A Local Pasture-Based Beef Production System for Northwest Michigan

Final Report for LNC12-345

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $181,342.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Jason Rowntree
Michigan State University
Expand All

Project Information


The overarching project goal is to develop a pilot for a Northwest Michigan beef production system by connecting area beef producers, local processors, distributors and retailers in order to increase grass-finished beef supply. Seventeen N Michigan producers already or willing to consider grass-finishing beef participated.  Educational programs involving general grazing practices, grass finishing and meat grading and processing were conducted. The project investigators developed materials including packets for grazing and grass finishing and a grazing ap for cellphone use.  Producers wrote and earned $1500.00 on-farm grants to increase their production potential.  Pre-and post surveys were conducted to generate knowledge on the beliefs, behaviors and attitudes of the grass finishing industry. Added to this, focus group meetings of producers, processors and consumers took place including a joint focus group to conclude the project. Select project outcomes indicated producers’ grazing knowledge increased during the project. The mean score of the pre-test was 72.9% (sd=14.0) while the mean score of the post-test was 89.3% (sd=3.65). Our Ecological test New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) indicated positive shifts in ecological world view. The mean of the producers’ NEP pre-test score was 49.8 (sd=9.0) while the mean of their post-test score was 54.5 (sd=8.5). The mean score at the beginning of the project indicated more of an anthropocentrism or the belief that nature exists primarily for human use.  Approximately 600 steers entered the program, of which half were from MSU. This exceeded our goal of 200 steers from participants. However not all farms were able to sustain longterm grass finishing production.

Through our training these farms have evolved to the point where seven are now producing grass-fed beef.  These farms have now produced over 300 head of finished cattle that were supplied to the grass-fed market that have an average gross value of $586,845.  Carcass quality and yield measurements have been taken on the majority of the research cattle produced. The average carcass grade of the cattle has been USDA High Select and the average carcass yield at 19 – 21 months of age has been 53 -54%.  Price premiums of 25% above the general cattle market prices have been received for the hanging carcasses.  By adding value to these cattle by producing grass fed beef they have created an extra value of $138,600 or and extra $19,800 per farm over the three year period.  When including MSU cattle and using a multiplier effect of $3.50, SARE funds generated an estimated total additional economic impact to the area of $2 million.


The Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation and Michigan Good Food Charter are working to develop local food production and distribution systems to source 20% of the food for the Traverse City area within a 100-mile radius by 2020. The plan also states the meat portion of supply should be pasture-based. To achieve this pasture-based livestock supply, producer and culinary education must be greatly enhanced. The project goal is to develop a pilot for a Northwest Michigan beef production system by connecting area beef producers, local processors, distributors and retailers in order to begin to meet the 20% benchmark. Two grass-finishing systems: an irrigated rotational system and a high stock density system will be demonstrated at Lake City Research Center to obtain economic and production data. Additionally, these data will be used in the formation of the Grand Vision Grass-fed Certification Program (GVGC) to educate Northwest Michigan on sustainable beef production. To complete the value chain, grass-finished beef carcasses from the Center will be used in demonstrations with a local packer, food distributors and area culinary experts to assess cutout and increase carcass utilization. Extension peer-reviewed media will be developed for grass finishing results and food system development. Twenty producers will be identified for GVGC, which includes on-farm assessment, pasture development, curriculum completion and the development of smartphone tools for grazing arithmetic. Carcass cutout and value-added beef cut preparation demos will be conducted. Other outputs include deriving budgets for two grass finishing systems along with carcass cutout. Short-term outcomes include participating producer grass finishing competency and increased awareness of value added beef cuts to increase whole carcass utilization. Intermediate outcomes include marketing 200 head of participating producer cattle through the pilot value chain. This will serve as an evidenced shift in distributor purchasing, retail counters and menus of participating foodservice operation.

Project Objectives:

Project outcomes are to increase knowledge, skills and acceptance of pasture-based beef among producers, distributors and culinary experts. Behavioral change indicators are achieved through the creation of a value chain that piloted local and pasture-based beef into Traverse City, MI retail. To start this, we aimed to identify 20 producers to produce 200 steers as a beginning target to start the value chain. Other objectives were to successfully expedite $1500.00 mini grants to all participating producers to improve their on-farm sustainability.  


