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In the past I have always got my calves up to about 800 pounds on pasture and a small amount of feed, then got them on full corn/protein until they went to the butcher. I have used rotational grazing with them, so that's not foreign, but I have never finished one on solely grass. I am purchasing 5 yearling steers in June and am excited to try finishing them on grass. My concern is next winter. I have my pasture baled in the the summer which is fescue/clover. I am planning on giving them these bales, but I'm wondering if I should purchase some better quality hay (alfalfa) to keep them growing over the snow covered days? I thought about buying some small squares and just feeding them in a hay feeder. I'm in southern Iowa and a year like this one has me concerned about getting them good pasture, since we have had a layer of ice and snow the calves can't find grass through for almost two months.
 

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In the past I have always got my calves up to about 800 pounds on pasture and a small amount of feed, then got them on full corn/protein until they went to the butcher. I have used rotational grazing with them, so that's not foreign, but I have never finished one on solely grass. I am purchasing 5 yearling steers in June and am excited to try finishing them on grass. My concern is next winter. I have my pasture baled in the the summer which is fescue/clover. I am planning on giving them these bales, but I'm wondering if I should purchase some better quality hay (alfalfa) to keep them growing over the snow covered days? I thought about buying some small squares and just feeding them in a hay feeder. I'm in southern Iowa and a year like this one has me concerned about getting them good pasture, since we have had a layer of ice and snow the calves can't find grass through for almost two months.
Can you handle large round bales/baleage? How much pasture do you have? If you have enough pasture you should be able to stockpile enough fescue to get you through the milder portions of the winter. Fescue/clover is king for stockpiling, but be careful not to graze too short or you will damage future production. For deep snow/ice, large round bales of dry hay or baleage would be more economical than small squares if you can handle them. If not, small squares of fescue/clover will be fine. This is particularly handy is you have underproductive areas of pasture that you want to rehab. If your hay quality is good, just worry about your cattle getting enough. Figure 3.5% of body weight if you are going to unroll it over the pasture or 3% if you are going to bale graze without unrolling. Watch their condition carefully.

I'm in a very heavy snow area, and in a typical winter I can rotationally graze large areas of stockpile into late December or early January, with small windows of grazing (or a combination of grazing and bale grazing) until things soften up in the spring. My cattle have no problems grazing through 1-2 feet of soft snow. Ice or crusty snow can be problematic especially if it is deep. I use my FEL bale spear to "flick" the bale forward or downhill to unroll the baleage across the pasture. This does two things: It allows younger, smaller or less dominant cows the ability to get their share and spreads the carbon, hoof traffic and nutrients over a much larger area. To protect my pastures once the ground thaws, I limit tractor/cattle traffic to small, well drained areas, and I try to change those areas every year to maximize nutrient benefits.

As far as grass finishing is concerned, I finish around half of my cattle on purely grass/legume pasture and about half on grass/legume pasture with grain ration...it depends on what my customers order. There's a learning curve to finishing on forage. I've been doing it a long time and have become very good at it. The three main requirements for high quality grass finished beef are: Genetics, forage (quality and quantity) and time. Leave any one of these components out and the others do not matter. I'll try to tackle these one at a time:

When I speak of genetics, I'm mainly speaking about phenotype, or physical characteristics, although genotype is important to me as well because I am working from calving to plate. For the purpose of this conversation, and because you are buying feeders, let's focus on phenotype. The wrong phenotype will put incredible pressure on the other components (forage quality/quantity and time). A long legged heifer or steer that will finish at 1500 lbs will need to consume an immense amount of forage over a long period (24-30 mos) of time to reach full frame size, let alone put on fat. A stocky, deep bodied, large gutted, wide mouthed, delicate boned, small to moderate framed heifer or steer should reach 85-90% of frame size and internal development by 15 months of age. Look for heifers that will finish at 900-1100 lbs and steers at 1000-1200. This is easier to achieve if you can view the mature breeding stock that your feeders are coming from before you purchase them. Feeder auctions are a crapshoot. There are ways to make an educated guess as to how a feeder calf will finish, but in the end it's still a guess. Smaller framed cattle will also be easier on your pastures.

