Determining the Relationship Between and Economics of Consistent Rate of Gain and Intermuscular Fat (high in CLA - Omega 3)

Final Report for FNC05-563

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $17,195.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


My wife Bev and I own and operate a 220 acre farm (my home farm) 1 ½ miles east of Milan, Minnesota. We started our rotational grazing with about 20 acres that was in diverted acres. We did a terrace project and a major CRP field windbreak project. This led us to an EQIP project and a SARE Producer grant which enabled us to fence our trees out and our cattle in. We put in 6000’ of underground water line with 10 water points and four above ground hydrants. This has given us the ability to graze cattle anywhere on the 220 acres (that lies in three adjoining sections) for which the water lines are crucial because the three sections are split by a state highway and a gravel township road. Everything has been seeded completely to alfalfa-grass mixture. In 2005 we received organic certification on our cropland.

Richard and Audrey Handeen own and operate a 240 acre organic farm near Montevideo, Minnesota. He’s been raising cattle for about 10 years, building a grass-based herd to about 75 cows, yearlings, and calves. He has done major windbreak tree planting, is working with an EQIP project, has his farm fenced, and is working on a water delivery system and improved pasture mixes. Richard and Audrey direct market much of their beef production and are very interested in maximizing the nutritional qualities of their product. Recently, they have been involved in the Slow Food movement. [Editor’s Note: For more information on Slow Food see: or call: 718-260-8000.]

Luverne and Mary Jo Forbord live north of Benson, about halfway between Benson and Starbuck, Minnesota. They currently have about 60 cattle in their herd which includes bulls, cows, calves and heifers. They direct market their naturally fed beef. Their goal is to increase their herd of percentage Lowline beef animals to 100 cows in the next five years. They own 480 acres including 100 acres of native pasture and they are converting an additional 150 acres to multi species pasture. They have three children. Their family has a long history of dairy farming and their youngest son has an interest in carrying on that tradition.

I as well as many other “Grassfed beef finishers” are relatively new to this type of livestock production. We wanted to supply the growing demand for beef that will provide the consumer with a healthier product. I have been “poking at it with a stick” for about five years. Going to meetings, field days, conferences and reading had convinced me that cattle were naturally created to live on forage. And I believe that working with nature produces both the best quality and most economical production although it is hard to put the corn bucket down!

I think my biggest challenge is to get a consistently high rate of gain all year long and to know what that gain is costing me at each different season or pasture situation. It is easy to assume that if there is green forage in front of them in the summer or if the hay feeder is full in the winter that they should end up as quality “grassfed beef”. But I have been disappointed in discovering that the overall rate of gain was less than expected and that cattle weren’t at the finished grade I wanted when it was time for them to be slaughtered.

In 2007 all four producers were in drought disaster declared counties so pasture growth and forage production were definitely not average. It was interesting to see that in the drought limited forage production, quantity went down but quality actually increased. In the stored forage this was easy to evaluate and not a problem but in the grazing situation the animals were eating high quality forage but were having a hard time getting enough physically eaten in the time they were willing to spend grazing. So we saw some loose manure from not getting enough fiber in the rumen for proper digestion. With the help of the Two Years Comparing Forage Test to Daily Rate of Gain we will try to focus on how the cattle did on the forages with different levels of digestible fiber and non-fiber carbohydrates rather than gain per acre or cost per pound of gain when the yield and the prices are so erratic.

We have used RFV [Relative Feed Value] as a standard of forage quality for many years, and then recently started using RFQ [Relative Feed Quality] which supposedly is a more accurate value when we have grass as part of the forage. Now with the help of Doug Gunnink we are looking at which values relate to growth (meat and bone) and which relate to fat production (intermuscular and cover). In the rumen the microbes break down the NDF [Neutral Detergent Fiber] into acetic fatty acid which is a big player in the growth of the animal while other microbes break down the Non Fiber Carbohydrate or NFC (pectins and sugars) into propionic acid which is used in the production of fat.

[Editor’s Note: For copies of the charts and attachments referred to in this report, please contact the NCR-SARE office at or 1-800-529-1342.]

If we have a choice of forages (stored or pasture) we look at what stage the cattle are at. If we are in the 500-800# range we would want forage high in NDF and NDFD [neutral detergent fiber digestibility] like sample no. 2. That sample also has high sugar level so the cattle will really like it. Sample no. 2 also has a high NEG so it would work well anywhere but especially well for growth. If my cattle are weighing 800-1,100# I would pick no. 3 or no. 9 and 10 (9 and 10 are the same forage. 9 was tested as wrapped in July and 10 was tested when it was to be fed). The samples are interesting because they are very similar which I was happy with because it meant there was very little storage loss 187 to 183. In the fermenting process about ½ the sugar had been used to create volatile fatty acids which had equal energy because the NFC value stayed the same and the NDF and NDFD value went up because they are more digestible after fermentation.

