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Grass-based livestock group sets projects

By Staff | Nov 21, 2008

Farm News news editorAMES – Developing a specific marketing brand for grass-fed livestock, creating a “grazing school” and establishing a Web site that will offer producers of grazing animals sound research for sustainable animal production are three projects that a new livestock group developed Monday at Iowa State University.The newly formed Grass-Based Livestock Working Group met for its second time to focus on its initial projects with help from a $24,000 grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.Grass-based operations can include cattle, both beef and dairy, bison, goats, sheep, elk and other specialty meat animals that graze.Monday’s meeting was attended by four dozen people, about one-third from active livestock operations. The balance of those attending was primarily field specialists from ISU, the National Resource & Conservation Service and the LCSA. Included in this group were specialists in agronomy, water and soil quality, animal husbandry and meat production.The assembly divided into four groups to focus on projects designed to advance grass-fed animal production, marketing, environment and policy.The production group called for a “grazing school” especially for beginners and for livestock operations switching to grass-based feed management. They also called for data base established on a new Web site where seed stock operations and producers could find each other.The marketing group called for discussions with meat processors and marketers and attempts to begin marketing their products under a brand name, extolling the virtues of free-range animals fed either entirely on grass, or finished on grass.The environment group, which also affects grazing on wildlife habitat sought for a link on the GBLWG Web site, which would offer tips on managing grassland. The group is convinced that an educational effort can be made to convince those who own grass hunting acres, that controlled grazing can benefit wildlife habitat.The policy group is concerned that most farm programs are heavily weighed to benefit row crops and wants to begin educating lawmakers and the nation’s farm service agencies to divert more resources to grazing operations.The marketing and production groups also discussed the need to examine genetics of grazing animals to ensure feed efficiency on grass and to get a consistent flavor of the meat.The four committee will next prepare grant proposals by early-January for consideration of awards. The next meeting is set for February.Steve Reinart, of Glidden, said that “the only regenerative agriculture is grass-based. I prefer it over sustainability.”Grass-based is not necessarily an organic operation, but typically free-range except during winter months.Reinart runs a grass-fed beef and (red Angus) seed stock operation on 700 acres of pasture. The farm is completely seeded down to forages, he said, with various conservation practices such as shelterbelts, ponds and wetlands. His cattle rely solely on forages for nutrition.“Grass-based means that we can do this (operate profitably in agriculture) without a lot of machinery.”He told the group Monday that he was interested in developing “a wholistic approach to herd management.”Contact Larry Kershner at kersh@farm-news.com.

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