Forage quality and quantity are not only important to achieve a proper finishing level, but will also determine the final taste of the beef. Lately, chefs and foodies have started talking about unique flavors and bouquets of beef, like they were talking about wine, chocolate, cheese or coffee, as well as descriptives for texture and other sensory categories like mouthfeel and butteryness. There's now a recognition that different management practices, handling practices, soil, climate, rainfall, forage species, etc. impart subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) distinctions in tastes and texture of beef and other meats. Better late to the party than absent I suppose, but I've been talking about these things for well over a decade. You'll likely be disappointed with a steer from the most desirable grass finished genetics that is finished on a diet of sedge, wild onion and goldenrod. Likewise, a diet of high quality fescue, ryegrass and alfalfa will not finish well if there simply is not enough forage for the number of animals pastured, or if you try to hurry it. Hungry animals don't finish well. Hot, dehydrated, fly bitten, shade seeking animals don't finish well. You want them comfortable eating as much high quality forage as they can ruminate.

Time. The beef industry doesn't feed flaked corn because it imparts a good taste to the beef...they do it because it is cheap and it drastically reduces finishing time (usually 15-18 mos), further reducing costs. IMO, corn waters down any flavor that beef has. It's a bland, high sugar starch that packs on fat. Most forages, especially grasses and legumes, are relatively high in protein, which will pack on muscle, but lack high carbohydrate content. This necessitates more time requirements for marbling. I personally do not count on a grass finished beeve finishing before 36 months...sometimes they do finish earlier...as early as 30 months. Bulls and cows that produce calves that produce highly marbled, good textured, tender beef, in a fairly short amount of time on forage alone get a feather in their caps...calves that take longer to produce great beef on forage alone are usually relegated to the grain finished ranch. Cows that don't produce great beef go to auction. Luckily, those days of heavy culling are behind me. How do you know when they are ready? There are many signs that I look for, but the biggest ones are: full, non-jiggly, u-shaped (not v-shaped) briskets, large fat deposits on each side of the tail head, smoothness over the ribs, and thick and dropped flanks. Just as humans carry fat differently from each other, cattle do too. Look at fat accumulation locations as an aggregate.

Don't expect perfect quality your first batch, but hopefully I've given you some bullet points to flatten your grass finishing learning curve. I've barely scratched the surface, so feel free to message me if you want to dig into it further.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Can you handle large round bales/baleage? How much pasture do you have? If you have enough pasture you should be able to stockpile enough fescue to get you through the milder portions of the winter. Fescue/clover is king for stockpiling, but be careful not to graze too short or you will damage future production. For deep snow/ice, large round bales of dry hay or baleage would be more economical than small squares if you can handle them. If not, small squares of fescue/clover will be fine. This is particularly handy is you have underproductive areas of pasture that you want to rehab. If your hay quality is good, just worry about your cattle getting enough. Figure 3.5% of body weight if you are going to unroll it over the pasture or 3% if you are going to bale graze without unrolling. Watch their condition carefully.

I'm in a very heavy snow area, and in a typical winter I can rotationally graze large areas of stockpile into late December or early January, with small windows of grazing (or a combination of grazing and bale grazing) until things soften up in the spring. My cattle have no problems grazing through 1-2 feet of soft snow. Ice or crusty snow can be problematic especially if it is deep. I use my FEL bale spear to "flick" the bale forward or downhill to unroll the baleage across the pasture. This does two things: It allows younger, smaller or less dominant cows the ability to get their share and spreads the carbon, hoof traffic and nutrients over a much larger area. To protect my pastures once the ground thaws, I limit tractor/cattle traffic to small, well drained areas, and I try to change those areas every year to maximize nutrient benefits.

