Oct 1, 2014
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February 2013 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.

it's planting time!?

Feb 22, 2013

It’s planting time!?


   The end of February is one of my favorite times of the year because that means we’re closer to spring and much warmer weather than what we’ve experienced since January!  In the North East we’ve been a little light on winter precipitation for the 3rd year in a row, but not as much as the mid-west which is currently experiencing the largest one time winter precipitation event since the 60’s!  As they always do, ranchers and farmers are finding the silver lining in all this white snow.  When your as dry as the mid-west has been, they’ll take moisture in any form.


   But once all this snow soaks in and helps to replenish the much needed moisture, thoughts should quickly turn to winter or "frost-seeding" of legumes like red clover.  Weather it’s broadcasted, drop seeded, inter-seeded in existing hay/pasture stands, new-seeding or being incorporated as a low-cost leguminous cover crop, hopefully you either have your seed ordered or have it already on hand.


   The next question is, do you have your method of seeding (the planter), ready for that narrow window of planting opportunity? 


   Frost-seeding is best executed in late February or early March at the latest, and done early in the morning when your soil has "honey-combed" or heaved due to moisture in your top few inches that freezes over-night and pushes up and open’s the soil so your seed will fall into the cracks and crevasses of the heaved soil.  Once the sun hopefully warms the soil and it collapses or thaws, it will cover the seed and hold it there until your spring thaw, when it will germinate and give you great stands for the up coming seasons hay harvest or grazing.


   Red & White clovers are very winter hardy and does well in poorly or well drained soils.  A healthy stand of first season clover can produce as much as two to three ton’s of hay per acre.  In it’s second year that number can jump up to 4 ton’s per acre!  Red & white clovers are also deep tap rooted, up to 5’ deep, and because of that characteristic, are great for breaking up soil compaction.


   Both clover varieties will replenish depleted nitrogen in fields that were previously planted with corn, soybeans or milo.  The nitrogen that clover returns to your soils are equivalent to applying 80 pounds of chemical nitrogen fertilizer with out the insane cost of applying those chemicals.


   If your going to frost-seed your clover, a good rule of thumb for application rates are 25 pounds per acre if broadcasting or spinning it on, and 18-20 pounds per acre is drop seeding.  The reason is that drop seeding is more accurate and provides a more consistent rate across your field or pasture.  It is also recommended to not skimp on the application rate because thin stands will allow weed pressure from such unwanted weeds as pigweed, lambs quarters and foxtail which will quickly mature and go to seed.

Reduce your risk, pasture your pigs

Feb 17, 2013

Reduce your risks, pasture your pigs

   If your raise any type of livestock utilizing some form of grain, whether it’s cattle, chickens, lambs or pigs, you know what it’s like when you get the statement from your feed mill each month.  OUCH!

   So why not use less or NO GRAIN?  O.K., I understand that when raising chickens you can’t completely cut out grain type feeds.  The same holds true for most pigs.  But you can drastically cut back on their feed by giving them the pasture space they need to naturally forage for the minerals and nutrients they need.  We choose to raise our BEEFALO cattle strictly on grass & hay.  That’s 100% Grass-fed from birth to butchering.  We have over the last 5 years been cross breeding pigs to naturally design an almost completely Grass-fed pig.  The genetics that we used, have gotten us to the point that our pigs will choose a good "quality" hay over their grain!

   In addition to being able to cut waaay back on feed, we have a better handle on what they are consuming because we produce all the hay we need for our cattle and pigs.  The feed we "supplement" our pigs with is produced at a local farm that grows, harvests, dries, grinds and bag’s the feed mix recipe that we designed without any antibiotics.  Why no antibiotics?  Because they don’t need them when they are outside on pasture.  And because antibiotics do more harm than help to the animals and in the end, you the consumer.

   There was a study done way back in1988 where a herd of pigs that had not been exposed to antibiotics for 126 months was divided into two groups and either housed on pasture or in standard indoor units.  Over a 20-month period, fecal coliforms from both groups of pigs were tested for resistance to standard antibiotics. Samples taken from the pastured pigs were far less likely to be antibiotic resistant.  The data from this study suggest that exposure to antibiotics is not the only factor that influences the prevalence of bacteria that are resistant to single and multiple antibiotics in the feces of domestic animals and that considerable research is needed to define the factors influencing antibiotic resistance in fecal bacteria.

