by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
King’s Roaming Angus Farm, Cobleskill, NY, recently hosted the 2014 Eastern Region NY Beef Producers’ Summer Meeting, with farm owner/NYBPA Regional Director Andrew King, Eastern NY IPM Educator Ken Wise, and Cornell Cooperative Extension Resource Specialist Tom Gallagher speaking on industry issues.
Marketing beef was among the issues discussed and King stressed the importance of diversification to improve the potential of achieving profit.
“On our farm we raise primarily beef cattle, but we also have hogs that we bought as piglets,” said King. “We sell eggs, beef, pork and chicken. When you set up at the market, you need to sell more than just beef.”
King, a 7th generation farmer who raised his own chickens in the past, now buys live chickens from an Amish grower and then has them processed for resale. “He buys the chickens from the same place I would, he feeds them the same as I would. Everything is the same, but he does all of the work.” King also purchases lamb from a neighbor’s farm and dairy products from Cowbella Farm in Jefferson, adding to his list of products to sell.
King reported that many farmers are unable to keep up with the farmers’ markets due to the costs, competition and lost time. He said when you consider the time and cost that it takes to produce livestock — including veterinarian, feed and labor — they are losing money. “They don’t sell enough products at the market and they can’t afford to sit there.”
Each market requires a fee for space and in upstate New York competition is fierce because many farms are producing identical products. King is currently paying $70 for space at a market in Westchester County and requires at least six hours round-trip in travel time.
From a business model view of making money, King says the hours are too long and additionally, over the past few years, markets have become a social network for the individual towns, villages and cities. “They’re funding it on the backs of the vendors at the market, who are selling products.” He said that bread makers and people who sell jellies, etc. can send someone to set up at the market and if they net a profit of $100 at the end of the day, they know what their cost was because they have their receipts for what the ingredients cost. “Farmers have to work like crazy. We’re feeding an animal for two years, or whatever period of time, depending on what species you’re selling and hoping someone will show up to buy the product.” He also said many farmers at the markets do not have a “business mindset” and are not discouraged by taking a loss at the end of the day. “In some cases it has become a hobby for them.”
On the other hand King has had more success with direct marketing. “I think there is more profit potential there. The orders are all made in advance. They come, they pick up their product and they leave.”
Although his direct market involves an 8-hour round-trip to Brooklyn, he says, “The coolers are empty when I come home.”
Cornell Resource Specialist Tom Gallagher informed attendees about the Adirondack Grazers Cooperative. The Co-op has more orders than it can fill. “They are trying to recruit more farmers,” Gallagher reported. The Cooperative is located in Cambridge, NY and interested beef farmers can reach them at 518-409-5599.
Ken Wise, Eastern New York IPM Educator for Field Crops and Livestock discussed how fly pests affect animal health by affecting weight gain, transmitting disease causing agents, reducing grazing time and irritating animals.
“Face flies, horn flies and stable flies can all cause irritation,” said Wise. “This makes the cattle deal with the flies and spend less time feeding. Horn and stable flies are biting flies that cause pain.”
Wise reported that horn flies can take up to 20 blood meals daily and stay on the cattle except when laying their eggs in fresh, wet manure. “Use a threshold as a point at which you should control them,” said Wise. The threshold for horn flies is 100/cow.
“Face flies, while they do not bite, can vector pinkeye and at large numbers can cause irritation,” Wise said. “They only feed on secretions and will also feed on blood from wounds and can transplant pathogens.” The threshold for face flies is about 15/cow.
While horn flies and face flies remain outside of the barn, stable flies live inside of the barn where they bite the legs of the animals. “The best way to control them is by keeping the conditions clean!”
Wise discussed fly control, including naturally occurring biological organisms in the environment that feed on flies and fly pupae; cultural methods including sanitation, sticky tapes and ribbons and eliminating breeding sites. He also discussed and chemical control and resistance.
Wise described a “Walk-Through Trap” that has recently been put on the market and seems to have excellent results, although the cost may not be in the budget of local farmers. He also demonstrated several other fly traps for pasture and barnyard use.
During the pasture walk Wise pointed out dung beetles hard at work breaking down manure patties. “We have about 30 different species of dung beetles in New York State,” Wise reported. He explained how the dung beetles benefit both livestock and the pasture environment. Dung beetles compete with fly larvae, damage fly eggs and reduce the breeding ground for horn flies and face flies. Wise said that each manure pat can potentially produce more than 75 horn fly adults if left undisturbed and that fly populations are significantly decreased when dung beetle activity is present. Furthermore, the dung beetle’s tunneling behavior and activity enhances soil nutrient cycling and ability to retain moisture.
King demonstrated techniques he uses for intensive rotational grazing, which he says has been successful in his experience.
“Intensive rotational grazing definitely works — and works well!” King reported. “A given field will feed a given group of cattle 30-45 percent longer in my experience — if they are intensively grazed versus allowing full access. The issue with intensive grazing is it is time consuming. Cattle must be moved to new area every day and sometimes new paddock twice a day. It is much more critical that access to new grass is allowed on a timely basis.”