A Local Pasture-Based Beef Production System for Northwest Michigan

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, stocking rate


    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.  

    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.