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!
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!