Archive for the ‘Grass Fed Beef Cattle’ Category

How a small grass fed beef cattle farmer keeps his farm profitable: “kick over conventional wisdom” and cut costs in the margins.


Small farms finding new ways to stay successful

By Jake Godin, Marissa McEntire and Austin Nichols

 

 

MEXICO — Robert Worstell is a Missouri farm owner with big ideas on how to successfully run a small farm.

“First thing, you have to kick over conventional wisdom,“ Worstell said concerning the difference between small and large farms.

Worstell is moving away from conventional methods used by larger farms and looking for ways to cut costs.

Worstell inherited the farm from his father who used to concentrate on growing row crops, such as corn and beans. His father would then use a portion of the crops to feed his cattle. While that works for larger farms, Worstell said it simply doesn’t make sense to do on a farm like his.

“I’ve got so many acres, and I’ve got so much grass, so that means I can raise so many cattle,” Worstell said. “So I gotta be smart with what I’m doing.”

Here are some other things that Worstell is doing to make his small farm profitable. He’s saving money by buying his own hay instead of growing it. He is rotating his cattle so they will always have good grass to eat and changing the type of bull that he purchases. He said that by getting the smaller and more docile Galloway bull, he can fit more animals on any given acre of land and get more beef per acre.

By finding unconventional ways to work his farm, Worstell has been seeing better returns. He says he plans to continue tweaking his methods as time goes on as well, whether that means fattening the calves he sells for a bit more cash or selling Indian corn stalks as decorations.

Marketing is also an important part of Worstell’s strategy to increase profits. By designing his own website, he’s been able to sell directly to customers and even offer information about what goes into raising his cattle.

———-Posted on November 29, 2012 by in Student Work

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Now, this all doesn’t look like much money for having to go out and check our beef cattle twice a day, every day. Certainly wouldn’t pay your expenses if you think you have to make $50K per year to make a living. Practically, the Feds say you are below “poverty level” if you make less than $24K for a family of four (which is something like $16K if you are an individual – but they still take taxes out of almost every paycheck and hold it for you until the end of the year. Such nice folks we have in government.)

Means that most rural families are “poor” according to the government and are so eligible for massive handouts from the rest of the country which are comparatively “rich” and can afford to pay for everything we “need.”

But when you look at a lifestyle where you can raise everything you eat and if you don’t buy the hype that you have to have a color TV and a boat to take to the lake on summer weekends – or a 3,000 square foot house and all the latest gizmo’s which make life easier. When you look at life as a very simple operation (if you leave Madison Avenue and the Government out of the equation), then your actual cost of living is very small.

Once I got my credit card bills paid off and started working as a contracted laborer (freelance web design), I found out that I didn’t have the commuting expense to work and back so many times a week. I quit watching TV and suddenly didn’t feel “compelled” to buy this or that – or even see the latest movies which were coming out.

I started having more time to myself, and felt more at ease and secure and healthier.

No, I don’t “make” anywhere near the $50K slot. But I don’t have to work for someone else except every now and then – and I don’t have to leave home to do it. The quality of my food is completely under my own control. What vegetables and beef and fruit I eat are how industrious and efficient I am with my time and the resources around me.

True, my parents bought and paid for this farm with their own jobs and I am simply reaping this harvest based on their work. But I also keep the farm running and my Mother live a comfortable retired life, not having to fix things or simply rent out the farm because she can’t manage it.

My income is also taken out in non-taxable ways – such as barter and payment in other “currencies” than money. Working for my room and board is one example.

I then spend the bulk of my time on stuff I want to do, and am not taxed for thinking or writing or blogging. I give tons of stuff away that is really useful.

So I don’t really feel I need a lot to live on. My health is excellent and I don’t carry insurance. Don’t really need to. Isn’t insurance something a little counter-productive, since you are hedging a bet against yourself?  The taxes I do pay whenever I buy something or license something – all these go toward supporting the schools and hospitals and roads. Even though I mostly don’t use them.

I don’t need a lot of income, so don’t need to pay tax on it.

