Sep 22, 2014
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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.

Kiss my Grass

Sep 17, 2014

Now that i have your attention, this discussion will be a follow-up to my "Pasture Planning 2015" blog from a few weeks ago.

Livestock protection and confinement are not the only reasons to carefully consider the best fencing for your specific livestock operation in 2015.  Just because your neighbor down the road raises Beef, Horses, Alpaca’s etc. doesn’t mean everything they do or have done will work for you and your operation.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk with them about what has and hasn’t worked for them, but don’t expect to carbon copy everything they’ve done successfully and be surprised if/when it doesn’t live up to your expectations.  An effective/managed rotational grazing system can be an affordable way to provide forage to your livestock and reduce herd nutrition costs year round. Fencing needs will vary depending on the type of grazing system you have in mind, topography of your land, availability to a "clean/safe" water source, livestock species and age.

You'll need to determine the number of animals, type of forages (cool or warm season), and number of paddocks/rotational pastures needed before investing in fencing materials and supplies. Whether used as permanent or temporary confinements, fences should be carefully planned and constructed for efficient use, long life, and low maintenance because the last thing you want to do is have to pull and re-position fence posts every season.  Unless of course you have a lot of spare time to screw around with doing things 3 & 4 times?  I didn’t think so.

Before planning the layout of a fencing system, evaluate the "permanent resources" such as soil type & slope of the land, they will have the biggest affect on your fencing layout plans. Pastures should have similar soil type, slope, and aspect to provide uniform forage production and grazing & manure distribution while grazing.                                                                                                              

Water – Fencing layout should be planned to allow livestock access to adequate clean/safe water supplies.  A continuous supply of clean water is essential for all livestock.  When possible, supply clean water in each paddock within a reasonable walking distance.  Otherwise, incorporate into the fencing system a central water source accessible to and within 600’ – 800’  of the farthest end of each paddock.  The only draw-back to having a central water source is that it will often produces muddy conditions where livestock congregate to drink.  Any fencing design should allow for flexibility in water placement within paddocks to control animal distribution and avoid trampling around the water source.  If a single water source is used in a particular paddock, make sure that that it can provide the volume of water needed during peak demand, and a "heavy use area" should be designed and built utilizing stone and gravel with some sort of landscaping paper as the base that will allow drainage.  This will provide a solid area around the water trough.  Be sure to fence off all creeks and ponds, to prevent livestock from entering water bodies.  Your local NRCS office will appreciate this effort greatly, not to mention everyone that is downstream from your operation.

Shade – Shade is a major factor to consider when building fences.  Shade does not decrease air temperature, but it does reduce animal exposure to the sun’s radiant energy.  Adequate shade can reduce respiration rate and body temperature in livestock during the hottest times of the day.  Shade also alters the grazing habits of cattle. Cattle with access to shade have shown a 3 percent increase in feed efficiency and a 6 percent increase in weight gain during hot weather.

Location, Location, Location – Effective & simple lane systems and gate placement make livestock movement to animal handling facilities and rotation to other pastures much easier.  Be sure to place gates and passageways for livestock and equipment in the corner of each field closest to the central water source.

The ideal number of fenced paddocks depends on forage species and re-growth after grazing and livestock characteristics, such as herd size, animal weights & ages, and nutritional needs. Size paddocks to provide consistent days of grazing.  A 5 – 7 day rotation is very common and requires about 6 paddocks.  During the spring, when forages grow rapidly a faster rotation will be required.  It may be necessary to divide your paddocks up into as many as 12 paddocks. With this number of paddocks, gates can be opened or animals moved more often during a quick MOB style of rotation, temporary electric fencing can further split paddocks during a slow rotation, or paddocks can be cut out of the rotation to produce hay.

To develop proper paddock layout and to estimate how much fencing will be necessary, consult aerial photos available through the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) or Farm Service Agency (FSA). A soil survey will also aid in dividing the paddocks for similar production capabilities.  If possible, make your fences straight and your corners at 90* (square).  They are more economical, easier to layout/construct & maintain. Unfortunately a perfect square is not always possible, as access to water, shade, livestock handling facilities, and the natural lay of the land and or property lines must be considered.  Square paddocks usually require the minimum amount of fencing and reduce distance to water sources. Rectangular paddocks should be no more than four times as long as they are wide.  Pie-shaped fencing designs with a central water source can lead to mud holes where livestock congregate at water sources.

