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How do you raise grass fed beef?

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If I told you that cage free hens live longer than caged hens, you'd accept that as true. But in reality, cage free hens death rate is higher than caged birds. I doubt you'd accept that as easily.
Big ag will make these claims to justify more efficient methods of production. Also studies show that caged hens have less stress. Based on this, I raised my kids in a closet. They were happier there.

The biggest problem I have with the high grain diets cattle get in feedlots is that cattle aren't made to eat high carbohydrate diets. Pigs, yes, but not ruminants. The carbohydrate changes the microflora, which produces acid, which causes rumen ulcers, which allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream and infect the liver and other organs. In some feedlots, up to 40% of cattle have liver abscesses. Antibiotics are added to feed to reduce the incidence.

All of this for economics - cheaper to get a pound of gain from grain than forage.

So there is the question of ethics - is it acceptable to make animals sick for economic purposes? And use antibiotics for economic gain?

Not to mention the stress of shipping cattle to the feed yards and resulting illnesses like pneumonia. As my brother who worked in a feedlot once said, you have to have a dead pile to be a real cattleman.

I ran across this article years ago - veterinarians discussing liver abscesses in feedlots. Note that ethics are not discussed. Purely economics. No discussion of reducing the levels of grain in the ration - apparently not an option, because that would affect "performance parameters". We'll accept up to 15% of cattle with abscesses.

https://feedlotmagazine.com/archive/archive/issues/200011/new_v8n6pg89article.html

Dr. Perino: Liver abscesses are usually not the number-one issue on the feedyard manager's mind until he receives a packer complaint. As long as the percent and severity remain within a range that everyone is used to dealing with, it's not an issue. However, the biggest challenge facing cattlemen is how to reduce liver abscess prevalence and still optimize the performance parameters that we currently benchmark. Given our current state of knowledge, I'm not sure we can reduce liver abscesses without losing ground on traditional performance indicators.

Dr. Hall: I know for a fact that packers would like to screen and then discount cattle, or just not buy them, if you have a high incidence of liver abscesses. I believe the incidence of abscesses are reflected in the price of cattle now. According to Dr. Perino, our industry accepts up to 15 percent liver abscessation. The price of cattle is discounted for a 15 percent liver abscess incidence. If you were able to guarantee that your cattle were only going to have one to two percent liver abscessation, you could request from the packer (and probably receive) a premium for your cattle.

Q: Should we be concerned about the reliance on antibiotics in the feed to control liver abscesses?

Dr. Nagaraja: As an industry, we should be concerned. Particularly, as Europe is clamping down on using feed-grade antibiotics. I don't know when it's coming to this country. But I have a feeling, eventually, we may have to live without antibiotics as feed additives. I don't know how many more years we'll be able to use tylosin.

Dr. Cullor: From a national perspective, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the USDA jointly said that all antibiotic resistance in salmonellosis in humans was due to antibiotics being fed in agriculture. That's a pretty bold statement. Those of us in animal agriculture are going to have to deal with that perception. We need to plan now for what we can do should they eventually try to ban feed-grade antibiotics.

Q: Without the use of Tylan, what other choices do we have to control liver abscesses?

Dr. Cullor: Well, it's management. I'd like to see bunk management, better nutrition and immunization or vaccines. There probably won't be a single silver bullet, but a combination of how to manage for it when the antibiotics are gone. That's going to be better rations, better nutrition and immunizations.

Dr. MacGregor: Prevention is the name of the game. I think we need to look at time of prevention with the ranch being the optimum. Convince the rancher either through common sense or his pocketbook that it's worthwhile for them.
 

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Based on this, I raised my kids in a closet. They were happier there.
an·thro·po·mor·phism It is common to expect what is desired by humans must be desired by animals or that animals seek the same thing as humans. Jes taint so. Is it that hard to accept that hen mortality is higher for cage free hens than caged hens?

Not to mention the stress of shipping cattle to the feed yards and resulting illnesses like pneumonia.
Cattle get pneumonia from a respiratory infection. Cattle can no more contract pneumonia from a truck ride than you could contract the common cold by getting a chill.

