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June 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.

Cattles Grazing Memories

Jun 22, 2012

Grazing Memory

Livestock do not graze randomly, they prefer some grazing sites over others. This tendency can cause grazing distribution to be uneven throughout your pastures/paddocks. If uncorrected, grazing distribution problems increase grazing pressure on areas that are used. When managing grazing cattle, you should aim for the greatest utilization of all forages over as much of a pasture, paddock or ranch as possible. Livestock preference for some sites over others is influenced by a number of factors we will cover today and in the coming weeks.

A few factors that influence grazing preferences include plant types (grasses, legumes, weed’s etc.), plant species, forage quantity, forage quality and/or palatability, weather, soil, topography, water sources or the distance between them, and fencing.  The greater the differences among these specifically considering vegetation, topography, etc., the more likely your Cattle, Pig’s, Sheep/Lambs etc. are to concentrate on some areas and avoid others.   Although it may be easy to identify water distribution problems, those problems may be difficult to correct because of cost associated with burying freeze proof lines or simply water availability.   Causes of other distribution problems may be harder to identify.  For example, distribution problems may be harder to pinpoint if they are associated with forage preferences or human activities.

 

When making decisions about grazing distribution, there are several factors to consider:

2 of them being animal behavior & distance to water.

 

Animal Behavior

   Animals decide where to graze based on their perceptions of what’s available.  When we turn out or cattle into "New" paddocks every week, they quickly explore the "New" offerings and develop map-like representations of the locations of different areas within that pasture.  Even though they’ve been on these pastures as recently as 4 weeks earlier, some of the forages and the abundance or lack of them will vary throughout the growing season.   Based on their long-term memory, animals may return to areas previously grazed to search for forage.  Their expectations of an area based on long term memory change more slowly than changes in forage quality and quantity.   Animals may revisit areas where forage has been exhausted, but where they have found forage in the past, until they learn that forage is no longer available.   Grazing animals appear to use their short-term memory to recall which areas they have recently visited.   They will use this memory in the near future to avoid or return to these areas.  For periods of up to 8 hours, cattle can vividly remember areas where they have recently foraged.

 

Be consistent with your forage offerings.

 

Introducing animals from one type of vegetation and/or topography to a very different type of range can reduce animal performance until the animals learn the new environment, which can take up to a year.

 

Distance to Water

   In the lush North/East, livestock need free-choice access to water and dry hay.  When their water intake is restricted, milk production drops, feed intake is lowered, and gain in offspring is reduced.  More water is needed as increases occur in live weight, lactation, physical activity, and dry matter intake.  Less water is required when the forage has a high water content and for animal species and breeds that use water more efficiently.   When animals are forced to travel great distances between forage and water, they use more energy.    Animals that haven’t been weaned yet are most susceptible to lack of water availability because they are affected by the reduced milk production of the mother, and they are less likely to travel all the way to water with their mothers on hot days.   Water availability is a major cause of poor grazing distribution. Water is the central point of grazing activities. Near water, plants are often used heavily and forage production drops.  The location and number of waterers are the main factors in determining movement, distribution of manure, and concentration of grazing animals.   Watering location should be placed based on vegetation type, topography of your area being grazed, the season of the year, the kind of animals being grazed, and the age of the grazing animals.

 

Changing Grazing Habits

Jun 16, 2012

Changing Grazing Habits

 

Fencing

  

Fencing is the best way to alter the grazing habits of your cattle, sheep, goats, etc.

Fences can separate areas that need different grazing management, such as riparian buffers around ponds and along streams, irrigated pastures, or seasonal use areas. Fences can also be used to subdivide large pastures into more manageable paddocks. When starting to build your fencing, make the best use of existing or proposed watering areas. Permanent water facilities should serve more than one pasture. Make sure that each fenced area has enough watering points. Consider the grazing site and potential forage production where possible. However, it is usually impractical to fence individual plant communities because of their small size and random distribution across the landscape. If multiple livestock species are to be grazed, such as sheep, goats and donkeys, use the appropriate fencing materials for the species.

 

Supplemental Feeding

 

Because livestock tend to go from water to grazing to salt or mineral tubs, it is not necessary to place salt and/or minerals at watering points. Salt consumption tends to stimulate the appetite of grazing animals.

