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Producers find market for grass-fed and grain-fed beef

Cattle producers today have many options when it comes to raising their animals, according to John Lawrence, director of the Iowa Beef Center.

Lawrence and several producers discussed these options during the Iowa Forage and Grasslands Conference held in Des Moines recently.

"Not only are there three different options in grain-feeding systems--conventional, natural and organic,--there are also options in grass-feeding systems--natural and organic," he said.

Lawrence said each cattle producer must look at all their options and decide which will be the most profitable for them to be in business, now and in the future.

Grass-fed production

Retired Winterset, Iowa, veterinarian Ken Henrichsen has found grass-feeding beef works the best for him.

Henrichsen's operation is set up selling bred heifers and grass-finished beef. In March, he purchases 600- to 700-pound heifers from a ranch in South Dakota. These heifers are sorted upon arrival to determine which will be put into the replacement/bred heifer program and which will be fed-out to be marketed as grass-fed beef.

Both groups are put on a rotational grazing system and rotated to fresh grass daily. The heifers also have access to fresh water, corn stalk bales and dry hay bales for extra roughage. They are raised in a natural-beef protocol, without the use of antibiotics or hormones.

The group fed for beef is also supplemented with 0.8 pounds per hundred weight of dry distillers grains and soyhulls in order to push them to the market weight by October.

By then, he wants the heifers to be at their 1,000-pound target weight. The beef is marketed for a premium to local customers.

Henrichsen said he has a lot of repeat customers and others learn about his beef through word of mouth and advertising locally.

"We like to serve a healthy, safe, and quality product--all are in the choice and select grade--to a demanded market and it is processed and packaged just the way the customer wants it," he said. "People who have had our product are willing to pay a premium for it."

He said he can continue to sell these heifers this way because he has continued to manage them in a way to stay profitable.

Grass-fed and grain-fed specialty beef

Atlantic, Iowa, cattle producer Alan Zelmer uses both grass-fed and grain-fed in his management practices.

Zelmer's operation, A to Z Feeders, includes many different segments, which is possible because of the rest of his family, who is also involved in the business. The farm includes 2,000 acres of row crops, 900 acres of pasture, 150 acres of hay, 600 cows and a 1,700-head feedlot, along with a trucking business and a brokerage for distillers products.

"We use a lot of forage to finish our cattle for specialty markets. The feedlot is grain-based and we use distillers products when it is economical to do so," he said.

Zelmer has a special breed of cattle called Wagyu, which produces Kobe beef. Wagyu is a Japanese breed of cattle, which produces very high quality beef.

When production costs rose and the recession affected the market for the higher priced Kobe beef, Zelmer also started feeding cattle for a Natural Angus Beef program, in order to continue to have a market for his cattle.

Zelmer continually makes improvements to his land by participating in erosion control programs, using a rotational grazing system, and using manure from the feedlot as fertilizer on the pasture. He eliminated broadcast spraying to kill weeds and has moved to spot spraying, with success. Frost seeding legumes in pastures has been used successfully, as well.

The cows on the grass-based rotational grazing system are on a five- to seven-day rotation schedule. He also backgrounds calves on grass after they are pasture weaned, which has decreased problems with sickness and made weaning go more smoothly and quickly.

While Zelmer has both grass-based and grain-based systems, he has found a market for animals stemming from both kinds of systems.

Jennifer Bremer can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by e-mail at jbremer@hpj.com.

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