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April 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.

Animal Performance

Apr 30, 2011

Calving & Animal Performance

 

   The greatest limits on livestock production are related to the grazing animals ability to select and consume a diet supplying enough nutrients to meet daily requirements for weight gain, reproduction & over-all health. Maintaining a diverse hay/grass/pasture, containing not only desirable grasses but also legumes such as Alfalfa & Clovers will allow your cattle to maintain a higher level of nutrient intake during the upcoming grazing season.  On our farm we've found that utilizing a dairy cattle pasture and hay mix with extra legumes added to the mix, will help keep our cattles weight gain extend longer into the dormancy time of grass growth in the fall and winter months.  That's generally when most produccers see weight gain stall.  Weaning our cattle off of our lush pastures to dry hay when weight gain is at it's most critical time, can be frustraiting for most produccers.  But when you allow your cattle access to free-choice dry hay throughout the grazing season it has proven to us that they perform better over the winter months when stockpiled dormant forages and dry hay is all they have to utilize for keeping consistant daily gain and required energy levels to keep warm.

 

   Practices that allow cattle to selectively graze during the summer become more important as the growing season progresses.  As we all know, forage quality declines as plants mature.  That’s why it’s best to mow Alfalfa as soon as you start to see the purplish flowers on the plants.  If you look across your fields and see a purple blanket of color that means your about 4-6 day’s late on your mowing.  The base of the Alfalfa stands if looked at closely will be brown and getting very "steamy".  You’ll increase your yields but at the cost of forage quality.  "Timing" is also a critical component when making hay.  The best time to mow legumes such as Alfalfa and clovers is between 10am & 2pm.  That is when the sugars are being produced in the plant.  Before and after those times of day, the energy of the plants are closer to the root's or crown.

 

   Forage quality, intake, and cattle performance decline as "grazing pressure" increases beyond a critical level at any time during the growing season. Grazing pressure is an animal to forage relationship measured in terms of animal units (AU) per unit weight of forage at any point in the growing season. Increasing grazing pressure such as MOB Grazing increases the frequency and severity of defoliation and reduces the opportunity for selective grazing.

 

   The costs of early calving Heifers, late weaning calves, and maintaining high breed-back percentages in cattle with high lactation potential in pastured livestock operations may only be recovered when markets are high like how they are right now.  Unfortunately you can’t predict market futures accurately 9-12 months in advance.  Selecting cattle with characteristics that are compatible with the environment your farm/ranch is located in, is the key to any successful cattle or cow/calf operation.  And shifting calving schedules to more closely match animal requirements with quality and quantity of your forage resources will produce higher net returns for your farm/ranch.

 

   Dramatic changes in nutritional requirements are associated with environmental factors such as drought, flood, snow etc. as well as reproductive viability of your heifers & cows and the age of your replacement  cattle and feeders.  Improving the compatibility of your cow-calf operation to the environment your located in, can increase net farm profit, because of reduced feed and supplement costs and weather related risk. Weaning calves earlier reduces cow nutrient requirements dramatically. Dry cows can gain weight with forages on which lactating cows would lose condition. This theory won’t work for everyone.  We don’t wean our calves.  We allow them to wean naturally and they usually self-wean by the time their 6-7 months old anyway. 

It’s a lot less stressful on the heifers/cow’s, calves and us!

 

   The effects of shifting reproduction/calving from spring to fall to better take advantage of available forages and weaning schedules or yearling weights must be evaluated with regard to your cattle’s forage intake/availability.  Think about it, calves may start consuming forages as soon as their 4-5 day’s old.  They can’t utilize the forages but graze because momma does it.  Their rumen isn’t developed enough to utilize forages until their 5-6 months old.  So why calve in the spring and when their able to consume and utilize forages take them and the rest of your cattle off of your pastures because the forages have gone dormant for the winter?  Why not aim to calve in the late summer/fall, so when their rumen can best utilize the forages their consuming, you will be getting them out on spring pastures!  Additional information on future markets, marketing strategies, and ownership decisions is readily available from universities such as Penn State, local agencies and offices such as the FSA & NRCS.  Direct and auction market data, and feeder cattle numbers can be found on web-sites maintained by the USDA Grain and Livestock Marketing News office in your state.  As well as sites like AgWeb.com and LancasterFarming.com

BEEFALO

Apr 21, 2011

BEEFALO, JUST THE FACTS

 

   There is often confusion associated with the BEEFALO Beef breed. The American Beefalo Association is very mindful of the difference between a Beefalo Beef animal and a Bison-Hybrid Ancestry animal. Therefore, we do not register any animal with more then 37.5% Bison as a Beefalo. It is automatically registered as Ancestry Bison Hybrid. Beefalo Beef animals with 37.5% or less bison do not have problems with sterilizations or infant calf mortality.  Bison Hybrid or Ancestry animals can be slightly wilder and The American Beefalo Association have shown the difference by keeping their registrations separated.

