Adoption of grass-fed beef management practices

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $58,594.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. John Comerford
Penn state University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Vegetables: beets


  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, free-range, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, vaccines, watering systems, winter forage, feed/forage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, value added, whole farm planning

    Proposal abstract:

    Recent studies have shown nearly one-third of American consumers prefer the taste of grass-fed beef compared to conventional, grain-fed beef. With an average per capita consumption of beef in the US of 72 pounds, a market potentially exists for over 4 million pounds of grass-fed beef annually. These consumers are generally younger, assume a benefit in local and “natural” beef production, and attribute health benefits to grass-fed meat. There is a deficiency in the scientific literature describing production practices for profitable grass-fed beef production under US conditions, and unbiased, comparative studies to make successful management decisions are needed. With few exceptions, grass-fed beef producers are small farmers that service a local market. A recent survey among 100 grass-fed beef producers identified product consistency and identification of customers as the salient needs of their enterprise.

    In the first phase of the project, at least twenty grass-fed beef producers in the Northeast will be identified to provide unknown benchmark production and economic data for grass-fed beef production. The second phase will include adoption of production practices determined from the results of a USDA-funded comparative study that includes wintering programs and product evaluation. Adoption and testing of these successful management practices will be extensively evaluated on at least ten farms, including evaluation of production and economic responses compared to benchmark data. These data will be provided to producers in a several ways, including as part of a grass-fed meats symposium on a national scope. The performance target for this project is that at least ten grass-fed beef producers will adopt production practices that result in identifiable improvement in product consistency and consumer acceptability and that these results are made available to the larger audience of grass-fed beef producers.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    At least twenty Northeastern grass-fed beef producers will provide benchmark production data and at least ten of these producers will adopt new production procedures that will improve product consistency, customer satisfaction, and profitability to the enterprise. In order for Northeastern grass-fed beef producers to be profitable and sustainable, to most effectively use their land and management resources, and to meet the needs of a health-conscious consumer, it is necessary to benchmark current production practices, evaluate alternatives, adopt the appropriate alternatives, and share the results to a larger audience of producers. These validated practices can then be adopted with confidence by a wider audience of producers of grass-fed beef.

    At least twenty active grass-fed beef producers will be identified in the Pennsylvania-Maryland-New York area willing to have an on-farm assessment made of their enterprise. This evaluation will include the animal numbers and production, product values, and pasture management, but will also include the producer’s goals, satisfaction, and needs for the enterprise. This information will be compiled in summary form and provided to beef producers as printed material, web-based information, and as part of a national grass-fed meats symposium.

    A current comparative study will identify production practices related to product consistency and for cattle wintering systems, and be shared with producers through the national symposium. At least ten producers previously evaluated will adopt at least one of these production alternatives, and their subsequent production and economic data compared to benchmark values will be compiled and shared with the industry.

    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.