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Jerry Lindquist
  • Dr. Matt Raven
  • Dr. Jeannine Schweihofer
  • Kable Thurlow


Materials and methods:

From a production perspective we will use funding to create a “Grand Vision Grass-fed Certification” (GVGC). Certification includes completing a grazing and grass finishing school, each activity lasting two days. Our grazing school curriculum (year 1) involves practical soil and forage management, pasture allocation, fence and water-point strategies. The grass finishing school (year 2) will present advanced strategies on pasture allocation, specifically residual management along with forage chain and synchrony development. We too have genetics and animal management components to educate producers on the differences between grass-fed and grass-finished beef. For the auspices of this program, our working definition of grass-finished will be a diet composing of forages but can include hay, baleage, silage, molasses and soyhulls (similar protocols to Tallgrass and Thousand Hills Beef Companies). Cattle should have a minimum of 0.4 inches of back fat (assessed by ultrasound) before being considered for harvest. . Approximately 82 Red Angus steers will be used for the grass finishing demonstration (year 1 and 2) representing two Northern Michigan systems. In the intensive-system grazing demonstration, steers will be assigned to two different stocking rates: 1) eight 750 pound steers on four acres or 2) six 750 pound steers on 4 acres, three replications each. The pastures primarily compose of cool season perennial grasses and legumes on a sandy loam soil. Steers will be rotated daily in a take half/leave half scenario. Each 4-acre paddock is subdivided into 18, 0.22 acre sub-paddocks. In each paddock, 4 of the 0.22 acre sub-paddocks are identified for intensive sampling. These areas are used for pre and post graze sampling (forage availability and quality) and dry-weight rank method botanical composition, which is taken in the spring and fall of each year. Each paddock is equipped with K-Line Pod irrigation and managed for 1 inch of moisture applied weekly. All cattle will be weighed pre, mid and post demonstration and will be grazed to a finishing last rib back fat of 0.4 inches as indicated by ultrasound performed by a certified technician. No fertilizer will be used in this scheme, but 9 pounds of a diverse legume mixture will be frost seeded using a no-till drill the spring before trial onset. To contrast the intensive grazing system, a leader-follow in a high stock density grazing system will be demonstrated on 500 acres of remaining pasture. Beginning May of 2010, Lake City Research Center has employed a high stock density grazing system managed for a 150-200,000 pound stock density generally moving cows three times daily. This low input system is predicated on increased biodiversity gained from resting plants a minimum of 90 days, improved water cycling through increased soil litter and denser stands by grazing mature, seeded plants. There is a minimum of 200,000 acres of lowly used land in Northern Michigan and our team believes that high stock density grazing can be an effective means of reclaiming this land and have implemented this grazing method as a demonstration for our area producers. For the leader-follow demonstration, 42 steers will be pastured directly in front of cow-calf pairs in the high stock density system. The logic for this demonstration is to give the steers the most opportunity to select high quality plants in the paddock before the cow-calf pairs. Nine areas are identified by GPS for forage sampling methodology identical to the intensive demonstration. Like the intensive demonstration, steers will be weighed similarly and identified as grass finished when they reach an average of 0.4 inches of last rib back fat. Carcass merit will also be collected at Ebels General Store, Falmouth, Michigan. The demonstration will be conducted in years 1 and 2. Forage and animal response variables, carcass merit and economics will be summarized in the demonstration and disseminated through the GVGC. An important aspect of the GVGC is that producers must apply for and receive an innovation grant (year 2) to employ a grazing technology at their farm. We have requested $30,000 ($1500/participant). This grant could be used for purchase of interior fencing (electrified tape or polywire, step-down posts, etc) or other supplies. In years 1 and 2 we will work on farm with each participant collecting soil and forage samples to establish beginning point for the resource base.