So there is the question of ethics - is it acceptable to make animals sick for economic purposes? And use antibiotics for economic gain?
Is it better for an animal to be raised for the single purpose of providing its flesh for me to eat or for that animal to never exist? Bible says I have dominion over all animals. I think you need to pick a side to this argument. If antibiotics reduce inflammation, keep cattle from getting sick, isn't that your goal? You prefer sick animals? I hope not.
Soda pop makes humans less healthy. Is it acceptable to make humans sick for economic purposes?
I don't believe that 6 or 8 weeks of corn silage is causing liver abscesses in cattle. High producing dairy cattle receive lots of grain in lactation without health concerns.
It is hard to instill changes in any business without economic consequences.
 

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Discussion Starter · #43 ·
Interesting-thoughts to ponder-and many topics in the public conversation these days. Much overdone and exaggerated and perpetuated by the internet and/or media.
 

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I checked with a couple Veterinarians that do feedlot cattle work. The corn will put fat on the liver, not a healthy thing, if you are raising cattle for longevity. They both thought that acid thing and lesions was funny. Maybe, sometimes there is a problem with liver flukes.
 

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I checked with a couple Veterinarians that do feedlot cattle work. The corn will put fat on the liver, not a healthy thing, if you are raising cattle for longevity. They both thought that acid thing and lesions was funny. Maybe, sometimes there is a problem with liver flukes.
Weird that working vets would find liver lesions caused by metabolic acidosis (commonly called grain poisoning) humorous. Any serious cattleman or first year veterinary student would recognize this as a real and all-to-common problem...not only in feedlot cattle, but in brood stock and newly weaned cattle as well. Any ruminants that are fed grain or silage are susceptible. I had a young steer go down with it this year. My doc told me to switch to a light ration of oats and good hay to get him on his feet and then to ship him. Wheat and corn are the worst culprits...oats and barley are the least problematic.

Ruminants are not designed to metabolize a high carbohydrate diet. I don't think any expert in ruminant physiology would dispute that statement. In fact, I attended several lectures by Ohio State's lead nutrition researcher (at Penn State ironically) and this statement was underscored at length and this guy is a big proponent of feeding corn and corn silage. His point was that great care needed to be taken in the feedlot to prevent acidosis and resulting maladies from impacting the bottom line.
 

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Weird that working vets would find liver lesions caused by metabolic acidosis (commonly called grain poisoning) humorous. Any serious cattleman or first year veterinary student would recognize this as a real and all-to-common problem...not only in feedlot cattle, but in brood stock and newly weaned cattle as well. Any ruminants that are fed grain or silage are susceptible. I had a young steer go down with it this year. My doc told me to switch to a light ration of oats and good hay to get him on his feet and then to ship him. Wheat and corn are the worst culprits...oats and barley are the least problematic.
Not that liver lesions are funny, but that people would see it as a common or serious problem struck them as ridiculous. Not common at all. As I said, the high corn diet puts fat on fairly fast and that can lead to fatty livers. Liver flukes is more common in their practice. I've never heard of anyone feeding wheat. Did your Vet say why your steer went down? What feed did you have him on, surely a young steer wouldn't have been on a total corn diet. Right? Was his recommendation for good hay a reflection on what you were feeding him?
 

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Hay has been a challenge, both in growing and purchasing. Two different pieces of land -one, was just wild pasture that horses ran/grazed/walked on, so basically junk soil. Two-had corn on a few years ago and then idle.

We started a small alfalfa field with moderate results.
What percent of protein is a goal for beef cattle? Seems what we have tested/grown/found able to purchase was mid teens for protein15-16 %, any with around 20% was very overpriced.
What are you feeding it to and what are you feeding with it? Dry cows can get by on lower quality feed, a partial feeding of alfalfa along with some low protein forage like wheat straw or dry grass and they'll be all right. Cows nursing calves would take a higher percentage of alfalfa.
 

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What are you feeding it to and what are you feeding with it? Dry cows can get by on lower quality feed, a partial feeding of alfalfa along with some low protein forage like wheat straw or dry grass and they'll be all right. Cows nursing calves would take a higher percentage of alfalfa.
All discussions drift, but since this is a topic about feeding beef cattle, on grass, there shouldn't be any open dry cattle. A productive beef cow is either nursing a calf, in the latter terms of a pregnancy or being fattened for slaughter. The term "getting by on lower quality feed", might work for an open dry cow. But when you take the traditional grain feeding out of the diet, replacing it with hay, the quality of hay (and pasture) becomes critical. You don't want cattle to be doing "all right". You want them to be growing as fast as your forage will allow. The longer it takes to grow to market, the lower the quality. Unless you have a big order for round beef.
Grass finished beef should bring a premium and to often costs more to produce. Tested, properly cut, cured, baled and stored, high protein hay is often a component in the production of eatable grass finished beef.
 

