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March 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.

Why Not Chickens!?

Mar 30, 2010
Why Not Chickens!?
   Heather Karsten, assistant professor of crop production and ecology at Penn State University, says that when pastures  are managed carefully, the whole agro-ecosystem benefits.
   Grass holds soil in place and keeps it from eroding.  Grass root mass is like a big sponge, absorbing and retaining water. And grass’s roots are dying all the time, “putting more organic matter into the soil, which contributes to soil aggregation and better water and air infiltration, and to more diverse biological activity, nutrient release, and carbon sequestration,” Karsten says. “The most fertile soils around the world developed under perennial grasslands.   Animals are out there grazing their own forage, managing their own feed, and spreading their own manure, so there’s not as much labor, equipment, storage facilities, or energy involved for the farmer. And grazing systems, if they’re well managed, can be very profitable.” 
Grazing is good for nutrition.

Cows graze. Goats graze. Horses graze.

Why not graze your chickens?
   Animals with just one stomach, like chickens and people, don’t have the digestive micro-organisms needed to get all their nutrients from pasture, but there are advantages to raising even chickens on grass. Poultry raised on fresh pasture instead of stored grain get more unsaturated fats and vitamins in their diets. It’s like the difference between fresh and canned vegetables. Pasture-fed chickens can also get bonus nutrients by eating grass-dwelling insects. 

   And grazing chickens on a pasture that has already been munched on by ruminants helps with the break-down and spread of manure.  The chickens’ diet must be supplemented with grain, says Professor Karsten. She also goes on to state that she thinks it could still be cheaper to raise chickens on pasture and grain than on grain alone.   We have done our own on-farm studies on a much smaller size scale than the University, but we have found that the chickens only need a very small amount of grain/layers mash during the winter.  From April until December our free-ranged chickens don’t eat any supplemental grain, the yolks are a dark
yellow/orange in color and the shell’s are durable/thick.
   Not all grasses are equal, however. “The leafier the plant, the higher the digestibility for the animal,” says Karsten. If a pasture is overgrazed or the grass is too mature and “stemmy,” the nutritional benefits fall off. And in a recent study, Karsten and Ellen Seconi, a graduate student in agronomy, determined that legumes like alfalfa and clover are higher than grasses are in omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to lower health risks including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders.   Armed with this information, Professor Karsten and Paul Patterson, associate professor of poultry science, set out to find the best pasture-plant species for optimal nutrition for the animal that could then be passed on to the human consumer.
   Over a six-week period, Karsten, Patterson, and undergraduate assistant Gwendolyn Crews rotated 25 chickens from grass, to red and white clover, to alfalfa, grazing them for two weeks on each species. To facilitate rotation, they designed a mobile chicken coop, otherwise known as a “CHICKEN TRACTOR”, with help from students from the Agricultural Systems Management Club. The coop, which could be towed around the field on wheels with a small tractor, 4 wheeler or truck (when pasture conditions permit), provided the chickens with food and water, protected them from predators, and served as a nest box. During each rotation, egg samples were taken and analyzed for levels of unsaturated fat and vitamins in their yolks. The researchers then compared eggs produced on each section of pasture to eggs taken from chickens raised in commercial cages on a typical grain diet.
   They found that the pastured birds produced about three times more omega-3 fat in their eggs than did birds raised on an industrial diet. Regarding the best pasture mixes, “On average across all these periods, the mixtures highly dominated by legumes — clover and alfalfa — produced 18 percent more omega-3 fat than grass alone,” Karsten says. Eggs from the alfalfa pasture had 25 percent more omega-3s than grass-produced counterparts. “In absolute amounts, this was not a very big increase,” says Karsten. “But with more research and some different feeding regimes, it might go higher.”   Pasturing also boosted levels of vitamins A and E. “On average, we saw about twice as much vitamin E and 40 percent more vitamin A in the yolks of pasture-fed birds than in the caged birds. The longer the animals were on pasture, the more vitamins they produced,” Karsten says.   “From this study we confirmed three nutritional advantages of raising hens on pasture as compared to on an industry diet in cages: the increases in omega-3 fatty acids and in vitamins A and E. We also found that differences in omega-3 levels in plants have an effect on the eggs. And we learned how to manage chickens on pasture.”
— Joanna Lott

   As I stated a week ago, I read an article about overwintering chickens on ground alfalfa hay.  I'm still researching this process and as soon as I accumulate enough information to relay a good option for us pastured poultry growers I will let you know.  This option is harder to find info./studies on because it's not widely practiced.  Yet!