 For the carcass fabrication demonstration (year 2), beef producers, chefs, and foodservice  distributors will have the opportunity to learn about beef carcass fabrication, quality grades, yield 8 grades, basic tenderness ratings, and other pertinent information pertaining to beef. It is important for both beef producers and those utilizing the end product to have an understanding of where different cuts come from on a carcass and how that relates to consumers having an enjoyable eating experience. Additionally, it will be important to provide optimal carcass utilization that incorporates value beef cuts. Foodservice and restaurant facilities purchase meat according to North American Meat Processors (NAMP) specifications. There are several value beef cuts that have been developed in the past decade that originate from cuts in the beef chuck and round. Utilizing these cuts provides the opportunity for increased value to be added to each carcass while simultaneously offering new cuts to chefs and foodservice distributors and in turn increasing the economic feasibility. Participants will observe one side of the carcass being fabricated into traditional cuts (steaks, roasts, ground beef, etc.) and the other side fabricated into value beef cuts (shoulder clod, chuck roll, top sirloin butt, bottom sirloin butt, sirloin tip, bottom round, eye of round, etc.). Beef quality and yield grading will be demonstrated and discussed. Basic tenderness ratings for various muscles will be discussed. Information related to injection site lesions will be presented to show the importance of implementing Beef Quality Assurance practices into producer operations management. Information presented will give chefs and foodservice a better understanding of where different cuts originate from on a carcass and how this impacts cookery and eating experience. For the culinary demonstration (year 3), we will work with meat distribution and chefs to devise strategies that utilize greater percentages of the beef chuck and round. This approach will ultimately lower the unit cost of various cuts of meat if a higher percentage of the total carcass can be utilized. This will increase the economic feasibility of the Grand Vision Grass Fed Beef Supply Chain. The presenter will participate in interactive demonstrations with various beef value cuts from the chuck and round to determine which cuts chefs and foodservice will utilize. Increased carcass utilization will also add value to the carcass for producers and processors. Value beef cuts will be presented according to North American Meat Processors (NAMP) specifications similar to how foodservice receives boxed beef cuts. Some of the meat will be sampled after simple preparation to expose the taste and texture of individual cuts or muscles. Additionally, recipe and cookery methods from participating chefs and foodservice institutions will be used. Cooking and taste testing of these different meat cuts will be used to determine if the value beef cut is comparable and consistent to the traditional cut used for each application. New applications for value beef cuts will also be developed in conjunction with chefs and culinary experts. Dr. Jeannine Schweihofer, Meats Quality Extension Educator, will coordinate both the carcass fabrication and culinary demonstrations. Finally, we have assembled an advisory council, who will convene annually to aid in the formation of the GVGC and also review innovation grant applications from the 20 participants. Importantly, each core producer must provide a business plan as they each develop 10 steers for the 200 head pilot, which is the medium term outcome of our proposed work.

 Evaluation Plan

 The main project goal is to create the value chain for a local pasture based beef production system for Northwest Michigan. Short-term outcomes include increasing participating producer 9 grass finishing competencies (knowledge, attitudes, skills and awareness) and increased awareness, knowledge and utilization of value added beef cuts by culinary counterparts. Thus, pre and post-measurements of grass finishing knowledge, attitudes and skills will be assessed from the 20 core producers using on-line instruments. Additionally, an assessment of the producers’ skills and behavioral changes regarding grass finishing will be conducted during the scheduled on farm visits. Concurrently, we will also survey attitudes of local, grass finishing and value-added cut knowledge working with distributors and culinary pre and post-trial as well. Furthermore, three focus groups are planned to gain a greater understanding of the attitudes and knowledge shifts developed through our project. The first focus meeting will be held with selected producers from the original 20 producers during year 1. Similarly we will also have an introduction focus group meeting including our participating distributor, Cherry Capital Foods and an assemblage of culinary participants during year 2. We too will ask for menus, and distribution purchasing to identify current practices in order to monitor shifts in behavior. Finally at project conclusion, the initial focus group participants will convene together (producers, distributors and culinary) for an exit focus group. The final component of the evaluation will be the actual number of pasture-finished steers marked into the region. Furthermore a meta-analysis of menus as well as markets will be conducted in the area in order to ascertain changes in behavior of local restaurants and local retailers in terms of using local pasture-finished beef.

These data will be collected at the final joint focus group meeting.