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Not that liver lesions are funny, but that people would see it as a common or serious problem struck them as ridiculous. Not common at all.
Very common...docs around here say calls are almost daily, and most of the dairy cases are diagnosed and treated in-house. I will admit that this was my first one in 5 years of grain finishing (20 years of grass finishing), but I feed grain in conjunction with grazing, so my cattle get a high fiber to carbohydrate ratio.

Liver flukes is more common in their practice.
Liver flukes are pretty rare to non-existent east of Nebraska, with the exception of the gulf states.

I've never heard of anyone feeding wheat.
Really? Wheat middlings are pretty commonly used in balanced grower rations... Sometimes as high as 40-50% though not in my rations which are normally around 20%. Wheat middlings are high in protein.

Did your Vet say why your steer went down?
Yes... Liver lesions caused by acidosis. My docs have no prejudice about feeding grain and neither do I...obviously or I wouldn't do it.

What feed did you have him on, surely a young steer wouldn't have been on a total corn diet. Right?
Right...it's not my first rodeo. He was on pasture as all of my cattle are...in addition to feeding a balanced ration formulated by my nutritionist.

Was his recommendation for good hay a reflection on what you were feeding him?
"Good hay" was my term to describe the doc's wish to replace pasture with an appropriate quality replacement. This happened in July when I don't feed hay. "Hay and oats" were my doc's instruction to keep an eye on him, reduce the possibility of exacerbating the acidosis, increasing fiber content of his diet and getting him ready for the sale barn. He had no possibility of being a quality finished steer.
 
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All discussions drift, but since this is a topic about feeding beef cattle, on grass, there shouldn't be any open dry cattle. A productive beef cow is either nursing a calf, in the latter terms of a pregnancy or being fattened for slaughter. The term "getting by on lower quality feed", might work for an open dry cow. But when you take the traditional grain feeding out of the diet, replacing it with hay, the quality of hay (and pasture) becomes critical. You don't want cattle to be doing "all right". You want them to be growing as fast as your forage will allow. The longer it takes to grow to market, the lower the quality. Unless you have a big order for round beef.
Grass finished beef should bring a premium and to often costs more to produce. Tested, properly cut, cured, baled and stored, high protein hay is often a component in the production of eatable grass finished beef.
Substitute bred cow for dry cow, that's how I should have said it in the example I gave.

vocabulary phrase of the day - compensatory gain
 

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Discussion Starter · #51 ·
Weird that working vets would find liver lesions caused by metabolic acidosis (commonly called grain poisoning) humorous. Any serious cattleman or first year veterinary student would recognize this as a real and all-to-common problem...not only in feedlot cattle, but in brood stock and newly weaned cattle as well. Any ruminants that are fed grain or silage are susceptible. I had a young steer go down with it this year. My doc told me to switch to a light ration of oats and good hay to get him on his feet and then to ship him. Wheat and corn are the worst culprits...oats and barley are the least problematic.

Ruminants are not designed to metabolize a high carbohydrate diet. I don't think any expert in ruminant physiology would dispute that statement. In fact, I attended several lectures by Ohio State's lead nutrition researcher (at Penn State ironically) and this statement was underscored at length and this guy is a big proponent of feeding corn and corn silage. His point was that great care needed to be taken in the feedlot to prevent acidosis and resulting maladies from impacting the bottom line.

“Weird that working vets would find liver lesions caused by metabolic acidosis (commonly called grain poisoning) humorous. Any serious cattleman or first year veterinary student would recognize this as a real and all-to-common problem...not only in feedlot cattle, but in brood stock and newly weaned cattle as well. Any ruminants that are fed grain or silage are susceptible. I had a young steer go down with it this year. My doc told me to switch to a light ration of oats and good hay to get him on his feet and then to ship him. Wheat and corn are the worst culprits...oats and barley are the least problematic”

Hmm,..Oats and Barley. We have grown oats and have used some for our sheep and goats. Also my laying hens.

Below zero temperatures and the windchill advisories are out here. Very cold.,
 

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This is a very good thread....

I’ll give you my take on it, If you want call the grass fed beef you have to move them. That’s the first step and the biggest in my opinion.

Fresh grass daily is the ticket, next is the quality of your pastures, some places take 30 acres per cow because the grass density is so low. However here we can do multiple cows per acre.