To encourage grazing in areas where livestock need to be drawn, place mineral tubs where it is accessible within those areas. Purposely locate salt, minerals and/or other supplements not less than 1/3 mile from water on pastures of 640 acres or more. On smaller pastures/paddocks, place them no less than about 350 yards from water. Because bedding grounds are already being used, locate salt and other supplements away from them. Move salt and supplements frequently, except during birthing seasons. Reports vary concerning whether salt is an effective tool for altering grazing distribution. It does not appear to overcome the influence of water, favored forages, favorable terrain, protective cover, or in weather like we’re experiencing today in the Northeast (93°!) Protein and energy supplements or salt-meal mixes are more likely to be effective in influencing grazing patterns than salt alone. Grazing behavior and distribution are also affected by the feeding interval for supplements.  

 

Kind of Livestock

 

Match your livestock species to the vegetation. Place your cattle in a habitat where grass is readily available.

Consider using goats in areas that have a high proportion of woody (browse) plants. Some classes of livestock fit the terrain better than others. For example, yearling cattle are more agile and tend to travel farther than cows with calves, and therefore make better use of rugged terrain. Animals may have difficulty adjusting to new foraging environments even if the new location has abundant forage.

 

TOXIC PLANTS

 

New locations with toxic plants are potentially dangerous. Naive animals tend to spend more time grazing but eat less, walk greater distances, suffer more weight loss, and are more likely to eat toxic plants.

Although animals can make the transition to new locations, it usually takes about a year to adjust. This transition can be eased if the food and terrain in the new location are similar to what the animals already know.


Shade

 

Shade influences grazing distribution on hot summer days. Livestock have been observed to travel considerable distances to reach shade on hot days. Cattle and sheep routinely seek shade around midday on summer days when temperatures exceed 85°F. Brahman and similar breeds of cattle are less likely to seek shade during the hot midday and more likely to rest in open areas. Cattle with dark hair coats tend to seek shade earlier and for longer periods. Cattle are more likely to stay around water if shade is available.

In comparison, sheep are less likely to rest and loaf near water. Providing shade has been shown to increase summer-long weight gain in yearling steers.

 

Improving Palatability

 

Some treatments can improve the palatability of forages and/or increase the length of the green period.

These treatments act by removing unpalatable species or old growth or stimulating palatable growth. The theory is that improving palatability could attract grazing animals into previously unused or underused areas.

For example, nitrogen fertilization is known to lengthen the green period.  Nitrogen can also improve the palatability of some species.  

Prescribed burning can be used to improve palatability. Burning improves palatability by removing old growth, thus making new growth more accessible. However, be careful to avoid too much grazing pressure by making sure you remove less than 50% of the new growth. Probably the best approach is flash grazing, which is grazing for a short period in the spring after a winter burn and then allowing the burned areas three to six months or longer to recover to a point where normal grazing is feasible without damaging the plants.

 

Patured Pig Quality Management

Jun 02, 2012

Pastured Pig Production

The first principle of quality management in the context of pig production is Customer Service.

   Customer Service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.  Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.

   Your customer’s can be your best spokes persons for your Pastured Pork products or your biggest downfall. Customer Service can be defined with respect to both quantity and quality of your product.  Your farm should be designed to operate at peak efficiency with a specific capacity (amount of product available for consumers), and a specific Pastured Pork product expectation. Over or underproduction comes at the expense of your pastured operations efficiency.  If you build a demand for your product, but you never have any available or the quality isn’t consistent, your customers will not be shy to tell everyone about it.

   Customers who are neither loyal nor satisfied have been described as "terrorists." When they're unhappy, they let the world know, such as an angry passenger who creates a Web site for posting complaints about an airline. Customers who are highly satisfied but not loyal are described as "mercenaries." They focus on lowest prices and will switch suppliers at the drop of a hat when they find a cheaper product. Customers who are not satisfied but highly loyal are described as "hostages." They are frustrated but have no choice on suppliers. And customers who are both highly loyal and highly satisfied are considered to be "apostles" -- the most desirable.

   A lot of folks have noticed that the quality and level of customer service in every industry has decreased in recent years, and that this can be attributed to a lack of support or understanding at the executive and middle management levels of a corporation and/or a customer service policy.  On your farm, you might be that executive or middle management level because you might be the one that makes all the decisions.


How to keep constancy

  
Beyond the obvious issues with pasture size/availability, you need to know your pig’s physical limitations too.

