“People want to know that beef is coming from animals that are well-treated,” said Reinaldo Cooke, now an associate professor of beef cattle production at Texas A&M University. “We found that the heifers in the pens weren’t comfortable.”
Read Pritish Kumar Halder’s article and get complete information.
Beef heifers raised in close quarters are under more stress and don’t get as much physical activity as heifers raised on pasture, according to an Oregon State University study.
The findings, discussed in this article, could offer guidance for cattle ranchers who want to improve the efficiency of their herds.
Identify the Standards for Organic beef
The standards for organic beef are far stricter than beef labeled “all-natural.” The organic label speaks to how an animal is raised, not just qualities of the final product. Antibiotics and growth hormones are not allowed in the production of organic beef cattle. And organic beef is free from genetically modified organisms, including GMO grain and soy feed. USDA Certified Organic guarantees that the beef will be free from artificial contaminants, and suggests that it might be higher in nutrition as well. Certified organic beef can be raised on a diet of corn or grain, but they must have at least some access to a pasture, so at least some of their nutrition will probably come from grass. However, unless you talk to the farmer directly or do your own laboratory analysis, it’s difficult to say how much.
Some of the Benefits without the Label
Grass fed beef does have many of the benefits of organic beef, simply as side effects to raising their cattle on a pasture. Because the cows are in their natural habitat, with access to all of the open space you need to support a herd of cattle, their lives are more humane, less stressful, and much more sanitary, which means their immune systems are under less pressure, don’t require artificial assistance, and their meat is much less likely to be contaminated with diseases like E. Coli. If antibiotics are used on grass-fed cattle, it’s only in rare cases when the animals are actually sick, not constantly like feed-lots have to use them.
Actually, artificial contaminants are unnecessary
Why pay for gallons of antibiotics if your animals are healthy and clean all on their own? Cows eat all kinds of plants on the pasture, including weeds, so it doesn’t make sense to spray their pastures full of herbicides. Pastures are essentially wild, with their own balanced ecosystem and plenty of help from cow manure, so pesticides and artificial fertilizers are really unnecessary. While grass-fed, non-organic beef may be exposed to more chemicals than organic, it’s certainly cleaner than conventional beef.
Advanced Knowledge for cattle ranchers
Findings of the research in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences:
In a six-month experiment, researchers in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences determined that cows clustered together in industry-standard dry-lot pens experienced delayed puberty despite adequate age and body weight development.
Focus on the first breeding season
In U.S. spring-calving cow-calf herds, heifers are weaned in the fall, spend the winter together in pens or pastures, so they are exposed to their first breeding season the following spring. Beef cattle producers count on replacement heifers to become fertile cows.
How the economic disadvantages raising for cattle ranchers?
Heifers must reach puberty at an early age to ensure high conception rates in their first breeding season, so a delay in their sexual maturity holds economic disadvantages for cattle ranchers.
Monitoring physiological responses of heifers
The OSU research team monitored the growth, physical activity and stress-related physiological responses of heifers from September 2015 to March 2016 at OSU’s Eastern Agricultural Research Center in Burns.
The researchers dispersed 60 Angus and Hereford heifers into three 450-square-foot dry-lot pens and three 60-acre pastures, with 10 heifers in each pen and 10 in each pasture. The number of heifers kept in a pen influences whether the heifers thrive and go on to produce healthy calves.
The first day of the experiment
On the first day of the experiment, they measured each cow’s temperament with, among other things, how the animal handled being squeezed through a chute. They fitted each heifer with a pedometer placed inside a patch behind the right shoulder. They also collected hair samples from the animal’s tail switch to analyze cortisol concentrations. The concentration of cortisol, a stress hormone, in hair from the tail switch is a biomarker of stress in cattle.
End of the six-month period experiment
At the end of the six-month period, the cows kept in pastures took on average nearly 20,000 steps a week, compared to about 3,100 for the penned heifers. The pasture heifers had lower cortisol concentrations and were better behaved than their pen-raised counterparts.