The result is that I can say that a farm which makes $16,000 a year from raising beef cattle is sustainable and outrageously profitable. At that rate, I could buy a used tractor every year. Or get a loan for more land and pay it off in a decade or so.  Or simply stockpile some savings instead of giving it away to insurance companies – so if I did have to get medical treatment, I could simply pay the bill that way. (Like I do with my dentist – I was paying more for insurance and the deductible than I was in just paying for the treatment when I needed it.)

That’s the Kool-Aid I make. Look at the incredible prosperity you are already surrounded with. And quit listening to people who say you have to buy this and that. Quit figuring that you need approval from others, or inflated ideas of security, or that you need to be controlled or control others. These three points – approval, control, security – Levenson’s Sedona Method says are the base for all the chronic thinking we have floating around our heads. Get rid of those base considerations and the thought can simply be let go, released. Keep doing that consistently or intensively, and your mind quiets right down. You aren’t habitually thinking so much – and can actually quit having to “think your way” through life.

And you can come up with ideas about how you don’t need to “make a lot of money” to be abundantly prosperous and fulfilled.

There’s also the benefits of going through the pasture, checking your cows, scratching them where they seem to like it – and getting the satisfaction from those simple actions. Raising calves and watching them grow – like any crop, but more mobile.

The point is that all your “pay” for living in this universe isn’t coming to you in a check or through an electronic account somewhere. And it doesn’t need some government approval or license. Take a walk in the early morning or at sunset and see if you are getting paid very amply for the little time you invest.

That’s the meal I cook, the Kool-Aid I drink . Join me.

More great Missouri cattle by Julie Brown

Ok, call it ultra-high-density stocking to achieve maximal lignified carbon sequestration fertilization. Yes, that’s very close to Joel Salatin’s work – and I just left out the “herbivorous solar conversion” part.

When you mob stock your grass fed beef cattle, they convert natural grasses, legumes, and forbs (plus everything else they can eat) into fertilizer – some of the best stuff you can put on a field. We call them four-legged self-reproducing combines with on-site storage. They take whatever is out there and turn it into meat, plus produce another of themselves every year. Since they last about 12-14 years, they will produce on average about 10 of themselves, which is a nice profit for a farmer.

Now Greg Judy doesn’t tell you one interesting fact about where he farms: if we didn’t farm this particular area of country and it wouldn’t turn to desert. In fact, our particular part of Missouri would turn into rather thick woods within about 40 – 100 years. And it would over-populate with deer, with cougars making a comeback.

Of course no humans would be around, because there’s no money in it – no real way to make a living. Trees grow too slowly, and our government doesn’t like us hunting and logging for a living. Now, there are some radical activists who would love that concept – but they are basically suicidal, anyway. (I took a college course on Geography a few years ago and discovered that this exact point is being taught in their government-approved textbooks. Humans are basically at fault for everything, particularly the white male minorities – so much for their touted diversity and tolerance campaigns.)

Back to the real world.

Now, most people in my “neck of the woods” are into high-overhead row crops. Those farmers that raise cattle on land they can’t “farm” use conventional grazing, which is leaving cattle on a fenced-in section until they mostly eat everything down. Then you move them over to another section and repeat. In July or August, you sell off what won’t make it through the “slump” where it’s too hot and dry to raise grass. Meanwhile, you save a couple of spots to make hay out of – which keeps that herd through the winter. And you again sell off in the fall (at reduced prices) everything you can’t feed.

The weird part is that cows were meant to graze all year round. Even through snow. And mob stocking will set the land up to produce enough to make that happen. It’s just your management has to change.

Now, I’m no expert, but I have a tendency to write too much, so I’m blogging our efforts so others can use what they can out of them.

1. Get out everyday for some excuse and move some fences. Actually walk out in and around your cattle regardless of the weather. This gets them used to you. And you’ll get more familiar with the individual cattle and how they are doing. You’ll probably go through more pairs of boots, but it’s cheaper than fuel and engine parts.

2. Study up on Managed Grazing. This is the step that both Salatin and Judy did when they eventually moved to Allan Savory’s methods of ultra-high-density stocking.

