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March 2012 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.

Pink Slime

Mar 31, 2012


You be the judge

   On March 29th, 2012, Governors Rick Perry of Texas, Terry Branstad of Iowa, and Sam Brownback of Kansas, toured a Building Performance Institute, Inc. (BPI) facility and then took part in a subsequent nine-member panel featured at a press conference to express their support of BPI. The company has recently experienced serious economic fallout from what it says is an inaccurate and unsubstantiated accusation that BPI is adding unsafe and unhealthy products to its hamburger. BPI closed three of its four plants after a campaign against the product, dubbed "pink slime" by its critics, caused a consumer backlash. BPI has started fighting back with a massive public relations campaign.

"Dude, it's beef!"

"Let's call this product what it is and let 'pink slime' become a term of the past," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said this past Thursday after the tour. "Dude, it's beef!

   Among the industry officials also taking part in the tour and panel were Gary Acuff, director of the Texas A&M University Center for Food Safety; Elisabeth Hagen, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety; and Nancy Donley, past president of STOP, a non-profit organization she has spearheaded since her six-year-old son Alex died due to an E. coli poisoning in 1993.  Acuff noted that sensationalized reports about the process used to obtain lean finely textured beef (LFTB) products for processing and the nutritional quality of the end product were a "misrepresentation of the characteristics of lean beef trimmings."

   "It’s being called a cheap, low-quality product," Acuff says, but it's a safe, sustainable product borne from consumer demands over the past 30 years. It helps ensure that consumers have the lean products they desire. The process makes use of advanced intervention technology to reduce the risk of food-borne disease. It is a responsible use of as much use as possible of the lean meat from a beef carcass."

   Gov. Sam Brownback noted that the media hype has already resulted in closure of a BPI facility in Kansas, which laid-off 300 employees. BPI facilities in Waterloo, IA, and Amarillo, TX, were also closed this week. Gov. Rick Perry commented that he was uncertain as to why the subject of LFTB had become such a focal point.

   "Pink slime" is a term coined in a 2002 e-mail that former USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein sent to his colleagues, expressing his concern over the quality of the beef products resulting from the use of ammonium hydroxide in the processing method.  Ammonium hydroxide is ammonia combined with water. The compound is used extensively in food processing, including baked goods, cheeses, chocolates and puddings. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration affirmed use of ammonium hydroxide in 1974 after extensive review of scientific literature about the compound and a detailed rule making process.  Use of ammonium hydroxide elevates pH in finished product. This is important, BPI says, because bacteria, especially gram-negative bacteria, like E coli 0157:H7 and salmonella, prefer an environment with a lower pH. By raising the pH, the odds of any pathogenic bacteria in the finished product are greatly reduced.

   The USDA will not eliminate hamburger containing LFTB from school food choices, primarily because of the nutritional, low-fat quality and cost-effectiveness of the meat. Schools, however, will be able to choose whether or not they purchase hamburger containing LFTB, although alternative products are more costly.

As consumers demanded answers to these questions, commercial beef producers will have their hands full dispelling myths and correcting misinformation.  Discover Magazine recently published an article that looks at both sides of the conversation and ultimately concludes that the ruckus came from the media, and the pink slime controversy is nothing to be scared about.

Here’s an excerpt from that magazine article:

   "What’s more interesting to me – and what hasn’t been covered especially well in the slime stories – is that foods that are ammonia-processed are remarkably widespread. Among them are breads, pastries, cheeses, chocolates, breakfast cereals, sports drinks, fruits, vegetables….in other words, if we’re going to worry about chemical processing, beef products need to stand in line.

   "The real issue here is transparency. Our government should not be colluding with private industry in hiding additives from the consumer. And, in fact, there are signs that the USDA is tending to agree. USDA’s Elizabeth Hagen, emphasized that the product is considered safe and added: "It seems to me that the larger issue here is labeling and transparency."

   Well folks, it’s time for you to make a choice about what you want your family to eat?  Whether a BEEF producer raises his or her cattle on 100% Grass Pastures or in a Feed-lot is not the issue.  This latest smack in the face to BEEF is widespread and all encompassing to the entire BEEF industry.  Arm your self with knowledge and shop smart!  As I always say, BUY FRESH, BUY LOCAL and be safe.  But most of all, arm yourself with knowledge about the producer you buy your food from.  NOT TELEVISION MEDIA!!  In my opinion, processed food is rarely good for anyone.  The fresher the better, and the less processed the safer.

