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February 2012 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.

Bloat Free Pastures

Feb 24, 2012

Are your Legume Pastures Cattle Friendly?

Legumes can capture nitrogen from the air and use it for their own growth as well as for the benefit of other plants around them. The bacteria that inhabit root nodules trigger a chemical reaction to convert nitrogen gas into a form that is easily used by the plant and put back into the soil.

"Sunken Crown" Alfalfa varieties are by far the most widely used forage legumes. However, other legumes such as Red & White Clovers can also provide significant benefits. And all of the following legumes can increase soil fertility:

  • Alfalfa 
  • White clover (best legume for Pigs and Lambs)
  • Red clover (Frost seed in March)
  • Bird's-foot trefoil (non-bloating) hard to establish and short lived


Grazing Legume Pastures

   Intensive Rotational grazing (quick in & quick out), is practiced to retain legume leaf area for continued photosynthesis and plant growth. Livestock are rotated into a new section of a field before entire plants are grazed down. This type of grazing management allows for optimum returns as it benefits both the cattle and the pasture.

   Legumes must have appropriate rest to recover and re-grow. This rest period will help maintain the health and sustainability of the pasture. For example, once cattle are removed from an alfalfa pasture, the pasture should rest for 28 to 35 days before re-grazing.  Of course that rest period may be much longer depending on rainfall and heating degree day’s.

   Continuous stocking may be sufficient to maintain a grazing animal, but the practice does not optimize either animal or pasture productivity. This type of management has lower input costs, but it also results in lower rates of gain, since animals spend more time searching for forages. In addition, legumes will not tolerate continuous grazing, and the plants will not survive if they are not given enough time to recover and re-grow. And it is strongly recommended that you select a "Sunken Crown" variety of Alfalfa so that the plant’s are not damaged by cattle hoof impact.  In Northern regions the sunken crown varieties will also give the stands a better winter survival rate.

Frothy Bloat

   Producers have found that feeding/grazing legumes can sometimes cause frothy bloat in cattle. The condition results from the quick degradation and fermentation of plant material in the rumen especially when first introduced to lush green pastures for the first time in the spring.  The fermentation gases produced in the animal accumulate and become trapped in a thick foam. The foam prevents the animal from being able to burp up the gases, and this factor may lead to the animal's death.


High Bloat Risk Factors

   Forage maturity is the most significant contributing factor in pasture bloat.  Your knowledge of plant growth and maturity stages can go a long way toward preventing bloat.

   The highest risk of bloat occurs when legumes are in the pre-bud or vegetative stage. As the plant matures, the risk of bloat declines. Studies have found bloat to be twice as likely to occur when plants are grazed at a height of 8 to 10 inches rather than at a height of 20 to 30 inches.  If immature plants are wet from morning dew or rain, there is also an increased risk of bloat since the water tends to speed up the rate of digestion.

   In the fall, there is an increased potential for bloat after a frost because plant cells burst and become readily digestible.  Soil type also seems to play a role in the incidence of pasture bloat.  It is possible to determine when the bloat risk is high. However, a visual evaluation of a pasture containing legumes does not give a concrete prediction of bloat potential. Therefore, producers should also rely on good management practices to reduce the risk of legume bloat such as regulating the amount of time you allow your cattle to graze legume filled pastures in the spring. 

   We will turn them out for ½ hour a day for the first week while still giving them dry hay to help their rumen transition to all fresh grass/legumes.  The second week, allow them one hour in the morning and another hour in the late afternoon.  By the 3rd week, they should be good to go out on pasture all day but still allowing them plenty of dry hay so they can regulate their dry matter intake until their manure is of an acceptable consistency and not shooting out of them like a fire hose!!


Marketing your Meat

Feb 17, 2012

This week’s lengthy blog is Part 1 in a series of 3, that has been designed to:


Introduce producers to 100% Grass-fed Meat marketing opportunities.

Investigate the constraints, rules, regulations etc. of direct marketing and

Answer some common questions.


One of the strong demands for 100% Grass-fed BEEF, PORK & LAMB has come from farmers’ markets.

Creating and marketing a desirable product is both an art and a science.


The keys to successfully marketing your MEAT products are to:

Identify the opportunities and barriers in your area.  

Set realistic goals and benchmarks for your farm.  

Learn from others mistakes and experiences!


Elements to consider


-          Your current grazing management practices.

-          What resources (grasses to be seeded), are needed.

-          What resources are available?  (local University Co-Op’s., extension agents).

-          The timing of calving.

-          And the age of your animals when you harvest them.

-          When your processor/butcher can harvest them for you. (most in our area are closed to everything but deer for the month of November, and summer months are iffy due to local fairs).