 

   Many times the uneducated public and humane organizations get confused and do not know where the line is drawn between Bison Hybrid and BEEFALO. There is a difference in breeds. Beefalo Beef are designated a breed of beef cattle by the livestock and cattlemen commission and show judges alike.

 

History of the Breed

   Beefalo can vary greatly in appearance but generally they have a large frame and are well muscled similar in stature to the Bison. One similarity most Beefalos share is their unique coat with it being very dense and made up of fine hair enabling them to adapt to colder climates such as what we have all experienced up here in the Northeast this past winter.  We offer them access to the barn year round, but even when it was 20 below zero this past February, they would come as close as the back of the barn just to be out of the wind and lay out on 20" of snow all night and day!  Some would think because of their love of winter they wouldn’t adapt to our sometimes very hot summers.  Just like any other breed of Beef cattle, BEEFALO like and need shade as well when the summer sun is at it’s worst.  They are also very docile in nature.  Which means they are easily handled when moving from pasture to pasture, in and out of buildings and especially when working them in a corral and/or squeeze chute if the need should arise that they require medical attention.  Medical treatments are few and far between and sometimes nonexistent.  They are very self sufficient and more disease resistant to most conventional cattle viruses such as pink eye.

 

   Beefalo are a composite cattle breed developed in the United States during the early 1970's by Californian DC "Bud" Basolo by interbreeding American Bison with Domestic Cattle.  Beefalo were extremely popular during the 1970's but fell out of favor primarily due to arguments over proving their Bison content. Blood testing that was available during Beefalo's early years was inexact, and often open to laboratory interpretation. It wasn't until the inception of DNA testing in the 1990's that the breed clearly established itself as having documented bison content.

   The reasons for raising Beefalo centre on their handling like domestic cattle while retaining bison traits. Early documentation showed that Beefalo could be finished and marketed at up to 40 percent less cost than a conventional beef animal.  Currently Beefalo are experiencing a renewed interest, due to consumer demand for humane raised all natural, hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef. Beefalo beef is documented to be lower in fat & bad cholesterol, with higher protein than conventional beef. Known for its delicious flavor, Beefalo has won taste tests over regular beef as well as bison. Most Beefalo are marketed directly to consumers at the local level. 

 

Statistics

* Efficient, non-selective grazers (They eat everything)

* Tough, hardy, more disease resistant than conventional cattle

* Easy calving and good mothers

* Low birth weights, excellent rate of gain, high weaning rates

* Active breeders

* Longevity (we have a 12 year old cow that due again May 15th, 2011)

* Quality/Marbeling even when 100% Grass-fed

 

Comparative

 

Evidence shows they are cheaper to raise and maintain than regular cattle. They are ideal for producing 100% Grass-fed beef, since they do not need heavy grains or special finishing rations. Consumers are demanding safer beef, without growth hormones or antibiotics. Bison blended cattle fit consumer preferences easily for such classifications as 100% Grass-fed, all natural, or organic beef.

  

There is also additional information available via the USDA at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov

BEEFALO& Cattle Stocking Rates

Apr 14, 2011

BEEFALO & CATTLE STOCKING RATES

 

   Traditionally pastures have been stocked based on the number of cattle per acre per season.  This approach has presented problems in the past because of variation in the cattle’s ages and weights. Weights of beef cattle have changed dramatically in the last 15 years because of genetic "improvements" and/or cross breeding such as the Beef Cattle breed known as BEEFALO.  Bigger cows tend to wean heavier calves, but bigger cows and calves also consume more forage.  Consequently, range/pasture conditions have suffered where cattle numbers or days of grazing per pasture have not been reduced.  However, BEEFALO have been studied over the last 30-40 years, and have proven to be the best foragers.  Full-blood BEEFALO consist of 37.5% Bison genetics and are extremely winter hardy, have low birth weights, and wean & finish at heavier weights in less time than "traditional" Beef cattle.  They also aren’t as selective when grazing as other breeds of Beef Cattle.  When their done grazing a pasture/paddock, it looks consistently grazed over the entire area. They don’t pick and choose forages, they eat everything!  As far as forage conversion goes, BEEFALO have consistently proven themselves to be the best converters of forage to meat that the Beef cattle industry has developed.  Still in relatively small numbers, herds of BEEFALO are growing due to consumer demand. 