- The Experimental Impacts of grazing in pasture vs. penned beef
“Out on the pasture, there is snow everywhere and little to graze on. But they learn how to survive,” Cooke said. “We found that our heifers on pasture, as we expected, exercised more, which is important for reproductive maturation.”
So, these outcomes were independent of heifer nutritional status and growth rate because all the cows were on the same diet.
Guidance for cattle ranchers
In the US, all cattle start off roaming around happily eating grass, but most hit a certain age and instead of a bar mitzvah, they get sold into the feedlot system, where they’re confined in a crowded space and fed grain to fatten them up quickly. Here’s given some forage methods by which the cattle ranchers can manage to achieve specific results or goals.
Forage Harvest Method
Forage can be harvested by grazing livestock or by machinery. It can be provided to cattle in many forms including grazing, hay, silage, and greenchop. Allowing animals to harvest forage reduces machinery and related harvest and feeding expenses. It also allows for animal selectivity and can be a very efficient method of forage use when managed properly.
However, mechanical harvest of forage provides options for long-term storage and can be used to match forage supply and demand throughout the year. Mechanical harvest also allows forage to be used from fields that are not fenced or do not have adequate water supplies to contain grazing animals.
A grazing system is a defined, integrated combination of animal, plant, soil, and other environmental components and the grazing methods by which the system is managed to achieve specific results or goals. A grazing method is a defined procedure or technique of grazing management designed to achieve specific objectives. One or more grazing methods can be used within a grazing system. Examples of grazing methods include continuous stocking and rotational stocking. The method of grazing used generally has less influence on livestock production than the stocking rate. Effectively managing forage quantity and quality over the grazing season is of much greater importance than which grazing method is used.
Percentile rate according to grazing season
The amount of dry matter used depends on both grazing method and grazing time. A range of 40 to 70 percent pasture utilization is common. Use in the upper portion of this range is possible with higher stocking rates and shorter grazing times. Forage use by other means often results in the following usage rates: hay, 70 to 80 percent; strip grazing 75 to 80 percent; silage or greenchop, 85 to 90 percent.
Continuous stocking (continuous grazing) is a method of grazing livestock on a specific unit of land where animals have unrestricted and uninterrupted access throughout the time period when grazing is allowed. Set stocking is the practice of allowing a fixed number of animals on a fixed area of land during the time when grazing is allowed.
Continuous stocking during periods of surplus forage growth
Areas can be fenced off from continuous stocking during periods of surplus forage growth to help keep the forage being grazed from becoming overmature. The stockpiled forage can then be either grazed at a later date or harvested for hay. Stockpiling forage (deferred grazing) is where forage is allowed to accumulate for grazing at a later period. Tall fescue and bermudagrass are two forages often considered for stockpiling.
An effective rotational or other intensively managed grazing system can be an affordable way to provide forage to grazing livestock and reduce herd nutrition costs year-round. Rotational stocking (rotational grazing) is a grazing method that uses recurring periods of grazing and rest among two or more paddocks in a grazing management unit through the period when grazing is allowed. With rotational stocking, grazing control and decision-making are switched from the animal to the manager. Having more control over grazing animals through rotational stocking allows the manager to better use forage supplies. A major benefit of rotational stocking is increased pasture carrying capacity when proper management is used. By moving cattle on a regular basis with rotational stocking, cattle become easier to handle. Managers observe cattle more often and can identify and address animal health or other problems more quickly.
Forage in ungrazed paddocks
Pasture plants that are sensitive to close, continuous grazing are more persistent and productive in rotational stocking systems. Use of more forage species is improved with rotational stocking as weeds are eaten more than would otherwise occur. Excess forage in ungrazed paddocks can be harvested for hay during periods of forage surplus growth.
Forage in fencing paddocks
Fencing paddocks separately based on forage species dominance and concentrating animals in smaller areas for shorter periods facilitates better pasture management and forage use. Manure and urine distribution is more uniform with rotational stocking. Environmental benefits of rotational stocking result from strategic fencing of cattle out of surface water sources and stream banks, protecting water quality and reducing erosion.
Challenges Rotational stocking
Rotational stocking is not without its challenges. Concerns with rotational stocking can include unproductive or low quality forage species, poor forage stands, low soil fertility, soil acidity, unsatisfactory layout, overstocking, extended rest periods, and cost.