   Whether you are a new Grass-fed Beef, Pork, Lamb and/or Poultry farmer interested in direct marketing, or a veteran farmer, you should lay out the questions that you have for your farming operation.   Start by writing down a list of these questions.   As you list them, you can decide the importance of each one. This will help you in preparing a plan of action with time frames for completion.  Trust me it works!  My wife and I have quite a lengthy list of items needed to be taken care of around the farm, and we regularly re-prioritize the list.  It helps you to stay on top of things and refresh your memory with repairs or needed improvements that would otherwise be forgotten until it breaks down or fall’s apart and than it’s an emergency.


   Think about using the 80/20 Rule, to focus 80 percent of your time and energy on the 20 percent of your work with the greatest return for the project. The business of value added is different than being a producer. You need to prepare to learn as much as you can about being in the "food business".  If you have no experience with direct marketing, you might start with going to several farmers’ markets.  My wife & I started selling at multiple farmers markets in 2 states in 2009, and what we experienced with hands-on learning has been invaluable!


Managing Grazing


   During all of the weather challenges of this past winter I was reminded that pastures are often last on the list of management priorities on many farms. I have noticed a lot of fields overgrazed and yet many others were allowed to over mature.  Does this just seem wrong to me?  With proper management, pastures can be "stockpiled " with forages and grazed after the forages stop growing in winter to reduce feed costs, improve animal performance, and boost farm income by not having to buy hay. 


   Managing grazing can have a greater effect on the pasture than any other part of pasture management.

When planning your rotational pastures/paddocks for the upcoming grazing season, you might want to consider having more/smaller paddocks.


This is based on three grazing management principles:

-          allow the plants longer rest periods between grazing,

-          keep grazing times short (MOB Graze).

-          use a high enough stocking density to harvest the forages evenly across the entire paddock.

Adequate Pasture Rest Periods

As we discussed many weeks ago in our "MOB" grazing blog, plants need rest to recover from stress and to re-grow.  Believe it or not some producers actually need to have this told to them every year!  Overgrazing is a term used to describe inadequate rest periods.  Most producers think that having too many animals in a pasture causes overgrazing. Overgrazing is not having too many animals in a pasture, it is having your animals in the pasture for too long!


Body Condition at Calving Time


   Spring calving cows, and particularly heifers, in poor body condition are at risk for calving problems. The result may be lighter, weaker calves at birth, which can lead to a higher death loss, and more susceptibility to things such as scours. Animals in poor condition before calving, provide inferior colostrum and lower milk production. This can lead to lighter weaning weights or fewer pounds of calf to sell. Therefore body condition at calving affects the current calf crop (milk production) and next year’s calving date (rebreeding date).   In most years hay and stockpiled forage can adequately provide the needed nutrients, but it can very widely and should be tested to make sure it is adequate. Your local Extension Office may have a test probe and can help with submitting the sample to a laboratory for testing.  This report can also be advantageous when marketing your hay either at your barn or when taken to auction.


   Another tool producers have to help determine if what they are feeding is adequate, besides forage testing, is Body Condition Scoring (BCS). In the last trimester of pregnancy a cow should have a score of 5,6 or 7 on a 1-9 scale. If a cow is going down in BCS then the ration is inadequate and should be improved.


Water in MGS (Managed Grazing Systems)


   Water is important. It makes up around 60 to 70 percent of an animal's live weight.  In the body water performs many functions. A few that come to mind include:


-          Water consumption will have an affect on dry matter intake.

-          Dry matter intake is highly correlated with daily gain.

-          Cattle on a high forage diet produce enough saliva to fill the rumen each day.

-          Water is needed for saliva production.

-          Water is needed in milk production to feed your calves.  Dairy producers have reported increases in milk production when cows have easy access to water. Typically two to five pounds of additional milk per cow, per day is observed.


Marketing Your Product


   Direct marketing of 100% Grass-fed Meats is a profitable venture.  However, it is very involved.  Here are a few food safety regulations that you need to be aware of.

Meat Inspection is Not Voluntary.  It is Mandatory for any meat product that is sold either at your farm, at a farmer’s market or to a retailer as an individual cut, to have a USDA processing plant number on your label.

If your only selling halves or whole animals to a consumer, the inspection regulations are less restrictive, and finding a processer is somewhat less complicated.  Establishments/Butcher shops operating under a "custom exempt" status, MUST provide a "not-for-sale" label on ALL CUTS processed for whole, half or quarter animal sales.


The laws regarding labeling claims for meat and poultry are extensive. The USDA web site for information is: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Regulations_&_Policies/Labeling_Guidance/index.asp


We’ll talk more next week about Marketing your Products.  For now I think that I’ve given us all allot to think about.  It’s not as complicated as you might think to market your meat products.  Simply take your time and ASK QUESTIONS!

BQA Part 6 of 6

Feb 10, 2012

It’s time for part 6 of our 6-part series.

We’ve been taking our annual look at how the BQA (Beef Quality Assurance) program could help you streamline your cattle operation and increase the sustainability of your herd's health for the upcoming season.


This week, we will look at safe handling of your cattle on the farm, ranch or feedlot as well as at your destination when delivering cattle. For those of you who have attended NCBA’s "Stockman & Stewardship" class at a BQA event near you, some of the following information will be a good refresher.


