Finishing Time and Weights of Grass-Fed Beef, Jane Jewett, MN

Finishing Time and Weights of Grass-Fed Beef, Jane Jewett, MN

This was a farmer Rancher grant it ran from approximately 2012 through 2015 through part of 2015 and I do work for the Minnesota Institute for sustainable agriculture, and also until lately worked for green lands blue waters as well. Which is a related program and I’d like to acknowledge a few people My co-operators are the first three people on the list there were four of us farmers in this project We all had fairly different types of grass fed operations, so that was Interesting to see in the project choice Salzer Carlton County Extension he presented before lunch on his cover crops project Wayne Martin University of Minnesota Extension alternative livestock program my husband and my families who had to help me with dragging around livestock scale and Messing around with animals a lot more than we normally do for working the cattle to get those weights Kate Clancy She had an endowed chair position with the Minnesota Institute for sustainable agriculture in Grass-fed beef a number of years ago and the information that she generated was helpful my boss Helene Murray who said Yep, great. Do this project we like it Chris Johnson who was on the Mesa Board of Directors and sent me the paper that kicked this whole thing off our Minnesota Sarah co-coordinators Kate Johnson Kate Seeger and Betsy Weiland The Midwest perennial forage working group, which is under Greenland’s blue waters? And I had a lot of feedback from those people and conversation with them Rich Parag who was a co-author on the paper that? Caused me to do this project and Laura Payne I should have changed this because she’s now with dairy grazing apprenticeship. No longer with Southwest badger Okay So to set this up many of you since you’re from Iowa and sure know about the Leopold Center and the research that’s done there and Rick Cruz the head of the Iowa Water Center has been working with Leopold funding to look at soil erosion and He has been finding some really interesting and alarming things One of which is that the t-value that’s used for Allowable soil erosion by the NRCS is five point five tons per acre per year of soil loss, but what Rick says is that? Severely underestimates the actual amount of soil erosion because it does not take into account Ephemeral gullies that happen in spring rains fall rains when the soil is mostly bare, and that creates actually a lot of soil loss And Rick also says that the actual rate of soil formation is Not five point five tons per acre per year, but more like 0.5 tons per acre per year So there’s a tremendous a lot of soil erosion happening And then if you look at the type of cropping system That you have that makes a huge impact on the percentage or on the amount of soil loss and if you look at What kind of cropping system can reduce soil loss? corn soybean is kind of the baseline you’ve got a Pretty severe soil loss with that and then you can reduce it by going to these other things and permanent pasture reduces that soil loss by more than 90 percent So that’s why people are interested in grass-fed beef and in grazing as a way to protect soil Okay, this is a great picture from the land institute in Salina, Kansas West Jackson if some of you know him is Just retiring as the director of that But he’s he’s a pretty tall guy and they’ve got these washed perennial grass roots hanging up on a clothesline And they’re they’re really long right I mean, that’s a very extensive root system and when you have a whole pasture of all those grasses growing together and cross-linking the roots and sending those roots down really deep You are you’re practically eliminating soil erosion from that field so perennial grasses are a soil erosion fighter and Grass-fed beef of course is a way you can utilize perennial pasture and make it profitable So so I bought into that I am a grass-fed beef producer for environmental reasons and Then this paper came out in 2010 comparative lifecycle environmental impacts of three beef production strategies in the upper Midwestern United States and Chris Johnson on the Mesa board circulated that paper and I read it and Found this conclusion impacts per live weight kilogram of beef produced were highest For pasture finished beef for all impact categories and lowest for feedlot finished beef They’re talking about environmental impacts here in saying that feedlot beef has a lower environmental impact lower eco smaller ecological footprint than pasture finished beef and I Thought how can this possibly be? So picking through that paper some more I started to figure out Why that could be? In their materials and methods they use this standard figure calves weaned to pasture and Iowa finished at 505 kilograms. That’s about 1111 pounds in 450 days on a ration of forage and hay that’s a long time to spend finishing a cow or a steer Yeah, so these are the figures used by that Pelletier paper the grass fed beef finish time 450 days a year plus 3 months, so That’s the time post weaning Okay, so that’s like 15 months plus seven months at weaning age They assumed I know grass-fed beef often goes longer, but they were assuming seven months in that paper, so you’re looking at 22 months compared to feedlot beef finish time post weaning of Ten months and getting a much larger animal out of the deal Yeah So That’s that’s where This paper was winding up with some really negative negative impacts from grass-fed beef because these animals were taking so long to finish and That was feeding into the analysis in this paper of You know impact acreage the amount of acreage that was needed to