As far as grass finishing is concerned, I finish around half of my cattle on purely grass/legume pasture and about half on grass/legume pasture with grain ration...it depends on what my customers order. There's a learning curve to finishing on forage. I've been doing it a long time and have become very good at it. The three main requirements for high quality grass finished beef are: Genetics, forage (quality and quantity) and time. Leave any one of these components out and the others do not matter. I'll try to tackle these one at a time:

When I speak of genetics, I'm mainly speaking about phenotype, or physical characteristics, although genotype is important to me as well because I am working from calving to plate. For the purpose of this conversation, and because you are buying feeders, let's focus on phenotype. The wrong phenotype will put incredible pressure on the other components (forage quality/quantity and time). A long legged heifer or steer that will finish at 1500 lbs will need to consume an immense amount of forage over a long period (24-30 mos) of time to reach full frame size, let alone put on fat. A stocky, deep bodied, large gutted, wide mouthed, delicate boned, small to moderate framed heifer or steer should reach 85-90% of frame size and internal development by 15 months of age. Look for heifers that will finish at 900-1100 lbs and steers at 1000-1200. This is easier to achieve if you can view the mature breeding stock that your feeders are coming from before you purchase them. Feeder auctions are a crapshoot. There are ways to make an educated guess as to how a feeder calf will finish, but in the end it's still a guess. Smaller framed cattle will also be easier on your pastures.

Forage quality and quantity are not only important to achieve a proper finishing level, but will also determine the final taste of the beef. Lately, chefs and foodies have started talking about unique flavors and bouquets of beef, like they were talking about wine, chocolate, cheese or coffee, as well as descriptives for texture and other sensory categories like mouthfeel and butteryness. There's now a recognition that different management practices, handling practices, soil, climate, rainfall, forage species, etc. impart subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) distinctions in tastes and texture of beef and other meats. Better late to the party than absent I suppose, but I've been talking about these things for well over a decade. You'll likely be disappointed with a steer from the most desirable grass finished genetics that is finished on a diet of sedge, wild onion and goldenrod. Likewise, a diet of high quality fescue, ryegrass and alfalfa will not finish well if there simply is not enough forage for the number of animals pastured, or if you try to hurry it. Hungry animals don't finish well. Hot, dehydrated, fly bitten, shade seeking animals don't finish well. You want them comfortable eating as much high quality forage as they can ruminate.

Time. The beef industry doesn't feed flaked corn because it imparts a good taste to the beef...they do it because it is cheap and it drastically reduces finishing time (usually 15-18 mos), further reducing costs. IMO, corn waters down any flavor that beef has. It's a bland, high sugar starch that packs on fat. Most forages, especially grasses and legumes, are relatively high in protein, which will pack on muscle, but lack high carbohydrate content. This necessitates more time requirements for marbling. I personally do not count on a grass finished beeve finishing before 36 months...sometimes they do finish earlier...as early as 30 months. Bulls and cows that produce calves that produce highly marbled, good textured, tender beef, in a fairly short amount of time on forage alone get a feather in their caps...calves that take longer to produce great beef on forage alone are usually relegated to the grain finished ranch. Cows that don't produce great beef go to auction. Luckily, those days of heavy culling are behind me. How do you know when they are ready? There are many signs that I look for, but the biggest ones are: full, non-jiggly, u-shaped (not v-shaped) briskets, large fat deposits on each side of the tail head, smoothness over the ribs, and thick and dropped flanks. Just as humans carry fat differently from each other, cattle do too. Look at fat accumulation locations as an aggregate.