Strip grazing involves confining animals to an area of land to be grazed in a relatively short period of time, where the paddock size is varied to allow access to a specific land area. With strip grazing, a temporary fence line is progressively moved across a pasture. In some instances, animals are allowed access to previously grazed strips along with ungrazed strips. In other cases, a back fence line is moved to keep cattle off of previously grazed strips.
Mob grazing is a variation of strip grazing where a large number of animals are grazed on a relatively small number of acres to rapidly remove forage from the paddock. Mob grazing is useful when forage growth needs to be removed prior to sodseeding another forage crop in the same paddock. Mob grazing is sometimes called flash grazing.
Creep grazing is a form of preweaning supplementation of nursing calves. It is the practice of allowing nursing calves to graze areas that their dams cannot access at the same time. This is accomplished through use of a creep gate that the calves can pass through freely but their dams cannot.
Forward creep grazing
Forward creep grazing is a method of creep grazing in which dams and calves rotate through a series of paddocks with calves as first grazers and dams as last grazers. Calves, therefore, have more opportunity for selectivity than their dams. This is a specific form of forward grazing. Forward grazing (leader-follower, preference-follower, top and bottom grazer, first-last grazing) is a method of allowing two or more groups of animals, usually with different nutritional requirements, to graze sequentially on the same land area.
Limit grazing is where livestock are maintained on lower-quality pasture but allowed to access a higher quality pasture (typically winter annual grass pasture) for a few hours each day or every few days. Waste from trampling is reduced with this method. This method provides good nutrition at a relatively low cost because the area needed for high-quality pasture is relatively small. Cattle learn to move to and from paddocks with relative ease after a routine are established.
Different grazing animal species have different forage preferences. Cattle generally prefer grasses over legumes. Cattle consume approximately 65 to 75 percent grasses, 20 to 30 percent broadleaf weeds and legumes, and 5 to 10 percent browse (shrubs or trees).
Effects of Grazing Animals on Pastures
Grazing animals affect pasture productivity and forage species populations via defoliation, treading, and excretion. Defoliation is the harvest of plant shoots or leaves by the grazing animal. It has the largest influence on a pasture of the three factors listed here. Defoliation effects on pastures depend on forage species present, extent of selective grazing of different plant species, defoliation frequency, extent of defoliation, stage of plant development, and environmental conditions at time of defoliation.
Reduction of leaf
Reduced leaf area from grazing affects plant food production and storage, shoot development, leaf and root growth, light intensity in the lower portion of the forage canopy, soil temperature, and soil moisture.
Overgrazing and undergrazing result
Overgrazing results in weak plants, reduced root systems, lower forage yield, greater soil erosion and water runoff, thinned forage stands, and more weeds. Undergrazing wastes forage and reduces overall forage nutritive quality. Overgrazing and undergrazing each favor some forage and weed species over others.
Trampling of pastures impact
Trampling of pastures by livestock hooves damages plants, compacts soil, and reduces water infiltration on clay soils. Treading damage is most severe during extremely wet periods, on clay soils, on recently tilled soils, and with short forage.
Reduction of grazeable forage
Cattle normally urinate 6 to 11 times daily and defecate 10 to 18 times daily. This excretion concentrates nutrients on only about 20 percent of the pasture. Nutrients are further concentrated in areas where cattle congregate such as under shade and in water and feeding areas. Specifically, nitrogen is concentrated in urine spots and phosphorus is concentrated in manure patches. Cattle tend to graze around these excretion sites, reducing the amount of grazeable forage in a pasture.
The Bottom Line
Nutrient-wise, high-quality grass-fed beef is going to beat organic if that beef is coming from cows fed organic grain. The absolute best beef for your health and Mother Earth is meat from happy, grass-fed cattle raised on organic pastures.
Keep in mind that while the USDA Organic seal is a stamp that means the producer is being regularly checked to make sure they meet the standard, grass-fed is a term that isn’t subject to a federal standard. This means there may be cheaters using the term on packaging.
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Composed by: Suma Sarker