Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Grassfed Beef Year Around

If you keep with my blog regularly you will know that I recently subscribed to "The Stockman Grass Farmer magazine. While I haven't received my first current issue, one of the bonuses of signing up when I did was that I could get two back issues. So, I'm working my way through those right now. The great thing about the articles in these things is that they are pretty much timeless.

On the cover of the February 2005 addition is an article about a farm in Maine (yep, that's right I said MAINE) that provides grassfed beef year around. This is the type of article that really catches the eye of a kid from Iowa that grew up thinking you needed to feed corn during the winter months if you had a chance of sending an animal to slaughter while snow was on the ground. But, Roger and Linda Fortin of Little Alaska Farm are sending four finished beeves to a processor each week from their snowy southeastern Maine farm. According to the article, they used to raise grainfed natural beef but decided to go all grassfed so they could continue to get the premium for their beef that was slowly slipping away in the "natural" market.

Mr. and Mrs. Fortin pasture their animals from May until mid-October and then feed grass silage over the winter months. Their pastures are a mix of Orchardgrass, Timothy, and white clover that comes up on its own. I thought it was funny that the article mentions that chicken manure is their main fertilizer ... hmmm, why not just raise pastured poultry and not buy in the fertilizer! Anyways, most of their 100 cow herd is Red Devon, but they do buy in yearlings from neighbors that use their Red Devon bulls. They selected this breed because of its easy marbling on grass (still gotta conform to the standards of the beef grading industry).

They sell their wholesale beeves to Hardwick Beef (a grassfed beef distributer) when they are between 20 and 28 months old and have a carcass weight between 600 and 650 pounds. They get $1.75 per pound from Hardwick Beef, and all their carcasses need to grade at high Select to low Choice. In order to get the needed daily weight gain to produce the marbled beef, they have to supplement their wilted grass silage with 6 pounds of citrus pulp (available in their area because of the dairy operations) per head per day.

The cool thing about the Fortins is that they also have an on farm store that sells their beef by the cut along with their pastured chicken eggs and pastured pork (I really need to get some pigs!). They are doing all of this on 220 acres that they own and 120 acres that they rent, so it is not like it is a huge operation. Another interesting fact about their article is that their town is only 900 people strong so they really rely on the tourists coming from Portland, ME 60 miles away to bring them business. This is something I have often thought about if we ended up near my dad's farm because there is a growing tourist opportunity there.

I gleaned a couple key things from this article. Number one, I love the fact that they are trying to get away from their wholesaling by creating their on farm store and expanding the product available there ... gotta love the pastured pork and chickens (although I think they could easily add meat birds and then buy less poultry manure for fertilizer). Number two, I was surprised at how long they take to finish their beef. I assume that is because they are grassfed year around and because they finish all year long, but it made me wonder if I'm off on wanting to finish my Dexters between 16 and 22 months. I'll just have to investigate a little more. Finally, I just love the way they have transitioned from commodity based system to a farm that goes full circle with calves being born on the farm and sold in the store. That is a place that I would really like to end up. I wonder if I could start out that way?


Steven said...

It seems like a lot of land to not be grazing later into the winter like Salatin and others do. It's almost 3.4 acres per head. Did the article say what type of grazing practices they use?
*Citrus pulp... hhhmmmm I wonder if the new federal grass fed standards would allow that to be called grass-fed.

I got the October SGF at it's ALL about MIG or management intensive grazing.

sugarcreekfarm said...

I don't know much about grassfed beef, but I thought 24 months was about average for finishing them. We feed corn - not much, about 1% of their body weight a day - and we take 19 months to finish ours.

$1.75 doesn't seem like much of a premium, unless you meant they get that for live weight. We get a little more than that per pound hanging weight, but then again our expenses are probably higher. I have no idea what cost per pound gained is for grassfed beef.

340 acres sounds like a huge operation to us on our 12 acres :) We have been searching for a bigger farm for quite awhile now, but hard to pencil things out at land current prices.

Steven said...

I second your comment about the price per pound.
The closest grass fed beef producers to me are in Donaphin MO they get a really good price! per pound. Check this out
I strive to get half what they get. They also bought a processing / harvesting business near me so they do all their own work now.

Ethan Book said...

Steven - I'm no expert, but I do know that Salatin lives quite a bit South of them so that could factor into the lesser amount of grazing time. Another I believe is that they are sending animals to butcher every week where Salatin only butchers in the fall so they need to keep up a high rate of gain year around in order to get the good finish. Salatin relies on compesatory gain in the spring flush. As I mentioned the article came from 2005 ... I guess at that time the citrus pulp passed, I don't know about now.

Sugar Creek - I have heard anywhere from 18 to 24 months when it comes to Dexters, so that is what I was basing my thinking on. I don't plan on feeding any corn and it is just killing my dad. He says it just doesn't "feel" right! Oh well, my cows, my way. You are right about $1.75 not being a ton of a premium ... by the way it is carcass weight ... but, I think that is why the opened the on farm store. It did mention that they wanted to get away from wholesale period. Wholesome Harvest a group right here in Iowa gives $1.75 for burger beef and $2.35 for High Select or better. That is both by carcass weight. Of course that is for grassfed only. I don't think it is a horrible wholesale price when you think about the lack of inputs you have in the beef.

And, yes ... 340 acres does seem big if you don't have much, but in reality it is probably on the smaller farm end. Our family has 160 acres and I think I could make that work. As far as buying land, I don't think it pencils out right now period. Now if you can find land to rent that may work.

sugarcreekfarm said...

Blog posts make good lunchtime conversation :) I was telling dh about this post at lunch, and I got an earful about protein content of the forage, yada yada yada. But it reminded me that I bought him a book last Christmas called "Reproduction & Animal Health" by Charles Walters & Gearld Fry. It talks about more than just health, but also pasture management and breeding stock selection, etc. Even though it is meant for grassfed producers, dh really liked it and there was some good information there that he could utilize about improving rate of gain with forage. So something to add to your reading list.

Like I said, I don't know much about 100% grassfed beef. So I am enjoying "watching" you build your future business here :)

Ethan Book said...

Grassfed does run counter-culture to what is considered commonsense. I guess I just say that God created cattle to eat only grass ... that's why they have a rumen and I don't. But, that doesn't mean that he created them to be sent to the processor year round, so something does have to be done to keep that higher protein needed to keep up the gains. All that being said, I believe Bob Evans (the sausage guy) has a totally year around grazing operation going on in Ohio, where they do get snow. I guess it is about what works for you and what propaganda (that's what my family thinks I'm reading) you follow.

Of course, tomorrow I may post some pictures of my family in a combine which probably goes against most things I post on this blog! I guess I have not hard and fast ideas when it comes to farming.

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