carry that animal for that long So where did these figures come from? Well one of the co-authors on that paper was rich Parag And he used to be here at Iowa State University Extension he’s now in Michigan, but I was you know I knew who he was through my Mesa work and so I Got ahold of him and said Where did you get these figures? Why are you using such a long? Finishing time for grass-fed beef because from my own experience. I knew I could finish an animal on grass quicker than that Maybe not a lot heavier, but certainly quicker So he said well We didn’t have Published data, and so we went with some estimates put together by beef researchers as an Iowa from grass-fed production that they had seen and that’s what they told us and Like well, this is a published research journal and you’re using somebody’s guess ok So So a couple things I knew about grass-fed production is that? A lot of grass-fed beef production is done with heritage beef breeds and a lot of it is done on pastures that are kind of indifferently managed and so so I knew or I was pretty sure that those numbers were confounded by the beef breed and by the Level of management and so what the paper was doing was taking like modern Angus or modern here furred beef genetics in the feedlot system and comparing that to kind of an average grass-fed number that included heritage beef breeds and some Sketchily managed pasture, and it wasn’t a fair comparison, so I wanted to know okay what would happen if you took a modern beef breed that has been bred for production and Put it in a very well-managed pasture grazing Situation to produce grass-fed beef would you still get that poor of a performance from the grass-fed beef? And that question is where this project starts Rich pirogues said yep, that could have made a real difference because You know the length of time to finish was something that really really made the grass fed beef look bad in that research that they did and Then he said to me if you get a chance to collect the data Do it because we didn’t have published data, and so that kind of dropped the responsibility right back on my shoulders And I said, okay, we’ll try to collect this data So these are the collaborators all of all of these people are in, Minnesota They’re all kind of in the eastern third of, Minnesota Edgar Brown is up in the Duluth area Jake and Lindsey grass are in Pine City which is north of the Twin Cities. I’m in Palisade Minnesota, which is kind of northeast central? Aways west of Duluth and Bill McMillan is from down Rochester And we were using some different breeds but I tried to find people who were using modern breeds and As you can see the grasses have Scottish Highlander, which is a heritage breed? but they were They were managing them as a separate group from their more modern genetics Which also included some British white and Ayrshire so not strictly modern, but they did have the Black Angus in there and That was kind of serendipitous I had wanted to use British breeds only but it turned out to be a really good thing that Jake grass had those Scottish Highlanders, and you’ll see why in a bit Okay, we we had some really different types of forage that we fed our animals especially in the winter we did hay testing and So some of these RF fees are pretty low and then McMillan’s is really high Bill McMillan is a former dairy farmer, and he was using his dairy infrastructure around Rochester, Minnesota to produce some pretty good alfalfa hay and alfalfa haylage and doing bunk feeding and so he was really in a you know a high production type of situation Edgar Brown has a farm in an area. That’s got he’s using some run-out pastures He’s doing his own hanging all by himself. He’s like almost 80 So he had some pretty poor quality hay that he was feeding He was letting his animals sort it so the animals were getting a little better than that our fe might indicate grass meadows farm were running a bunch of animals on rental property and renting Hay ground and using several different types They were trying to keep three different types of feed in front of their animals at all times So that the animals could kind of sort and then I was using round bales That my brother Paid and I bought from him And it’s you know it’s not the most wonderful relative feed value on there either But all of us were kind of locked into our systems for various reasons, and so this is what we had So here’s where we start to see the bottom line we we took weights on these animals in 2012 on the 2011 calf crop, and we took weights in 2013 on the 2012 calf crop and in between we did We didn’t do birth weights because a lot of us weren’t set up to do that. We’re calving out on pasture It wouldn’t work, but we did birth dates so that we knew exactly how old the calves were at slaughter, then because we could go back to their birth date and We took weaning weights and we took pre pasture weights before they were turned out the second summer after they were born and Then final slaughter and live weights Live weight and carcass weight and So these show the carcass weigh its age of animal versus carcass weights and compares the weights that we found on these animals with the Figures that came out of that lifecycle analysis paper which were kind of a standard feedlot and a standard grass-fed figure so the standard feedlot and grass-fed figures from that paper are shown by the vertical lines and and then the weights From those paper from that paper are shown by the circles on those vertical lines And then all the data that we collected from our farms Are the are the scattered dots and triangles and squares and X’s? So here’s the cluster of the grass Meadows Scottish