There are 3 main types of wire are used in permanent livestock fencing:

  1. barbed wire
  2. woven wire
  3. high-tensile wire. 

Barbed wire fences contain strands of horizontal wires twisted together with barbs spaced every 4 to 5 inches.  Woven wire fences are smooth horizontal and vertical wires made of mild steel. Many producers use them, but they are allot more expensive and may be less effective than high-tensile electric fences.  Especially with pastured pigs!

High-tensile wire is used for both solar & direct electric fencing.  The electrical component is used to provide an electrical shock to any animal or farmer that touches the wire.  One disadvantage of electric fences is that animals must be trained to stay away from the electric wire.  With effective electric fencing, this training can be accomplished within a few days depending on your livestock’s size and species.  Pigs are a lot smarter than folks give them credit for.  They will be trained on electric fencing in a day or two even when they are only 3-4 days old!

Post Placement -- Setting posts correctly is the single most important factor in fence strength. The first consideration is setting the post at the correct depth. The proper depth depends on the diameter of the post and soil type.  Posts should be placed and POUNDED at a depth below your operations frost-line to prevent winter heaving of the posts.

Posts -- Common wood posts and steel "T" posts are used with insulators for permanent electric fences. Plastic and fiberglass posts are the most common in-line posts and cross-fencing posts used with in rotational grazing systems. Fiberglass posts come in different diameter sizes, including 3⁄8", 1⁄2", 5⁄8" and larger, and are nice because they can be used without the need of insulators.  Different models of step-in posts are also available, choose one with a step large enough to accommodate a person’s foot completely so the post can be driven or pushed into the ground easily. The post should be rigid enough to withstand temperature extremes if they are going to used year-round in the upper states.  For high-tensile fences, use corner wood posts that are 8-9’ tall, 5 to 6 inches across, and have adequate cross-bracing.  The most important thing to remember when installing corner posts is to drive them in at an angle pointing out/away from the inside of the pasture.   They will have the most pull/starin placed on them over the life of your fencing system.  The in-line post’s are basically just there to support and keep the wires evenly spaced along the length of the run.

Insulators -- High quality/UV-stabilized, high-density polyethylene or polypropylene insulators are recommended for use on wood or steel "T" posts of permanent electric fences.  Porcelain insulators can work if they are high quality. However, they are less desirable because they can crack under high strain, allowing in moisture that could create an electric short.

Energizers -- Using an adequate charger for electric fencing is very important. If electricity is not available, battery or solar energizers can be used. If your planning a pastured pig system I’d strongly recommend running heavy/outdoor extension cords from the closest energy source to a heavy fence charger!  A solar charger WILL NOT be adequate to keep pigs in when there is heavy rain and you forgot to keep the fence line weeds trimmed.  Trust me.

The first step is to choose low impedance, high-voltage charger.  It is imperative to have a charger that can deliver an adequate electrical shock under unfavorable conditions such as dry ground or as prior mentioned excess vegetation touching the wire.  Proper grounding of an electric fencing system is also a must.  Drive at least 3, 6-8’ ground rods into the ground at 10-foot intervals.

Alternating hot and ground wires on a 4 wire fence should be adequate for perimeter fencing in a cattle operation. Start with the top wire electrified.  If your going to be pasturing pigs, use at least 6 wires at 6" intervals starting with the bottom wire a minimum of 6" from the ground.  For cattle a 12" spacing is adequate.

Some chargers are rated in miles of fence or in acres. The longer the fence, the more powerful the energizer must be to send an effective charge throughout its length. Make sure that the charger has indicators showing correct operation and a light that indicates when the fence is charged. Battery-powered units should also have a half-power alert option.  Resist the urge to save a buck and use a homemade charger.  You could end up killing your livestock or your self!

It is important to select a charger with an output that matches the length of fence to be energized. The charger should also meet the expected operating conditions, such as average moisture levels in the soil, contact with weeds, wire size, total length of the wire, and length of the hair or wool on animals being fenced.  Obviously if your raising Highland cattle your gonna need a much bigger charger than if your raising Angus.  2,000 volts is sufficient for cattle under "normal" conditions, and 4,000 volts can be used under extremely dry conditions or for well-insulated animals such as sheep.  It’s always smart to buy a charger with excess capacity to allow for future expansion.  NEVER connect two chargers to one fence.

