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February 2010 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.

Marketing Part 1 of 3

Feb 26, 2010
This week’s lengthy blog is Part 1 in a series of 3, that has been designed to:
 
-          Introduce producers to 100% Grass-fed BEEF marketing opportunities.
-          Investigate the constraints, rules, regulations etc. of direct marketing.
-          Answer some common questions.
 
One of the strong demands for 100% Grass-fed BEEF has come from farmers’ markets.
Creating and marketing a desirable 100% Grass-fed BEEF, Pork or Poultry 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 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 did 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. This seems wrong because with proper management pastures can be used to reduce feed costs, improve animal performance, and boost farm income
 
   Managing grazing can have a greater effect on the pasture than any other part of pasture management.
When planning your rotational pastures/paddocks, you might want to consider having more, smaller paddocks.
This is based on three grazing management principles:
-          allow the plants rest,
-          keep grazing times short
-          and use a high enough stocking density to harvest the forage.
 
Adequate Pasture Rest Periods
 
As we discussed 2 weeks ago in our “MOB” grazing blog, plants need rest to recover from stress and to re-grow. Plants rest by removing the animals. By providing a rest period we allow the forages to recover and re-grow.   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 can be a profitable venture. However, it can be 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!

From Pasture to Plate

Feb 19, 2010
This week’s blog will focus on “Preparing Grass-fed BEEF
 
from Pasture to plate
 
   I recently read an article about the practice it takes to prepare Grass-fed BEEF correctly.
It was written by Chef Michael Formichella. He stated that while he was working with a large beef group, he had many discussions about how our food makes it’s way to our tables here in the U.S. These discussions than made him wonder if the simpler ways of the past were better for cattle and the consumer? 
 
  Chef Formichella than noted that “before WWII all American BEEF was “Grass-finished,” meaning that cattle ate pasture grasses for a large portion of their lives. Today, the vast majority of cattle spend anywhere from 60-120 days in feedlots being fattened with grain before being slaughtered.”   Chef Formichella also stated that “Unless a consumer deliberately chooses Grass-finished, Grass-fed or Free-ranged meat, the beef bought at your local grocery store will be of the corn-finished variety.” Because the corn-finished method brings cattle to slaughter weights faster, the result is less expensive beef products for the mass consumers.”
 
   With sustainability becoming more common, consumers are becoming educated about the health benefits of Grass-based farms and the animals they produce. Many “Grass Ranchers/Farmers” from Big Sky Country to the East coast say their ranching methods create happier animals that are ultimately a better product for the consumer.
 
   Chef Formichella also stated thatGrass-fed ground meat & steaks are sold in specialty food stores for substantially higher price per point per pound than ordinary BEEF.”  “Consumers will pay the higher price even during these tough economic times.” Grass-fed meat products are also beginning to become readily available in stores right on the farm where the animals are raised. For most consumers that is a BIG selling point. Because of a high occurrence of recent Level 1 Food Recall’s across the United States, consumers want to know where their food comes from. Not just what country, but what farm in which State. If you can provide a safe BEEF product with traceability to the pasture it was born and raised on for it’s entire life, you’ve got the confidence of the consumer!   Traceability is where your success as a BEEF producer is.
 
   The secret to ageing Grass-fed BEEF is short hanging time (generally 7-10 days), and than “Wet ageing” the BEEF for 5-7 day’s BEFORE vac-sealing and freezing it. Grass-fed meat has distinct flavors depending on the season and which grass was fed to the animals. Another important thing to remember when preparing grass-fed meat on the grill, stove top or oven is that it will cook much faster than traditional grain-fed meat. In some cases (depending on the cut of meat), it could cook in half the time! This is simply due to being much lower in fat. However, the lack of fat doesn’t mean a lack of flavor. Nor does it mean the meat will be tougher. If you don’t know how to cook meat any cut (Grain or Grass-fed), will be as tough as a shoe. 
   Grass-fed BEEF will also have less shrinkage on your customers grill. That is another thing they will remember. When they put 4 pounds of steaks or ground beef on their grill they don’t want to end up with 2 pounds of meat on their plate.

MOB Grazing

Feb 12, 2010
Grazing/Cattle wizard Greg Judy is growing 200% more forages than he used to by simply “MOB”ing his Cattle! “It’s like having twice the land only better!” “Because it comes with added benefits”.
 