Bush Clover for Sheep & Goats!

Mar 24, 2010
Bush clover may help your Grass-Fed Goats & Sheep battle a nasty nematode.
   This week’s blog is a shorty! I don’t know much about grazing sheep and goats, & I’ve never claimed too, but when I saw the following article the other week I thought it would be nice to share the following info. with our friends who produce Grass-fed Goats & Sheep.
   Animal scientist Joan Burke at the ARS Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville, Arkansas, along with colleagues at several universities, has patented formulations of Sericea lespedeza, commonly referred to as Chinese bush clover.    The plant was introduced in the United States in the 1930’s to minimize soil erosion.
   Adding the patented dry hay and pelleted forms of this plant into your Goats & Sheep’s feed rations thwarts the reproductive cycles of gastrointestinal nematodes that are in the digestive tracts of goats and sheep.  It is particularly effective in controlling the barber pole worm (Haemonchus contortus), a nematode that attaches to the animals’ abomasal (true stomach) wall and feeds on their blood. Female worms can produce more than 5,000 eggs per day that are shed in the animal’s manure.
   After hatching outside the animal, H. contortus larvae molt several times, resulting in a more developed and infectious larval form on grass leaves that animals consume during grazing.           Once the infectious larvae are inside the animal, they suck the animal’s blood, potentially leading to anemia, weakness and even death.
   In the southern United States, goat production for meat or milk is an attractive alternative business for Grass based farmers because of the comparatively low cost of breeding stock, the high reproductive rate of goats, and the animals’ ability to thrive on native pastures or brush-land that is unsuitable for cropping or other ruminant grazers.    The major hindrance to economic goat production in some regions is infection with gastrointestinal nematodes, particularly H. contortus. This parasite causes large economic losses for farmers around the world, and the worm has developed resistance to chemical interventions.
   Professors at Auburn University in Alabama, Fort Valley State University in Georgia, and Louisiana State University are co-inventors on the patent awarded in November 2009.
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This research supports the USDA mission of promoting international food security.
If those of you who raise Goats and Lambs on pasture would like additional information like this, let me know!  We could rotate the blog's to focus on Cattle, Goats, and Poultry in equal parts.  I've actually been doing some research into 100% Grass-fed Poultry in year-round production.  What I've found so far is very encouraging for those of us looking to cut back on feed (grain), costs.
Stay tuned for more about that in coming weeks!!

Marketing your MEATS Part 3 of 3

Mar 12, 2010
Welcome back to part 3 in a 3 part series on……
   The BEEF business is completely different from the cattle business. You need a completely different mind-set to market beef to customers. You will need a totally different set of knowledge and skills.
Pay attention to your competition.  Begin to read the food and business sections of your local newspapers.
Read on-line trade journals that will help you understand the beef, pork, poultry, lamb etc. businesses.   
Learn about regulations.
   Think about your geographical marketing area.   Are you located in a rural setting out in the middle of nowhere? Are you within 15 – 30 minutes of a town, city or retail market or restaurant? Learn about managing a business.  Look for training in marketing - selling approaches, demonstrating, negotiating with retailers or restaurants, and closing the sale.
• Be prepared for your business to take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years to take off.
• Your processor/butcher is key to your success. Choose it carefully. And talk to them on a regular basis.
• Look for close markets first such as Farmers Markets, health food stores and especially restaurants who      prefer to buy locally.
• Be yourself and be professional. Capitalize on your down-home, family farmer image. It’s how you live your life, be proud of your heritage.
Always promote a positive impression of your products.
   In a world of unsafe food, consumers fears about food safety and quality outweigh any sociological considerations they may have about agriculture. You must appear to be well-organized, and committed to quality to build the trust you need to make the sale and have repeat customers.
• EDUCATE your customers.
 Compare your 100% Grass-fed BEEF to other species such as venison when referring to cooking time.
 If your customers cook your meat incorrectly they won’t buy more!
• Offer delivery for the elderly and restaurants that feature Locally raised food.
• Be positive when presenting your 100% Grass-fed BEEF, Pastured Pork, Poultry, Lamb etc.
• Building your niche market takes steady work. Stick with it and be prepared for success!!
Target your marketing to the right customer. We have found that individuals with an existing or new interest in healthy, lean meat are the choice consumer niche.   
The following points are some of the interests of consumers in the 100% Grass-fed BEEF marketing niche:
• Great taste.
• Pesticide-free food (for customers with chemical sensitivities).
• A healthy, high-protein diet (for reduction of cancer risk or for cancer patients).
• No artificial/injected growth hormones or animal by-product rations.
• Safe locally raised foods with no danger of E. coli or BSE.
• Lean meat.
• Humane Animal welfare.
• Cost-saving through prices lower than the chain stores.
• Convenience and TRACEABILITY!
• Desire to support farmers and eat locally raised foods.