 

   The majority of BEEFALO producers are located in Kentucky and the Northeast region of the United States.  BEEFALO have lower healthy birth weights, which is perfect for first time heifers.  BEEFALO’s weaning weights are comparable to the most desirable Angus Breeds on the commercial market today.  Beefalo calves finish 2-3 months earlier than "traditional" more common breeds of Angus cattle which is of course the most desirable trait for cattle in any size operation.  They are the perfect design of winter hardiness, and grass-fed genetics available today.  Our Registered BEEFALO cattle are 37.5% Bison.  The balance of their genetics are Red Angus, Hereford, Charolais & Limousine. 

 

   They are the most versatile cross-bed Beef cattle available to producers today.  We have had no calf mortality since starting our herd and our 26 month old Purebred BEEFALO BULL is defiantly not sterile, which most uneducated folks believe is a characteristic of the BEEFALO Breed.  He has produced many heifer calves already this season! We have also never lost a calf.  Calf mortality is another common misconception of the breed.

 

   Getting back to stocking rates based on Animal units.  The AU equivalent for beef cattle is easily estimated by dividing the average shrunk weight of the class or herd of animals by 1000.  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 1200 lb would be equal to 1.2 AU.  Our BEEFALO Calves begin foraging when they are about 4 weeks old.  By the time our calves are 3 months old they spend as much time grazing as our older heifers & cows.  It is generally recommended that the average calf weight should be added to the average cow weight to calculate AU equivalents for pairs when the average age of the calf crop is 3 months.

  

   Yearling cattle with an initial weight of 550 lb and a seasonal gain of 220 lb would be .66 AU  (550 + 110)/1000 for the season.  Monthly estimates could be calculated by dividing total gain into monthly increments or by using response surface information for seasonal gains in locations similar to your production environment.  About 60 to 70 percent of the total summer gain in growing cattle generally occurs in the first half of the summer grazing season.  Animal performance in response to a given stocking rate is variable over years because of differences in forage allowance.  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 all livestock.

 

For more information about the BEEFALO Breed, check out our farms web-site.

www.TheKuhnFamilyFarm.com

Women? Cattle?

Apr 08, 2011

Understanding Cattle & Women?

   Understanding why cattle select certain forage species or certain plants/weeds within a given species is about as well understood as why women need so many shoes when they only have two feet and why they need company to go to the ladies room when out with friends?!

   Cattle and forage interactions are complex. Just like women!  And I’m sure there are plenty of Cattlewomen that are puzzled about us Cattlemen and why we do what we do on a daily basis!  Defoliation or grazing patterns are dependent on factors such as the amount of time cattle are allowed in a specific area to graze, the time of season the forages are grazed, species of forages and length of the growing season in your area.

   When pastures are grazed two or more times, initially un-grazed grasses or weeds are less likely to begrazed in following rotational grazing periods.  Preferred forage species are consistently consumed 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 grazed.  Intensity and frequency of grazing tend to be greatest when plant growth is most rapid.  An example would be Alfalfa (a cool season legume), in the spring and fall.  The intensity and frequency of grazing increase linearly as forage allowance decreases in the fall after a "Killing Frost".

PLANT RESPONSE TO GRAZING

   Plant response to grazing is dependent upon the degree and frequency of grazing, and the stage of plant maturity.  Recovery of the forages will depend upon the amount of green leaf and stem area that remains after grazing, growing conditions, and competition from adjacent plants/weeds.  If soil moisture and air temperatures are not favorable for plant growth, little or no recovery will occur like what happened here in the North-East last season.  If the forages become dormant before stems and leaves are replenished, late season overgrazing reduces plant vigor more than early season over use.  When favorable growing conditions occur, rate of recovery increases as the amount of remaining plant increases.  Competition from un-grazed adjacent plants and/or weeds may reduce recovery even if favorable growing conditions do occur, especially when grazed plants have been over-grazed. While uniformly heavy grazing (MOB Grazing), across all species will reduce competition, the desirable effects of MOB grazing must be balanced against undesirable effects on your cattle, pasture/paddock stability, watershed protection, and aesthetic values (the way the pastures look).