   Why are producers giving their livestock antibiotics when they aren’t sick?  Just because "everyone else is doing it" isn’t a good reason.  Do you take or give to your children antibiotics every morning for breakfast?  Of course not!  You might take a vitamin or multivitamin, but even that isn’t necessary when you pasture pigs.

We just had a litter of 14 piglets.  We didn’t give the Gilt any pre-natal injections or supplements, and we never give our piglets iron shots, another "industry standard".  Why?  Because as I stated earlier, they aren’t needed because our animas get all the minerals they need from being on pasture.  You wouldn’t believe how much good stuff there is in dirt!

   There are environmental and social issues that will continue to have an impact on confinement operations. Compared with pigs raised indoors, pasture systems significantly reduce problems associated with animal-rights groups, health of operators, and environmental concerns associated with dust, odor, and waste disposal. Pasture-based systems have a "built-in" waste management system because hogs disperse their waste over the land as they graze.

   The main two ingredients in conventional swine diets are corn and soybean meal. Often, these crops are managed as continuous row-crop production using potentially ground-water contaminating pesticides and fertilizers. Pasturing hogs reduces the reliance on corn and soybean production because forage crops will meet a portion of their daily nutrient needs. Therefore, a pasture-based system should have a positive social impact on the community, especially with people that are environmentally-sensitive and/or troubled with methods used with producing pork in confinement.

   Finally, hogs raised outdoors often have fewer problems with respiratory diseases and foot and leg problems than hogs reared in confinement. Healthier hogs means less antibiotic use, period.

The Who, What, When, Where & How of weaning

Feb 05, 2013

When & How to wean your calves

   The most important thing to know about weaning your calves for your 100% Grass-fed operation is, when is the rumen developed enough to utilize forages?  On our farm, we do not separate the calves from the heifers/cows to wean them.  We allow them to wean naturally.  Generally by the time the calves are 7-8 months of age the heifers/cows have had enough, and persuade the calves to satisfy their appetites with forages.  It’s a lot less stressful on the animals and us!  But if your operational plan’s include separating the momma from the calf, it must be able to obtain sufficient nutrients from the forages or hay it consumes after weaning. Many of these nutrients are provided by ruminal fermentation, so the rumen must be "up to the task" before the calf can be weaned.  But, most producers don't measure "rumen development".  They typically rely on some other criteria for weaning.  One of the most common criteria that is frequently used is the age of the calf.  Most beef producers typically wean their calves at 6 months of age.

   If you are on a dairy farm and need to wean your calves at 4-6 weeks of age (which I don’t recommend), You need to know how much starter does the calf have to eat to be ready for weaning? Well, it depends somewhat on who you ask.  A good general rule of thumb is when a Holstein calf is consuming 2 lb (1 kg) of calf starter per day for two consecutive days, then it will be ready for weaning.  Jerseys are a little different, in more way’s than one.  They're ready to be weaned when they are consuming about 1/lb. of starter per day.  This usually occurs about 5 weeks of age.  But if your 100% Grass-fed, you don’t need to worry about that!

   Preparing the calf for weaning means ensuring that it is healthy, has adequate immunity, is kept dry and comfortable/warm, and is allowed access to fresh or dry (not dusty) hay to develop ruminal function. After weaning, calves must derive all of their energy and protein from their forages, whether it is fresh grass, hay, or haylage.

   If your "forcibly weaning", as I like to call it when you separate the calf from the heifer, changes in environment & housing can add to the weaning stress.  For many years, Grass-based producers have fed forage (primarily hay), to calves to promote ruminal development. The common reason was to give the calf the "scratch" needed to start the workings of the rumen.  Forages are also important to promote the growth of the muscular layer of the rumen and to maintain the health of the epithelium.  Rumen papillae can grow too much in response to high levels of VFA - when this happens, they may clump together, reducing the surface area available for absorption.

   If your animals are going to be 100% grass-Fed, that mean they NEVER EVER have had anything but GRASS in their lives.   Don’t try and cut corners by "supplementing" or "treating" your weaning calves with a starter or grain.  Your calves will not eat hay if grain is offered.  In the long run you’ll be making your life and the calves more stressful to transition to pasture.