Samples 1 and 2 are especially interesting because they are taken from the same pasture on the same day. Sample 1 was the basic pasture and sample 2 was about 15% of the pasture, strips which had been clipped for the portable electric fence 3 weeks prior to the sampling. Both samples had similar per cents of NDF but the immature was 20% more digestible, had 7% higher CP, 2% higher sugar but 9% less NFC which caused the Relative Feed Score to be very close to the same on both samples. Grazing the combination possibly was almost ideal.

We ultrasounded as Scan Data on 100 head of cattle in October (80 head of grass feeders 800-1,200#, 19 cows and 1 bull). The data on the chart is from mostly steers (heifers will generally have a little higher IMF and lower Tend score both are good). These steers weighed 492# on 12-27-06, gained 1.9#/day until 3-31-07, were banded then weighing 650# were rotationally grazed on orchard grass, brome, red clover and alfalfa pasture until late June and the grass wasn’t growing but we didn’t have any place to go that was better so we set stocked them on fifty acres and the weather got hot and the grass got short and on 8-2-07 they had gained only 1.1#/day for 76 days. We did move them and started supplementing with baleage that was intended for winter feed. On 10-13-07 they had gained 1.45#/day for 72 days. They were ultrasounded at this point. The cattle then went on our best baleage and gained 2.35#/day for 77 days. We were pleased with the REA, REA/CWT, the RES, and TEND, which I feel are highly inherited. The IMF and BF were lower than I like. Their potential is also highly inherited but I don’t think I supplied the quality and quantity of forage during the summer months to allow them to reach their potential. I also banded fairly late at 650# average which might have given more lean growth and not so much fat. We plan to ultrasound some cattle again next year. Some will have similar genetics so we will see how they do under next year’s management.

Ground Beef Test AURI Lab:
We tested product from three fat steers and a grassfed cull cow. Our fatty acid tests came back showing the animal that had the best consistent gain on the best forages had the best Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio.
* LS2008160 Omega 6:3 ratio was 1.7:1
* LS2008159 Omega 6:3 ratio was 2.1:1
* LS2008158 Omega 6:3 ratio was 2.3:1
* LS2008161, six year old cull cow, Omega 6:3 ratio was 2.7:1.

We were only able to get the test for CLA from the AURI ground beef test. The CLA results in the ground beef test were difficult to understand. The cull cow had the better 1.3% CLA (2.6 times more) compared to the best doing steer that had .5% CLA. However the cull cow had the worst Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. This left us with the question, “Does the age of the animal enter into the equation for CLA?” The fat percent is irrelevant in the ground beef tests because the processor determines the amount.
Refer to attachment: LS2008158-161 Final Report COA highlighted

Ribeye Steak Test – SDSU Lab
We tested steak from six animals, five fat steers and one 2 year old grassfed bull. The finished grade on the five steers was in low to medium Select and the bull Standard only .15% total fat. All of the steers had an Omega 6:3 ratio of from 1.7:1 to 2.1:1. According to the information we have from Utah State University, they said “according to the available data, the ideal ratio for optimal health of Omega 6:3 is less that 4 to l. Grassfed beef and milk has an average Omega 6:3 ratio between 1:1 and 3:1 whereas grainfed beef and milk are often greater than 14:1.” The CLA in grassfed beef can be as high as 1.5%. We were left not understanding why our CLA was as low as it was when our Omega 6:3 ratio was good in our grassfinished steers.
Refer to attachment: Meat Analysis SDSU 5-5-08

We saw that using high moisture baleage was definitely the most consistent way to store high quality forage for future use.

Rate of gain at any time of year is totally dependent on the RFQ of adequate free choice supply of forage.

Raising high quality forage is a lot like raising high quality beef. You need to start with genetics that have the potential for what you want to produce, then you have to see to that it gets the nutrients it needs to maximize its potential.

My personal observation is that in order to get good gains we need very high quality forage or we can’t physically get enough nutrients into the animals. I believe phosphorus (in the form of rock phosphate), sulfur, boron, calcium and other trace elements are the most important for the high quality which we have achieved. I know we could get more tons if we added potash but we would dilute our high quality.

Dairyland Laboratories, Inc., Dan Moscho, Lab Manager, P.O. Box 580, St. Cloud, MN 56302-9900, Phone: 320-240-1737, email:

Todd Churchill – Thousand Hills Cattle Co. – Demand & Supply of Grass Finished Cattle

Dennis Johnson – U of M West Central Research & Outreach Center – Importance of Quality Forage

BIO-NEWS, Gary Zimmer, Midwestern Bio-Ag, P.O. Box 160, Blue Mounds, WI 53517, Phone: 1-800-327-6012

See attached:
• Wisconsin Grazing Conference Presentation
• 2007 Sustainable Ag Field Day Information
• Grassfed Beef Field Day Schedule
• Grassfed Beef Field Day email list
• Press Release October 5, 2007


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.