Gates -- Gates may be purchased or custom designed.  Gate placement is especially important under rotational grazing because animals will need to be moved frequently, but it is especially important when your wife needs to move the cattle because you need to work off farm to pay for the farm!  I’m just say’n.

Final thoughts -- In addition to keeping your livestock out of your neighbors pastures and off the major highways, fencing is a key component of good grazing management.  Fencing allows control over both the movement of livestock and the productivity, quality, and utilization of forages. Well designed fencing, water, and shade systems can make a big difference in animal comfort and productivity as well as decreasing your labor.

Backgrounding cattle

Sep 12, 2014

 Interested in making extra money this winter? 


Why not try Backgrounding feeder cattle?

"Back grounding" feeder cattle is when lighter weight cattle (350 to 550 pounders) are grown to 700 to 900 pounds over the winter.

Once up to weight, the cattle are either sold as yearlings, heavy feeders or transitioned onto a finishing diet.  Rotational Pasturing is recommended as the primary feed source for back grounding during the summer, but when over-wintering cattle, harvested forages such as dry mixed hay, baleage or haylage with a healthy balance of legumes can also be successfully used to background calves.  Targeted daily gains for back grounding calves are usually between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds of gain per day.  The main goal is to encourage the cattle’s frame and muscle to grow throughout the entire year, not just during peak pasturing months.

Profit and loss may vary greatly between farms that choose to background calves.  Careful planning and management are necessary to accomplish a successful back grounding program.

Before committing, farmers/ranchers who are considering back grounding calves as a way to increase farm income need to consider the following factors.


Purchasing: What is purchased – beef breed calves or dairy (Holstein) steers? Many beef calves sold will have just been weaned, will not be vaccinated, processed or pre-conditioned in any way. However there are some special sales which require that calves be weaned 45 days, started on feed, be "processed" (dehorned and castrated) and have a vaccination program accomplished before being sold. If your buying through an auction you had better hope the calves have been vaccinated!  Especially if your introducing them directly into your current herd.  Holstein steers in the 300 to 500 pound weight range may also not have had an adequate pro-active health care plan.  If this is something your are seriously considering, it’s best to buy direct from the producer/farm.  This way you can see the environment they grew up in and you can decide if the farm their coming from is up to your standards.  When buying through an auction house, your taking a greater risk of possibly infecting your current herd with whatever the seller is trying to "get rid of".

Facilities: Does your farm/ranch have adequate facilities to handle, feed and house feeder cattle, or can existing facilities be modernized at a reasonable cost?  Adequate facilities to handle high risk cattle are essential to be able to implement pro-active health programs and catch and treat potentially sick calves.

Health: Do you have the time & ability to correctly & quickly diagnose and treat sick calves?  Don’t expect to just have them walk off the trailer this fall and not need to be looked at until next spring when they are ready for harvest.  If treatment is needed, Always follow product labels for rates and routes (IM or Sub Q) of administration. These skills are important for successful back grounding program’s and keeping health related costs under control.

Time: As prior mentioned, do you have adequate time in your schedule for taking care of additional livestock, cleaning and bedding pens, feeding and observing the cattle on a daily basis?  Additional cattle may cause other farm work to go unfinished or create demands that are not able to be met in a timely manner. On the other hand winter time can be filled with useful work and an opportunity to increase profits could be developed.

If after considering everything previously outlined, and you still want to try "back grounding" feeder cattle for extra winter-time income, start looking locally for producers who are selling healthy animals that they may just not have the forages to support themselves.  Ask for a tour of their operation, ask about health records of the animals your considering to purchase, and of course make sure you have more than enough forages to get these cattle through the upcoming winter.  Unfortunately this winter is not looking to be any milder than the last, so if your ready for the Polar-Vortex Cattle challenge, next spring will be a pleasant pay-off when your cattle are ready for harvest.

2015 Pastures

Sep 05, 2014

 

Pasture Planning 2015

Many of us make resolutions or use a calendar for planning the coming year when January rolls around, why wait?