Highlander cattle and it overlaps the standard grass fed carcass performance from the paper But most of these who are either lighter or took longer to finish, and so, that’s why it was Serendipity that Jake had those Highlander cattle because we could you know we could map those out and show that yes the heritage breed Definitely was dragging down the average of grass-fed And Here’s their Angus galv a herd which also Overlapped and was really the closest to the average of the grass-fed average from the paper Okay, and here’s Edgar Brown’s herd, which was a little bit more spread out for finishing ages He had run into some breeding problems He he was kind of disappointed with the performance of his cattle But it did overlap that grass-fed average and some of them performed better Okay, so those are those three clusters have formed farms that overlapped that grass-fed average from the lifecycle analysis paper And then here’s bill McMillan and All of his animals finished sooner and at a higher carcass weight than the average grass-fed You can see that. There’s that little circle of the average grass-fed and then all of his animals are up and to the left of it and His slaughter ages were right in line with the feedlot average and Then there’s mine Actually, this project was a really humbling experience for me But bill is Clearly doing better in terms of carcass weights, and I was I was getting my finishing times right in line with feedlot But the way, it’s weren’t up there Okay, so there are all those clusters of the different groups of animals that we looked at and That’s a lot of stuff to look at and if you’re feeling like you’re just not getting it That’s fine, because I felt the same way when I looked at this and went you know okay? We got to make this a little bit clearer so Here’s so I came up with an age weight index And these are the age weight indexes of the feedlot beef and the grass-fed beef in that life cycle Analysis study the average age of slaughter sixteen point nine months carcass weight estimate 840 pounds for feedlot beef and Then you just divide those divide the weight by the agent slaughter and come up with an age weight index of forty-nine point seven and then the grass-fed beef same thing divide the carcass weight at slaughter by the age at slaughter and come up with that index of twenty six point five and I did that for all of the animals in the study, which we could do because we knew their exact ages because we had their birth weights their birth dates, and we had their slaughter dates and so I could calculate their exact ages to the day and Then plotted that and Okay, this is starting to Be a little more clear So these are the age weight indexes and the horizontal lines now are the ones from the life cycle analysis paper We’ve got the feedlot almost up at 50 We’ve got the grass-fed at twenty six point five and then you can see how all the animals in the study stacked up to it and That circled point up There is one of Bill McMillan steers That finished out at like seven hundred and forty nine pounds in 14 months from birth Okay, so that one exceeded the age weight index for feedlot? Okay, and you can see that there are quite a few of the animals that exceeded it for grass-fed Okay So and Here’s just another way to show the same data. We’ve got the on the right hand side of the chart there’s the life cycle analysis feedlot age weight index and the grass-fed age weight index and that horizontal line is the grass-fed level from the paper and Then you can see that McMillan’s on average was on Average was lower than the feedlot, but quite a bit higher than the grass-fed kind of midway between it Mine was a little bit higher than grass-fed. That’s because of the earlier age, but as I mentioned the weights weren’t great and And then browns and grass Meadows were either on the line or below it So what do we know now? So now we know that livestock breed matters a lot when you’re comparing grass-fed systems to feedlot systems, and if you’re looking at doing that kind of comparison you really need to pay attention to what breeds of livestock are in each one and If you’re comparing you know heritage breed grass-fed to modern breed Feedlot yeah, you’re going to see worse performance from the grass-fed, but it’s not necessarily because grass-fed is bad a Grass-fed system has the potential to approach the feedlot system and productivity if you’re looking at that index of carcass weight produced in a given time frame so you know not all of the animals made it there, but bill McMillan had one that exceeded it and a bunch that were close and So what that tells me is that there’s room for improvement of grass-fed beef production systems because there was this whole This whole spread of performance and You know and some of the animals were performing very very well and so there’s room within each farm for improvement to get up to the top level of that farm and There’s room between farms for improvement, and I think that’s something that’s really important to keep hammering because What I’ve heard from some beef researchers is that? Grass-fed it takes you 24 months to get an 1,100 pound animal. That’s it That’s all you’ll ever get you know and it seems really defeatist to me, but you look at this data, and you can see There’s no reason to be defeatist about that There is improvement to be made, and if we pay attention and work on it. We can get better Okay, I’m going to quickly go through some average daily gains So these are average daily gains of the McMillan farm and this is 2013 2012 born calves only so data from 2012 and 2013 And So it’s not a real big sample size It’s just one year and as you’ll see