Marketing Part 2 of 3

Mar 05, 2010
Welcome back to part 2 in a 3 part series focusing on:
Marketing your 100% Grass-fed Meats
There are two good on-line sources for direct marketing information:
- Beef Marketing Alternatives is a publication from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service,
- How to Direct Market Your Beef, by Jan Holden is the second online resource. It is from the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the national outreach network for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
   If you’re going to direct market your 100% Grass-fed BEEF, Pastured Pork or Poultry, it’s important to accurately estimate how many pounds of meat or various retail cuts you’re going to have to sell after slaughtering and processing an animal. To estimate the amount of product you will have for sale:
-          Dressing percentage x live weight = expected carcass weight.
(dressing percentage is the percentage of live weight that results in carcass weight).
-          Dressing Percentage = (hot carcass weight ÷ live weight) x 100
-          Expected carcass weight x expected lean meat yield (cutability).
            Example: 1200 pound beef steer with a 720 pound carcass.
            Dressing percentage = (720 ÷ 1200) x 100 = 60%
   When direct-marketing your 100% Grass-fed BEEF, Pork and/or Poultry, the actual pounds of saleable product will be determined by such factors as:
-          Carcass Fatness: The more trim fat an animal has, the lower the lean yield.
-          Muscling: Heavier muscling will result in a higher lean yield.
Meat Cuts Sold: The largest fat deposit in the carcass, by weight, is seam fat, not back fat, so cutting methods for marketing purposes greatly affects the amount of saleable product.
Bone-In versus Boneless: Bone-In products will result in more saleable pounds than boneless.
Leanness of Ground Beef: Selling a 90% lean ground beef versus an 80% lean ground beef will mean using less fat trim in the ground product. However, consumers generally like a leaner ground product. Especially when grilling. And our customers have come to love the lack of burger shrinkage on their grills due to the lower fat content of our 100% Grass-fed BEEF products!
Trim: Closely trimming steaks and roasts will result in slightly lower yields due to more fat trim that needs to be used in other products.
Value-Added Products: Having the ability to make some sausage products, 100% BEEF hot dogs, etc. will greatly increase the ability to use fat trim.
   There has been allot of ill will focused toward this blog by readers who obviously feel that Grain-fed BEEF is best! The reason these aggressive verbal attacks have been directed at 100% Grass-fed BEEF is because the Grain-fed/finished producers think only their process can produce tenderness that has been identified as the most important palatability attribute of meat, and the primary determinant of meat quality, and consumer acceptability.
   Let’s break it down. The two primary determinants of meat tenderness are maturity of the connective tissue, and myofibrillar toughness. Right?! One mis-conception that exists in the BEEF industry is that 100% Grass-fed BEEF systems always result in carcasses that have less tender steaks compared with grain-finishing systems.  However, this is not always the case.  In two studies where a forage based system was compared with a grain based system, the carcasses from grain-fed cattle had a higher marbling score, and whiter fat, but there were no differences in Warner-Bratzler shear force or muscle tenderness as rated by trained sensory panel scoring. This same finding was reported in 2006, while comparing forage versus grain finishing, however, in that same study there were no differences in marbling score, with carcasses in both groups being USDA Select.
Well that’s enough for this week. Let’s meet again next week and finish this 3 part series on Marketing your 100% Grass-fed Meats.
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