We advertise our beef herd as “Animal Welfare Approved” and “Certified Grassfed by AWG“, but what do these labels mean?  I don’t know about you, but when it comes to checking out claims, I turn to Consumer Reports.  In August 2015, Consumer Reports published a “Beef Report“:

Cover of August 2015 Beef Report. Current Consumer Report information is available at: http://greenerchoices.org/

Cover of August 2015 Beef Report. Updates available at: http://greenerchoices.org/

Let’s take a look at some of the report findings:

Consumer Reports – Sustainable Beef-Production Practices:

  • Cows are ruminants—their natural behavior consists of grazing. Allowing beef cattle to graze on well-managed pastures from birth to slaughter (often referred to as 100 percent grass-fed) is at the core of sustainable beef production. What’s good for animal welfare is also good for the environment and for consumers.
  • … pastures can only feed herds of a certain size, and in a properly managed pasture, the stressful and crowded disease-promoting conditions of the feedlot are eliminated. Healthier, less stressed animals need fewer antibiotics and other drugs to stay healthy.
  • Soils of grazing land can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Managing cattle carefully to ensure that pastures are grazed moderately means restoring soil quality and cutting greenhouse gases by keeping carbon in the soil as organic matter rather than releasing it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
  • More water is conserved in grass-based systems compared with conventional ones.
  • Grass-fed beef isn’t just better for animals, public health, and the planet; it may be healthier for individual consumers as well.

If you have followed our past blog posts, the above findings are familiar information.  It is nice to have the credibility of Consumer Reports back up what we know as common sense observations in the natural world.

OK, but what about labels?

The 2015 Beef Report had plenty to say about labels.  From “Highly Meaningful” labels to labels that have no meaning at all.  Please refer to the full report for all the label categories.  A quick look at the first two labels under the “Highly Meaningful Labels” as “Verified” we find:

  1. Animal Welfare Approved
  2. Certified Grassfed by AWG

In a January 26, 2017 update at http://greenerchoices.org/, Certified Grassfed by AWG, is one of the four “labels to look for” when “choosing grass fed”.

Curious to read more?

Our farm is third party reviewed for Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Grassfed by AWG.  For more information on these specific labels we direct you to these resources:

  • A Greener World (AWG) — “North America’s most trusted and transparent farm certifier.”
  • Animal Welfare Approved (Program of AWG), remains the only label in the marketplace to ensure the following:
    • Meaningful, verified, outdoor pasture and range based systems–not just a door at the end of a building or an outdoor concrete run
      • No cages, crates or feedlots–ever
      • Verified environmentally sustainable farming and ranching
      • Responsible stewardship of public resources like air, water, soil and antibiotics
      • Independent farms/farmers meeting the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S. and Canada
      • Prohibit the use of hormones (like rBST), animal byproducts or routine antibiotics
      • Industry-leading high welfare handling and management from birth through slaughter
      • Independent standards for the inspection of slaughter plants
        • (January 2017 AWA Press Release)
  • Certified Grassfed by AWG
    • Guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet, raised outdoors on pasture or range, and managed according to the highest welfare and environmental standards on an independent family farm.

This is all good and well, but remember:

We invite you to come see the farm and our animals for yourself.  Join other past visitors of our farm.  We urge you to know your farmer and your food.  We prefer to be certified by YOU, our customer.

Maybe you have heard of the “Know your farmer, know your food” movement.  In the consumer – farmer connection YOU are the best inspector to find out how your food is raised.  We have an “open door” policy here at the farm.  Visitors are always welcome to contact us for a visit.  Come see first hand how animals can be successfully raised on pasture alone to the benefit of all.

  • YOU are WHY we do what we do!
  • YOU are the one making change.
  • YOU deserve to see how your food is raised.
  • YOU are on a mission and we are glad to help.

We have added another layer of inspection at DS Family Farm for YOU the consumer.  For those who may not understand animal husbandry and exactly what it takes to be grassfed, you can now feel confident of DS Family Farm products.  We have completed the process to be certified by the folks at Animal Welfare Approved.

AWA and Grassfed Certified

DS Family Farm appreciates the work being done by Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and are happy to announce that our farm is now part of the AWA family.

This certification program insures YOU:

  1. Animals raised and cared for based on science and timeless husbandry methods.
  2. Tracking animal welfare from birth to harvest.
  3. The term “Grassfed” is defined, Certified Grassfed by AGW means something.