3. Start laying some temporary electric lines out with battery-powered chargers, subdividing your existing pastures so that cattle just have enough to eat for a couple of days in every small part. You’ll probably want to start with a small herd in a back pasture. We have some heifers and steers we keep back until they’re ready to meet the bull or the processor, so they are a good experiment. Take a nice pasture that already has a water supply available and a good perimeter fence.

(We stumbled onto an interesting idea of creating pie slices and moving the two long sides of it. This is until we can install a nice electric line inside that perimeter fence to power it. Put your charger at the point with some ground rods so you don’t have to move the charger every day. Sounds simple, but I’m writing it down here so you don’t have to figure it out – you’ve already got tons to figure out. This is just to get you started.)

4. Start buying hay with the money you’d spend on fertilizer, fuel, and equipment for hay. It should buy you the same amount or more. Quit growing your own. Import other people’s grass onto your farm and use it to fertilize your own fields.  Now, I’ve been starting to lay out the hay on the bad spots (over-farmed) spots in my fields (even gullies) so the cattle eat and manure right there. In those spots by two years’ time you have a very thick growth coming on where nothing much did before. (Of course, if they don’t eat it down, it’s hard to disk, but we’re really moving back to permanent pastures everywhere, anyway, aren’t we?) But put those hay bales out where they’d do some good – not just in a feed lot where you are having to move it back out to the pastures again. Takes some foresight – but you’ll use your tractor a lot less during the winter as you do.

5. Start moving your cattle through those former hay pastures. Under managed grazing, you’ll get through these about three or four times over eight months. In mob grazing, you’ll get through about twice a year. All that former hay ground can start making beef pounds while it’s fertilized at the same time. Win-win.

6. Study the temporary layouts you are using. Cattle need three things – water, grass, and shelter. They actually like trees better than barns or sheds. So the best layout for a pasture is a savanna, where there are these huge shade trees popping up every 50 feet or so on a grid. You see, grass likes partial shade and cows keep eating in the shade. (One tip I heard was to trim off the lower limbs as high as you can – this keeps the shade moving, so the cows don’t just drop everything under the trees. You still need a lot of trees to pull that concept off – another blog post, another time.) In “Grass-Fed Cattle”, Julius Ruechel says that you can take your whole farm and simply rotate the cattle through it as you go. Our own farm is dotted with ponds, strips of woods, and waterways that are full in the spring, so this is a no-brainer.

7. Study where you are putting fences – if you keep putting them in the same spot, maybe you should put a permanent fence up there. We use steel t-bar posts for corners and just leave them there with the insulators on (so we can find them later) and this tells us where we are coming back to all the time.

8. This brings up another point – use what you got to start with. There’s a lot of great fiberglass poles out there and fancy-dancy geared wind-up reels. We use reels for power cords and our old rebar poles with plastic insulators on them. (If you can’t shove them in with a heavy leather glove on your hand, you can carry a hammer on your belt for frozen or summer-hardened ground.) Invest in better gear when your cows start bringing you more profit from the lower overhead.

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These are just the transitioning steps. Find and read everything you possibly can about the subject. Clip articles and put them in binders so you can re-read them. Buy books and dog-ear the good parts. Keep all this stuff by your easy chair so you can read when you come in to cool off or to warm up. Attend extension meetings and ask for these subjects to be brought up when they only want to talk about machine shops, grain storage, and crop prices.

And talk to your neighbors when you can. Compare notes.

This stuff can be done. And you can make a nice five-figure income which pays all your costs every year, as well as taxes and some nice retirement CD’s. The alternative is going broke and watching the trees take over. Still pretty, but not as exciting as raising cattle and getting all that good exercise plus lots of great beef in your diet.

PS. Just set up an Amazon mini-store so you can find all your books on raising grass fed beef cattle in (mostly) one place. Check it out!

(While I don’t raise Holsteins, we’ve certainly had some tall grass this year.)

For grass fed beef, you really have just two major profit points – as long as you’re feeding hay:

  1. When they’re weaned.
  2. When they’re yearlings.

Anything else gets eaten up in the winter hay cycle. While a grass fed beef is only about 22 months old at harvest, it’s gone through at least 2 winters, usually 3. Because you have to add in the 9 months of gestation to the cost – which takes it up to nearly 2 1/2 years.