Research results and discussion:

In order to determine changes in knowledge, attitudes and beliefs regarding grazing participating producers were given pre-tests at the beginning of the project and post-tests at the end. Their grazing knowledge was determined with a grazing knowledge test designed by grazing experts. The producers’ attitude toward sustainable agricultural practices was measured with the Alternative Conventional Agriculture Paradigm (ACAP) scale (Beus & Dunlap, 1991).  Their ecological worldview was measured using the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) scale (Dunlap, 2008). Producers were pre-tested in the fall of 2014 at the beginning of the project and were post-tested with the same instruments at the end of project in the fall of 2016. Producers’ grazing knowledge increased during the project. The mean score of the pre-test was 72.9% (sd=14.0) while the mean score of the post-test was 89.3% (sd=3.65). The results of the grazing knowledge test indicated that there was an increase in knowledge regarding grazing and grassfed beef.  The producers’ ACAP pre-test score was 74.9 (sd=6.68) while their post-test score was 74.7 (sd=4.8) indicating no change in the mean. However, there was a decrease in the standard deviation. Overall these producers have a very positive attitude toward an alternative agricultural paradigm that is more sustainable. A possible explanation for this lack of change is that probably these producers were more pre-disposed to having an alternative agriculture paradigm prior to participation making them more likely to be motivated to enroll in this project. Finally, the mean of the producers’ NEP pre-test score was 49.8 (sd=9.0) while the mean of their post-test score was 54.5 (sd=8.5) indicating an overall shift toward more of an ecological worldview at the end of the project. The mean score at the beginning of the project indicated more of an anthropocentrism or the belief that nature exists primarily for human use.

At the beginning of the second year of the project a focus group was conducted in conjunction with a culinary demonstration with grass-fed beef value-chain participants in order to identify barriers to the grass-fed beef market in northwest Michigan. The purpose of the event was to bring together representatives of the distribution, culinary, and retail portions of the emerging grass-fed beef value-chain in order to generate a discussion on barriers to the market.  The group comprised 13 participants, with 6 individuals from food distribution, 4 chefs, 1 retailer, and 2 others with personal experience dealing with local grass-fed beef, but not from the other three sectors. 

Before the focus group began, the individuals were given a pre-test to measure their knowledge of local grass-fed beef and value-added beef cuts.  At the conclusion of the event, the same survey was distributed as a post-test to determine if the day’s conversations resulted in any changes in participants’ knowledge. The focus group was recorded and transcribed.  The transcription was uploaded into NVIVO and was coded for emergent themes and concepts.

Participants discussed many barriers to a vibrant grass-fed beef market that we’ve organized into three main categories; consistency, infrastructure, and education.  Consistency in availability and supply of the beef product, as well as consistency in farm-to-farm and processed quality, creates perceived barriers to processing and wholesale use of grass-fed beef. In addition, local food systems do not typically have adequate processing and storage infrastructure to accommodate the local grass-fed market, and are not set up to accommodate whole animal usage.  Farms also struggle to access and afford the necessary land to properly raise grass-fed cattle.  And finally, education is needed at all levels of the value-chain to grow the grass-fed beef market. 

In addition to participant perceived barriers, we found that the participants themselves had many incorrect assumptions about grass-fed beef, illuminating the need to improve value chain members’’ understanding of the product they sell.  Participants did not know the definition of grass-fed or grass-finished beef, as well as other marketing terminology such as antibiotic free or wet-aged beef.  Additionally, participants did not understand the possible quality outcomes of grass-fed or grass-finished beef.  This lack of understanding of the products they sell poses many barriers to the success of the local grass-fed beef market in northwest Michigan. Since grass-fed and finished beef products have specific characteristics that distinguish it from other beef products, it is important that those selling the product understand the unique attributes and accurately describe the product to their customers.


Research conclusions:

Impact of Results/Outcomes

Final Focus Group Summary

In the fall of 2016, at the conclusion of the project a focus group was conducted comprised of representatives of all the parts of the grass-fed beef value chain developed in the upper part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Participants included 6 producers, 2 chefs, 3 distributors, and 1 processor/packer as well as the project directors. Responses were recorded and then transcribed. The transcription was analyzed for major themes, which are reported below.