Currently we are finishing between 18-20 months on grass. Weaned calf’s are overwintered on high quality hay and hay silage or wrapped bales. We turn them out right about may 1 usually in big paddocks because the grass is washy then. As the grass becomes drier the paddocks shrink therefore stock density goes up.

All paddocks are temporary because grass conditions dictate size, with a daily move until slaughter which is right about October 1 they average 2.67lbs ADG. Hangin weights are 550-565 pretty consistently. Fat cover and marbling is excellent.

You cannot tell they are grass finished and that’s my goal. Well you can because the fat is so white lol. Also we use no chemical inputs, no overseeding, plowing, discing, surgum Sudan or any untasseled grain. Only thing we use is....chickens!

High quality grass finished beef that we cannot keep up with the demand for. This is the key to selling grass finished beef it has to be high quality.
All the normal things still apply, body conditioning score is a big one. Tail head fat is a good indicator of finishing readiness. One of the biggest mistakes producers make is slaughtering cattle when they’re not ready or to lean. Hence the comments about beef that looks like venison.

It’s not easy but it’s not that hard either. Biggest factor again is your grass and how it’s managed. Not every property can produce 3lbs of gain per day either.

As with anything else your mileage will vary...
 

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This is a very good thread....

I’ll give you my take on it, If you want call the grass fed beef you have to move them. That’s the first step and the biggest in my opinion.

Fresh grass daily is the ticket, next is the quality of your pastures, some places take 30 acres per cow because the grass density is so low. However here we can do multiple cows per acre.

Currently we are finishing between 18-20 months on grass. Weaned calf’s are overwintered on high quality hay and hay silage or wrapped bales. We turn them out right about may 1 usually in big paddocks because the grass is washy then. As the grass becomes drier the paddocks shrink therefore stock density goes up.

All paddocks are temporary because grass conditions dictate size, with a daily move until slaughter which is right about October 1 they average 2.67lbs ADG. Hangin weights are 550-565 pretty consistently. Fat cover and marbling is excellent.

You cannot tell they are grass finished and that’s my goal. Well you can because the fat is so white lol. Also we use no chemical inputs, no overseeding, plowing, discing, surgum Sudan or any untasseled grain. Only thing we use is....chickens!

High quality grass finished beef that we cannot keep up with the demand for. This is the key to selling grass finished beef it has to be high quality.
All the normal things still apply, body conditioning score is a big one. Tail head fat is a good indicator of finishing readiness. One of the biggest mistakes producers make is slaughtering cattle when they’re not ready or to lean. Hence the comments about beef that looks like venison.

It’s not easy but it’s not that hard either. Biggest factor again is your grass and how it’s managed. Not every property can produce 3lbs of gain per day either.

As with anything else your mileage will vary...
Thank you. You have supplied a mountain of valuable information. Hopefully, those considering this method will honestly evaluate their ability to supply everything it takes to grow eatable beef, as you have detailed here. Lush grass in the heat of mid-summer, baleage and silage in winter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #54 ·
Slingshot-totally awesome! Though as I read your post with windchills in double digit negative numbers, makes me wonder if our growing season is long enough to have the lush pastures?!? Even if we plant all the right grasses, will they have time to mature sufficiently?

What do you mean when you say you only use chickens? Chickens for what?

We did benefit in our own family garden as we used our chicken manure this year for fertilizer-yeah! (From our laying hens!)
 

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Slingshot-totally awesome! Though as I read your post with windchills in double digit negative numbers, makes me wonder if our growing season is long enough to have the lush pastures?!? Even if we plant all the right grasses, will they have time to mature sufficiently?

What do you mean when you say you only use chickens? Chickens for what?

We did benefit in our own family garden as we used our chicken manure this year for fertilizer-yeah! (From our laying hens!)
Our grass season is pretty consistently 180 days can we maybe go longer if the weather is warm in the fall sure, but I don't because it's easier to process all the beef by October, this also helps our customers that buy 1/4 and 1/2's budget friendly not too close to the holidays.


Chickens! Chickens! Chickens!

What do I mean by chickens.... My laying hen flock follows the cattle. They are the clean up crew, they hit the paddocks 3 days after the cows move. This is precisely when the fly larva are visible in the cow manure. The chickens scratch through the cow pies hunting which incorporates it in to the soil as well as debugging it.