Cattle Vision

   Cattle have a wide area of peripheral vision, with only a small blind spot immediately behind the animal.


Do not approach cattle from directly behind.


* Flight Zone

   The flight zone is the distance that the cattle can be from you and still feel comfortable. You can use the flight zone to quietly move cattle.


* Point of Balance and Movement

   - There is a place on the shoulder of the animal called the point of balance.

   - You can use this point to encourage the animal to go forward and backward.

   - You should move cattle calmly and slowly.

   - Quick movements and loud noises will make moving cattle more difficult.


* Moving Aids

   "Persuaders" such as flags, plastic paddles, and a stick with plastic ribbons should replace electric prods as much as possible.


   An electric prod should NOT be a person’s primary driving tool. It should be a last resort, only to be picked up and used when absolutely needed to move a stubborn animal and then should be put back down. "Persuaders" are the best tools for moving cattle. These devices can be used to turn cattle by blocking their vision on one side of their head. 


   In my opinion, if you need to use any "persuaders" to move your cattle, you aren’t spending enough time with them. We move our cattle with our voices, not yelling and swinging your arms around like you're trying to take flight. That only gets the cattle upset and they tend not to be very cooperative. My wife and I spend time with our Beefalo at least twice a day. We don’t have contact only when feeding them. We simply walk around and through them. We talk to them, not really expecting an answer, but sometimes getting a response anyway! We rub their shoulders and back, and some of them like a good rub under their jaw. We realize that they are still wild animals that we need to respect and have a certain level of fear for. But at the same time, we do not treat them like "wild animals." While they're in our care, we treat them very well. And in return, when they are "finished" here, they treat us very well.




* Clean truck:

   - Between species

   - Between changes from feeders to fat cattle

   - Once a day

   - Clean top to bottom, front to back, inside to outside


* Driver’s schedule for the day – needs to know:

   - Specific locations of load pickups and drop-offs

   - Phone numbers of producers at pickup and drop-off

   - Approximate loading time

   - Other relevant information about the shipment

   - Correct pen number

   - Correct lot number

   - Sale barn buyer number

   - Head count and loading instructions




   - Determine if you are at the correct facility before unloading.

   - Weigh truck if cattle are to be weighed on the truck.

   - Back the trailer up to unloading chute squarely and evenly.

   - Determine if unloading chute is in good repair (if portable, it must be properly anchored to truck).

   - Make sure the gates to the destination pen are open and the path is clear, then unload cattle from the truck.

   - Use good, low-stress handling procedures.

   - Be sure the holding pen gate is shut for the cattle before pulling away from the chute.

   - Weigh truck empty, unless cattle are weighed on the ground.

   - Give all documents to the recipient of the cattle (health certificate, inspection papers, brand papers, etc.).

BQA Part 5 of 6

Feb 02, 2012

Thank you all for returning for Part 5 of a 6 part series focusing on BQA.

I know what you're thinking: "I thought this was a 5-part series."

Surprise! I thought of some other issues to cover next week.

But for this week, we’ll be talking about…

BQA’s Transportation Quality Assurance

If you’re a cattle transporter, you play a critical role in the health and welfare of the cattle we all raise. The proper handling and transport of cattle can reduce sickness in calves, prevent bruises and improve the quality of the meat from all our animals. By utilizing BQA transport practices, you and other transporters literally save our beef cattle industry million$ of dollar$ a year! Participation in the BQA Master Cattle Transporter program is one way to show your customers that you are ready to take every step possible to keep their cattle healthy and safe as possible.

Extreme wind and cold conditions can have a drastic adverse effect on the health of cattle. Unprotected cattle hauled at highway speeds can be subject to dangerous wind chills. If cattle are wet, the danger is even greater. Extreme wind and cold conditions exist when the windchill is below 0°. 

If transporting cattle cannot be avoided during the above-mentioned conditions, avoid stopping if at all possible. You want to get the cattle to their/your destination as quickly as possible.

For example, even at slow speeds like 25 miles per hour when the outside temperature is 0°F, it will feel like -44°! Again, if you cannot avoid transporting cattle in extremely cold conditions, the best/warmest time of the day should be between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. The same is true in a reverse kind of way when transporting cattle during extremely hot temperatures: avoid transporting cattle between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. I understand most of you already know this, and there are a few of you who are strongly against being told how to do anything (and have stated that fact numerous times), but it can’t hurt to be reminded.

What I’ve been relaying via this blog over the last five weeks are general recommendations set forth by the BQA program to help you and I as cattle producers to think about what we do when handling our cattle. I’m not telling you that you need to change what you're doing. If what you're doing currently works for you and your cattle, and your conscience is clear about how you do it, keep it up! Share your experiences with other producers. I’m open to others' ideas, just as some of you are open-minded to the way I do things that I have been willing to share with all of you. Next week, we’ll be wrapping up the annual BQA series of this blog by focusing on the loading and unloading guidelines.


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