Producing High Levels of CLA in Grassfed Beef in an Area with a Short Growing Season

Final Report for FNC02-429

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2002: $17,908.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $11,888.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information



We own and operate 220 acres that have been in the family for three generations. It’s all cropland that has been converted to forage production. We have a beef cow/calf operation and direct market some of our beef. Most of the farm is surrounded by three rows CRP windbreaks with 11 acres of CRP filter strip in the waterway.


-What are the current levels of CLA and Omega 3 in the beef we are producing now?
- How can we maintain CLA and Omega 3 potential in our grass-fed animals during the (non-grazing) winter months?
- How can we encourage more producers in our rural communities by demonstrating a sustainable system?
- How can we have an ample supply of fresh green highly nutritious forage for our cattle?

I went to Illinois and picked up the Lacerator, Buck ton wagon and a slice bucket. We started immediately making lacerated vacuum piles of the forage that I had available which was alfalfa and alfalfa/orchard grass mix. We made five stacks varying in size from 24 to 60 (three ton loads). We used white/black plastic 5 ½ to 8 mil. thick and 40’X100’ to 60’X100’ in area to cover the stacks. We used wet lime from a water plant to seal and hold the plastic to the ground. Then we vacuumed the air out. Then we shoveled some beet lime on top of the plastic which seemed to work well. We spent from two to three days making and covering the stacks.

It made a lot of difference where the stacks were placed because on the stacks in the open where the wind got at them, the lime dried out and started blowing away. We lost the plastic on one stack. We put semi-truck tires about one/400 square feet and some more lime on three. One stack was well protected from the wind and was much easier to keep the plastic tight even without tires.

The stack that the plastic blew off had ensiled for about a month. We started feeding from it first, but it started heating and the last half was quite deteriorated. The stack we made last in mid October was third cut alfalfa/orchard grass that was about 20” tall and real fine. The weather was cold so it didn’t start heating much while we made the stack. But a few weeks later a buffalo got on top of the stack and poked holes in the plastic. We fed this stack with a single wire at the face and it worked well to start with but then it started spoiling where the holes had been poked and they would eat around the over heated silage which got worse as time went on and the weather got colder the deteriorated silage appeared wetter and froze hard as a rock but the good stayed warm. It was a challenge.

The other stacks were much nicer and more fun to feed from. We used a loader with a grapple and the Buck ton wagon to feed in the pasture under one electric wire. The highest pile 6’-7’ (10’ when we made it) deep was the best quality. The more orchard grass the nicer it kept. It was green almost like it went into the stack. But the stack appeared to be too long because at the rate we fed it, it took about four weeks to feed up and the first half was always nicer than the last.

In 2003 we tried using a bagger to bag the direct cut lacerated alfalfa/orchard grass which we won’t do again unless the forage is exceptional when it comes out. The fight chain conveyor couldn’t handle long cut grass, orchard grass, or especially brome. The alfalfa went good but the beating and packing of the machine appeared to break down the cell structure especially in the alfalfa and we got an effluent leaking out of the bagger. We did put up a 30 load stack of red clover and sweet clover, about 12’tall with steep sides. We covered it with plastic, sealed the edges with lime, vacuumed it and then put four sets of three semi-truck tires chained together with 4’ pieces of 1/8” chain. One tire would lie on top and the other two would hang about half way down each side. It is in the open and has not been a problem to keep sealed.

In 2004, we made four stacks, two were oats and peas, one was oats in the boot stage, and one was alfalfa, orchard grass, and brome. One of the oats and peas stack was in an open pasture where unknown to be some trespassing hunter shot his shotgun at the plastic covered pile, making a hole about the size of a basketball. We didn’t notice it until it was too late and the plastic blew off and the pile was ruined. The cattle like the oats in the boot stage the best. With this stack we put plastic under the pile too and folded the top and bottom sheet over a couple times and then stapled them together every couple feet with a big commercial stapler. This I think was out over all best stack but we did have some small holes in the plastic from birds so there was more spoilage in it and the cattle didn’t like it as well.

We were disappointed with our forage samples from the piles. We would consistently lose 30-40 points in RFV from what went in to the sample we took coming out of the feeder wagon. There was always some real nice material in the center of the stack but too much spoilage on the top and edges. Even in the winter if we fed for a month out of a stack the last week would be much poorer than when we first opened it.

Meat tests. Grain fed meat would normally test 0.35%-.4$ CLA of total fatty acids and have an Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of 14 to 1. Our first test was from an animal that had been grazed until the last 120 days, and then went on 80% corn. It tested .47% CLA and had an Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of 8 to 1. Then we fed only a small amount of 10% corn for the 120 days the CLA was a little better, .56%-.65% of total fatty acids and the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ration dropped to 3:1. Our last two animals had been wintered on lacerated silage, dry alfalfa/orchard grass hay and sugar beet pulp pellets (.5% of body weight). One was harvested in March and one was grazed until the middle of June. Their CLA levels were disappointing .46% and .41% but their Omega 6 to Omega 3 levels was excellent 1.4 to 1 and 1.5 to 1. We had added the sugar beet pulp pellets to add fiber energy to make up for the lower than desired RFV in the silage and hay. We had read research that said one half percent should not affect the fatty acid balance but maybe it did.

