Certification is proof that this beef is grass fed
By Doug Rich
Mel and Joyce Williams are sold on grass-fed beef; in fact they are sold out.
They had always raised a few grass-fed calves on their eastern Kansas farm for themselves but went to 100 percent grass-fed production in 1996 when they started selling beef to the public. After reading an article titled “Beyond Organic,” Joyce Williams was more convinced than ever in the value of grass-fed beef.
“I decided this is what I am going to do, sell our beef as grass fed because it is healthier and it is what we are already doing,” Williams said. “My interest is health and what keeps us healthy.”
Mel and Joyce Williams also believe in people doing what they say they are going to do. All cattle are a little bit grass fed but they wanted to prove that their cattle were 100 percent grass fed.
“When you see people putting corn in the trough and calling the cows I wondered how could I tell people we don’t do that on our farm,” Joyce Williams said.
The way she found was to be certified by the American Grass Fed Association and Animal Welfare Approved. Williams said both groups certified them in 2004.
“We realized we had to prove what we were doing,” Williams said.
The standards restrict and their farm is inspected once a year to make sure they are practicing these specific production methods. The inspector comes at different times of the year to see their cattle at a different point in the production cycle. Last year Williams received an AWA grant that he used to purchase a new herd bull.
Mel Williams said there are three pages of very specific production standards that they must adhere to in order to be certified by these groups. At the top of this list is not using sub-therapeutic antibiotics.
“If they get sick we can treat them, but we must take them out of the grass-fed market,” Joyce Williams said.
The cows and calves are out on grass at all times. Williams said they are encouraged to use rotational grazing. Calves being finished on grass are normally on a 70-acre pasture that is divided into paddocks with electric fencing. These calves are moved every day during the finishing phase. The cows are in larger pastures and only moved about once a week.
“If the cows meet me at the gate it is time to move them,” Mel Williams said.
A standard that took some adjustment has been weaning across the fence. Williams said when they first started they put the momma cows on a back pasture out of sight to the calves being weaned. She said the calves would bawl for a week before they settled down. Now the cows and calves are just separated by a fence during weaning.
Williams said it only takes about two days before the calves and cows settle down. Every day the calves get a little farther away from the momma cows.
“I tell our customers that the calves can kiss their moms but they can’t nurse,” Williams said.
According to the standards they cannot wean calves before they are 6 months old and recommend waiting until they are 9 months old. Williams said they wean calves between 9 and 10 months of age.
The standards for grass fed and AWA also include making sure heifers are 2 years old before they have their first calf, not keeping a bull in a pasture by itself, not hauling to a slaughter facility more than eight hours from the ranch or farm, and not treating pastures with herbicides or insecticides except for approved spot treatments.
“Being certified is a way of proving we do what we say we are doing,” Joyce Williams said. “I think honesty is very important.”
Williams has a fall calving herd but held back some heifers this year to begin a small spring calving herd. A lot of people want their beef in the spring. The spring calving heifers are just being bred, and since they don’t slaughter until the calves are 2 years old they won’t have beef for sale from the spring herd until 2016.
“We have had 50 head to sell as grass fed but we will have a total of 65 when the spring calves are ready,” Mel Williams said.
Mel Williams said when they started out they just sold a few calves, 11 or 12 head, in the grass-fed market. They kept doubling the number of calves they were selling every year until all of their calves were sold in the 100 percent grass-fed market. They are already sold out this year.
“We have a standby list for this year and the fall of 2014 is the first we have available if you want a half of beef,” Joyce Williams said. “We don’t have to sell it, our customers are here to buy it. They have researched grass fed and know what they want.”
Williams markets beef as wholes, halves, and quarters. Customers contact the processing facility to tell them how they want their beef cut and then pick it up themselves. Mel and Joyce Williams also have two or three head processed into individual cuts that they sell from their farm to customers on their list who want just a certain cut or cuts and not a whole, half or quarter of beef. Right now they have a list of people who want roasts this winter.
They have been marketing beef at Checkers grocery story in Lawrence, Kan., two Hy-Vee Health Markets, and The Merc also in Lawrence. Joyce Williams said it is a toss-up whether to sell wholesale or retail to their own list of customers.
Either way Mel and Joyce Williams are sold out, and there is a waiting list for the 100 percent certified grass-fed beef they raise.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.