   Always keep in mind that the calves nutrient requirements will be different than your other various aged cattle. They have very high energy requirements while their rumens adjust to a no milk diet.  Good quality legume hay such as a mix of Alfalfa, Red & White clovers and 50% Grass can have enough energy to support growth of weaned calves if your proportions of legumes and grasses are correct.

   You also have to keep in mind that your cattle and calves will not grow as fast or produce as much milk in a dairy setting as your neighbors whom push starters, grains and silage into their cattle.  But trust me, your calves & cattle will be healthier, happier and in the long run, more profitable because you will have little to NO VET BILLS.  Our 100% Grass-fed BEEFALO are proof of that.  But than again they are the perfect combination of Carcass & Quality.


Feb 02, 2013

Dairy v.s. Beef?

How our local John Deere Dealer see’s it!

   Trying to make a living as a farmer is challenging enough with all the weather challenges, obscene fuel price surges, cost of seed, equipment and service from your local John Deere Dealer!  That’s right, even our local JD dealership is making farming harder for us.  "US’ being any farmer in Bradford or Tioga County Pennsylvania whom doesn’t milk cows.  First of all let me say that I in no way have any ill feelings toward dairy farmers.  They work hard for what little they make.  This week’s blog also doesn’t have anything to do with being or not being grass-fed.  I also apologize in advance for any RED tractor owners.  Let me explain.

   We recently purchased a John Deere 4020 from someone we have done business with many times over the years.  The tractor was built in 1968, and obviously was going to need some fixing up to be completely reliable for daily use on our BEEF farm.  So we called our Local JD dealership in Mansfield, PA thinking they would take care of us and our tractor since that is the only brand they sell and service.  Surprisingly they picked up our tractor within 3 day’s of calling them and the service Manager stated that they would get it in right away and we should have it back to us in 5-7 day’s.  That was 4 weeks ago on Jan. 4th!

  Our tractor needed a new clutch, this is a big job for a small farm operation such as ours where it’s just my wife & I.  The tractor needs to be split in half to access/replace the clutch.  Figuring the dealership had multiple mechanics and the equipment to do the job safely and correctly in a timely fashion is the reason we called them.  It is our only tractor with a loader that we need on a daily basis to feed round bales to our BEEF cattle.

   I’ve been in touch with the service Manager several times a week and have even stopped in periodically to check on the progress of our tractor, especially when the "end of the week" completion date went from one week to two weeks and than three weeks and we are now entering the fourth week of a 3-5 day job.  Since the end of week one, we have been getting the run-around and told that they are soooo busy and are working on it when they can.  It wasn’t until my last visit on Monday the 28th, that the Service Manager told me point blank that "Dairy Farmers come first here, that’s always been our policy.  We’ll try and have it done by Wednesday or Thursday of this week."    Seriously!?  I couldn’t believe what he just told me.  And he said it with a smile on his face!  I was stunned, than internally enraged as I silently walked back to my truck still stunned.

   What would you have said?  How would you have reacted?  Why is this acceptable?  Is it acceptable?  Is it common practice at your local dealership?  I hope this is an isolated incident.  So when I got back to the farm, I told my wife what had transpired.  She called their corporate office and told them what the Service Manger had stated, the woman at their corporate office stated "That is NOT our policy!".  I expected to receive a phone call that afternoon from their Mansfield location where our tractor was, but our phone didn’t ring.

   The following day, my wife called to follow-up with the Service Manager, and he was obviously not happy to hear from us again.  He now stated that "We’re working on it!  It might be done by next Wednesday or Thursday."  We had previously stated that we would be out of small square bales to feed our cattle by Thursday of this past week, and surprise!, we were.  Not once did they offer to help us out with a loaner tractor (they have multiple of on their used sales lot), that would have helped us with feeding our round bales to our cattle.  And when we asked about one the Assistant location manager told my wife they didn’t have any.  Another lie.  He was nice enough to tell us where to go to buy a 3 point hitch bale spear for the back of our other tractor.  Only problem is that the rear attachment only lifts the bales 2’ off the ground.  About 3’ shy of being able to get the bales into our head gate feeders.  So now we have to hand/fork feed our cattle 3 times a day, in addition to spending another $300 on a piece of equipment we will hopefully only need to use for another week or so.  Than again, that’s only if we’re fortunate enough to get our loader tractor back before spring!  Once again, thank you for letting me vent my frustrations.  I assure you we will get back to our regularly scheduled topics of 100% grass-fed livestock next week.

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