The entire paddock also gets a top dress of manure from the birds and then they move to the next one, poultry net keeps them where I want them. The birds are trained to roost in converted Haywagon‘s which we move at night into the new paddocks. It’s amazing within a hour you cannot find any cow manure at all. None. That’s good it puts the nutrients where I want them.... in the soil not evaporating into the air from the sun

I also do a few thousand meat birds( that number goes up every year) they are run in chicken tractors across the pastures.Sometimes I let the cattle graze the grass first other times I’ll mow it ahead of them if it gets too long where I need the help on a certain pasture. A lot of times I’ll run them right on the edge of the hedgerows which have the thinnest grass due to the shade. The results are incredible strips of super bright green grass. It’s almost completely weed free then in 50 or 60 days the cattle graze it again and we repeat.

A flock of turkeys also rotate the pastures for 16 weeks before thanksgiving. The grass loves them too!
 

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Discussion Starter · #56 ·
Slingshot—-Wow, this sounds perfect! I love the hens cleaning up concept!

Oh my gosh, I would love to see this in action!
( Side note, I was thinking about this a few days ago,...wouldn’t it be cool if we could all go on a field trip and go from farm to farm to see and learn from others operations,...adopt what might work for our own, help make something work better at each visit, etc! ). Of course, reality hit! From Wyoming-to New Zealand -

As you have a net over the hens, then you aren’t concerned about hawks, eagles, etc? They go in at night to roost, so no concern over coyotes, foxes, ****, etc?

Starting your hens as pullets, isn’t that the most expensive way to buy layers?

Are you able to sell your hens at age 1 1/2?

Do you get snow? Sub zero temperatures?

Great plan! Thank you for sharing!
 

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No net above the chickens they use the wagons as cover, if a hawk comes over they go underneath. Coyotes can’t get through high tensile and netting.

Pullets is actually the cheapest option... costs about $11 dollars to raise a day old chick to laying age. I get pullets delivers to my farm for $6.75 each! Not worth raising them when they are that price.

Yes I’m able to sell all the birds at 1 1/2 easily. In the spring time there is much demand for backyard laying hens so I mostly sell them on Craigslist. $15 each or $120 for ten. This year I sold the entire flock in 8 days, it’s important to note they are not clipped which raises their value significantly.

I’m in upstate NY so lots of snow and cold right now it’s -3F. The solution for this is I winter the chickens over in a greenhouse. The waterers say thawed all day from the solar energy and they have heaters for night time so they don’t freeze. Also keeps the eggs from freezing. We use deep letter in the greenhouse that the chickens spend the winter composting then we use it on the fruit trees and gardens, the rest is spread on the fields. In the spring we plant it.
 

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Slingshot—-Wow, this sounds perfect! I love the hens cleaning up concept!

Oh my gosh, I would love to see this in action!
( Side note, I was thinking about this a few days ago,...wouldn’t it be cool if we could all go on a field trip and go from farm to farm to see and learn from others operations,...adopt what might work for our own, help make something work better at each visit, etc! ). Of course, reality hit! From Wyoming-to New Zealand -

As you have a net over the hens, then you aren’t concerned about hawks, eagles, etc? They go in at night to roost, so no concern over coyotes, foxes, ****, etc?

Starting your hens as pullets, isn’t that the most expensive way to buy layers?

Are you able to sell your hens at age 1 1/2?

Do you get snow? Sub zero temperatures?

Great plan! Thank you for sharing!
 

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Grass fed beef is big in Kansas and, yes, they were delicious. Keep in mind, grass here can grow taller than a cow in some areas, especially the Flint Hills regions. 100 years ago, everyone ate grass fed beef because there weren't any other alternatives. Simply stated, grass fed beef tends to be lean meat and requires a longer cooking time sometimes. We've gone through cycles of drought/plenty of rain/somewhere in between so how many acres per cow varies. I don't raise cattle but hope to do so some day at some point. We have to contend with bitter cold weather and tornado weather, etc.
 

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Discussion Starter · #60 ·
Ted, I have heard that about Kansas with the wide open prairies, and long grasses-open fields! It sounds endless and maybe the growing season is better or longer than here? Not sure, but interesting comments on the leaness and longer cooking times required. We just got back our first from the butcher and believe what we have is some very lean beef, based on its appearance! I am hoping that is what customers desire, but if lean isn’t what the customer wants-then perhaps we need to make some changes-assuming this is representative of what we might get from them...
 
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