Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Four Cutting-Edge Tools for Profitable Beef

There is an article in this months Stockman Grass Farmer that gives the four cutting-edge tools for the grazier who is interested in making a profit. So, since I figured that was most graziers I thought I would list them along with a few thoughts today.

#1. Year-Round Grazing

This seems to really be a hot topic right now in grazing circles. Since I'm new to the scene I don't know exactly how long it has been out in front of the public, but I know that it is being written about a lot in various periodicals, taught at the seminars, and discussed on the message boards. One year ago, as I began my research, I thought year-round grazing was for some people, but it was not needed to run a great grass-fed operation. While I still won't go as far as saying it is needed, I am beginning to come around to see all the benefits to the farm running a management intensive grazing operation. One interesting fact from the article stated that Canadian graizers have found that beef cattle will dig through 16 inches of snow to find forage. I don't know when the last time was that we had 16 inches around here, but it wouldn't happen that often. Plus, there are alternative crops and methods out there. I believe this is another tool that the farmer can use to reduce his production expenses and grow his income.

#2. Grass Finishing
Okay, I thought this one was not as much "cutting-edge" anymore. I realize that it still hasn't met wide acceptance, but frankly I don't know when or if that will ever happen. If it did happen it would mean there was a large social (what people will accept for their meat) and political (the big farm lobby) shift in America. But, even thought it is not widespread I still don't know if it is as cutting-edge as the other "tools" mentioned in the article. That being said, I do believe it is the only way to go if you are going to run an unconventional farm ... and if you desire to run a farm that will support you family. One thing I really agree with from the article is this quote, "No, it is not easy to finish cattle on grass; and yes, you have to be an aggressive marketer to sell your product." It's not a slam dunk thing, maybe that is why it is still considered cutting-edge.

#3. Irrigate Pastures

This one may be a more regional "tool", but I do hear of an increasing number of people that are doing it in all parts of the country in order to combat dry spells and keep high forage quality in front of their animals at all times. I think possible it is more of a factor with people that are going to finish their animals year-round, and I'm not convinced yet that that is the way I would like to go. What it does do is all the farmers to concentrate their stock in smaller areas because the forage is always at an even quality of growth and nutrition. My biggest problem with irrigation is the monetary investment that it will take. I believe that you really must be grazing and grass finishing on a LARGE scale in order to make it pay, and that is not the way that I desire to go.

#4. Ultra-High Stock Density Grazing

I hear more and more about this each week as I read and research, and I'm just beginning to learn all of the details and ideas. When I first started learning I thought that normal management intensive grazing stock densities were "ultra-high", at least when compared with conventional wisdom, but now they are taking it a step further. Many compare this to what the American Bison would do on the plains before their near extinction. Basically you jam a lot of animals into a small area and let the mow it all down. In theory they will eat every plant around because it is what is available, and then you move them out before damage is done and don't allow them to return until the plants have had time to recover. The people that are using this method, sometimes called mob grazing, are finding that they have, "healthier soils and plants, increased soil organic matter, and most of all, a phenomenal increase of carrying capacity of the pasture," according to the article. Maybe this is something that needs to be combined with irrigation? I don't really know, but I would call it "cutting-edge" there is no doubt about that.

So, there you go ... four cutting-edge tools for the grazier. What do you think? Would these tools take your farm or the farms around you to the next level? Well, the author Bob Scriven seems to think so and he does throw out some good ideas!


Walter Jeffries said...

Year round grazing is our weak spot. Five to six months of snow make that hard. I've been experimenting with planting more and more root crops, pumpkins, sunflowers and corn each year but so far I've not grown enough to last more than about a month and a half at most. We're already feeding hay and the snows are deepening.

Ethan Book said...

I think year-round grazing would be the most difficult to implament no matter where you live just because there is always a part of the year in all parts of the country where the conventional methods feed hay. Experiementing with those other crops is very interesting and is something I would like to try as we move towards the farm.

IluvABbeef said...

Year-round grazing...that's a new one for me. I guess up here, year-round grazing would include both the "normal" grazing, and then swath grazing following in the winter.

Have you ever heard of seasonal grazing? It's a bit of a common practice when you got both native pastures and tame pastures, and the timing has to be just so so's you can get the cows onto the native pastures at the right time.