the weather on some of the farms impacted this in 2012 so so bill McMillan’s got 272 days from birth to weaning and 91 days from weaning to pasture and 153 days from pasture to finish and That’s you know he’s he’s doing a good job Grass meadows the average daily gains you know Pretty decent but he’s got a really long time in there of the pasture to finish time frame. He’s got 370 days on that And here’s his Scottish Highlander calves and again the pasture to finish He’s got four hundred and forty six days on that they were taking a really long time to finish and their average daily gains were not so high oh And here’s mine this was painful so this was again 2012 born calves and We had the pasture to finish average daily gains darn near nothing So what happened here is that I actually had some loss of weight in the days from pasture turn out to slaughter in the first days after they went out on pasture and This is for okay this shows 2012 and 2011 born steers What was happening here is we had some really tough weather in 2012 especially we were we were in flood conditions this flood that hit the city of Duluth, Minnesota and You know I could watch it I could watch the wate melting off my cattle that summer we had six weeks of wet feet and Then three weeks of extreme heat and humidity, and I had foot rot it was dreadful so so that did affect what the animals were able to do and It also looks like there’s an adjustment period for going from the winter hay to the spring pasture again We had that tremendous amount of moisture. We had tremendous growth of washy pasture and perhaps not the best quality winter forage and so Yeah, that’s not a good situation Okay, so again looking at the relative feed values here one thing. I personally learned is that? You know taking those Bale rings away and letting the animals sort the hay if you’ve got some not so High quality forage is actually a pretty good thing to do and so I’ve done that now I’m not in a position to get my relative feed value up because I’m not going to feed grain I’m grass fed, and my customers appreciate that and I am I’m buying feed from my brother and buying hay That’s produced within a closed area of my farm and I’m not going to change that but what I can change is letting the cattle sort the hay and Actually, I’m seeing better body condition scores this winter from letting them do that Okay, and this is the Macmillan farm And you’re not seeing any similar pattern of negative average daily gain when they go out on pasture But Bill’s got that again really high-quality winter feed he’s keeping the cattle on high quality stuff all the time Up until they go out on pasture, and it just seems like maybe He’s not seen that drop because of they’re not being such a disparity in quality Comparative economics of the four farms okay in the report, I’ve got a lot more detail on this and how this was all calculated I did not pick through each farmers financial records. I didn’t want to have that level of knowledge of their personal finances and And also a lot of us have particular things that we do like bill McMillan is Doing some sale of hay and buying back other hay and and Edgar Brown has deals where he’s getting really really inexpensive access to hay ground and I’m getting a price break on the hay that I buy so So I standardized all of this based on the prices at the Sauk center, Minnesota hay auction in November of 2014 so This does not reflect the actual finances of each farm But it’s a standardized picture of how we stack up if you’re looking at what we’re feeding how much we’re feeding the steers What kind of carcass weights were getting and then the pricing is also standardized? based on the USDA’s grass-fed beef marketing report So it also doesn’t reflect the actual prices that the farmers are getting but it’s a standardized figure So looking at that The dollars per steer net actually Edgar Brown came out the winner With an extremely low cost system where he’s feeding Poor quality hay I mean, it was relative feed value of 90. He’s letting the cow sort it, so he’s feeding a lot of it working on very cheap kind of run-down hay ground with old equipment and doing all the work himself and managing his pastures very very carefully to get the maximum grazing that he can out of those pastures and Keeping animals as long as he needs to to get them up to the weight that he wants to have them at for his sale And he’s getting one hundred and twenty four dollars per acre net which I can tell you in his part of Carlton County Minnesota is pretty darn good Okay, and then grass meadows farm actually was the lowest dollars per steer of nets I was happy I was not the lowest on one single category here And Bill McMillan you know he’s a higher cost Operator and he’s told me that a number of times I’m a high cost operator, but he was also getting phenomenal steer weights and grossing high dollars per steer and you know his dollar per steer net was pretty decent and His productivity per acre was the highest and that 332 dollars per acre net is pretty competitive with corn and bean cropping in his area down by Rochester Minnesota and more competitive now than it was a couple years ago Okay, so like I said, I’ve got this long detailed report that goes through all the calculations that I did to figure this stuff out, and if you want to find it it’s on the sare website, and you go to Www.hsn org and then go to project reports and then from there search the database and Search it with That title and And or my name, and it’ll pop up and you can get the reports and a copy of this PowerPoint And a four-page little summary of the key points from that from that study Yeah the question is