Don't expect perfect quality your first batch, but hopefully I've given you some bullet points to flatten your grass finishing learning curve. I've barely scratched the surface, so feel free to message me if you want to dig into it further.
Wow!!! Thanks for the detailed reply. I can handle big bales with my tractor, but I was thinking of the small squares of alfalfa an extra boost for them through the real tough patches of winter. My current calves were able to graze pasture until we had a heavy ice storm on December 30. Since then it's been more snow and ice and they haven't been able to get through it. I will set out a big bale for them also, but as I said was thinking about adding the extra for help. Only gonna be 5 steers on 10 acres.

I'm buying them from Greg Judy, so they should do good on finishing on the grass.

They will be yearlings when purchased in June, so I'm thing about making a date at the locker around September of 22. That would put them 27 months old. Maybe I should shoot for a little later and get them older, and a little cooler weather?
 

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Wow!!! Thanks for the detailed reply. I can handle big bales with my tractor, but I was thinking of the small squares of alfalfa an extra boost for them through the real tough patches of winter. My current calves were able to graze pasture until we had a heavy ice storm on December 30. Since then it's been more snow and ice and they haven't been able to get through it. I will set out a big bale for them also, but as I said was thinking about adding the extra for help. Only gonna be 5 steers on 10 acres.

I'm buying them from Greg Judy, so they should do good on finishing on the grass.

They will be yearlings when purchased in June, so I'm thing about making a date at the locker around September of 22. That would put them 27 months old. Maybe I should shoot for a little later and get them older, and a little cooler weather?
I wouldn't be concerned with supplementing your hay, as long as it is high quality and you have enough...my concern would be how much hay are you going to be able to produce on 10 acres if you have 5 steers grazing it? Unless I'm missing something, those 10 acres are going to be fully utilized as forage as soon as you get those steers. Five steers on 10 acres will not leave much if any forage for hay OR stockpile. Sounds like maybe you'll be buying some hay from off the farm, in which case you will be fine with that stocking rate.

If you're buying steers from Greg, you're right, your genetics are perfect for finishing on grass. It's funny, I wouldn't take the cattle of most of the self-appointed gurus of MIG and/or regenerative agriculture if they were given to me...but Greg is an exception to that. His cattle and management are superb! In fact, if my winters weren't so much more severe than his, I would buy some of his South Poll heifers from him. Instead, I scour the country for old school Angus and Devon that are built the same way.

27 months is tight, but if you push the date back too much you'll go beyond the fall flush and I don't recommend that...always process on improving pastures. I process in late June/early July and then again in late Sept-early Nov.. Assuming you still have good forage then, late Oct/early November might be about right.

Good luck. I'm eager to see how your project turns out. Keep us posted.
 
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Yes I will be buying hay from one of my neighbors. Would like to figure out a way roll some out daily, but haven't got that figured out yet just for 5 head.
 

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Over winter, my cattle got grass hay and about 3 pounds of alfalfa. They don't need full feed of alfalfa.

Of course, I was feeding a bit of grain, which you won't be doing, but grain is for calories and a bit of phosphorus. The alfalfa is for protein to grow muscle. But they don't need all 20 pounds of dinner to be alfalfa. Alfalfa is expensive and they can digest and use cheaper hay.
 

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Yes I will be buying hay from one of my neighbors. Would like to figure out a way roll some out daily, but haven't got that figured out yet just for 5 head.
Don't worry about daily feeding if you are feeding large rounds. I feed 23,000 lbs every 3 days if I'm feeding haylage alone with no stockpile grazing, which has been the case this year since late Dec. with deep, crusty snow. Unrolling it will greatly reduce turning expensive hay into bedding, and as I said above will spread nutrients around your pastures. I personally don't ever consider any carbon source left on the soil to be "wasted", but a 2' deep pile of hay/straw, manure, and urine will have no forage growing on it for a couple of years, but will be super productive when it does, probably with a bunch of weeds mixed in with grass and clover. An inch deep layer of the same mixture is a different story and will be a blessing to your pasture.