A planning calendar is especially useful with a grazing system as needs and opportunities change month by month & year by year, it isn’t too early to plan for next year.   Wouldn’t you rather get things set-up now so you can just turn em out next spring, rather than agonize about pasture expansion when everything else is needing your attention?  Spring is a very busy time around a farm or ranch, so why not do some of your spring time chores this fall?

September & October: This is a good time to study new developments in forage varieties by checking in with your seed salesman.  If animals are going to be wintered on pasture, land fertilizer can be provided by moving feeding sites to encourage uniform distribution of manure.  It’s not too late to review the current condition of your pastures following this past grazing season. Much of our state (PA), suffered from a second year of drought leaving bare patches and weed proliferation that needs to be brought under control as soon as possible.  Now is the time to do it!  But just as some or most of us suffered another very dry summer, there are other producers in our immediate area that got rain practically every other day all summer so making dry hay was almost impossible. Plan for the worst and thank God when it doesn’t happen!

November: VACATION!?  Yeah right.  At least take time to breath.  You have my permission.


December: If seed isn’t ordered for frost seeding, planned renovation or new pasture development, it should be done before supplies are depleted.  Most Seed suppliers have he best discounts starting in December.  Frost seeding needs to be completed before the pastures are muddy to achieve best soil seed contact.

March: is the "target" month for frost-seeding pastures and hay fields with clovers.  March is also a good time to check Warm season pasture fences and water lines for damage and begin repairs.

Winter & Weaning are on the way

Aug 21, 2014

 The next 2-3 months can be a stressful time of the year for the cow, the calf and the farmer/rancher.   Probably the most critical weaning decisions a farmer/rancher needs to make are gauging when and where to wean.  USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) reports that the average weaning age of beef calves in the U.S. is a little over seven months of age. Over three-quarters of these producers reported weaning calves between 5½ - 8½ months of age.

   The interesting part of the NAHMS survey is that producers reported a lack of flexibility in selection of weaning time. Relatively few ranchers indicated that cow condition, forage availability or market price drove the decision of when to wean calves.

 

   The objective of a weaning program is to get the calves separated from their mothers and on their own as efficiently and painlessly as possible. This should be when lactation declines and calf gain begins to decrease.  Another tell tale sign is when the cow starts pushing the calf off of her udders.

 

   Diets for weaned calves can be purchased or farm/ranch-developed. The advantage to purchased feeds is they're more likely to be balanced for energy, protein, fiber and minerals. In addition, many of them can contain medications recommended by a veterinarian or nutritionist.  On an operation such as ours, there is no guess work involved.  By the time our cow’s naturally wean their calves between 6 & 8 months of age their rumens are developed enough to properly process the forages in our pastures.  We never separate our calves from their mothers, when needed we will separate the younger heifers from the bull, but they stay with their mothers to do away with the stress of weaning which directly relates to the loss of daily gains this time of the season.


Some important considerations in weaning management include:

·        
Dust - Dust causes severe irritation to the respiratory tract. If you keep calves in pens, sprinkle the pens with water to keep dust down when using wood shavings.  The same is especially advisable in pig pens.  Wheat straw is a better bet, but if shavings are all you have access to, keep the pen's dust-free! 

 

        
Bawling - This is another irritant to the upper respiratory tract.  Not to mention your neighbors or weekend house guests.  To minimize bawling, separate the calves from the cows so they can't hear each other.  A good start would be to keep them out of site.  Either over the hill (if you have any), or on the other side of the barn.  Or better yet, if you have the option, on another farm.  Some producers are fortunate to have multiple facilities/farm locations.

·        
Dehydration - Some calves are not acquainted with water troughs and are so busy bawling they don't take time to find the water and drink. Use of a water source similar to one they may have been around may help.   We've seen producers that use nipple waterers that are primarily utilized in pig production with the end of a nipple from a calf bottle secured over the end.  Place a water trough directly under the nipple and they'll learn how to drink out of the trough by experimentation!

·        
Feed change - A change in diet from milk replacer to calf starter/grower grain to strictly grass/hay/pasture, requires the growth of different organisms in the rumen to digest the feed. This change can take up to two weeks.  This is obviously only for producers that separate the calves from the heifers/cows such as in a dairy setting or Beef feed-lot.  We don't separate our calves because that is what has worked best for us and our cattle.  We allow the calves (steers or heifers), to naturally wean themselves from the udder to the pasture.  In doing so, we relieve any weaning stress on the calf.