   In an article I read recently, Greg offered the records of a 60-acre property he manages as part of his Missouri ranch. He figures his grazing totals using animal days of grazing, with one animal being one 1,000-pound cow or the equivalent.   Therefore, one animal day of grazing is the equivalent of one 1,000-pound cow grazing. Greg and his wife accomplish their high-stock-density grazing almost entirely with temporary electric fencing. From year to year, fences and grazing paddocks on their ranch are never the same; except for their perimeter fences (which are high tensile), nearly everything is fenced with temporary posts and poly wire.
Greg says after having moved their temporary wires only a few times, they learned how to estimate
paddock size needed for their herd when they are moved daily. They can string out all their paddocks for a week in about four hours.
August 2009 BP7
Mob grazing offers 200% more forage
 
   Before MOB Grazing, Greg & his wife use to graze 36 of their cattle for 180 days on this 60-acre farm, thereby getting 6,480 animal days of grazing for the year from about May 1 through Nov. 1. Using this Management-intensive Grazing system, they produced no stockpile for winter grazing.
Under their current mob grazing practices they are running 240 cattle of all ages for 30 days in the summer and 30 days in the winter, thereby getting 14,400 animal days of grazing for the year. They don’t separate the calves from the heifers, bulls, steers etc. They run them all together with no problems thus far with having yearling heifers bred too early as one would expect. This is something I found out at a conference I recently attended in Albany, NY that was hosted by Cornell CO-operative Extension. One of the guest speakers (Dr. Allen Williams of Tall-Grass Beef), whom I thoroughly respect, brought this running of all age cattle together idea to the attention of all the attendees. And it was surprisingly well received. At my table alone 3 out of the 4 producers agreed that we were going to try this approach to running cattle. The point that really got my attention, as well as the producer next to me, was when Dr. Williams simply stated that “The Buffalo were never separated when they roamed the Great Plains”! That’s when the gentleman next to me leaned over and said “Sounds like you have a head start on the rest of us!” The reason he stated that was because at The Kuhn Family Farm we breed/graze 100% Grass-fed BEEFALO. We’re currently running all our cattle together in one herd, and will keep you posted periodically on how it works out. So far so good!
 
   Getting back the The Judy’s MOB Grazing set-up, they plan paddocks around their water sources, using lanes back to water and sometimes allowing some back-grazing for a day or two on previously grazed areas closer to water. Greg added that after visiting with people from more arid regions, like Montana and the Dakota’s, he has stopped worrying about the distance cattle must travel to water.  Research has shown/suggested that for uniform pasture utilization, a water source should be located within 700’ of where your cattle are being grazed.  People sometimes ask Greg if this daily move isn’t a bit too much work.   “Not really”, he & his wife answer, considering the benefits.   Most people look at their cattle every day, and in the long run it takes less time to move them 365 days a year than it does to put up and feed hay.
 
   MOB Grazing is a holistic management principle. It is a technique where you are using your cattle to maximize the overall herds effect on your pastures. In return it has been proven to heal the land. The secret to successful MOB grazing isn’t the stockpiling of the forages to be grazed, rather the lengthy recovery periods between grazing. Another benefit to MOB Grazing is due to the high hoof to soil contact, it evenly distributes the manures. That way you don’t need to spend time and money on fuel and equipment to “drag” your pastures so the manures left behind after grazing are evenly distributed.
 
   Greg Carlson, a cattle producer in Nebraska has put MOB Grazing practices to good use and proven they work with his stocking density of 300,000/lbs. of cattle per acre (1,000/lb. cow average), and moves them daily. Some producers have even used as much as 1,000,000/lb. stock density per acre. Obviously this is ultra high stock density, but it has shown to work well for the cattle, producer and the land grazed.
 
Additional benefits of MOB grazing:
-          Your pastures will have more water infiltration, which in return will increase drought tolerance. 
-          You’ll see more plant diversity and biodiversity without having to re-seed or inter-seed, saving you even more time and money!
 
RECOVERY TIME between grazing is the only management tool you really need. Recovery time is the time it takes a plant to recover from the last period of grazing. Remember, the ROOTS need to be fully recovered prior to re-grazing, not just what’s above ground and visible to the eye.
 
Signs that your stocking density is too low:
-          Cattle Trails.
-          Non uniform grazing.
-          Bare ground/selective grazing.
-          Erosion.
-          Soil “Capping”
and lastly....Invasive plants. CATTLE EAT WEEDS!! Let them!

Why BQA? Part 6 of 6

Feb 06, 2010
It’s time for part 6 in a 6 part series.  We’ve been looking at how the BQA (Beef Quality Assurance), program could help you streamline your cattle operation and increase the sustainability of your herds health, and make your life alot easier.

This week we will be looking at Safe Handling of your cattle both on the farm, ranch or feedlot as well as loading and unloading 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 with your hands and arms at your sides.

   - Quick movements and loud noises like "calling" or whistling 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 only be picked up and used when absolutely required 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.

 

 

Checklist: PRIOR TO LOADING

 

* 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 instruction

 

Checklist: FOR UNLOADING

  

   - Determine if you are at the correct facility before unloading.  Don't laugh!  It's happened.

   - Weigh your 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).

   - Chock the trailers wheel's.  
   - 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.  (See above "Point of balance" section).

   - 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.).

Most of what we just reviewed is common sense, right?  But for those of us that may transport cattle frequently, we can sometimes overlook the simplest safe handeling procedures, and that one detail can have a devistating outcome.  Let's all be safe out there.

 

When we reconvene next week, we will be focusing on “MIG” & “MOB” grazing of cattle.
 
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