There are lots of ways to unroll hay too. If you don't have a front end loader spear to "flick' it around the pasture, there are 3 pt hitch models, pto or ground driven, or I've seen guys use atv snow plows or tractor back blades to roll them, or use fabricated frames with spear axles where the bale is dragged behind a truck, side by side or atv. Heck, you can even do it by hand if the bales aren't too large. On hilly pastures, I just drop the bale at the top of the hill and give it a push.

Assuming by time your steers will be eating hay they will be 800 lbs or so...800 x 5 = 4000 lbs. 4000 x .035 = 140 lbs/day. So an unrolled 600 lb large round bale every 4 days...or 2-3 small squares/day depending on how big the squares are. They will be putting on weight during that time too, so those numbers will increase slightly as the winter progresses. Also, remember to up their ration whenever the temperature gets especially low. You don't want to go broke feeding them through the winter, but you don't want them to be even slightly hungry either. Monitor their condition daily and adjust if necessary.
 
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Don't worry about daily feeding if you are feeding large rounds. I feed 23,000 lbs every 3 days if I'm feeding haylage alone with no stockpile grazing, which has been the case this year since late Dec. with deep, crusty snow. Unrolling it will greatly reduce turning expensive hay into bedding, and as I said above will spread nutrients around your pastures. I personally don't ever consider any carbon source left on the soil to be "wasted", but a 2' deep pile of hay/straw, manure, and urine will have no forage growing on it for a couple of years, but will be super productive when it does, probably with a bunch of weeds mixed in with grass and clover. An inch deep layer of the same mixture is a different story and will be a blessing to your pasture.

There are lots of ways to unroll hay too. If you don't have a front end loader spear to "flick' it around the pasture, there are 3 pt hitch models, pto or ground driven, or I've seen guys use atv snow plows or tractor back blades to roll them, or use fabricated frames with spear axles where the bale is dragged behind a truck, side by side or atv. Heck, you can even do it by hand if the bales aren't too large. On hilly pastures, I just drop the bale at the top of the hill and give it a push.

Assuming by time your steers will be eating hay they will be 800 lbs or so...800 x 5 = 4000 lbs. 4000 x .035 = 140 lbs/day. So an unrolled 600 lb large round bale every 4 days...or 2-3 small squares/day depending on how big the squares are. They will be putting on weight during that time too, so those numbers will increase slightly as the winter progresses. Also, remember to up their ration whenever the temperature gets especially low. You don't want to go broke feeding them through the winter, but you don't want them to be even slightly hungry either. Monitor their condition daily and adjust if necessary.
Thank you! I like the idea of using the loader and just pulling some off daily. I would like to buy one of Greg's unrollers, and roll off some everyday. Not unroll the entire bale, unhook from the roller and run poly wire around it in the field then repeat the next days until the bale is gone. I don't want to roll of an entire bale for 5 head at once. Right now I just use hay rings and I hate the mess they leave in one spot.
 

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That's exactly why I don't use hay rings. The polywire around the bale would work fine, although I think it's more hassle than I'd want to deal with. I'm feeding today...I'll try to take some pics of before and after feeding to show you what my process looks like.
 
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Here's some pics of the residue at 2 different ranches from the feeding 3 days ago. Keep in mind, at the one ranch with the feeder cattle I dropped 3 of the 8 bales and didn't unroll them because we were expecting 2 feet of snow 12-18 hours after the feeding, so I didn't want all of the haylage buried.

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Here they are mobbing the bales before I have a chance to unroll them:

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Here's some shots of me "flicking" with my bale spear and unrolled haylage:

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Here's a couple that shows why I can't graze stockpile right now...It's a bit deceptive from the pictures how deep the snow is. In most places it is hip to chest deep on me, but it is so packed in that the cattle and tractor don't sink in much. It's much too dense for the cattle to graze through. The bales are 5' high. That's a 6 strand Hi-T fence and the posts are just under 6' high. My boot is planted at the 4th wire of a 6 strand fence. It's not a lot of snow by our standards, but we normally get a thaw mid-winter that we never saw this year:

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Weaned calves waiting for their bales:

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Here's some pics of the residue at 2 different ranches from the feeding 3 days ago. Keep in mind, at the one ranch with the feeder cattle I dropped 3 of the 8 bales and didn't unroll them because we were expecting 2 feet of snow 12-18 hours after the feeding, so I didn't want all of the haylage buried.

