Finishing Time And Weights Of Grass-Fed Beef Animals

2012 Annual Report for FNC12-860

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

Finishing Time And Weights Of Grass-Fed Beef Animals


Work activities were carried out by each farm on that farm’s schedule. Each farm’s activities included recording information on calf ear-tag numbers, birth dates, weaning weights, spring pre-pasture weights, finish weights and carcass weights; as well as documenting summer grazing practices and sampling winter stored forage. Data collected so far has been compiled into a “master spreadsheet,” and preliminary analysis of data has begun; although the finish weights and carcass weights collected this coming fall and winter will be an important addition to the data set. Preliminary data show that it is possible to produce a 600 lb. beef carcass from a 18-month-old grassfed animal, but there is variability due to farm practices, weather, and genetics of the cattle. One of the farmers is consistently achieving that mark. A field day held at the Jewett farm on 10/22/12 was attended by 33 people and evaluations were positive. A field day is planned for the Grass farm in July 2013.

Other activities for the farmers this coming year include continuing data collection on beef steers born in 2012 and recording a second summer’s worth of grazing practices information. Data analysis and presentation will be accomplished toward the end of the grant term, when collection of the beef production data is completed.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Work activities were carried out separately by each farm, on their own schedule as grant activities could be fitted in around farm activities. Activities completed so far by each farm:
– Weighing 2011-born calves before turnout on pastures in spring 2012
– Ear-tagging and recording birth date for 2012-born calves
– Documenting pasture rotation schedules throughout summer 2012
– Sampling winter stored forage and sending samples to Dairyland Labs for analysis

Activities completed by some farms:
– Weighing 2012-born calves at weaning. (Complete for Brown, Jewett, and McMillin farms. Grass farm does summer and fall calving so weaning is not complete.)
– Collecting live weight and carcass weight at slaughter for 2011-born steers. (Complete for Jewett and McMillin farms. Brown farm has a couple yet to go; summer and fall calving on Grass farm means a number of 2011-born steers have not yet been sent to market.)
– Field day on the Jewett farm, Oct. 22, 2012
– Photos taken at McMillin and Brown farms
Grant funds were primarily used to pay farmers for each data point submitted; also for livestock scale rental for the Brown and Jewett farms; mileage, postage, forage sample analysis, and field day expenses.

Work Plan for Next Year:
– Spring pasture time is coming (late), so our upcoming major task on each farm will be to collect weights on 2012-born calves before they go out on pasture.
– Pasture rotation schedules will be documented again this summer by all 4 farms.
– Live weight and carcass weight at slaughter will be collected for remaining 2011-born steers and for 2012-born steers.
– Photos will be collected from Grass and Jewett farms
– A PowerPoint presentation will be created about the project.
– Economic analysis will be done based on RFV of stored forages for winter feeding, as determined by Dairyland tests.
– In summer of 2013 a field day is planned for the Takala farm in St. Louis County, co-hosted by Jake and Lindsay Grass of Grass Meadows Farm. This field day will include additional topics besides the grass-fed beef project; will include collaboration from St. Louis County Extension; and should draw participants from a large area of northeastern Minnesota.
– Opportunities to present the data will be sought out and taken as they arise. At minimum the PowerPoint will be shared with the U of MN Extension Beef Team, the Alternative Livestock program at the U of MN, the Sustainable Farming Association, the Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Northeast Minnesota Forage and Grassland Council.

– Data analysis will be completed and a project report written.


The Jewett farm hosted a field day on October 22, 2012, with the following collaborators: Aitkin County NRCS, Northeast MN Forage and Grassland Council, and University of Minnesota Extension. Thirty-three adults and three kids attended, and participants came from as far as 150 miles away. Field day flyer is attached. Preliminary study data (mostly participants’ historical carcass weight data) were presented, the project was described, and a pasture walk was conducted with participation from Scott Kittleson of Aitkin County NRCS, Tom Gervais of the regional NRCS office in Duluth, Wayne Martin of U of MN Extension, and Troy Salzer of Carlton County Extension. Betsy Wieland, Minnesota NCR-SARE Co-Coordinator, attended the field day and presented information about the SARE Farmer/Rancher grant program.

