Adoption of grass-fed beef management practices

2007 Annual Report for LNE06-236

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

Adoption of grass-fed beef management practices


The major components of the project were completed in the reporting period. The National Grass-Fed Beef Conference was held, twenty-six grass-fed beef farmers were surveyed about production and economic factors related to their enterprise, four producers were provided with fencing equipment to increase the frequency of pasture rotations, and data were summarized.

The national grass-fed beef conference attracted over 200 producers and marketers of grass-fed beef from 11 states and three countries. Forty educational lectures and farmer-to-farmer discussion groups were held over three days in Grantville, PA. A proceedings for the conference was published and provided to participants and for general distribution. An evaluation of the conference was conducted and indicated over 90% of respondents found the information met or exceeded their expectations.

Twenty-six grass-fed beef producers were identified in New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland and an extensive personal survey was conducted by the graduate student assigned to the project, Ms. Emily Steinberg. Production and economic data were collected that included all assets on the farm related to the production of grass-fed beef, all returns from grass-fed beef production, and specific marketing and production practices employed. These data were summarized both in an Excel format to determine per-steer costs and returns for each animal on the farm intended for harvest, and the data were subjected to an extensive financial analysis in the FinPack financial software.

As a result of the personal surveys it was determined most producers retained ownership of cattle for too long, cattle were older at harvest, and pasture management was not sufficient to maintain higher rates of weight gain. Five producers were identified from the dataset who were not using intensive rotational grazing, and fencing material and training was provided to allow more frequent pasture rotations for the 2007 grazing season. One producer withdrew prior to the start of the test. The remaining producers provided feedback on the results of the rotational grazing changes on their farm. Weather conditions were fair to poor with extensive drought for July and August at all locations.

Grass-fed beef producers can be profitable in the region, but must have an excellent marketing program, reduce capital expenditures for machinery and equipment, and expedite the growth and market-readiness of their cattle by improved animal genetics and improved pasture management.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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.


A database of at least 200 Northeastern grass-fed beef producers was used to select 26 active grass-fed beef producers to be surveyed for production and economic data. Farmers were interviewed in person at the farm. These data were used to provide benchmark economic data for the enterprise in the Mid-Atlantic region. It was also subjected to an intensive financial analysis through the use of the FinPack software. Summary information will be provided to each of the participants, and coded results will be used for popular press articles, fact sheet preparation, and as part of the Master’s thesis for Ms. Steinberg.

The National Grass-fed Beef Conference attracted over 200 producers and marketers of grass-fed beef from 11 states and 3 countries. The conference was planned by a national committee representing producers, marketers, and academics. Forty educational lectures and farmer-to-farmer discussion groups were held over three days in Grantville, PA. A proceedings for the conference was published and provided to participants and for general distribution.

An intensive study of the results of the producer survey indicated many producers did not market cattle until they were about 30 months of age, they were required to winter the cattle for a second time (with the added costs implied by non-grazing feedstuffs), and harvest weights indicated relatively low weight per day of age. Three factors could contribute to this result: animal genetics, pasture management for increased quality and quantity, and animal health. The need to evaluate animal genetics in the grass-fed enterprise is huge, but it was outside the time frame allowed by this project. Animal health did not appear to be an issue with producers because little animal sickness was identified. Research has shown pasture quality and quantity could be improved by rotationally-grazing pastures more intensively. Five producers were identified who employed extensive pasture management and agreed to have pasture paddocks constructed on their farms, use the paddocks in a more intensive pasture management program, and to provide feedback information about the practice and its implications for adoption by other producers. One producer withdrew from the project and four others had paddocks constructed on their farms that were designed to have 30-40 days rest periods between rotations. These producers were trained in rotational management of pastures by the project leaders, and they maintained records of their rotations and observations.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Results of the farmer surveys indicated a wide variation among farms for all data, with more profitable farms retaining ownership of cattle for a shorter period of time (with little or no wintering costs), and for those farms with less investment in equipment and machinery. The average farm lost money in the grass-fed enterprise, but there are farms that have returns over $2000 per harvested animal. The differences between farms that were profitable and those that were not were investments in equipment, specialized marketing, and retention of ownership of the cattle until 30 months of age or longer. Ownership costs include those for feed, interest on feed and animals, winter feed purchases, and labor. These cumulative costs render few grass-fed cattle profitable after extensive ownership. Profitable farms in the survey often owned the cattle only for one grazing season to alleviate these costs. Machinery costs were very high relative to returns on several farms, and more profitable farms did not own equipment for harvesting and storing forages. Most farms owned some pasture mowing equipment, but gross returns-more animals sold-identified those farms where custom mowing was more economical.

An evaluation of the national conference was conducted and indicated over 90% of respondents found the information met or exceeded their expectations. Improved grazing practices, budgeting and economic data, and animal handling practices received the highest audience ratings. The proceedings of the conference represents the definitive recent scientific literature regarding grass-fed beef production, marketing, and consumer evaluations. It was made available to all conference participants, and it is currently available by mail order. More than 500 copies have been distributed. Copies have been made available to students in the feed technology course at Penn State University as part of their instruction for the course.

Farmers that employed the more intensive grazing practices on their farms were pleased with the results in spite of adverse weather for the grazing season. The results indicated these farmers found the experience with the intensive grazing program to be fair to very good, rotations varied from 2 to 11 days, there was less pasture mowing, pasture quality was improved, maintaining the fences was the most time-consuming element, and they found it to be a very important management tool in the future on their farm. All indicated they would employ the practice again. These results will be used for educational programs to highlight ways grass-fed producers can increase the availability and quality of grazed forages-key issues in animal turnover and cost reduction.


Ryan Bapst
Farm Manager
Hedgeapple farm
3735 Buckeystown Pike
Buckeystown, MD 21717
Office Phone: 3016627638
David Hartman
Extension Educator
Penn State University
702 Sawmill Road
Bloomsburg, PA 17815
Office Phone: 5707846660
Kris Ribble
NRCS Project Grass
702 Sawmill Rd. Suite 205
Bloomsburg, PA 17815
Office Phone: 5707844401
Vivian Baumer

Research Technician
Penn State University
Emily Steinberg

Graduate Assistant
Penn State University
Harold Harpster

Penn State University, Department of Dairy and Ani