We will continue to promote the term “Pasture Grazed” since our animals live their entire lives on pasture.  Now YOU can rest assured that we do meet a certification standard for grassfed.  Do you want to see what we are talking about?  Please contact us for a farm visit.  Here are some families that have recently visited the farm (photo page):

  • The Spangler Family from Seward
  • The Derbish Family from Omaha
  • The Jay Family from Gretna

Feel free to stop by anytime.  Contacting us ahead of time will ensure someone is around to answer your questions.

(note – links to AWA and Certified Grassfed within this post were updated 2/20/17)

Head ’em up, Move ’em on – RAWHIDE!  I have to admit this brings back memories of the Blues Brothers more than it does of Clint Eastwood (Rowdy Yates).  To be clear, we are not much for Head ’em up around here.  No whips, yelling or any other commotion near our herd.  Low stress = high quality beef.  (music provided at end of post)

Move ’em ON!

Fresh grass – MOVE – fresh grass – MOVE, is the name of the game at DS Family Farm.  The way nature made the prairies is the method we use to restore and improve our pastures.  Cows have legs and we believe they aren’t made for standing in lots.  So what does Move ’em on look like?  Here is a recent example:

Overview of daily moves. During the growing season a back fence would remain in place after about 3 days (dashed line).

Overview of daily moves. During the growing season a back fence would stay in place after about 3 days (dashed line).  Tap photo for larger view.

In the above photo we start with the herd on November 26th near a water tank.  Temporary wire fences are put up moving away from the tank.  This photo on November 30th, shows the first 4 paddocks have been grazed, cattle have moved into the 5th paddock (most of the cows are just over the hill out of view).  ATV tracks are visible along the future paddock lines, smashed down grass so we can install the fences.  Small square bales are also visible in future paddocks.  This is our non-growing season and we are supplementing the stockpiled grass with hay.  If these moves were during the growing season we would prevent the herd from grazing previous paddocks after the third move (it takes grass about 3 days to start re-growing after being bitten off and we don’t want cows biting off new grass).

Sounds like work?

Paddock setup does take some time but in a few hours we are done with 3 days of moves.  Here’s how automatic Batt Latch gate openers and electric poly wire technology allows the cows to do most of the work:

moves_from_tank

This setup allows us three days off from herd moves.

In the example shown above the cows have just moved into the 11/30 paddock (as you can see they are busy working).  On November 30th we will setup two Batt Latch gate openers on the next two fence lines and a third fence line will stop the cattle from proceeding any further.  We don’t need to show up to work again until December 3rd!

Cows doing the work they love

Don’t get us wrong, we love working with the cows, but this technology gives us flexibility in our schedule.  This setup allows us to do a quick drive by to see if the cows have moved.  Fresh grass and move, fresh grass and move, this is the key to soil health, grassland health, cattle health and ultimately your health.

Cows moved through automatic gate.

Cows moved through automatic gate.

Cows grazing behind Batt Latch gate.

Cows grazing behind Batt Latch gate.

We hope you have enjoyed this post and we invite you to stop by sometime to see our herd in MOTION.  Always pasture grazed, never in lots for your health and ours.  We leave you with some Move ’em on entertainment:

 

In our solar powered steer post we described how cattle will select the tips of plants first, grazing to capture the highest amount of energy available.  We call this grazing off the “ice cream”.  Here is a video link from this past weekend of the herd entering a new patch and grazing the tips off what some would call weeds (we call them forbs and our cattle love them) – Instagram Video – Grazing Plant Tips For Energy @dsfamilyfarm.

eastern gamagrass grazing

Cattle entering fresh paddock of eastern gamagrass (tripsacum dactyloides), aka the “ice cream grass”, early July 2015.  Steer on right side of photo tongue sticking out licking the ice cream!

Almost all plants have some part of “ice cream” (high energy) but one native plant has been nick named the “ice cream grass” – eastern gamagrass (tripsacum dactyloides).  I first became interested in eastern gama during the summer of 1985 while working in Falls City Nebraska for the Soil Conservation Service.  This area of the state still had small native stands of eastern gama.  The story goes that grazing ice cream grass by early settlers cattle almost wiped the grass out.   Since the 1990’s seed has become readily available and we have reintroduced this native grass in higher moisture soils that were previously invaded by non-native bromegrass and reeds canary grass.

grazing eastern gamagrass

Cattle have been in this patch of ice cream grass for about 24 hours late August 2015. Note tall giant ragweed stems stripped of leaves in front of closest steer in photo.