Cost of hay isn’t just baling it, you also have to fertilize the land it came from, or it won’t produce as well for you the next time (and eventually, you’d only be raising short, unpalatable weeds – or sand.)

So working to finish cattle actually takes the remaining profit out of that last 8-10 months. They are going to put on their final weight, but this is also where they lose their efficiency of gain – each pound of gain takes more and more pounds of forage to achieve. And so the relative efficiency of grain-fed beef, who are harvested at about 14 months. That is, if you have the cheap grain to feed them.

Trying to finish cattle on grass usually means another winter of hay, which is additional cost. Auction prices for beef gets you paid commodity prices, which are as low as buyers can get away with. So your fertilizer cost, plus equipment and fuel, eat up any profit from those last few hundred pounds.

Now Missouri has lots and lots of tough, but tasty fescue grass. So this is why it is one of the top beef-producing states. Mostly, it has feeder or stocker (yearling) calves which are then shipped off to feedlots for fattening.

What’s becoming more popular are grass-finished beef, locally marketed. This is where you get your premiums and the reason for finishing anything at all. When you can jump the final price up above your costs for that last year, you can then simply be able to make any profit you want that the final consumer will pay for.

Example is that while a cow at auction will bring about $800 and your 600-pound carcass will cost you another $300 for processing – this comes to somewhere around $2.00 a pound for the whole animal. Visiting the local big-city market found that just hamburger from a verified grass-fed beef was bringing $5.50/lb. and sirloin steak was $18-19.00 per pound.

Now, that was individually wrapped, USDA-inspected. But it shows that farmers taking over their own market can reap the profit harvest to the tune of somewhere around $3,000 per animal.

Without taking your own marketing into your own hands, you are really stuck with sellling yearlings at auction, your next best profit margin.

To create a sustainable farming solution, increasing profit on grass fed beef at commodity prices is to take out the hay costs – which entails something called mob-grazing. By intensively grazing cattle and letting the land recover (one expert at this says his cows only see the same spot twice a year) – this actually make the grass lusher and means you don’t have to feed hay at all, there’s plenty out there if you ration it during the winter.

The other point would be to get a premium above commodity levels – in other words, quit selling a commodity.

But I’ve got far more to study on this. I sure would like to move onto finished cattle, but there’s going to have to be some changes in order to “mine them them hills” of grass to see more gold.

I’d heard recently about Joel Salatin moving over to part-ownership in a local abattoir. A logical extension, but the reason was in the management, not vertical integration. He simply had to protect that end of the production line.

This article does point out that for anyone wanting some real profit, it’s in the middle, not the farmer nor the supermarket. Grass fed beef roughly twice what conventional commodity beef is.

From my experience, farmers are happy to simply get a guaranteed auction/commodity price per live animal. But read down to the bottom. This guy can’t get enough beef to supply his clientele. And it’s a USDA inspected abattoir, meaning they can sell their parts direct instead of by wholes, halves, and quarters.

Figure out of the cost of grass fed beef, the farmer is taking a third, the middleman taking two-thirds. And that is just for hamburger. The whole animal can bring as much as $3,000 – so your farmer is getting roughly $800 of that and the middleman can rake in $2,200 per animal.

Can you say “six-figure income”?

Access to an abattoir was tough even for Joel Salatin <http://voices.washingtonpost.com/mighty-appetite/2008/07/a_day_at_polyface_farm.html> of Polyface Inc., a high-profile farmer thanks to his role in Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” He had relied on T&E to process the cattle and pigs he raises on his farm near Staunton, but it became clear several years ago that the owners would soon retire. “It was absolutely our weakest link,” Salatin said. He paraded many potential buyers through the 70-year-old plant, but said “it took a lot of hooks in the water before I got a bite.”

Cloud was a good prospect because love of food and wine runs in his family. His brother Roy Cloud runs Vintage ’59 Imports <http://www.vintage59.com/home.php> , a French wine importer in the District. After his father’s plans to start a vineyard on farmland near Staunton were thwarted by an accident, Cloud began helping his mother manage the farm. Soon, he was wondering whether to trade his office in Seattle for a herd of cattle in Virginia.

