm water bath. However, this is apparently a method that can save a few severely stressed calves that would not survive if more conventional re-warming methods are used.


Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Specialist.



I hope this information is helpful to all producers since winter weather is not just above the Mason-Dixon line anymore!  This winter has showed us what we are in for in coming winters even in Texas and Florida.  I’m not expecting my wife to allow me to do it, but luckily so far, we haven’t had to.

What is BQA, NCBA's MBA & BMP?

Feb 15, 2011

What is "Quality" Beef?


A large part of the beef industry’s job involves making sure that beef is safe and wholesome

for all consumers. 

   BQA (Beef Quality Assurance), began as an effort to ensure that volatile 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 BMP, or best management practices that improve both quality grades and yield grades of beef carcasses.  Do your part.  We held the "Chute-side" portion of the PA BQA training at our farm in May of 2010.  We’re hoping to make it an annual event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Beef Council.


   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.  I was the first MBA Graduate in the State of Pennsylvania.  And what I learned both on-line and in the classroom has been invaluable to us, our animals and our farm as a whole.


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 locations. 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 define 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.  In the retail market many breeds and genetic lines are used, making it difficult to produce uniform animals important for 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, Yuk!!

Safety and Wholesomeness

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.



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, color of fat, and the amount and distribution of marbling.

Beef carcass quality grading is based on the degree of marbling and 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.

Why We chose 100% Grass-fed

Feb 13, 2011

Why we decided to raise 100% GRASS-FED BEEF & Pastured Pork.

   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 a year before the animals are even born!  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 can respect the decision of producers who produce BEEF in feedlots, because just as we produce 100% Grass-fed BEEF It's a personal choice.  If it what works for them and their families and their satisfied with what their doing, so be it.  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 and VA Feedlots.


   But we have chosen to do thing's differently on our farm.  Isn't America Great?! 

As a producer, 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.


   First and Foremost it's less labor intensive to raise our cattle completely on grass.  We don't have the input costs of planting, harvesting, storing and drying corn or other grains.  Again that's our personal choice.  If $7.50 CORN-fed/finished cattle works for you, GREAT!  But we feel the health risks to the cattle and consumer aren’t worth it.


   Our families Pastured 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 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 even 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.  Even in January & February when it’s 30 degrees or even colder.  When the sun’s out, the Pig’s are too.  They love it!


   Our Pig’s as well as our cattle have 24 hour a day access to the indoors 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/rooting.


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 week and try something different with your livestock!  You might just surprise yourself.

Bale Grazing

Feb 04, 2011

Bale Grazing?


   Last weekend My Son In-law and I attended Cornell Universities "Winter Green-up" Annual conference in Albany, NY.  Although we were far away from any greening up pastures, it was a stimulating 2 day conference that gave us a lot to think about on our 5 hour trip home that should have only taken 3 hours!  We were so in depth in conversation that we missed our exit.  And when your between Albany & Binghamton, NY there is little to no room for error when looking for an exit.  1 missed exit added 2 hours to our homeward bound trip.  Cooperstown, NY however is beautiful this time of the year.


   Anyway, I digress.  One of the main topics of discussion at the conference and on our lengthy drive home was about "Bale Grazing".  Here’s some of what we learned and plan to implement on our farm in 2011.


   Bale grazing cattle during winter will save you time and money.  And with proper management, reduce environmental contaminants/run-off.  Bale grazing is when you set a large number of round bales out in the summer and fall and regulate the cows’ feed intake using temporary electric fencing.  You move cows to a new set of bales in two-to-five-day rotations. To ensure all cows have equal access to the forages.


   Selecting suitable sites based on soil and topography will reduce the risk of nutrient loss to the environment from leaching and runoff.  Not to mention if you place a round bale on even a gently sloping pasture you can bet your bull will have it down the hill, through the fence and in the creek or swale by morning.  Compaction of soil caused by cattle traffic also promotes surface runoff.  Pastures with a history of spring-time flooding should be avoided due to nutrient leaching.


Why Bale Graze?

• Your cattle feed themselves

• Tractor wear and tear is reduced as tractor use is concentrated to one period in fall when bales are placed

• Operating costs are lowered

• Less manure to remove from the barn/yard means reduced diesel or gas consumption

• Less wear and tear on your barn cleaner

• Pasture fertility is improved

• Manure is more evenly spread out and immediately incorporated which increases future forage production

• Residual feed conserves soil moisture

• And most importantly chore time is reduced

   Bale grazing will only work with good planning.  If your heifers/cows historically need 38 lbs/day of average hay for the first trimester of their pregnancy, they may need 40 lbs/day of better hay in the second. Keep the best hay such as 3rd or 4th cutting and highest feeding rate for the end of winter.  For example, if 10 bales are needed to feed a group of cattle for three days, then bales are set in rows 10.  Most times bales are placed on their round side, just the same as when they are ejected from the baler.  This way, the bales stay relatively intact after the plastic twine is removed.

   Using alfalfa/grass hay bales that average 1,300 pounds (lb.), current research is suggesting a maximum density of 25 bales per acre. To obtain this density, place bales in a grid on 40-foot centers.  At this rate, an overall average rate of about 75 lb. per acre of plant-available nitrogen will accumulate in the soil profile the following spring. The nutrients will not be evenly distributed, but overall this is considered an environmentally safe and economically optimum rate for nitrogen application.

Location, Location, Location!

• Place bales with sisal twine on their sides, because it will rot.

• Place bales with plastic twine on their ends, REMOVE THE TWINE in the fall before feeding.

• Snow is a good insulator. If there is a lot of snow, a single wire will not produce an effective electrical   current to keep the animals inside the fence.

• A high output energizer and wire combination is a better choice than string or tape.

• Fiberglass rods or rebar speared into bales is an easy alternative to drilling or driving posts into the ground.

• Set bale grazing areas to prevent surface runoff into watercourses.

  A typical density is placing bales 40 feet apart on a grid, which equates to about 25 bales per acre.


Bale grazing delivers a significant amount of nutrients to the site, especially on the points where the bales are placed. This nutrient supply is released over several years from the organic layer.  Seeded perennial forage is generally the best suited vegetation for taking advantage of and utilizing this relatively high level of fertility.

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