You be the judge.

Prescribed Grazing - Part 1

Mar 08, 2012

Prescribed Grazing Management - Part 1

The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides assistance to ranchers and farmers who wish to apply grazing management to their operation. The primary conservation practice used is prescribed grazing. Prescribed grazing is the vegetation management practice that is applied to all land where grazing is a planned use. The grazing may be from domestic livestock, semi-domestic animals (buffalo and reindeer) or wildlife. This practice has been developed to incorporate all the methods and concepts of grazing management.


Prescribed grazing is…

the controlled harvest of vegetation with grazing or browsing animals,

managed with the intent to achieve a specified objective.

The objectives developed with the rancher/farmer during the planning process determine the level of planning and detail necessary for the application of prescribed grazing. The minimum level of planning for the prescribed grazing practice includes enough inventory information for the landowner to know the proper amount of harvest to maintain enough cover to protect the soil and maintain or improve the quality and quantity of desired vegetation. The available forage and the number of grazing and browsing animals must be in balance for effective management of grazing lands. This is done by developing a feed, forage, livestock balance sheet. This part of the inventory identifies the available forage from the land and the demand for forage by the livestock and wildlife. It identifies where and when shortages or surpluses in forage exist.

Grazing is one of the major forces in defining which plant species will dominate a site. Different grazing pressures by different grazing and browsing animals favor different plant species. If the grazing is severe, undesirable plants are generally favored. Grazing management can be planned and applied that favors a particular plant community or species. This can be done to meet the objectives of the landowner and the needs of the resource.  

Grazing management has been successfully planned and applied that has favored the re-establishment and increase in woody plants along riparian areas while still providing quality forage for the grazing animal. Where plants have died possibly due to overgrazing, recovery depends upon establishment of new plants. Although plants of the original community are invigorated by the reduction of grazing pressure and may suppress the successor species, the seedlings of the original species can become established in competition with the undesirable species only under favorable conditions.

Rate of plant regrowth following grazing is dependent on the amount of leaf area remaining for photosynthesis and the availability of active axillary buds to initiate new tillers.

Every management unit has certain characteristics that influence the distribution of grazing.  Among these characteristics are soil, topography, size of pasture or feedlot, location of water, fences, riparian areas like tree and shrubbery plantings available through NRCS/FSA grant Programs like CREP, natural barriers such as strips of grass a minimum of 30' wide that animals are not granted access to, and the kinds and distribution of plants. In addition, weather conditions, insects, location of salt and minerals, type of grazing management being applied (frequency and severity of grazing such as "MOB" grazing) and habits of the grazing animals affect the pattern of grazing use.

For these reasons it is impractical to prescribe grazing use for every part of a large grazing unit, rotational paddock or feedlot or to prescribe identical use for all enclosures of a farm or ranch. Determining the key grazing area(s) in each enclosure and planning the grazing to meet the needs of the plants in the key area is more practical. If the key grazing area of a unit is properly grazed, the unit as a whole will not be excessively used. The key grazing area in a management unit is a relatively small area within the grazing unit. This key area is used to represent the grazing unit as a whole. Most plant communities in a grazing unit consist of several plant species in varying amounts.

Even though the entire plant community is of concern to management, to attempt to attain the desired use of every species would be impractical. It is more practical to identify a single species (or in some situations two or three) as a key species to serve as a guide to the use of the entire plant community. If the key species within the key grazing area is properly grazed, the entire plant community will not be excessively used.

Characteristics of a key grazing area:

• Provides a significant amount, but not necessarily the greatest amount, of the available forage in the grazing unit.

• Is easily grazed because of even topography, accessible water and other favorable factors influencing grazing distribution. Small areas of natural concentration, such as those immediately adjacent to water, salt or shade, are not key grazing areas, nor are areas remote from water or of limited accessibility. However, riparian areas are of special concern when establishing key grazing areas. Riparian areas are of generally small extent in relation to the surrounding landscape. These areas represent a significant resource in terms of forage production, buffering surface water flows, controlling accelerated erosion and sedimentation, capturing and transforming subsurface pollutants, and providing essential wildlife habitat and local biodiversity.