Main Themes

  • Operational Changes
    • Many producers switched from conventional confinement, grain based operations to grass-fed beef production.
    • Price premiums for grass-fed beef allowed many producers to cut down herd number.
    • Some farmers have added additional species to their rotation (i.e. chickens).
    • All farmers reported seeing a great increase in biodiversity on their farm since the beginning of the project (i.e. more forage species, emergence of dung beetles, birds, and amphibians that were not seen on the farm before).
  • Knowledge
    • The grant increased producer knowledge of pasture management and quality, forage quality, and animal genetics.
    • Grass-fed beef presents a better opportunity for young, beginning farmers because it requires less capital and upfront investment than conventional beef production.
    • Many farmers learned the benefits of high-quality forage on weight gain.
    • Producers enjoyed the experience of exchanging knowledge within the group formed by this project.
  • Reasons for Participation
    • Production of a healthier food product
    • Consumer relationships; Getting to tell “the story of beef”
    • Price premiums for grass fed beef
    • Cooperative marketing
    • Filling consumer demand for more sustainable products, healthful

Reported below are some quotes that capture some of the significant outcomes of this project.


  • When asked how his cattle operation had changed since the onset of this project, one producer said, “Sold the combine, sold the corn planter, sold the grain semi.”
  • Another producer said that after switching from a confinement, grain based operation, to his current grazing operation, “And I think we have gone down in cattle number, but in the last four years we haven’t wormed, and we have not had one sick animal”
    • He also mentioned that his neighbor, who fed his cattle a grain-only diet, “He’d get a good gain (the cattle), but yet he had to doctor ‘em all the time.”
    • When speaking about his dad, he mentioned, “So he passed away a week before we got our first check, and I wish he would’ve saw the first check ‘cause it was the most we’ve ever gotten for one single handler. And it was a lot of money, and he would’ve been proud.”
    • “But I think I’m gonna stick with it. I think this is the way we’re gonna do it from now on.”
  • “Through the grant, you know, we picked up a lot on pasture management, pasture quality, stored forage quality, genetics and types of animals that we want to target for grass finishing.”
  • “But it’s been a- the educational side of the research grant has been exponential for us.”
  • “That was the past- that was the main reason I joined this was for the education. I didn’t know grass-fed beef from anything else when we started here.  But I found that I really like doing it.”
  • “So the education from this program, whether or not it’s made us bigger or more profitable, I don’t know, but each day that I learn something and a large part of it coming from this project, let’s say that I’m investing it back into the ground, and one of these days it’ll pay off in my pocket.”
  • When talking about biodiversity increases, on producer said, “So there’s your diversity. I’m not planting it; I’m not bringing it in on a trailer.  It’s coming over the damn fence.”
  • And learn from each other. Hearing the experiences these guys have, sit through ‘em and figure out which ones I can try to implement on my place. And I like the sense of community compared to when I was grain farming and it was commodity, the whole business was established for many years, and nobody dared deviate from the model that’s out there.”
  • “I mean, one of my main--several different reasons why I moved from cash crop to grass fed, one of ‘em was I wanted to produce a healthier food and be able to supply direct to my customer rather than haul it to, you know, an inventory location, grain elevator.”
  • When discussing the a benefit of the program, one chef said, “…and the one thing that’s been nice for us about that MSU program is, you know, it’s a whole bunch of different smaller farms that couldn’t keep up with our personal demand…So to be able to market it under the umbrella of the MSU program really kinda helps go from specific farms that we won’t be able to market all year to having the MSU program on our menu that we can market and explain that it’s a cooperative of small farms.”
  • The chef also mentioned, “I think the worst complaint we ever got about one of the steaks is that it was too tender.”
  • “One of the things that I loved about this whole grass fed beef endeavor is I can--I can create my unique selling proposal. Here’s why customers should buy from me.”
  • Chef: “The nice thing about the MSU co-op and something that I feel at least from a consumer’s standpoint that should be celebrated was, you know, we were able to ethically source this beef.”
    • “And sometimes it’s kind of like a smirking area where I’m like, yeah, you know, we have this beautiful beef, this is what you should be tasting, like this is what, you know, this is not the beef you grew up with, but it’s the beef we want our children to grow up with. And we want to help change the market as best we can.
    • “If you wanna have the most beautiful watermelons every year, you know, we need to be buying the better crops; we need to be buying everything that goes into the soil and goes into creating the best possible ecosystem for everything that we want. And that mentality in my kitchen goes straight through with the meat that we purchase and how we want to do all that.”
  • One distributor while discussing consumer preference for grain fed vs grass fed beef: “I gotta tell ya, I get people who call me and request the MSU beef that we bring to the market. I’ve had customers do cuttings with Sysco black Angus commodity beef, their best stuff, and this beef wins.”
  • “And conventional butchers, guys who are used to cutting corn fed cattle saying positive things about MSU’s cattle when it goes across the hook, when it goes across the table.”
  • “And it’s good to know that sometimes you feel like this is just a fringe thing and that, you know, then it’s starting to show up in places like this is really exciting.”

