by Sally Colby
On a Monday afternoon, V. Mac Baldwin and his wife Peggy are busy filling orders for their premium Charolais beef. They chop blocks of dry ice, line shipping boxes with Styrofoam and check customers’ orders. They select the appropriate cuts of beef, add sufficient dry ice to ensure proper temperature until the box reaches the customer, and fill the spaces with newspaper. After rechecking the order, they seal and weigh the package, then set it aside for pickup by UPS.
The Baldwins, of Yancyville, NC, didn’t start out raising Charolais cattle, but they’re convinced that their choice to switch to the breed was the right thing to do. “We have a good set of genetics, they’re great milkers and they do well on grass,” said Baldwin. “Our customers love the fact that they’re lean cattle — our ground beef is typically 90/10. The cattle grade low choice or high select, and we can do that on grass.”
Although the Baldwins had been raising cattle since 1969, they discovered that when they introduced Charolais blood to their Angus herd via A.I., the combination worked well.
“We had 35 real good Charolais cows when we moved here,” said Baldwin as he talked about the farm’s present location. “We used A.I. and still have a strong A.I. program.” The Baldwins continued to grow their herd, which now includes 500+ cows and about 25 bulls. The herd is closed, with no outside genetics.
By 1995, the Baldwins were marketing Charolais steers to Laura’s Lean Beef, and were seeking the most economic and efficient way to finish steers on grass. After hearing R. L. Dalrymple, of Ardmore, OK, discuss the use of crabgrass for grazing, Baldwin was ready to try it.
“We started with crabgrass in the mid-90s, and we’re still sowing it,” said Baldwin, adding that he clears 50 to 60 acres of new ground each year. “We try to sow it for the first time in fall. We plant rye, ryegrass and crimson clover for winter grazing. Then in spring, we overseed with crabgrass.”
With this program, cattle are knee-deep in lush rye and ryegrass throughout the winter months. By June, there’s more grass than the cattle can graze. By early August, cattle are grazing on two crabgrass varieties — Red River and Quick-N-Big.
To maintain a reliable and convenient source of nutrient amendments for pastures, Baldwin uses manure from breeder poultry he raises on a portion of the farm.
Baldwin doesn’t mind the inevitable pigweed that shows up in pastures because the cows will eat it and it’s nutritious. He says cattle can be trained to eat a variety of weeds by gradually introducing each weed. “Use a commodity feed such as cottonseed hulls that cattle are familiar with,” he said, “then gradually add the weeds to the mix over a week or 10 days. Then wean the cattle off the commodity feed and only feed weeds. Then you can turn them back into pasture for grazing.”
In addition to farming 800 owned acres, the Baldwins lease 11 farm properties for 2,200 additional acres. Baldwin puts up a limited amount of hay each year in large round bales. In winter, cattle are supplemented with fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe and pineapple) from a nearby processing plant.
Prior to their first A.I. service, Baldwin inspects heifers to make sure they are structurally sound and suitable for breeding. Heifers are bred for spring calving that begins in early March. The rest of the cow herd calves from April through September. Cows calve on pasture at the home farm where Baldwin can monitor them closely. “We try to get the cows into small paddocks so we can get to the calves pretty quickly after they’re born,” said Baldwin. “If there’s a problem, they’re close and we can keep an eye on them.”
Once calves are bonded and eartagged, they’re moved to leased farms to continue grazing. Weaned calves weigh between 400 to 600 pounds when they’re put on pasture for finishing, and gain 2.5 to 3 pounds/day. Cattle reach 1,250 to 1,300 pounds in about 24 months, exclusively on pasture. The Baldwins use the services of certified USDA Halal processor, which Baldwin says adds more dimension to the market. Customers order directly from the Baldwin’s website, and can choose from a variety of packages. Their popular home delivery plan is designed so that customers can receive a certain amount of beef throughout the year on a calendar schedule.
Baldwin says customers find out about them through internet searches, but that word of mouth is also critical to their success. “If a product isn’t worthy, no one will tell someone else about it,” he said. “I call it ‘buzz.’”
Although many beef producers have found profit in selling to local restaurants, Baldwin has found that it’s better to stick with selling directly from the farm or through mail order. When customers order beef for birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, the Baldwins are happy to include an appropriate card with the order.
Baldwin is active in the North Carolina Forage and Grassland Council, and is past president of the American Forage and Grassland Council.
Visit Baldwin Beef on line at www.baldwingrassfedbeef.com
by Sally Colby