Pasture Walk Covers Desired Attributes for Grass-fed Cattle

6/1/2013 7:00 AM
By Helen Margaret Griffiths New York Correspondent

MONTOUR FALLS, N.Y. — Jeff and Valerie Snider, owners of Winton Road Farm and Livestock, hosted the first pasture walk of the 2013 season on the evening of May 22.

Support for the event was provided by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Steuben and Schuyler counties, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, SARE and the NRCS Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative.

Driving onto the property, one was treated to wonderful vistas of ponds and recently fenced paddocks with majestic Angus cattle. The couple later explained that the ponds were necessary to drain some of the fields, which were rather wet and thus provided improved fields and a valuable source of water for the cattle.

The Sniders bought the Winton Road property in 2005 when they relocated from California. Much research went into identifying how best to utilize the 100-acre farm and many factors led them to settling on building a grass-fed registered Angus cow-calf program which is going into its third year.,

In October 2011, the couple obtained 12 bred Angus half-sisters from C. R. Mears of Greensburg, Ky. They had conventional body conformation and on average weighed 1,200 to 1,400 pounds.

A year later, the Sniders acquired eight cow-calf pairs from Sam Wylie, owner of Octoraro Angus in Breezewood, Pa. Wylie has been a leader in grass- fed Angus breeding. Wylie has focused on traits related to maternal temperament, calving ease and longevity, selecting those cows that can thrive under a low-input grassland farming system. A result of this selection criterium is a smaller framed cow.

Using these two groups of animals as teaching tools, Morgan Hartman of Black Queen Angus Farm in Berlin, N.Y., and Kathy Engel of Hector, N.Y., both experts in raising cattle on grass, demonstrated to the meeting attendees the various characteristics and features that are important in an animal for a producer to be economically successful in a grass-fed program.

The first stop was viewing the fall-born Octoraro calves, now approximately 6 months old, who were about a week off their dams. Hartman estimated the largest to be about 450 pounds, which some producers would consider “on the small side,” but he said, “I’ll take more smaller sized animals than a few large ones. It is amongst other things a more economical use of land,” Hartman said, adding it is important to look at the size of the calves in relation to the dam weaning ration, which should be at least 50 percent.

Jeff Snider observed that these animals were in the 40 to 50 percent range.

“One needs to look at the big picture, which means the size of the mother and bull size,” Engel said.

A major economic driver is as Hartman said, “live cows on the ground,” and therefore identifying dams that easily deliver calves reliably for many years is very important. “The animal has to work for you and not the other way around,” Hartman said.

The meeting moved to the upper field, where the eight cows obtained from Octoraro Angus were grazing alongside the C. R. Mears cows and their 2012 yearlings.

Here the attendees had the opportunity to observe some of the differences within registered Angus cattle. Hartman and Engel identified animals they liked and explained why.

For the dams, good conformation is very important and Hartman said that an ideal beef cow is an ideal dairy cow, but with muscle added. What frame size cattle will perform well on your farm depends on a lot of things and environment is a major factor. “In this part of the country four-frame cattle may do Ok, but in the South they won’t do well,” said Hartman.

Expected progeny differences, which is the prediction of how future progeny are expected to perform as parent relative to the genetic value of other animals, may be useful. Hartman preferred the eye-ball scale. “There are people who breed by numbers and photographs and they never see the bull as he lives at some ranch perhaps in Montana, this means they are only looking at certain attributes and may be missing some important features. I think that it is important to look at the whole suite of traits,” he said.

It is also very important to know what does best on your own farm and select from there. Hartman said the producer must also identify and know the need of his/her market. “It is the person eating the steak that you have to make happy,” he said.

As the fields at Winton Road Farm and Livestock received little management for a number of years prior to the Sniders acquiring the farm, field restoration has been a priority. This year’s “work” started in winter as all the cattle spent the winter outdoors and were fed large round bales of hay. “We experienced about 10 to 15 percent wastage, but as we move the hay rings through what will become summer pasture the spilled hay was used as a mulching amendment combined with concentrations of urine and manure. This is a low-cost way to address poor fertility portions of a given grass field” Jeff Snider said.

The farm started rotational grazing this year, which the Sniders expect will help the quality of the pasture and soil structure, both of which will ultimately improve animal production.

“The future for grass-fed beef in the region is currently very good,” Jeff Snider said.

Since they started their program they have received more and more calls from buyers of conventionally produced beef seeking sources of all natural grass-fed cattle. “They tell us their supply chain buyers are trying to satisfy growing consumer demand,” Jeff Snider added.

Nancy Glazier, northwestern New York small farms/livestock specialist with Cornell Extension, talked briefly about the New York all-forage fed bull program, which was conducted at Cornell University from this past December to April. The purpose of the feeding study, Glazier said, was to obtain data useful for producers in regions such as New York interested in identifying bulls that perform well on a forage diet.

The bulls averaged 2.1 pound weight gain per day, which was above the expected average gain. The data were obtained from 14 bulls, representing four breeds and from six farms. This is believed to be the first study of its kind to be done in an environment reflective of New York state.

Glazier is planning to continue these studies and is seeking bulls for consignment. Only bulls born between Jan. 1, 2013 and June 15, 2013 will be accepted.

If you have animals of the desired age and are interested in more details on the program, please contact Nancy Glazier by email at or call 585-315-7746. The application deadline is Oct. 1.

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