Finishing Time And Weights Of Grass-Fed Beef Animals

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $19,829.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Jane Jewett
University of Minnesota

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, winter forage
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance

    Proposal summary:

    Jane Grimsbo Jewett co-owns and operates 113 acres that is mixed pasture, wooded, and lowland. About 30 acres of former hayfield have been converted to rotationally-grazed paddocks. The farm includes a 12-cow Black Angus beef herd; 9 beef animals are direct-marketed per year. About 40 finished hogs and 600 meat chickens are produced and direct-marketed per year. She sells meat as a vendor at the Grand Rapids Farmers Market and also as quarters, halves, and wholes. Jane also works part-time for the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) and sits on advisory committees for Minnesota Grown and Minnesota NCR-SARE. Bill McMillin and wife Bonnie have a 160 acre farm near Kellogg Mn. We milked cows until 5 years ago. At that time we transitioned into grass-fed beef. We have been rotational grazing for 22 years. We have about 35 cows. We keep a few heifers for replacements each year and finish out the rest on grass and hay. We sell our finished animals to Hidden Stream Farm. They market the animals to grocery stores, food coops, and restaurants and also sell at farmers markets. We have 40-45 acres of pasture. We also raise about 45 acres of hay, 20 acres of corn, 10 acres of soybeans and 10 acres of oats a year. Edgar Brown has an 80 acre farm near Willow River in Pine County. The majority of his farm is divided into paddocks for rotational grazing, and he is working on establishing hybrid poplar along the fencelines in all the paddocks, for windbreak and shade. He has 16 cows and has direct marketed beef for many years. He transitioned to grass fed beef in 2010 and began selling to Thousand Hills Cattle Company in 2011. Jake and Lindsay Grass operate Grass Meadows Farms in conjunction with Lindsay’s brother John Takala’s beef operation. This joint operation consists of 120 cow calf pairs for the production of grass fed beef. The cattle are born on our northern farm of 210 acres in St. Louis County. The calves are finished on our southern farm of 70 acres in Pine County. The cattle are sired by Angus bulls and out of Angus, Gelbvieh and Scottish Highland cows. We raise most of our own finishing forage in Pine County on 120 rented acres. Troy Salzer is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator in Carlton County, MN and very involved in work with beef producers. He is also a farmer who raises and sells beef. Wayne Martin is the University of Minnesota Extension Alternative Livestock Specialist. He has extensive connections and expertise in both industry and academia in the areas of alternative meat production and marketing.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    A barrier to wider adoption of grass-fed beef production by farmers is a perception in the industry that finishing beef on grass requires taking an animal to 24- to 30-months of age, feeding it through two winters, and ending up with a liveweight around 1100 lbs. This scenario has been used in some published economic models of grass-finishing. It shows far lower gains than feedlot-finished beef, in which a 1400-lb. steer is finished at 18 months of age or less. This long finishing time scenario is sometimes due to use of a heritage beef breed that is less productive than a modern breed; or to pasture or winter feed of inadequate quality. The 24-to-30-month scenario certainly is not the limit of what can be achieved with grass, because there are Minnesota graziers who are finishing beef on grass at 15 to 18 months of age. Solid data on this shorter time frame for finishing is lacking.

    The goal of this project is to move grazing system research and adoption further forward by documenting productive forage-based beef operations.

    Outcomes of this project: 1) Develop simple, farmer-designed forms and protocols for tracking grass-fed beef production data. These data collection tools could find use beyond the limits of this project. 2) Document the production of beef cattle from Minnesota grass-fed beef producers who are currently successfully producing 600 lb. or heavier carcass weights in the 15-to-18-month time frame. 3) Document summer grazing practices, winter feeding practices, and winter feed quality on farms in the study. 4) Economic analysis comparing the productivity of the grass-finished systems in this study with a comparable feedlot beef system in which calves are born in the spring, spend their first summer on grass with their mothers, are weaned in the fall, and finished in a feedlot.

    Cooperating farmers will develop and test the data entry forms, measurement protocols, and feed sampling protocols used in the project, with advice and input from Wayne Martin and Troy Salzer. Data will be compiled by Jane Jewett, and the other farmers will receive regular reports on the compiled data. The farmers will tag all calves at birth in the 2012 spring calving season and document birth dates. They will document their usual grazing practices during the summer grazing season, weigh animals at fall weaning, document winter feed consumption and collect samples for quality analysis (winter feed will be hay or other stored forage consistent with USDA grass-fed standards), weigh animals at the end of the winter feeding season, and again document grazing practices in summer of 2013. Animals born in spring of 2012 will be slaughtered in fall of 2013. Slaughter dates will vary because farmers will arrange their own marketing schedules. Farmers will collect live weights and carcass weights at time of slaughter.

    Only one 18-month cycle of birth to slaughter can be fully included in the project time frame: calves born in spring 2012 and slaughtered in fall 2013. Calves born in spring of 2011 and slaughtered in fall of 2012 will be included in the project, but official data collection will begin with documentation of 2012 grazing practices. Final live weights and carcass weights will be obtained, but exact birth dates and weaning weights may not be available in all cases for animals born in 2011. The project will also include a look back at farmers’ records for three years prior to the start of the study, to collect as much information as possible about animal age at slaughter and finished weight. Although less detailed than data collected during the course of the study, this look-back will help to establish the consistency of the farmers’ grass-fed beef operations.

    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.