   Pig’s have evolved to survive in relationship to a natural environment. Conventional managers seek to control the environment in order to overcome ingrained behaviors. This strategy can cause animal discomfort and stress, which often leads to health problems that require further intervention and increase costs.  By contrast, pasture-based producers strive to understand and work with the unique capacities of the animals. Small scale pastured-based hog producers will find that they can take advantage of niche markets while keeping animals healthy and costs low. To this end, small scale producers will benefit from better understanding the instinctive behaviors, nutritional needs and farrowing capacities/limitations of hogs.

Natural Hog Behavior

   Pigs are very smart & social animals.  For many pastured-hog producers, quality of life for the hogs is a strong motivator in implementing a pasture-based system.  This method is also very cost-effective and very appealing to consumers.  Hogs display a wide range of instinctive behaviors, such as rooting, foraging, nesting and wallowing in mud whenever possible.

   It’s extremely rewarding for us at the end of a long hard day on the farm, to sit on our back porch with a glass of sweet tea and watch/hear our pastured pig’s running around and playing with each other in their natural environment.  In order for pastured pigs to be healthy and happy, they need to be raised in an environment that will allow them to express their natural behaviors as previously stated.  It is possible to create a confined space that mimics a natural environment enough to meet many of these instinctive needs.  But grazing Pigs on pasture not only benefits the animals but also improves the overall farm, as pigs will clean up weather-damaged crops and weed species, fertilize pastures/fields with manure and can even be used to "till up" rocks in otherwise underproductive areas.  It’s a lot easier to let them dig them up!  Pastured pigs harvest their own food/forages, which greatly reduces feed costs, which now a days is a blessing.  And just like other grazing systems, pastured Pig production requires careful management.

   Allowing hogs to express their natural rooting behavior is key to reducing their daily stress levels.  Pigs will start rooting the day they are born and through their lives, according to research,

will spend about 51% of their time rooting.  Raising them on pasture will allow them to satisfy this instinct.  If overstocked, rooting pigs will cause damage to permanent pasture, but the behavior can be managed by utilizing rotational paddocks just like used for Grass-fed Cattle and lambs.  This use of rotational pastures/paddocks will benefit the farm and the farmer.

   Over 50% of the total cost of raising most pigs will be feed costs.  Like all livestock, pigs need a diet with an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water. Water is actually the largest requirement: for every pound of feed, hogs require 2-3 pound of water.  Lack of water will significantly reduce intake and daily gain. Be sure that there are a sufficient number of waterers to avoid overcrowding.  For other nutritional demands, "conventional" Hog house producers feed primarily corn and soybean meal—corn for energy and soybean meal for protein.  However, these grains are not only expensive to produce, process, store and transport, but they are also nutritionally limited. Because most pigs have high energy requirements and do not process fibrous forages as efficiently as ruminants such as cattle, most grass-based pig producers will not be able to get away from energy concentrates entirely.  However, we have found the TAMWORTH breed of pig’s can be raised almost entirely on grass/forages!  They grow slower, but are healthier and consumers are willing to wait the extra month for their pork when the savings are passed on to them.

   A pasture based system takes advantage of your pig’s naturally excellent grazing ability. Pigs will forage on legumes, grasses and non-legume forages such as flowers, fruits, weeds, seeds, acorns, worms and insects.  If managed properly, your pastures can replace up to 50% of the diet in gestating sows and 30% of a finishing diet.  Legumes such as clover, have the protein & calcium necessary to furnish an adequate supply of most vitamins needed to raise/finish your pigs. Alfalfa, ladino, sweet clover, red clover and lespedeza are favorites of pastured hogs. Perennial grasses such as orchard grass, endophyte-free fescue, timothy and bromegrass, while not as high quality as legumes, should be used in mixtures with them.  Non-legumes such as turnips, rape, kale & beets are high in protein, highly digestible and make excellent pig pasture.

Farrowing on Pasture

   And lastly, the always controversial Farrowing crates. In some instances they are very useful and necessary.  Primarily used for first litter gilt’s, they severely restrict the gilt’s movement, which may be necessary to prevent accidental crushing of piglets when the gilt/sow stands up, changes position, gets up to eat or lays down.  However, this restrictive system is stressful for the gilt/sows, often resulting in ulcers, sores and other abnormal behaviors.  As pastured pig producers, we are constantly working to keep stress levels low for our expectant mothers.

   In the past we’ve used deep bedding to buffer piglets.  Unfortunately we found out that using hay for bedding will greatly restrict the ability for newborn piglets to get out of the way when the gilt/sow is moving around.  The ending result is unfavorable, for the piglets and us.  We will now be using wood shavings to help create a protected area where they can escape the sow.

 

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