What we learned:
-When making lacerated, vacuum silage- make the stack and cover it in one day
-Don’t let the forage get mature
-Place the stacks out of the wind
-Use as heavy a plastic as possible and put under the stack too
-Feeding from the face of the stack gets muddy in spring, fall and winter in MN
-Don’t try to feed buffalo from the face of the stack with one wire
-Need to have higher RFV forages
-Need to have consistently high rates of gain

I think feeding from a stack whether direct or hauled is very difficult in our soil type, terrain and weather conditions. I think some forage with more grass in it might not be so lush.

We went to Nebraska in the summer of 2002 to hear Dr. Dhiman talk on the health benefits and techniques to raise the level of CLA and Omega 3 in beef cattle.

We went to Tulsa, Oklahoma in the summer of 2003 to see the lacerator demonstrated hoping to improve our success with covering the stacks. We also heard Gerald Fry talk on genetics needed for grassfinishing, measuring the animals at several places and computing ratio between the measurements to identify the animals at several places and computing ratio between the measurements to identify the animals with potential for grassfinishing. They told about ultra sounding cattle so you could look under the skin of the live animals and obtain carcass information: rib eye shape, rib eye size, per cent of intermuscular fat and backfat. At this meeting in Oklahoma we met Todd Churchill from Minnesota. He was in the process of starting Thousand Hills Cattle Co. which would buy grass finished cattle, slaughter them at the USDA inspected plant at Cannon Falls and sell the fresh product to retail stores in the Minneapolis area. They tuned out to be a very important contact because Thousand Hills Cattle Co. has become the largest grass-fed cattle buyer in a several states area. Todd Churchill has been very thoughtful as to what he wants his company to represent. His standards are very precise which had limited his available supply but has made his reputation very good with this retail customers.

I went to eastern Wisconsin in the fall of 2004 to a grass-fed meeting at which Allen Williams, a nationally known authority on grass-fed beef (genetics, ultrasound applications, national demand, and help forming several grass-fed beef cooperatives. I felt I had learned a great deal and was anxious to have him come and share his knowledge with grass-fed beef graziers in western Minnesota. I was able to get on his five state schedule in April. He did a forenoon seminar in Milan for about twenty interested graziers from 150 mile radius. In the afternoon we went to a producer farm, weighed and ultra sounded 20 heifers and bull calves about 550 pounds and two steers and two heifers weighing about 1000#. This proved to be very interesting. The rib eye shape looked good, 75% of the rib eyes were above acceptable size for the animals at that weight, intermuscular fat was lower than we would like, but not bad. Tenderness looked good, but backfat was lower than ideal so they weren’t getting enough energy to get maximum growth and intermuscular fat deposits. This is I believe one of our weak links. Even with alfalfa/grass lacerated silage they weren’t eating enough and it wasn’t high enough RFV. And not doing regular weighing, we didn’t know what the rate of gain was during those previous winter months.

From this experience I believe that consistent high rates of gain are definitely crucial to getting the CLA level especially. The Omega 3 ratio seems to be goof if the grain is totally eliminated. But the amount of fatty acids in a pound of beef is not done with the tests in Utah. So we know the ratio of fats to each other and the per cent of each fatty acid in relationship to total fats, but we don’t know how many grams of CLA or Omega 3 are in a pound of rib eye (example). This I believe would be another reason for high and consistent gains, to not only increase the ratios of the good fats, but increase the total amount of good fats in a portion of grass-fed beef.

I am not satisfied with the results we have gotten. That is one of the reasons we extended the time period one more year, thinking that the CLA ratio would improve just as the Omega 3 to Omega 5 ratios did. I am making this the final report even if I don’t think I answered the CLA question. I would like to continue searching for the answer, but I believe we need to go in a slightly different direction. I am submitting a new grant proposal to do regular weighing to stay right on top of rate of gain so we can know what type of forage produces good weight gains and what doesn’t. We would replace the lacerated silage making with high moisture Inline wrapped round bales of alfalfa/grass mixture. From what I have seen and heard they have become popular with dairy farmers. At the present tome I don’t know why any within 50 miles of our farm.


We hosted an interest group from Missouri at our farm at the beginning of the project. They were intrigued with the lacerator and tacking process.

We hosted a field day on out farm that was advertised to the general public using area newspapers and radio stations. Specific producer and beginning farmer groups were targeted with the help of the Land Stewardship Project and the Sustainable Farming Association. Dennis Johnson, WCROC, was the guest presenter.

We hosted a Grass-fed Beef Workshop with Allen Williams in April 2005. The workshop flyer is included.

You will find photos enclosed as well as a letter from an older lady in our community.

Living along a state highway gives the project a great deal of exposure and encourages questions from people who just happen to drive by. We have also been included in articles in The Land and Agri News, regional publication. It was enjoyable to have the opportunity to present at the Minnesota Organic and Grazing Conference, once as an individual and once on a panel. Both presentations gave me the opportunity talk about this project.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.