Salatin, who was leasing a few of their fields, proposed that Cloud buy the slaughterhouse instead. “You certainly don’t have the allure of the country life in a slaughterhouse, the kind of thing sought out by the weekend farmer,” said Salatin. “But processing plants and distribution are the two biggest hurdles in the local food movement.” Cloud eventually agreed, sinking 40 percent of his retirement savings into the deal and signing up his mother, Helen, and Salatin as partners. They bought the plant in July 2008, and Cloud has been pulling 50- to 60-hour weeks ever since, managing a workforce of 20 and fielding calls from restaurants and farmers.

T&E now processes meat for more than 100 farms, up from just a handful before the sale. The number of animals he slaughters has shot up 70 percent — during the worst recession since the 1930s. Cloud sells local beef, pork, lamb and poultry out of T&E Meats’ store, but unlike Blue Ridge, he can’t make the business work without buying some beef from the Midwest and pigs from Pennsylvania.

He can’t get enough locally, nor can he sell it at a price his longtime customers are used to paying. “For 40 years it was the cheapest place in town,” says Salatin. “Now we’re trying to make it the best.” T&E, for example, sells conventional ground beef for $2.67 a pound. The local ground beef, from animals without antibiotics or hormones, goes for $3.50 a pound, and local grass-fed beef runs $3.99 a pound.

Cloud is putting every dollar he makes back into the business, expanding into poultry processing this year and hoping to grow again in 2011.

Now, I’ve got a lot more on this, as I just finished a whitepaper on the subject, entitled “Feed More By Farming Less. And you are invited to digest all 56 pages of it.

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Some grassfed beef links:

Family raises, produces grass-fed beef | savannahnow.com

Savannah Morning News
Names: Debra and Del FergusonJobs: Owners and cattle farmers, Hunter Cattle Co. in Brooklet What they do: As owners and cattle farmers with their business, Hunter Cattle Co., the Fergusons make it their mission to …

More Ohio Producers Exploring Grass-Fed Beef Production

GILEAD, Ohio – Ohio livestock producers are exploring grass-fed beef production to meet market demands for what many consider to be a healthful and ecologically sustainable product. However, the production side of the system can be …

Is Grassfed Beef Too Pricey? | Free The Animal

by Richard Nikoley
I recently got an email from a reader asking that if grassfed beef was out of the question budget wise, whether a paleo dietary style still ought to include meat. Of course, a resounding yes. I think that most people will gravitate to …

Trader Joes Fan : Recipes and Favorite Product Reviews – Grass Fed …

I highly recommend this if you enjoy beef but may be avoiding it because of saturated fat worries. If you search online you will discover grass fed beef is lower in saturated fat 35-65% to its grain fed counterparts and …

Jim Fiedler: Raising Grass-Fed Beef On Green Acres | Earth Eats …

by Annie Corrigan
Earth Eats’ Annie Corrigan talks with Jim Fiedler, the man behind Fiedler Farms, about grass-fed beef and his return to Indiana after 20 years in New York City.

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PS. Here’s the recipe that goes with our Flickr image above:


Red-braised Beef with bamboo

1.1 – 1.3 kg beef for stewing
5 cm piece of fresh ginger
2 spring onions
3 T peanut oil
6 T chili bean paste (from pixian)
1 litre beef/game stock
4 T Shaoxing ricewine
2 t dark soy sauce
2 t whole Sichuan pepper
1 star anise
1 cao guo
salt, to taste

Blanch the beef in boiling water for a minute or two until scum has risen to the surface, then remove the meat and rinse it under the tap. Cut the beef into 3-4 cm chunks. Crush the ginger slightly. Cut the spring onions into 2 or 3 sections.

Heat the oil in a flat-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. When it is hot, add the chili bean paste and stir-fry for about 30 seconds until the oil is red and richly fragrant. Add the stock, the beef, the wine, the ginger, the spring onions, the soy sauce, and the spices. Bring the liquid to the boil, skim if necessary, then turn the heat down and simmer gently until the beef is beautifully tender. This will depend on which cut of beef you are using, but it should be at least 2 hours. (if using a crockpot, longer)

This time I added this special kind of fresh bamboo shoots that needs some time to cook. I’ve sliced them up and added them half an hour before the end of the cooking time.