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Here they are mobbing the bales before I have a chance to unroll them:

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Here's some shots of me "flicking" with my bale spear and unrolled haylage:

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Thanks for the pics!!! I'm going to start unrolling the hay like that right now. They sure are cleaning it up.
 

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Thanks for the pics!!! I'm going to start unrolling the hay like that right now. They sure are cleaning it up.
I thought some pics might convince you. ;)
 
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Wow, thanks for the great info. We have a small herd, only 5, but we are trying to figure out the best way to finish Just for our personal use. with a processing date in early April should we supplement with beef pellets or some other food? They have about 15 acres of pasture but the forage isn’t very high quality so we supplement with hay rolls. Thanks!
 

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Wow, thanks for the great info. We have a small herd, only 5, but we are trying to figure out the best way to finish Just for our personal use. with a processing date in early April should we supplement with beef pellets or some other food? They have about 15 acres of pasture but the forage isn’t very high quality so we supplement with hay rolls. Thanks!
That doesn't leave you much time for finishing. Assuming as your name suggests that you live in NE Alabama, I would assume you might have some forage kicking in by March. I would rotate them through your pasture as soon as it is feasible, letting them consume as much forage as possible while at the same time supplementing a grain ration. Start slow with the grain if they haven't been on it...a half lb. per head for a couple days increasing to a pound after the first week, then doubling every two weeks. It's not a great solution, but unless you can get a later butcher date you'll have to make the best of it.

If you are going to continue to raise cattle, then I would work hard on improving those pasture forages through overseeding and rotationally grazing. You've got plenty of pasture for your climate and number of cattle, you just need to make the forages work for you. Then acquire butcher dates that fall when your pasture is growing at its peak.
 
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Thank you so much! When is the best time to overseed, and would you use fescue? Rotational grazing is a little harder until we figure out a better water system for the pastures without ponds, but we are working on a plan.

I have a two year old Charolais steer and a one year old free Martin Angus bull that are on the process list- we have one process appointment in early April and one in July, any advice on which one to send in April? Sorry, but we are relatively new to this and trying to figure it out as we go.

Yes, we are in NE Ala. Thanks again...
 

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The best time to overseed in your area is when you have moisture. If you can rotate your cattle, you can broadcast seed right before the cattle are entering each paddock and let them trample the seed into the ground, broadcast and cultipack, or drill it in. I would select a diverse mix of warm season grasses, cool season grasses, warm and cool season legumes and forbs. I have an overseeding mix that I like to use in grass monoculture pastures particularly predominantly fescue, brome or "feast or famine" grass species. This includes (per acre): 5# red clover, 2# chicory, 1# each of crabgrass, Korean Lespedeza, plantain, and in your case Stamina white clover. For that last one I use a different white clover, but I'm in the north and Stamina works better in the south. If your grass is thin add in some improved fescue such as Estancia..

If you have a water well, it should be pretty easy to run 1" HDPE water line and brass hose bibs every 100-200 yds to cover 15 acres. You don't need to bury it, just run it along your fence line. Then run a hose from the brass hose bibs to a trough with float valve. I'm running about 3 miles of water line on a new property in about a month in order to rotationally graze it.

Process whichever one is closest to being ready in April. You have time for the July one, but the April one is going to be tough to finish well. Take some pictures if you want and post them. You'll have no scarcity of feedback about their readiness.
 
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Good shot of the Blue Heeler supervising. You know, if Heelers had thumbs they wouldn't need humans.
 
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