• Areas of special concern can also be designated as key areas. Areas of special concern could include habitat for threatened or endangered species, cultural or archeological resources, water quality impaired waterbodies and critically eroding areas.

• Usually limited to one per grazing enclosure. More than one key grazing area may be needed for an unusually large enclosure, enclosures with riparian areas, enclosures that have very rough topography or widely spaced water where animals tend to locate, when different kinds of animals graze the enclosure, or when the enclosure is grazed at different seasons. The entire acreage of small enclosures can be considered the key grazing area.


Key grazing areas should be:

• Selected only after careful evaluation of the current pattern of grazing use in the enclosure.

• Selected to meet the objectives and needs of the resources, livestock and landowner. Objectives and needs must meet the FOTG quality criteria.

• Changed when the pattern of grazing use is significantly modified because of changes in season of use, kinds or classes of grazing animals, enclosure size, water supplies or other factors that affect grazing distribution.


Degree of grazing use as related to stocking rates

Because of fluctuations in forage production or loss of forage other than by grazing use, arbitrarily assigning a stocking rate at the beginning of a grazing period does not ensure attainment of a specific degree of use. If the specified degree of use is to be attained and trend satisfactorily maintained, stocking rates must be adjusted as the amount of available forage fluctuates. When determining initial stocking rates, grazing distribution characteristics of the individual grazing unit must be considered.

Many methods are used to determine the initial stocking rate within a grazing unit. Often the past stocking history and the trend of the plant community are the best indicators of a proper stocking rate. The Multi Species Stocking Calculator in the Grazing Lands Application (GLA) software is one method for determining stocking rates, especially when the area is grazed or browsed by more than one kind of animal.


Prescribed grazing schedule

A prescribed grazing schedule is a system in which two or more grazing units are alternately deferred or rested and grazed in a planned sequence over a period of years. The period of nongrazing can be throughout the year or during the growing season of the key plants. Generally, deferment implies a nongrazing period less than a calendar year, while rest implies nongrazing for a full year or longer. The period of deferment is set for a critical period for plant germination, establishment, growth or other function.


Grazing management is a tool to balance the capture of energy by the plants, the harvest of that energy by animals and the conversion of that energy into a product that is marketable.

This is done primarily by balancing the supply of forage with the demand for that forage.

Such systems help to:

• Maintain or accelerate improvement in vegetation and facilitate proper use of the forage on all grazing units.

• Improve efficiency of grazing through uniform use of all grazing units.

• Stabilize the supply of forage throughout the grazing season.

• Enhance forage quality to meet livestock and wildlife needs.

• Improve the functioning of the ecological processes.

• Improve watershed protection.

• Enhance wildlife habitat.

Many grazing systems are used in various places. Prescribed grazing is designed to fit the individual operating unit and to meet the operator's objectives and the practice specifications. The basic types of grazing management systems follow. Many others can be developed to fit specific objectives on specific lands.

• Deferred rotation

• Rest rotation

• High intensity—low frequency

• Short duration


Free Up Your Chickens!

Mar 02, 2012

Why Not Chickens?

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," says Heather Karsten, assistant professor of crop production and ecology at The Pennsylvania State University. "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 your chickens?

Animals with just one stomach, like chickens and people, don’t have the digestive microorganisms 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 diet. 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, Karsten says. She 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 scale than the university, but we have found that the chickens need only a very small amount of grain during the winter. From April until December, our free-range chickens don’t eat any supplemental grain, the yolks are a dark
yellow/orange in color and the shells are durable and thick.

Not all grasses are equal, however. The leafier the plant, the higher the digestibility for the animal. If a pasture is overgrazed or the grass is too mature and "stemmy," the nutritional benefits fall off. And in a recent study, legumes like alfalfa and clover are higher than grasses in omega-3 fatty acids (which lower health risks including cancer, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders).

Over a six-week period, Karsten rotated 25 chickens from grass to red and white clover to alfalfa, grazing them for two weeks on each species. To facilitate rotation, she designed a mobile chicken coop, 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, four-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% more omega-3 fat than grass alone," Karsten says. Eggs from the alfalfa pasture had 25% more omega-3 than grass-produced counterparts. "In absolute amounts, this was not a very big increase," Karsten states. "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% 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. The study 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. It also found that differences in omega-3 levels in plants have an effect on the eggs. And it showed how to manage chickens on pasture.


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