   Proper utilization of most forages is removal of 50% or less of the present, current year leaf and stem tissue by weight.  A simple procedure can be used to develop a visual perception of percentage forage utilization. Clip the current year growth from random bunches of your forages at the ground level. Wrap the samples with string or tape. Balance each sample on your finger. The point of balance is the height at which 50% of the leaf and stem tissue would be removed.  Clip the sample at this point and balance each half to estimate heights for 25 and 75% utilization.  Proper utilization will cause little reduction in root growth and plant vigor. Grazing in excess of 60% will cause dramatic reduction in amount and depth of root growth.

   MOB grazing is very detrimental under drought conditions. During the drought that occurred in our area last season, drought-induced death losses of grasses in pastures were extreme under heavy grazing and moderate to not different when moderately grazed, compared to un-grazed pastures.  So far this season it doesn't appear that moisture is going to be a problem.  We've otten so much snow and rain in the last 2 months that getting into the fields to plant or getting out cattle on pasture may be delayed due to too much moisture.  Our friends in Montana wish they had a moisture over abundance!  Is there a happy medium between drought and drowning?!  Add that question to the list of things we may never figure out.  Like our women.

Grazing Strategies 2011

Apr 02, 2011

GRAZING STRATEGIES 2011

   When grazing pressure is similar, your cattle’s performance under different grazing systems is generally unchanged at moderate stocking rates.  Stocking rate and livestock distribution are much more important than rotation in determining the success of your grazing system(s).   Regardless of the grazing strategy, research and long-term observations show that cattle and forage productivity will be best maintained by stocking rates that achieve not more than 40-50% utilization during the growing season every season. 

   Of course this will vary based off of where your farm/ranch/range land is located throughout the country or world.   Even in the same township or county grazing strategies can vary widely depending on type of cattle, soil type and planted or native forages available for grazing.  In our area just walking across the road is like moving across the country.  Forages and more importantly soil composition for supporting your forages will depend on your past farming practices.  If you purchase a farm or rent land that hasn’t been properly maintained, it’s going to take you longer to establish viable forages to sustain your cattle.  This may not happen over night folk’s!  It could take 1-4 years to build some life back into these soils.  Grazing isn’t just the cattle eating the forages and moving on so the forages can or will hopefully re-grow.  You need to have a cycle of life underground to support life on top of the grass.

   Your grazing strategy for a specific area/pasture/paddock is as important as your cattle’s consumption over the entire season. Unequal distribution of grazing on "preferred" species of forages or preferred areas within your pastures can cause overgrazing while other species or sites are under grazed and will promote weed competition which could in the long run take over portions of your pastures you worked so hard to create.

   When stocking rates of your cattle are properly controlled, season-long/continuous grazing improves or maintains desirable forages and most importantly meets your cattle’s nutritional needs. Continuous grazing can be especially beneficial 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 if your operation has additional space.  The potential for rotational grazing problems to occur under season-long continuous grazing increases with the diversity of forage species, and topography of your pastures.

 

Seasonal suitability of forage resources.

   This concept may apply to capitalizing on cool-season annuals, seeded pastures and utilizing perennial cool- or warm-season forages in mixed native pastures.  Where favorable plant growing conditions frequently occur for extended periods of time, intensive-early stocked grazing programs have produced increases in production per acre.  Using this method, a pasture would be stocked with 2-3 times as many animal units (MOB Grazing), but grazed only during the first half of the growing season.  Than allowing the forages to re-grow throughout the remainder of the season so as to "Stockpile" the forages for the coming winter months when forage growth has stopped in your rotational pastures.  That way you won’t need to feed dry hay to your cattle except during the optimal "120 Day’s" of winter feeding.

   Clearly, no one system of grazing management is likely to be superior to all others, in fact, the utilization of a number of different grazing practices, each appropriate for a specific location or class of cattle, type of forage available, and/or time of year will be uniquely different and most efficient on an individual farm/ranch’s basis.  When multiple pastures/paddocks are involved in a rotational grazing strategy, the best approach appears to be the use of flexible scheduling. Which means, plan on having to spend a lot of time experimenting if this is your first season setting up a rotational grazing strategy.  You’ll be moving quite a bit of fence until your perfect your rotational timing.  Base the time of use on the availability and quality of your forages, frequency or level of your cattle’s utilization on key species of forages or areas within each paddock, and/or residual "plant/weed left-over’s" as determined by your cattle.  Remember, if this is your first season developing a rotational grazing plan/strategy, allow time to watch and learn from your cattle!  The entire reason for developing a rotational grazing strategy is to make your cattle work for you, not you working for your cattle.

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