When Dan and Susan Gibson purchased a farm in Hudson, NY, it wasn’t their intent to operate it as a working farm.
“We weren’t farmers, said their son Keith Gibson. “We used it as a place to ride our four-wheelers.” The family started to attend livestock auctions, and eventually purchased cattle. “If you have five animals, it’s fun. If you have 10, it’s still fun. If you have 20, it’s work, and if there are 20, we figured we’d better make it 100 and do something with them.”
Grazin’ Angus Acres started as a seedstock operation, with the goal of developing purebred cattle with the best possible genetics. The home farm includes 450 acres, but the family works a total of 1,500 acres to ensure sufficient baleage and hay for the herd. Gibson relates that the seedstock operation wasn’t all that profitable, and when a family friend visited the farm and offered to purchase a beef animal that had been raised solely on grass, their thinking — and farm dynamic — changed.
After doing some research, the family switched their operation to strictly grass-fed. The Gibsons had built a herd with superior genetics for marbling, so the main change was to achieve that marbling on grass alone. The Gibsons culled and retained the healthiest females that successfully raised calves on grass. They paid close attention to which calves thrived and continued to grow on grass, and kept the best bull calves to use as herd sires for the 120 cows.
Although the seedstock herd was bred via A.I. for two calving periods, that has changed. “We were calving twice a year with the seedstock herd,” said Gibson. “We started out calving twice a year with the grass-fed, but about three years ago, we switched to one big calving period in spring.”
Gibson’s goal is to have all the calves on the ground before it gets too hot, then the youngsters have all summer to accompany the cows in rotational grazing. “The calves aren’t leaving the farm until they’re fully finished,” he said, “so when they get the hang of grazing with mom, it makes it a lot easier the next year when they’re weaned.”
Grazing season begins in early May and goes through October. Although moving cattle onto fresh grazing is dependent on weather and grass growth, the goal is for cows to repeat the grazing rotation every 14 days. “At the home farm, we have seven large continuous pastures that are a circuit around the entire farm,” said Gibson. “We use single-strand polywire to cordon off where we want them for that day.”
Throughout winter, cattle are fed baleage. “We used to use haylage, but last year we transitioned to only baleage,” said Gibson, adding that they make their own baleage and dry hay. “It’s really expensive to have custom work done, and it’s a scheduling nightmare. But the most important reason is that the cows do better with a longer strand of grass in baleage, so we do all baleage and dry hay.”
Pasture species include timothy, brome, red clover, white clover and three varieties of high-carbohydrate, high-sugar ryegrass. The rotation begins with cattle, then about three days after the cattle have been in a paddock, 800 laying hens go through. Gibson explains the hens consume the fly larvae in cattle manure. “The chickens also distribute the cow manure,” he said. “We don’t have to use a drag. The chickens leave behind their own nitrogen-rich droppings, and we can see a definite green-up after they go through.”
In addition to the laying hens, Grazin’ Angus Acres raises 1,000 meat birds in hoop houses that are moved to fresh grass every morning. “We can see a line of fertilization moving across the pasture,” said Gibson, adding that the farm has no need to use additional soil amendments. “We can see the stripes left by the hoop houses. It’s a lot of work but it pays off.”
While most beef cattle are processed at around 15 months, it takes about two and one half years to achieve the same amount of marbling in grass-fed animals. The family has established several outlets for finished meat products, including their own two restaurants — one in Hudson, NY, and one in the Tribeca section of New York City.
“We supply eggs, poultry and beef,” he said, “and we have a small herd of grass-fed Jerseys for dairy. The dairy farm is just over 40 acres with several large pastures, and the cows are rotated regularly after milking.” The dairy produces about 100 gallons/week during the off season, and about 300 to 400 gallons/week during the grazing season. The family has established a successful niche market for cream line milk, some of which goes to their restaurants, and they also make cheeses.
Although Gibson enjoys working with the beef herd, his favorite animals on the farm are the Tamworth pigs. The five sows and one boar are all kept on pasture, with individual paddocks for each sow at farrowing time. For the rest of the year, pigs rotate among the six pastures. Gibson says Tamworth pigs do well on grass, which cuts down on feed costs, and they also eat garden vegetables. Pigs are weaned at eight weeks, spend seven months on pasture, and are processed at 225 pounds.
Gibson’s parents are active on the farm throughout the year. Susan works at the Hudson restaurant, and also cares for the organic garden that supplies the restaurants. Dan acts as a facilitator, working to coordinate farm and product marketing along with land activities.
To learn more about Grazin’ Angus Acres, visit www.grazinburger.com