Monday, March 31, 2008

You Have Spoken ... Grass-Fed Cattle

Okay, so I only received 8 votes ... as far as I can tell ... but, since four of them went to Julius Ruechel's book "Grass-Fed Cattle" that is the one I am going to tackle first. The sub-title is, "How to Produce and Market Natural Beef" so I totally expect to learn how to do that in the 300 odd pages of this book! Or at least come away with a little bit better understanding. I have read a few grass-fed cattle books now, so it will be interesting to see how this one fits into the mix. I have a feeling it will be closer to a "Quality Pasture" type of book compared to a Gene Logsdon or Joel Salatin style.

One thing that I am continually learning, and being reminded of daily, is that I don't have as much time as I used to for recreational reading. Between work at the church, soccer, family, and trying to figure out all the stuff with the new land I don't have as much time for reading. So, when I do take the time read a book I want to make sure it will be a profitable read for me in the expansion of our farm. Here are some things I hope to get out of the book.

  • I am interested in learning more about stockpiling winter forage and being ready for drought on a grazing operation.
  • Marketing is something I am always hoping to learn more about. A lot of what is said in the different books is similar, but there are always some differences that stick out. I'm always looking to learn more on marketing.
  • Finally, as I thumbed through this book I noticed a worksheet style goal setting and business plan section towards the end of the book. That is something I am really interested in checking out and I probably will have to hold myself back from skipping ahead (not that there is anything wrong with it).

As I flipped through the book I saw that there were many sections and chapters that are similar to the topics covered in other books I have read, so we will see if it is just repetition of the same old stuff or if there is something new. In any case I know that I always learn something. Of course I will report at the end of each chapter some of my thoughts. The discussion that comes out of those reports is better than reading the book!

Look for the book reports coming soon ... I'll have to remember my book light on those long soccer bus rides!


Half Dozen Farms said...

I read this book and found it very interesting, but I am still a beginner. But I was often left with the impression that many of the ideas discussed in this book were assuming you had 50-100 head of cattle in your herd instead of the 2-4 that I usually have.

When you only have 2 cows you don't get the herd trampling and eating everything like he described in this book.

Ethan Book said...

Half Dozen Farms - Thanks so much for checking out the blog! I started reading the book today and I would say that you assumption is correct. We don't have 50-100, but we are pushing 20 and expanding. I think the thing about rotational grazing and management is that it can be done on scale ... even if you only have 2 cows, but you may not get all of the benefits as you mentioned.

Thanks again!

JRG said...

Hi Ethan,

It's hard to write a grazing or farming book to meet everybody's scale of operation. That is probably why there are so many books out on seemingly the same topic. The Ruechel book is definitely more of a how-to-do manual than the philosophical musings of Gene Logsdon. I enjoyed reading 'All Flesh is Grass'

The herd effect to churn the land some writers talk about is really a tool for semi-arid country. On wet clay soils in the eastern US it may do more harm than good. Lots of diverging opinions on that one. But....

You can basically do MiG (Management-intensive Grazing) on any scale. If you're just doing 2-4 head, tethering may be more effective than trying to fence them into little tiny paddocks. We've run everything from less than ten heifers to 500 pairs in MiG systems. Same basic principles, just different tools and strategies.

As far as pasture-finished beef goes, it is all we've eaten since we did our first ones sometime in the mid-90's. Couldn't understand why we hadn't been doing it for years. Best beef we've ever had.

Go for it.

tbarrett said...

JRG, do you have any further opinions about grazing on clay soil? Are there special considerations in this case?

- Tony

JRG said...


As you probably know, clay soils are the most prone to compaction so they need to be treated a little differently when wet, compared to silt loams or sands. Clays are also the most difficult soils to correct compaction problems. Plant root growth and good biological life in the soil are really the only ways to fix compacted clay soils and that takes time to develop. Prevention is the best approach.

When we were in MO, the farm we bought had a lot of eroded cropland that was right down to the clay subsoil. We seeded it all down to mixed pastures. If it got too wet, we would move stock 2 or 3 times a day to keep them from compacting it.

Here in Idaho, we're on silt loams (with a lot of rock in it) and we run the pivots right over top of the cattle and never think twice about it. It's hard for the locals to accept as they are used to the idea of drying out a pasture before grazing it. That comes from years of flood irrigating with several inches of water running over the pasture.

Keeping a good vigorous pasture growth is the best treatment for clay soils. This usually means leaving taller post-grazing residuals than what most people do. We can't blame cattle and sheep for grazing the pasture too short. That is our fault.

Hope this helps.

Ethan Book said...

JRG - Good thoughts as always! I agree that not every book can be written to everybody's scale, but there is still plenty to be taken from it. While our herd may never be huge, it will always be big enough to take advantage of the benefits of MiG.

Also, good point about the grassfed thing. I think that is one piece of the education that needs to be done!

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