Results of evaluation surveys at the Oct. 22, 2012 Field Day:

How likely are you to try some new grazing methods on your farm?
Very likely, Somewhat likely, Not likely
11, 5, 0

Have today’s presentations changed your opinion of grass-fed beef production?
More Positive, No Change, More Negative
9, 8, 0

How useful was the information you heard today?
Very, Some, Not
SARE program 10, 7, 0
Pasture mgmt. 13, 5, 0
NRCS prgs. 10, 5, 0
Grass-fed beef 11, 5, 0
Selling Meat 11, 1, 0

“Very helpful to talk with others and their use of grazing practices and see actual fields in production.”
“Well organized and very informative.”
“Good presenters and information.”

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Results so far seem to point to a few things:

1) Bringing in a 600 lb. carcass with an 18-month-old grassfed beef animal is challenging, but not impossible. Bill McMillin is doing it the most consistently of any of the cooperators. He is quick to point out that his is a high-cost operation. He is using former dairy infrastructure and feeding a nearly dairy-quality forage ration to his beef cattle during the winter.

2) Weather extremes like north-east-central MN experienced last summer: flooding in May, worse flooding in June, extreme heat in July; took a noticeable toll on the performance of the cattle. Jewett’s cattle dressed out about 20% to 25% lighter than her historical average. Brown’s steers went later in age before finishing and being marketed.

3) The Grass farm shifted from spring calving in 2011 to more of a year-round calving in 2012. It’s not clear yet how the changing calving schedule will play out in terms of animal performance on an all-forage diet.

4) There’s no one right way to produce grass-fed beef. The four cooperators each have very different pasture and winter feeding systems, but all are marketing beef well before the 24-month mark that is sometimes used as a standard figure for age at slaughter for grass-fed beef; and are exceeding a 600 lb. carcass weight most of the time.

5) There appears to be some potential for genetic selection for improved performance of beef animals on an all-forage diet. I calculated a simple age-weight index from the hot carcass weight divided by the age in months at slaughter for each animal, and within the McMillin and Grass farms there is a wide range for that number.

Some data from the project so far:

McMillin farm:
2010 average carcass wt.: 632 lbs. (number of animals = 12)
2011 average carcass wt.: 665 lbs. (number of animals = 14)
2012 average live wt. at slaughter: 1231 lbs.
2012 average hot carcass wt: 700 lbs.
2012 average age at slaughter: 16.9 months
2012 range of age-weight index (hot carcass wt/age in months): 34.4 to 52.1
2012-2013 winter feed RFV: avg. 162 for alfalfa and alfalfa/mixed hay (also fed haylage; avg. IVTDMD = 78%)

Brown farm:
2012 average live wt. at slaughter: 1201 lbs. (number of animals = 4)
2012 average hot carcass wt: 618 lbs.
2012 average age at slaughter: 20.7 months
2012-2013 winter feed RFV: avg. 90 for mostly grass hay

Grass farm:
2011-12 average live wt. at slaughter: 1172 lbs. (number of animals = 29; incl. heifers)
2011-12 average hot carcass wt.: 604 lbs.
2011-12 average age at slaughter: 20.8 months
2011-12 range of age-weight index (hot carcass wt/age in months): 20.4 to 40.9
2013 average live wt. at slaughter: 1274 lbs. (number of animals = 4; all steers)
2013 average hot carcass wt.: 632 lbs.
2013 average age at slaughter: 20.1 months
2012-2013 winter feed RFV: avg. 105 for several types of stored forage
(RFV range 65 to 143)

Jewett farm:
2010 average hot carcass wt: 644 lbs. (number of animals = 9; incl. heifers)
2010 average age at slaughter: 18.4 months
2011 average hot carcass wt: 592 lbs. (number of animals=10; incl. heifers)
2011 average age at slaughter: 18.2 months
2012 average hot carcass wt: 496 lbs. (number of animals=5; all steers)
2012 average age at slaughter: 17.1 months
2012-2013 winter feed RFV: avg. 108 for mostly grass hay

To view Betsey Weiland’s photos of this project, visit


Edgar Brown

Edgar Brown Farm
41184 Co. Rd. 43
Willow River, MN 55795
Office Phone: 2183723930
Jake Grass

[email protected]
Grass Meadows Farm
25505 Liberty Rd.
Pine City, MN 55063
Office Phone: 3206293951
Bill McMillin

[email protected]
Bill McMillin Farm
59751 Hwy. 42
Kellogg, MN 55945
Office Phone: 5077673310