Weaning strategies

There are about as many weaning strategies as there are ranchers. Over the past 10-15 years, the beef industry has become more aware of the value of pre- and post-weaning calf health management and marketing management. It's worthwhile to explore the various "cookbook" weaning programs and regimes available.

 

·       One concept that's been getting a lot of attention is fenceline weaning, which allows cows and calves to have several days of fenceline contact, but calves are unable to nurse through the fence. This requires adequate facilities to allow for feeding and watering the calves, and the fence must be tight enough to prevent the calf from getting back in with the cow.

 

·       Early weaning is a management practice sometimes used during drought conditions, or when forage quantity is less than desirable.  Early weaning is often used to improve cow condition for rebreeding, particularly when forage is limiting.  Research shows mixed results on the economics of early weaning.

 

·       Extended weaning may make sense in times when feed costs are high and when grazing forages aren't a limiting factor. A Florida study shows that fall-calving cows can nurse calves for up to two months beyond a standard weaning age of 7-8 months and significantly increase calf weaning weight without affecting cow reproduction.


For more information go to:

·         http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AN048

·         http://beef.tamu.edu/academics/beef/pub/health/vac_vaccine.pdf

·         www.extension.org/pages/Early_Weaning_Strategies

 

Why do you still question me?

Aug 11, 2014

 Pure & Simple

 

100% Grass-fed meat contains more antioxidants, omega-3’s, CLA, TVA, trace minerals, and vitamins than any other food, including "conventional" meats derived from livestock that are fed a grain diet such as corn, soy & silage.

 

As you’re about to learn, consuming 100% Grass-fed meat is one of the best ways to prevent disease, improve brain function, lose weight, and be more heart healthy.

 

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential component of nerve tissue.  They modify how the body responds to stress and control numerous other metabolic processes.  Most people eat too many omega-6 fats and not enough omega-3.

 

CLA is a type of naturally occurring trans-fatty acid that improves brain function, causes weight loss, and reduces your risk of cancer.  What a steer eats dictates how much of these compounds are in the meat. 

 

Recently researchers compared the fatty acid compositions of three kinds of feeding.  Each group contained 18 beef cattle.  The 1st group was fed grains for 80 days before slaughter, group #2 was fed "by-product feedstuff" for 200 days, and group #3 was 100% Grass-fed.

Group #1: Short Term Grain Feeding (80 days)

Group #2: Long Term Feedlot Rations* (150-200 days)

Group #3: 100% Grass Feeding (Life time)

*The "Feedlot" rations were made of 50 percent barley and/or sorghum (a type of wheat) and some form of cottonseed/protein mix:  A mixture of grains.

 

Results

The 100% Grass-fed cows had more omega-3’s and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).  Just 80 days of grain feeding was enough to destroy the omega-3 content of the beef.  CLA content plummeted in the same amount of time.  The longer the animals were fed grains, the lower the quality of the meat.

The omega-3 quantity in grain-fed meat was so low, it didn’t qualify as a meaningful dietary source.

The 100% Grass-fed meat has enough omega-3 to be considered a good source of n-3 fats.  The total amount of omega-3 we need is small if you have a good omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.  Therefore, eating grass-fed meat along with some fatty fish may be enough to cover your omega-3 needs.

Grain feeding significantly reduces the omega-3 and CLA content of meat.  The feedlot cattle had the lowest levels, the grain-fed cattle were in the middle, and the grass-fed cattle had the most.

 

The longer an animal is fed grains, the lower the nutrient content of the meat.

 

Summary

Grain-fed beef is much lower in omega-3’s and CLA

The longer steers are fed grains, the lower the omega-3 and CLA content.

Feedlot cattle have the lowest amount of omega-3‘s.  Regular grain-fed cattle are slightly better.

The last part of a cow’s life is the most critical in terms of fat quality.

Meat can be a good source of omega-3’s, if it’s 100% Grass-fed.  Grain-fed meat has lower levels, so you’ll need to eat a lot of cold water ocean fish or take fish oil supplements to reach your daily omega-3 requirements.

100% Grass-fed meat has more healthy fats than grain-fed meat.

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