Although I liked it, I was also a little bit disappointed. It wasn’t that spicy and I couldn’t taste much of the sichuan peppercorns. Maybe I was expecting it to taste more like the “water boiled beef”. But once you’ve accepted that is still is a very nice stew and I actually think it would be served best with mash potatoes! 🙂

What I would do differently next time: not use the pixian douban jiang but the one from Lee Kum Kee. I would increase the other ingredients like ginger, sichuan peppercorns, etc. And I would leave out the cao guo. I just don’t think I like that taste. Maybe I need to get used to it, but for now I give up.

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Many thanks to Fotoos VanRobin

grass fed beef beltie angus cattle

We had our second “genetic crossbreed” calf today. And the promise is exciting, since he’s a new line of improved grassfed, high-quality beef that we’ve been working on for years.

The problem with most beef is that it’s been genetically selected to gain weight on grain. But not only are grain prices higher, but the extra fat (weight) these animals put on is bad for your health. That type of fat gives you the “bad” cholesterol – mainly because the omega 3/6 ratios are off. You see, cows (and fish) produce omega 3 fatty acids from the forage they eat.

Grass fed beef used to take years to mature, so using an abundant (and underpriced) grain to fatten them up seemed to make sense for our growing population.

But the whole trick is to understand how to raise grass to feed the cattle. Modern methods which have developed by a South African conservationist-turned-rancher, Allan Savory, have shown that ultra-high-density managed grazing (also called mob grazing) will actually improve the density and diversity of the perennial forage so that the cattle will improve their diet and fatten nearly as fast as their corn-fed counterparts.

One of the trick with this is to get the fast-growing larger animals, but also improve their foraging ability.

We are crossing our existing all-black Angus herd with a belted Galloway breed (broad white stripe down the middle). The Belted Galloway (or “Beltie) was originally bred in Southern Scotland for ability to survive harsh winters, eating a wide variety of forage. Angus is also a Scottish breed, but our American version has been crossed with Continental and African breeds to get a larger frame size. They tend to put on weight rather quickly.

The combination of the two is reported to keep the larger size, but also be able to fatten on a wider variety of forage. So the result is a more efficient grazer who produces medium-large frame for beef production.

The other advantage is that Belties are far more docile than American Angus. And docile animals put on weight more quickly.

Combined with mob grazing, this is designed to give us the highest possible efficiency while also eliminating the vast bulk of greenhouse gas production associated with corn-fed beef production.

While it’s been a couple of years now, we are still excited about our new calf. His mother (dam) is a white-faced Hereford/Angus cross, so he looks a bit like a panda from one side. But with all the Angus only distinguishable by their ear tags, any markings for us are welcome.

Our one earlier result in this cross-breeding is known as our “little goat” – since she is found to be eating on the fence lines and uncommon areas usually. We expect this new calf to do the same for us. While heifers are kept back for rebreeding, bull calves are generally made into steers so that they fatten faster and aren’t a problem mixing with cows and heifers when they come of age. So this new belted cross will be one of our first “to market” tests for size and quality of beef.

Maybe too cute right now, but when he gets big enough to butt you around the pasture in a little less than two years, you’ll see that he’ll be better off for all concerned when he goes to market.

It’s just as good that the little cusses are cute to begin with, since it just gives another reason to keep raising them.

A Mooving Video about Cows Saving the Environment

Just had to link and forward this one.

This is exactly where I’m heading with my studies on mob grazing.  Holistic Management Institute is at the forefront of getting farmers to graze both efficiently and effectively.  Ultra-high-density grazing is where we need to be in order to achieve a sustainable life process on this planet.

And nothing beats carbon-sequestration (stuffing that CO2 right back into the soil) than mob-grazing cattle on perennial-grass pastures. And nothing beats the taste and quality of beef than grassfed beef cattle raised this way.

I’m right in the  middle of an overdue whitepaper on this – where I will lay out the business plan for this type of scene.

There’s a lot of hope for this area – and the light-hearted approach this video takes is a great start.