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June 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.

When, Where & How

Jun 25, 2011

Grazing and Stocking Density 

From time to time, I have the opportunity to attend grazing field days at neighboring farms or grazing conferences put on by Penn State or Cornell University .  And when it comes to the "round-table" or "open forum" time of the get together, I hear statements like "My Dad used to graze 100 cows on this pasture all season and now I run out after four months with only 90 cows. What's wrong with my pasture?"  Often, there's nothing wrong with the pasture, the main problem is actually how we count the cows.

A hundred years ago, most cows were straight English, often easy-keeping Herefords that rarely weighed over 1,000 lbs. We have Registered Red Angus & BEEFALO that we have been breeding for a smaller frame size than the current industry standard.  And from all we’ve heard over the last few years, SMALLER IS BETTER!  The basic idea is to get back to the basics!  As in what frame size/carcass size Cow’s & Heifers your ancestors used to have 50-60 years ago.  They eat less, which means they’re more efficient when converting forages to meat.


   Today, it's not unusual to have 1,400-lb. cows or even larger with February calves weighing 300 lbs. when they start grazing.  That's a big change, going from a 1,000-lb. cow with a 100-lb. calf 100 years ago, to a 1,400-lb. cow with a 300-lb. calf today. That's 1,100 lbs./pair vs. 1,700 lbs./pair.  Cattle tend to eat 10-15 lbs. of green grass for every 100 lbs. of body weight. So, today's cow-calf pairs eat almost 50% more when they start grazing than the pairs of years ago ate. 


   To start planning your pastures or paddocks for optimal stocking rates, check aerial photos of your farm/ranch.  If your farm has been in your family for a few generations, you can bet at some point there was an aerial photo taken.  It's probably up in your attic!  Make your paddocks large enough so that you can figure approx. 60% of the grass will be consumed by a cow-calf pair in 2 - 3 weeks.  That relates to approx. 3 acres per pair or 6 acres a month.  These numbers are optimal for the North/East part of the country.  Obviously in Montana and the Dakota’s for example, there is less rainfall (around 12" annually), than here in Pennsylvania.   Most importantly, talk to your neighboring farmers or local extension agent to find out what has been successful in your area.  Allot of research continues to be done on "Intensive Rotational Grazing".  There is plenty of info. out there, all you have to do is ask!



    Most importantly when planning your pastures/paddocks be sure to EXCLUDE livestock from streams and stream banks and provide alternative watering facilities and stream crossings to reduce nutrient inputs, stream bank erosion, and sediment inputs.  Research has shown that when cattle are fenced out of streams, there are significant reduction in fecal coliforms, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total solids in the streams.  Also from the cattle’s standpoint, hoof health and udder health are generally better when they are kept from standing in water.  The prior mentioned guidelines/recommendations are coming from the federal, state, and local level as per the NEW 246-page Chesapeake Bay Foundation Regulations Document released in March.  These regulations primarily impact the North/East region of the country that is within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  There are 20 implementation measures outlined in this document.  At this time it is unclear how these specific measures will play out in Pennsylvania, but it is clear that more regulations are coming and they will impact everyone in the country when other watershed’s include these initial guidelines in there regulations.  My advice would be that if you aren’t already implementing these environmental precautions in your grazing operation to start them now and work out the details ahead of time before your state or region starts putting them into legal practice and your left scrambling to conform to the rules being enforced.

When in doubt, your local extension office or NRCS will be helpful, no matter what your level of experience or knowledge, there is no substitute for getting advice from your successful neighbors and peers.

To shade, or not to shade?

Jun 14, 2011

To shade or not to shade?


   With the extremely short transition from winter to Summer in the Northeast, and the extreme drought in the South West over the last couple of months, many producer have been struggling with the question of how much shade do my cattle need?


   I recently read an article about research that was done in Australia where drought, heat and wild fires have also been a big problem for a long time.  Researchers looked at the effect of shade on body temperature and overall performance of cattle, primarily in feed-lots where shade isn’t usually even offered!


   164 "Angus" steers were separated into 20 pens.  10 of the pens were shaded with an 80% solar block shade cloth, and 10 pens were left un-shaded.  Water and dry matter consumption were closely monitored and measured as was body temperature every 30 minutes via an implanted transmitter.  Ah!  Modern technology.  I guess it’s better than being the guy or gal that needs to do continual rectal temperatures on 164 cattle for 120 day’s!  And some of us thought milking 2 or 3 times a day was fatiguing!


   After the 120 day study, the cattle were harvested and data was collected.  The shaded cattle had heavier "hot" carcass weights.  That is because the shaded cattle also showed to have higher dry matter intake, average daily weight gain and gain-to-feed ratio.  It (the shade), didn’t however effect the loin muscle area, fat depth or marbling score of the carcasses.   The un-shaded cattle did consume 51% less feed.


   So if your looking to create a comfortable living arrangement for your cattle and not just looking for way’s to cut feed cost’s this summer, shade your cattle.  Give them the option to find relief.  If the option is there you can take the guesswork out of trying to figure out if your cattle need shade or not.  If they seek comfort/shade than obviously they need it, right?  It just like during the cold temperatures of February and March for most of us this past brutal winter.  We have 2 kinds of cattle on our farm, BEEFALO & Red Angus.  When winter is dishing out it’s worst, the Angus are the first ones in the barn.  The BEEFALO are the last one to seek shelter if at all.  Some breeds of cattle are able to adapt to extreme conditions either by having been in one environment or region for many generations.  Another cold weather breed that is winter hardy by genetics are highland cattle.  Just looking at them and their "coat" is an obvious indicator.  The same is true on the other end of the temperature scale.   Senepol cattle evolved on the Caribbean Island of St. Croix when N'Dama cattle were imported for Senegal, West Africa in the 1800's. The island of St. Croix is the largest and southernmost of the U.S. Virgin Islands, located approximately 1,200 miles southeast of Miami, Florida.  Now that’s HOT!  The N'Dama, a Bos taurus breed, was well suited for the Caribbean because of its heat tolerance, insect and disease resistance and ability to thrive on poor quality forage.


   Shade is not often conveniently placed for rotational grazing systems. Often some paddocks have shade while others do not. The following alternatives can be used for shade in a rotational grazing system.

- Natural shade is the lowest cost alternative, but is not often in the proper location and care must be taken to avoid killing trees with too high a cow density.  Strategic plantings can be used over time to create a natural shade environment.  Placing shade trees on the west side of pasture areas is most desirable.

- Permanent shade can be provided by constructing barns or sheds, but is not often in the proper location in the grazing system and can be costly.

- Portable, low-cost shades can be built from 2.5" pipe and welded into a frame sturdy enough to take the abuse from cattle.  For rotational grazing, the frames can be made portable and moved with the animals, or moved to different locations to avoid high manure build-up in a particular location. For covering, shade cloth will allow air movement while providing shade.  Use 80% shade cloth for such structures.  Another option that provides additional insulation value and complete shade is to use sheet metal or woven wire with straw or hay for insulation.  However, the construction and maintenance of these type roofs for portable shades is greater.  Frames should have a skid-type bottom member to allow moving from paddock to paddock if necessary.  Dimensions of 10'x20' are practical maximums for portable shade size.

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