I enjoy reading your blog, btw, you have a lot of good info to keep a person busy reading!

Yeoman said...

Sounds interesting, but one thing that has to be kept in mind, for those of us who raise cattle, is that we can learn from other cattle growers everywhere, but practices are necessarily quite local. Generally, some necessary practices we engage in may vary by county to county, for real reasons. So what works in one locality may not have absolute application everywhere.

IluvABbeef said...

Yeoman, I agree, it absolutely depends on location of what the BEST management practices can be used for winter grazing, swath grazing, whatever...even how we can manage pastures during the spring and summer.

Krystle said...

Stockman Grass Farmer is a GREAT publication. I recently went to the Holistic Management International gathering in Albuquerque, NM and there was a LOT of talk about year-round and high-density grazing there. With high density grazing, the objective is not that they eat everything in sight; they eat only a small part of the grass, the rest they knock down as litter, which is good for the pasture. You switch paddocks about 3x per day. The results are amazing - saw a slideshow by Greg Judy, highly recommend the book "No Risk Ranching" for more info on this topic. If you'd like to see my notes from these presentations, feel free to drop me a line. Best, Krystle

Anonymous said...

We practice rotational grazing in Brenham TX with year round grazing in place. In October, we plant a rye grass/clover mix. The cattle then flash graze each paddock, eating warm season grasses down right before domancy, helping two fold. The High Stock Density on the paddocks give you "Huff action" which press the seeds into the dirt, and they eat the warm season grasses down allowing the cool season grasses to receive sun and spring up. We currently have 18 acres of our 100 acres fully irrigated with the intention of having the full 100 in upcoming years. Your right, this is a huge investment, but being able to control water to grass is now eliminating about 80% of the problems you will face on the farm being a grass fed/ grass finished business. Our goal in using High Stock Density Grazing is having 60% of the forage consumed, 20% trampled down, and the 20% remaining forage when the animals move to the next pad. This method so far has helped in the building of organic matter, help in reducing weeds, and putting Nitrogen back into the soil. This is only our second year in the MIG farming but what wonders it has done thus far. We don't get snow much down here so I can only imagine trying to go full year round grazing in your part of the country. I do know that the practice is more widely accepted up north than in the south at this point. Hope this helps some and enjoy your blog.


IluvABbeef said...


I've heard about the MIG method of grazing. This person had come to a Forage class I had at the U of Alta to discuss MIG grazing, and how she implements the use of have 200 head of stocker steers on a 10 acre pasture for a day, then switches them onto another 10, even down to 2 acre pasture pasture for a day (or half a day). The results of the intense grazing is rapid and vigorous regrowth of the grass the next rotation, as well as the next year. She can't have cattle out on pasture in the winter (a. she doesn't have the resources to winter them and b. the steers are not hers; they're taken off in mid October).

Ethan Book said...

iluvabbeef, yeoman, krystal, and others -

Thanks for checking out the blog and giving so many great insights. You give a lot to think about and bring to the discussion. One thing that I have really enjoyed about writing some thoughts down from my research is the great things people have responded back with. We are just in the very, very beginning stages, but coming in armed with experiences, information, and knowing what works for other people will help knock down the learning curve slightly we hope!

Steven said...

Ethan, have you ever wondered what Salatin would think of using smaller breeds like Dexters or Lowlines? We've wondered before, if the benefits are great, why doesn't he raise them. Surely Joel isn't swayed by conventional wisdom... surely!
It would be interesting to know the average size of his cattle.

Ethan Book said...

Steven, I guess I'm not sure what he would think of them. I believe he has some bigger cattle since the are crosses between Angus, Brahman, and something else. But, he has selected for what works well in his local and climate. Possibly he would rather stay with a "standard" size beef just because of consumer acceptance. It seems like I read somewhere that he admitted that raising a heritage breed of birds would be better for pastured poultry, but the cornish x birds where the type that consumers had come to expect so that is what he raised.

I think you would have to create a market for Dexters just like you would for other more conventional beef, but I think one benefit would be the ability to sell whole animals instead of sides because the lower cut out weight.

wilson said...

Yes I agree with u . Thanks for this knowlegable post. keep up regular. I m also working for cutting tools.
Thanks and Regards,

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