Economic Analysis

Through 3 years of training seven cooperator farms evolved to the point where they are now producing grass-fed beef at scale.  These farms have now produced over 300 head of finished cattle that were supplied to the grass-fed market that have an average gross value of $586,845.  Carcass quality and yield measurements have been taken on the majority of the research cattle produced. The average carcass grade of the cattle has been USDA High Select and the average carcass yield at 19 – 21 months of age has been 53 -54%.  Price premiums of 25% above the general cattle market prices have been received for the hanging carcasses.  By adding value to these cattle by producing grass fed beef they have created an extra value of $138,600 or and extra $19,800 per farm over the three year period.

By incorporating MSU’s addition of 300 head, we totaled 600 head total into the local landscape. We estimate that each head added $1000 to the local economy by retaining them in N. MI. This would equate to a $600,000 addition to the overall economy. Using the multiplier effect generated by University of Kentucky ($3.50), those 600 head could have generated overall $2,000,000 to the local economy.

One example of the impact is or work with Bell’s Brewery. Last year Bell’s sold 8000 lbs of cooperator grass-fed beef. The beef sold on average at $14.00/lb versus commodity prices of $5.00. This alone would be an additional $72,000 in added value with a small amount of product.

Farmer Adoption

Of the 17 beginning producers, 7 are now producing at volume for the local network These producers will producer over 300 head in 2017.  While not all the producers are finishing in this network, our data did indicate positive shifts in the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors towards the environment and grass-finishing of beef.  Importantly, our participating distributor, Cherry Capital Foods is sourcing close to 10X the beef they were before the grant began. One of our cooperators who was not producing any beef at trial start will supply them over 100 head next year alone. While we have included a great deal of data into the results and discussion, this video really tells a lot about the progression of our producers. A roundtable that was held at the Grass-fed Exchange. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw6Qcu-9V8k

Another outcome of the grant was supplied through mini-grant dollars. Producers were able to apply for a $1500 mini-grant to help with the develop of grass fed beef on their farms.  These funds were used by 8 of the participating farms adding a total of $12,000 to the group of farms. The money was used for soil amendments, livestock scales, livestock handling equipment, fence, and water systems for grazing which will benefit their farms in many cases for years to come.  One farm in particular used the funds to install weighing scales.  He has since used these scales to evaluate the performance of different groups of cattle under different feeding trials to determine which system worked the best.  He can now tell you what his mature cows weigh, how much his calves weigh when they are weaned, and what kind of gain he is getting on his grass finishing group of steers and heifers. Steve has also become a great producer educator for the grass fed movement, allowing pasture walks on his farm, and sharing what he has learned with those that attend.

Another cooperative farm  used the mini-grant money to purchase a squeeze chute for cattle handling. When asked what were the benefits of having this new chute this is what the farmer said: “This year the squeeze chute made it possible for us to pregnancy check all the females and eliminate the ones that aren't pregnant.  We did 110 animals safely in 3.5 hours.  Impossible without it or at least more dangerous.  It is a vital part of our management program.  It did pay off for him too in the first year of use as he found 17% (n=18) of the over one hundred cow herd to be open and was able to cull  them in the fall saving over $5,000 in winter feed.

These cooperative SARE producers over the three years also were instrumental in sharing their knowledge gain with others interested in grass-fed beef production.  They hosted 7 pasture walks/field days on their farms showing and telling what was working for them.  In total over 200 people attended these events plus another 400 attended events at the Lake City Research Center advancing their knowledge of grass fed beef.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Rowntree, J. E., R. Ryals, M. DeLonge, W. R. Teague, M. Chiavegato*, P. Byck, T. Wang & S.Xu*. 2016. Potential mitigation of midwest grass-finished beef production emissions with soil carbon sequestration in the United States of America. Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society, 4:31-38.


