Grass-fed: with imports coming, it’s time to go local

By Jim Munsch, Coon Valley, Wisconsin — At a grazing meeting last month, I heard that fresh, grass-fed beef from Uruguay and other countries had shown up in Upper Midwest specialty food stores catering to the health conscious. The question that was being bantered about: “Why can’t that beef be produced in the U.S.?”

Certainly grass-fed beef can, and is, produced in the U.S. But the question today centers more on the markets in which U.S. graziers can successfully compete. If grass-fed beef is coming from South America and Australia, and if it is being sold fresh at prices lower than what we can offer while still making a profit, do U.S. grass-fed beef producers have a future? Continue reading “Grass-fed: with imports coming, it’s time to go local”

Grass-fed beef: What’s possible, what isn’t

By Tom Wrchota, Omro, Wisconsin — Most of conventional agriculture treats productivity as the be-all, end-all for financially successful farming. Productivity is nothing more than measuring inputs and outputs, such as how many pounds of grain it takes to produce a pound of beef, pork, lamb, or chicken. So productivity is the study of how items relate to each other.

Much more important than productivity is profit, which is margin multiplied by volume, minus expense. Continue reading “Grass-fed beef: What’s possible, what isn’t”

Different ‘grass-fed’ beef categories require differing strategies

By Tom Wrchota, Omro, Wisconsin — Ever since living and working in Costa Rica back in the early 1970s, I have greatly enjoyed the taste, smell, and texture of “properly” raised and prepared grass-fed beef. Once back in Wisconsin, it was one of my crusades to develop a beef herd and a grass management system that could service my acquired beef appetite … along with making a living selling it to other prospective affectionatos.

After 11 years of being part of this emerging sector, I’ve come to a few conclusions about what represents grass-fed beef quality, and how a northern grazier might be able to produce a relatively consistent product. They’re based on laboratory tests, blind taste panels, and my own, on-ranch observations. Continue reading “Different ‘grass-fed’ beef categories require differing strategies”

Year-round, Corn Belt grazing

Cliff Schuette employs annuals and fescue in 12-month beef grazing program

Breese, Illinois — “If you’re paying for the ground year-round, you might as well try to graze it year-round.” While Cliff Schuette’s rationale may be sound, this grass-farming grail is simply not attainable for northern graziers.

Then again, Cliff and a few others like him are showing that perhaps year-round grazing — or at least something very close to it — is not quite the mirage many graziers made it out to be. In recent years Corn Belt graziers have been employing annual crops and stockpiling tall fescue in successful efforts to graze at least some stock 12 months a year, thus cutting feeding costs to levels far below conventional norms for their areas. Continue reading “Year-round, Corn Belt grazing”

One farm’s experience with the Salatin model

A look at Forks Farm’s 11 years of ‘grass-fed’ direct sales

By Ruth Tonachel, Orangeville, Pennsylvania — It is a “Market Day” Saturday at Forks Farm, and there is clearly more than business transactions taking place.

Todd Hopkins and her daughters Emily, Molly and Anna, greet customers by name and with hugs as they bag chickens and tote up bills. The constant stream of vehicles includes BMWs, rickety pickups and minivans. Customers range from retired farmers to massage therapists, housemaids to surgeons. They come to this rural setting from as close as down the road, and from as far away as Philadelphia and New York City. Continue reading “One farm’s experience with the Salatin model”

Oddball cowboy practices

Bending the conventional rules to produce quality grass-fed beef

By Tom Wrchota, Omro, Wisconsin — When Susan and I set out 11 years ago to establish a sustainable farm enterprise, we developed some simple goals relating to work enjoyment and profitability. We did not realize how many of the customary farm teachings and practices would have to be altered or omitted in order for us to meet our objectives. Below are just a few ranch management practices that might come with a warning label, “Try this at home at your own risk.”

• No grain for slaughter animals. I ate a lot of excellent, grass-finished beef many years ago while living in Costa Rica. When I launched my own operation, I felt that the quality grass growing regions of the Upper Great Lakes would be nearly ideal for a grass-finishing operation. Susan and I want to target a health-conscious clientele with our products, and we strongly believe that grass-finished cattle produce the healthiest beef. Continue reading “Oddball cowboy practices”