about about carcass yield and then retail cut yield from the carcasses for grass-fed beef and On the carcass yield I used a 52 percent Yield figure which is lower than you would see for feedlot beef We did the calculations on the animals in this study and Bill McMillan’s were he had a few that were up over 55% but but most of them in the study were more in that 50 to 54 percent range and so we used 52 percent And then the question was okay, what about going from the carcass weight down to retail cuts? None of us in this study at that’s at this time were marketing retail cuts so Edgar was selling 2,000 hills cattle company I Was selling primarily to individual customers as quarters and halves bill McMillan and Jay grass were both Let’s see Jake was selling 2,000 Hills and Bill was selling to another Local distributor down in southeastern, Minnesota And so we don’t know we don’t know the retail cut out on that we just know the the kyrgyz Okay question And in the net dollars per acre finger is there a land charge in No there was a land charge, I put in cash rents which Was a little bit difficult because you know there’s good data on that for southern, Minnesota Rochester area as you go north in northeastern Minnesota it gets a little if here and like in Aiken County where I am in Carlton County where Edgar is there just There were barely figures for cash rent because corn and soybeans are not are not a thing So we pulled together some estimates and then for grazing land because you know some of us had cropland that was tillable even if low value and and then pasture land that is what the National agriculture Statistics Service calls pasture land, which is not tillable. It’s graze able, but not really tillable For that figure down in the Rochester area we Came up with an estimate of $35 per acre for a pasture rent and for northern, Minnesota Yeah, it’s it would be essentially zero we put a small dollar amount on it just to have something there, but That pasture land if you’re willing to throw a fence around it you can often get it for Nothing, so yeah those figures are in there Yeah, okay question about elimination of the round bale feeders and how many am I feeding and how many head? I have a pretty small herd. I’ve got 12 cows that I’ll be having this spring and I’m I’m feeding bales that are like about sixteen hundred pounds fifteen to sixteen hundred pound round bales so I’m allowing myself eight per cow and This is northeastern Minnesota. We get quite a bit of below zero weather So you know I have to allow for more hay than you might think of down here in Iowa So I’m out wintering I’ve got the bails set up in a grid pattern out in my field, and I’m allowing the cows You know probably three bales at a time so that all of them can get at the hay and have enough to Not be bored and go looking for trouble And You know it’s it’s working for me You do have more of what you would call waste But I don’t call it waste because it’s going back on to the pasture and breaking down and being organic matter that’s applied to the soil and I am not paying Full market price for my hay. I’m getting it from my brother I arranged for the hauling of it off the field he doesn’t have to deal with any shipping costs, so you know it’s a it’s a cheaper hay price and It kind of washes out with having to have more hay for the cows and letting them Sort through it and not eat all of it Yeah a question about whether we evaluated the the grade of finish on the carcass and no we didn’t we just looked at Weights because that’s all that was in that lifecycle paper that irritated me so and You know and a number of us were Direct marketing I mean I was doing 100% Direct Marketing Bill and Jake and an Edgar were all doing some direct marketing it wasn’t so much of a concern for us with those and The ones that were sold 2,000 hills or hidden stream the other southeast minnesota distributor You know I I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head, but they were grading. Well. I’m sure you’re right question about the average daily gain for finishing on pasture Yeah, there’s there’s a lot more improvement to be done. I mean this particular group of farmers wasn’t hitting that and and yet even so Bill with particular animals was able to approach feedlot efficiency, so you know and these are These are kind of northern Minnesota, Eastern, Minnesota Cool season grasses, I think you might be able to see how your gains with some of the like grazing on big bluestem with higher protein in the fall type of thing Other places where there’s a longer grazing season and you can get higher productivity of of hybrids grasses throughout the season which We weren’t able to do so yeah, I mean there’s plenty of room for you know even Getting more grass fed animals above that feedlot efficiency line What were my pastures like they were Quack rouse and Timothy and red clover and some bird’s foot trefoil primarily Yeah a question about whether I’d considered warm season grasses in my mix no Because where I’m at in northeastern Minnesota. We rarely have a warm season you know That may change with climate change, we’ll see but Yeah up there we don’t really see a summer slump We don’t get the the sustained hot temperatures in July in August We’ve had frost every single month of the year up there July first one year August 23rd you know so we don’t really I think the benefit of warm season grasses for areas where you Consistently see that summer slump in that late summer early fall drought. It would be great. We don’t consistently see that and so so the cool season grasses are Are what we rely on up there?

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