Teague,W. R., S. Apfelbaum, R. Lal, U. Kreuter, J. E. Rowntree, C. Davies, R. Conser, M.DeLonge, M. Rasmussen, J. Hatfield, T. Wang, F. Wang and P. Byck. 2016. The Role of Ruminants in Reducing Agriculture’s Carbon Footprint in North America. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 71:156-164. (most read article for 2016 JSWC; 10,546 accesses, 8296 downloads)

Rowntree, J. E. Editor. 2015. Grassfed Exchange National Meetings-Lake City Beef Report.

 Martin, R.M.* and J. E. Rowntree. 2015. Forage finished steer performance & carcass

characteristics from grazing high-energy forages. Grassfed Exchange National Meeting-Lake City Beef Report. 3: 12-14.

Rowntree, J.E., D. Carmichael, K. Cassida, J. Lindquist, K. Thurlow. 2015. Michigan State

University Grass Finishing Report. Grassfed Exchange National Meetings-Lake City Beef Report 3: 15-16.

Rowntree, J. E. Editor. 2014. Lake City Research Center Beef Report.

Rowntree, J. E., D. E. Carmichael, K. Cassida, J. Lindquist, and K. Thurlow. 2014. Michigan

State University grass finishing report. Lake City Research Center Beef Report. 2: 22-28.

Rowntree, J. E., R. Ryals, M. S. DeLonge, M. B. Chiavegato, W. R. Teague and P. Byck. 2015. Comparing Climate impacts of grass-finished beef production strategies in the upper Midwest using a partial life cycle analysis. J. Anim. Sci., v. 93 (E-Suppl. S3): 593. (Abstr).

Strong, E., L. Thorp, J. Rowntree, P. Kalela, and M. Raven. 2014. Leveraging experiential learning in the form of legacy projects improve undergraduates’ecological worldview and level of environmental concern. NACTA. 58(E-Suppl. 1):86. (Abstr.)

Thesis: Factors influencing producer, distributor and retail acceptance of grass finished beef in

Michigan. Emma Strong (M.S.) Graduation 2015, Michigan State University.


College of Ag and Natural Resources Advisory Council. “Lake City Research Overview”.

(September 29th, 2016). Lake City, MI.


MSU Grazing School. Regional Producers. “Introduction to Grazing”. (September 22, 2016).

Lake City, MI.


(2) Lake City Research Center Field Day. Regional Producers. “Cowherd Management, Grass-

Finishing”. (August 13th, 2016).


South Michigan Soil and Water Conservation Annual Meeting.  Regional Producers. Grass-

Finished Beef Production. (June 25th, 2016). Quincy, MI.


(2) Grassfed Exchange Conference. National/International Audience.  “Tour Host and Grass Finishing”. (April 28-29, 2016). Perry, GA.


Global Alliance for the Future of Food. International Foundation Representatives. “Carbon

Footprint of Beef”. (March 23, 2016). Washington D.C.


Mid Michigan Cattlemen’s Association. Regional Livestock Producers. “Grass Finishing

Research”. (March 17, 2016). Harrison, MI


Michigan Forage and Grazing Conference. Regional livestock producers. “Grass Finishing

Research”. (March 10, 2016). East Lansing, MI


Michigan State University Grazing School. Statewide Producers. “Why Graze?”. Kellogg Biological Station (Video transmission to Lake City and Chatham, MI). (September 24, 2015).


(3) Grassfed Exchange. International/National Audience (22 States, Canada and Argentina).

“Overview of Lake City Research Center”, “Upper Midwest Grass-Finishing” and “Grassfed Finishing Economics”.  Mt. Pleasant, MI. (September 16-18).


Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center Field Day. Statewide Producers. “ Grass-Fed Beef Cattle Opportunities in the Upper Peninsula”. Chatham, MI. (July 25, 2015).


Maine Grazing Conference. Regional Audience. “Grass Finishing Basics”. Portland, ME. (March 21, 2015).

