Grazing a variety of species for a specialty market

CE-MR-2-Grazin-Angus71481by Sally Colby

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

New York Farm Bureau 2015 Feast East promotes Ag education

CE-MR-2-FB-Feast11by Elizabeth A. Tomlin

A large turnout of folks attended New York Farm Bureau’s Feast East, which benefits agricultural education in New York State.

“Your support validates your understanding of the importance of agricultural education for consumers of all ages,” said New York Farm Bureau Foundation BOD Chairman/NYFB President Dean Norton in his message. “We must eliminate misconceptions and misinformation to allow agriculture to function effectively and efficiently, which benefits each and every one of us in our businesses and personal lives each and every day.”

Each year the Foundation hosts two fund-raising “Feasts”, one “East” and one “West”.

Sandra Prokop, Managing Director for the Foundation, spoke to attendees about ongoing projects and promotions of the Ag industry in schools, at fairs and through family farm events. A ‘Foundation Ag Fact’ school calendar has been distributed to more than 3,500 third-grade classrooms, where each day a fact is read to the students providing a “steady enhancement of the students’ knowledge” of the Ag industry.

Prokop also reported that more than 19,000 placemats have been developed through sponsors and grants, and distributed to schools. The placemats were “piloted” in several areas of New York State. “The pilot was extremely successful! They have information on them about agriculture and are a fun way for people to learn.”

The “Ag Master Kiosk Project” is also going strong through support of sponsors. This project uses an interactive game that presents visuals and facts in a 5 or 10 minute question and answer game format, in a variety of agricultural topics. “It’s a fun game,” said Prokop. “And people are coming away having learned something.” Prokop said the Kiosk is being continually updated so it doesn’t become “stale” and is available on different levels for different age groups.

Many other educational projects are taking place around New York State through the Foundation, including community programs, adopt-a-calf, orchard-to-table and field-to-fork programs and others.

Videos about agriculture have also been developed.

Prokop reported the NYFB Foundation for Agricultural Education, Inc. has received funding from the American Agriculturist Foundation, Inc. supporting the Foundation’s newest “pilot” program; “Food & Farm Experience,” which is being launched this year.

This is an annual, two-day, in-depth program, which will target a different audience each year, educating them on the production of different crops, with on-farm experiences.

“We are very excited to be able to put together the Food and Farm Experience,” remarked Prokop. “The funding from the American Agriculturist Foundation, allows us to plan and launch the program during its inaugural year.”

Prokop says for the Oct. 16-17 initial event, the invited attendees will be specifically chosen from the media. “Future attendees will come from other food influential business sectors. These could include high school guidance counselors, chefs, restaurateurs, packing/manufacturing industry leaders and many more.”

Applications are now being accepted and reviewed for participation in the Farm & Food Experience.

“As agriculture is essential to our lives, so is education essential to the future life of agriculture!” said Prokop.

For more information contact Prokop at SProkop@NYFB.org .

All in a day’s work

CN-MS-MR-3-DAYS-WORK_16471by Laura Rodley

Veterinarian Rose Paddock celebrates her first anniversary of working with Amherst based Dr. Frederick Hess on May 25. They treat only large animals, horses, cows, sheep and goats. “I attended calls with him for one day and then he kicked me out on my own, a little bit of a quick transition,” laughed Dr. Paddock. The 30-year old South Deerfield, MA resident was ready, having worked two years in Michigan after attending Cornell University as an undergrad, then Veterinarian School at Purdue University. “I love working with horses and cows and their owners and being outside,” she said “being a large animal vet is one of the most rewarding careers out there and I love it.” [Read more…]