Pasture Based Beef Finishing - Welcome!
Before the 1950's, beef cattle in Kentucky were typically born, raised, and finished on the same farm before being sent to a local butcher and then used in local communities and cities.This closed-loop system for the Commwealth changed when costs for grain and transportation decreased making finishing in large centralized locations more economical. Over the next couple of decades the finishing industry consolidated, and feedlots sprung up across the Great Plains and Midwest to finish the bulk of the nation's cattle.
But "the times they are a-changin'"1 and the cattle finishing industry is changing as well. Corn prices have doubled in the past five years, transportation costs have increased with rising fuel prices, and environmental laws are increasing the compliance costs of centralized feedlots. Bringing things full circle, consumers are increasingly moving toward locally produced food. Another group of consumers are demanding grass-finished beef believing that grass-finished beef has improved health benefits over conventionally raised beef.
All of these changes are creating opportunities for Kentucky farmers to raise and finish cattle on forages and to sell into local markets. Finishing may be using either a pure grass or forage based production system, or a grain-on-grass production system where the bulk of the animalís diet comes from grass but that is supplemented with grain. Both of these approaches are quite different from the standard industry practice of finishing cattle on an almost 100% grain diet.
The increasing demand for pasture-finished beef brings some significant producer challenges. Few Kentucky cattlemen have experience finishing beef cattle and bringing animals to a finishing weight in a reasonable timeframe is no easy task. It requires a fundamental understanding of how beef cattle mature as well as understanding the capabilities and limitations of various forages. Butchering can also be a challenge, with issues such as federal inspection, aging, and scheduling all being potential problems. Marketing may be the biggest obstacle for the cattle producer to selling grass-finished animals. Most livestock farmers currently sell into commodity markets where minimal interaction with buyers is needed; however, selling grass finished or grain-on-grass finished beef generally requires considerable interaction with potential customers. None of these challenges is insurmountable and should become easier with increased knowledge.
In response, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service has started holding workshops designed to help producers understand how to finish cattle on pasture-based systems, both pure grass and grain-on-grass.† Each workshop consists of two meetings per location.† The first meeting is primarily an overview of the grass-finishing process and covers the areas of production, marketing, and processing. The second meeting goes into implementation details of the various production and marketing systems.† It will be a hands-on workshop evaluating the different production and marketing systems from the standpoint of resource and skills requirements, potential profitability, and risk management. The Pasture Based Beef Finishing Website is part of these workshops and will provide pasture-finished publications and pasture-finished external web links as well.
1 Bob Dylan. From the song and title track of "The Times They Are A-Changin'". 1964.