Adoption of grass-fed beef management practices

2008 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


Project Summary
Surveys were completed from 26 farmers who provided economic and management information for their grass-fed beef enterprise. A graduate student, Emily Steinberg, compiled and analyzed the results. Tabular results are provided below.

Table 1. Results of 2007 survey among 26 pasture-finished beef producers in the Northeast

Item Mean value Mean value STD

Farm size (ha) 20.0 19.8
No. cattle harvested (hd) 25.1 17.5
% of total farm sales (%) 84.2 26.3
Producer age (yr) 47.9 11.8
Pastures and Forages:
Native grasses (% of farms) 35.0
% of total per farm 32.0
Mixed grasses (% of farms) 28.0
% of total per farm 38.6
Grass/legume (% of farms) 81.0
% of total per farm 82.9
Annual grasses (% of farms) 35.0
% of total per farm 16.1
Legume only (% of farms) 4.0
% of total per farm 10.0
Pasture rotation frequency (d) 3.4 2.2
Harvest wt. of cattle (kg) 497.64 91.5
Harvest age of cattle (mo) 20.7 4.5
Postweaning grazing period (d) 283.2 110.9
Harvest Endpoint (% of farms):
Visual fat thickness 30.8
Animal weight 15.9
Availability of a processor 15.4
Animal age 11.5
Calendar date 11.5
Selection factors (% of farms):
Breed 42.3
Frame size 42.3
Carcass EPDs 11.5
Marketing factors:
Carcass aging (d) 15.8 6.2
Farm label (% of farms) 19.2
No labels (% of farms) 53.8
USDA Process Certified label (% of farms) 23.0
Product packaging1:
Individual retails cuts (% of farms) 65.4
Average price ($/kg)10.91 2.75
Carcass sides or quarters (% of farms) 76.9
Average price ($/kg) 4.95 1.36
Production costs ($/harvested animal):
Land 660.64 556.02
Fencing 17.21 27.88
Equipment 1 60.16 182.27
Purchased feed (non-forages) 7.49 13.03
Non-grazed forage cost 206.30 134.10
Total all costs 2066.32 1251.54
Net returns (all costs) -198.69 1596.90
Net returns ($/ha) 41.95 209.96

1Most farms marketed product in more than one form.

Table 2. Significant partial correlations1 among farm income with costs associated with pasture-finished beef production.
Effect2 Net returns ($) Net returns to land and labor Gross income
Equipment cost -0.47
0.22 -0.43
0.18 0.34
Purchased feed cost -0.53
0.28 -0.58
0.34 0.74
Land Cost -0.80
Cost per steer -0.67
0.45 0.74
1 Numbers in the first row are significant partial correlation coefficients. Numbers in the second row are the correlation index.
2 P < 0.1.

Table 3. Respondent participation and problems for pasture-finished beef production among 26 producers in the Northeastern US

Item Score1 STD

Why do you produce pasture finished beef?
Lifestyle 6.9 2.3
Profit 6.7 2.2
Environmental concerns 7.3 2.7
Human health issues 7.5 2.3
Animal welfare concerns 7.3 1.9
Available markets 6.7 2.4
Labor available 3.5 2.6
Facilities and equipment available 5.1 2.6
Vegetative control of the farm 5.0 2.8
As part of crop rotation 3.5 3.1

What are the problems for pasture-finished beef production?
Lifestyle change 1.8 1.8
Identification of new customers 4.3 2.9
Lack of cattle production information 2.8 1.6
Availability of processors 4.3 3.4
Animal health 2.5 2.0
Consistency of meat products 4.9 2.8
Labeling and packaging issues 3.7 2.6
Time for selling and promoting products 4.9 2.5
Availability of cattle 3.5 3.0
Lack of forage production information 2.3 1.9
Returns from customers/critical customers 2.3 2.2
Marketing the whole carcass 3.3 2.7
Identification of new markets 4.7 2.8
Lack of capital 3.4 2.6

1Score of 1 through 9 with 1= no importance and 9= extremely important.

These data provide the benchmark tools that are necessary to evaluate the enterprise collectively for the region, provide insight to more productive and profitable pasture-raised beef production, and highlight the cost control items that are needed in the enterprise.
Highlights of this information indicate:
• land and equipment costs must be controlled in order to assure profitability
• cost control may provide more profit potential than pricing of products at harvest
• there is significant variation in the costs and returns to the enterprise among the 26 farms
• fully 25% of the farms are profitable with the pasture-fed beef enterprise
• most producers are involved in the enterprise because of human health and animal welfare concerns
• processing and marketing products is the major problem encountered by producers in the enterprise
Survey respondents will be invited to a symposium that will review the results of the survey, update these producers on production and consumer research related to pasture-beef production, and determine educational efforts that are needed to enhance the enterprise.
The summary of the survey material was published in the Professional Animal Scientist Journal (Case Study: A Survey of Pasture-Finished Beef Producers in the Northeastern United States. 2009. E. L. Steinberg and J. W. Comerford.
THE PROFESSIONAL ANIMAL SCIENTIST 2009;25 104-108). A corresponding study conducted by Steinberg et al. that evaluated the relationship of production and management practices with consumer acceptability and fatty acid profiles of pasture-raised beef has been submitted for review to the Professional Animal Scientist Journal. The Proceedings of the National Grass-Fed Beef Conference (J. W. Comerford, Ed., 2008) are available from the Department of dairy and Animal Science, the Pennsylvania State University, 324 Henning, University Park, PA 16802.

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.


1. A database of at least 200 Northeastern grass-fed beef producers from input from commodity organizations, beef producers, and government agencies will be available. This has been accomplished.
2. A sample of at least 20 grass-fed beef producers representing a cross-section of management, economic returns, farm sizes, and locations will provide benchmark information about the practices, economics, and lifestyles of grass-fed beef producers. This has been accomplished.
3. A symposium will allow delivery and exchange of information related to grass-fed beef production among 100 farmers, educators, agribusiness, and scientists, and farmers will identify alternative production practices to improve productivity and customer satisfaction with their products. This has been accomplished.
4. Ten or more cooperating grass-fed beef producers will adopt new production practices based on designed studies, intensive production and economic data collection will be occur, and this information will be distributed across the grass-fed beef industry. This has been accomplished for one practice, and evaluation of the adoption of other marketing and management practices is being evaluated. Two producers have requested more complete financial analysis of their enterprise so costs and returns can be scrutinized more closely.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

1. The benchmark data that we sought from the survey instrument has been completed and analyzed. These data can provide a clear path to the educational efforts that are needed to improve the pasture-fed beef enterprise in the region.
2. producers have adopted more highly-managed grazing practices since land cost per unit of beef produced was shown to be a high cost to the enterprise.
3. Producers have used the information generated from the study to take a next step in enterprise financial analysis.
4. An educational forum among survey participants will allow these producers to evaluate the survey results as it pertains to their own operation, exchange ideas for management and marketing, and develop educational needs to follow.


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