In the photo above the cattle are milling around waiting to move to a fresh patch.  Note this almost solid stand of eastern gamagrass has been evenly grazed to about cow shoulder height.  The herd has grazed the highest energy part of the leaves and left the rest.  We could “force” the herd to keep eating down the remaining leaves but if we move, two good things happen:

  1. The cattle move to fresh grass and eat the “ice cream” (high energy part) of the ice cream grass.
  2. The grass we leave behind as shown above, has good leaf area ready to capture photosynthesis and start regrowth.
Cattle moving to fresh patch of eastern gamagrass.

Cattle moving to fresh patch of eastern gamagrass.

In the above photo we have let down the temporary poly fence to allow the cattle to move into a fresh paddock.  A win-win situation for the cattle and the grass.

Grazing Tall

Stringing temporary poly wire fence through eastern gamagrass is a challenge. Here the cattle have moved into a fresh patch on the far side of the wire.

Greg Judy of Missouri has a chapter devoted to eastern gamagrass in his book “Comeback Farms“, which is worth the read.  He describes using a mob of dry cows to graze eastern gamagrass down further than what we show here.  It just depends on your goals.  In our herd we have cows with calves, yearling steers and grass finishing beef (2-year-old steers).  So we are now grazing with animal condition in mind.  This winter after the grass finished beeves are harvested, we will graze a little more with the land in mind.

As we have stated before our herd is 100% pasture grass-fed, no grain feeding.  One unique note about eastern gamagrass is that it is believed to be related to maize (corn).  The root systems are not similar at all.  The leaves of eastern gama are wide like corn and take a look at the seed head in the photo below.  Note that above the seed, the male portion of the plant is similar to a corn tassel.  The seed is large but harder than a kernel of corn.  None the less I am sure our cattle consume some of these ice cream grass seeds:

  • It helps spread the plant around the pastures
  • It is the closest thing to corn our cattle will ever consume!

easterngama_seedhead

Weaning time can be stressful for cow, calf and cowboy.  Traditionally, weaning calves meant to separate the cows and calves by distance.  For example the herd was brought into a corral where calves would be separated from the cows.  The cows would then be sent out to pasture and leave the calves in a lot or ship the calves off to a pasture elsewhere.  The traditional process was stressful due to the handling and separation of calves from momma.

During our first year of weaning calves we tried a technique called fence line weaning.  Where we physically separated the cow and calves but placed them along a fence to remain near each other.  The cow and calf could still see and touch each other but the fence made nursing impossible.

Sorting calves.

Fence line wean step 1, cows and calves together feeding on hay, we gently sorted the calves and quickly put up a portable fence to separate the herd.

fenceline wean

Fence line wean step 2, lead the herds into a paddock with a permanent fence to keep the cows and claves separate. In this photo a permanent two wire electric fence with cows on left and calves on right.

We were happy with the low stress results of fence line weaning our 2013 born calves last spring.  The drawback to this system, you end up with two herds to move.  In the photo above we simply moved both herds along the fence line toward the camera position.  We kept the cows and calves in the two herds for about 40 days before combining them back into a single herd.  When calves returned to their mothers, a couple of calves tried to nurse but were quickly kicked away by the cow.  When the cows had their 2014 calves and the new calves started nursing, we had one cow that allowed her 2013 fence line weaned yearling to start nursing her again.  This was unacceptable as the new calf would not be getting enough milk and nutrition.  At that point we installed a weaning ring into the nose of the yearling to prevent it from stealing milk from its younger sibling.

As an alternative, this year we are trying weaning rings in all 2014 calves.  This did force us to bring the calves into our coral and run them through the catch gate to insert the rings.  It is a fairly easy process and the calves did not seem to annoyed.  Here is a 20 second video of Jacob inserting a weaning ring:

The result is a single herd with some temporarily frustrated calves that can no longer figure out how to nurse.  The rings in their nose prevent normal sucking.  Both the fence line and nose ring methods are fairly low stress on cows, calves and cowboy.  The weaning ring requires a little more labor up front but will save us time and hassle by allowing us to keep moving just one herd rather than two.  Plus we can leave the rings in long enough to make sure no new calves are having their milk stolen by their older sibling.

weaning rings

Calves just weaned with nose rings. The ring or paddle prevents the calf from normal nursing. Calves allowed to stay with mother. Low stress situation for the entire herd since there is not physical separation.