Michigan Small Farm Conference, Statewide Producers. “Upper Midwest Grass Finishing”. Traverse City, MI (January 23, 2015).


(2) Lake City Research Center Field Da y. Regional Producers. “Grass Finished Beef and

 Cutout” and “Cow-Calf Production”. Lake City Research Center (August 9th, 2014).


(2) Putting Grasslands to Work, Savory Institute International Conference. International Audience. “ Conversation: The Role of Science in Informing Management” and “ The Hard Science and Citizen Science View of Climate Change”. London, England (July 30th – August 2nd, 2014).


(2) Michigan Cattlemen’s Summer Round Up. Statewide Producers. “Impact of Grazing on Soil Carbon; Grass Finishing Beef Cattle”. (June 27, 2014).


SARE Meats Demonstration. SARE Grant Participants. “Grass Finished Beef and Cutout”. Falmouth, MI (February 8, 2014).


SARE Focus Group Discussion. SARE Grant Participants. “ Attitudes Towards Grass Finishing Beef”. Lake City, MI. (February 8, 2014).


SARE Producer Webinar. SARE Grant Participants. “Beef Research Update”. East Lansing, MI. (February 5, 2014).


Michigan Small Farm Conference, Statewide Producers. “Grass Finishing and Carbon”. Traverse City, MI (February 1, 2014).


Food and Farming Network Annual Meeting. Northwest MI Audience. “Grass Finishing Beef”. Traverse City, MI (January 31, 2014).


CSS 201, Forage Crops. “Grass Finished Beef” East Lansing, MI. (December 3, 2013).


SARE Producer Webinar. SARE Grant Participants. “Beef Research Update”. East Lansing, MI. (November 25, 2013).


Center for Regional Food Systems Annual Meeting. “Local Beef Production System Challenges”. East Lansing, MI. (September 11, 2013).


North Central Region SARE Site Visit. SARE Granting Agency. “ Grass Finishing Research Update”. Lake City, MI. (August, 14, 2013).


(3) Michigan State University Grazing School. Statewide Producers. “Introduction to Managed Grazing”; “Forage Yield and Pasture Allocation”; “Local/Regional Pasture Based Systems”. Lake City, MI. (May 30-31, 2013).


Forage Technology Conference. Statewide Producers. Grass-fed Beef Production Essentials. East Lansing, MI. (March 7, 2013).


Ag for Tomorrow Conference. Statewide Producers. Grass-fed Beef Production Escanaba, MI. (March 5, 2013).


Grand Vision Grassfed Producer Webinar. Statewide Producers. Grass-fed Beef Production. East Lansing, MI. (February 5, 2013)

North Michigan Small Farm Conference, Key Note speaker, Multi-State Audience (800 in attendance), “Michigan Resiliency and Agriculture’s Triple Bottom Line”. Grayling, MI. (January 26, 2013)


Grass Finished Beef Webinar, Multi-State Beef Producers. “Introduction to Grass Finishing”.  East Lansing, MI. (January 23, 2013)


Grand Traverse Regional Economic Development Council. “ A Pasture Based Beef  Production System for northwest Michigan. Traverse City, MI. (June 26, 2012)


Northwest Michigan Agriculture Alliance. Northwest Michigan Leaders. “A Pasture Based Beef Production System for northwest Michigan. Traverse City, MI. (April 26, 2012).


College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Inside Look. Selected donors and Michigan State University Board of Regent members. “Local Beef Production Systems”. (April 24, 2012).

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

  • Ideas for the Future
    • Contracts between producers and distributors that allows farmers to raise an agreed upon number of animals for an up-front price to reduce “left-over” animals that need to be marketed
    • MSU helping to formalize an official “co-op” for marking grass fed beef in Northern Michigan.
    • Certification and labelling as steps in the future
    • Continuing to see greater amounts of finish on beef
  • Challenges
    • Keeping up with supply is difficult
    • Finding a “one size fits all” marketing scheme is difficult. Many farmers find the direct-to-consumer market to be too time consuming
    • For distributors, consistency in both supply and quality of product is a challenge when working with small producers
    • Constant need for flexibility for all parties
    • Unfair competitive advantage for those funded by universities or NGOs


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.