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Transition grain fed to grassfed

 
michael Egan
Posts: 68
Location: central illinois
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I recently moved back onto our family's 53 acre farm, roughly 20 was in corn and soybeans until two years ago when my wife and I bought it from my dad. My dream is to restore the soil through permaculture methods which would include rotational grazing ruminants. One neighbor who is also a friend has around 50 head of black angus cattle and years of experience. He grain feeds them and uses chemical dewormers but is against hormones and he is a lifetime farmer and good steward and appears to be interested in permaculture ideas,many of which he lives by. One idea I'm considering pitching to him is to start a small herd of, say, 10 heifers and grassfeed them. The local demand appears to be strong an I could partner with him since I have the time, equipment and money. I have many questions that mostly relate to whether we could use his existing herd to start since they're many generations grainfed and also how to get both his and my pastures up to quality to where they could support a herd on grass only. I read an older thread that was helpful but am hoping your ideas could help me think this through more. Thanks in advance.
 
Jd Gonzalez
Posts: 205
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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forest garden greening the desert hunting trees
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Joe Salatin, here in Virginia is doing whatyou are considering. Not just cattle but pigs. chickens and turkeys.

http://www.polyfacefarms.com/
 
michael Egan
Posts: 68
Location: central illinois
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Thanks jd. I read his book, some chapters multiple times (cow days...winter feed setup). My two questions are: do you have advice on whether/how to transition grain fed angus when starting a new herd--should I start with a stockier,shorter leg line or go with what my neighbor has and build from there -- and some ideas and timelines on building up old depleted pastures and corn /bean fields. His pastures have been used in the traditional way so they would likely respond to mob grazing rotations pretty fast but how fast and what should we watch for and possibly supplement as we started--minerals, etc? My fields are more depleted from years of chemical farming. After one fallow season we planted brome,white clover and orchard grass which we just cut and baled. We could keep getting hay from those fields but I'd like to put cattle or sheep on them at some point. He also has 200 acres in corn and beans so if we figur out the way to transition on a small scale I could see him moving out of the grain business and more into a larger grass fed cattle operation.
 
Adam Klaus
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Micheal, I would say that if you just take the existing cows off of grain and onto 100% grassfed, about half of the animals will adapt to the change, and the other half will be culls due to loss of fertility. You can purchase grassfed animals and get a much higher rate of success, but you have to compare the cost/benefit of the two scenarios.

You are right that the pastures will rebound quickly with good management. Read Quality Pasture by Alan Nation and Management Intensive Grazing by Jim Gerrish, both will answer all of your questions and more.

The best way to address mineral deficiency issues is to take a soil sample to know what is lacking, and then give your cows access to a free choice mineral feeder. It is much easier and cheaper to give the minerals to the cows, and let them spread it onto the pastures through their manure, than to try to mineralize the pastures directly and hope that the cows get enough.

You are right that the marketing will be easy. Good grassed beef sells itself. Just be sure to produce good beef, which requires adapted genetics and top quality pasture. You might want to raise stockers for a couple years just to improve your pastures to beef finishing quality. The above books will talk in detail about the specific pasture requirements for finishing quality beef.

good luck, you are about to embark on a wonderful adventure-
Adam
 
michael Egan
Posts: 68
Location: central illinois
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Ok thanks a bunch Adam. I'll keep reading and setting up. So far I've read a few grass fed cattle books. I like your suggestion to start with stockers.
 
michael Egan
Posts: 68
Location: central illinois
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A follow up question to Adam or anyone, I'm reading Allan Nation's book and also one of Gerrish's, both I assume aware proponents of -developers of- management intensive grazing. I read Ruechel's "grass fed cattle", Salatin and "Salad bar beef", watched lots of Greg Judy, Derrin Doherty, Alan Savory, etc. is there a forum or place that summarizes and explains the various differences along with the evolving practices of graziers? I think most of the above people are in agreement on core principles but it would help me to form my ideas and eventual practices if I could read how they differ or how they have moved away from one practice and toward another. For example,Greg Judy no longer practices management intensive grazing. Why? Salatin's winter hay practices are not in line with graziers who pastures feed stockpiled grass all or almost all winter. Pros and cons?
 
Kelly Smith
Posts: 699
Location: In a rain shadow - Fremont County, Southern CO
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michael Egan wrote: For example,Greg Judy no longer practices management intensive grazing. Why?

last i heard, Greg Judy was originally focused on what the MOB grazing effects on the land were, but didnt pay much attention to animal performance.
he has slowly transitioned into not simply putting the max animal weight per acre, but balancing the animal performance with the healing properties of MOB grazing.


michael Egan wrote: Salatin's winter hay practices are not in line with graziers who pastures feed stockpiled grass all or almost all winter. Pros and cons?

there are others here that do the same (myelf and Adam K for example) -
i think it comes down to how you want to manage your land.
if you can find a good source of hay for winters

we do not winter feed standing grass because we do not have enough land to do so, as well our recovery period during the growing season (with irrigation) is ~30-40 days - so we have found that is it better to hay parts of our land and put up all of our own winter hay than to try and graze what we could leave standing at the end of the growing season.


one small piece of advice i can give is - not try to start the perfect system from the get go.
get animals and start doing what you think is right - observe and adjust.
i have learned that a lot of the suggestions from a lot of the big name grazers do not work in my area - so i have had to modify their ideas and mine to make things fit.

hope this helps.
 
Adam Klaus
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Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Kelly Smith wrote:
one small piece of advice i can give is - not try to start the perfect system from the get go.
get animals and start doing what you think is right - observe and adjust.
i have learned that a lot of the suggestions from a lot of the big name grazers do not work in my area - so i have had to modify their ideas and mine to make things fit.


This is the nugget of gold right here. Don't intellectualize farming, please! It is an art and a craft, and is best leaned by trying earnestly and observing critically.

Farming is the greatest adventure on Earth! Enjoy every moment of it!
 
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