What to consider before beginning in beef
by Enrico Villamaino
A joint county government initiative in New York recently hosted an online workshop for those looking to get their start in the beef farming business.
The webinar, “Beef 101,” took place July 18, presented by Gabrielle Wormuth, the dairy and livestock Extension specialist for Jefferson and Lewis counties. The seminar acted as an overview of the New York beef cattle industry for new and prospective beef cattle farmers alike.
“There are a number of kinds of cattle operations in the state,” said Wormuth. “We have cow operations that raise calves to sell as feeders, back grounders that grow out feeders to a heavier weight, feed lot operators that finish cattle to sell as beef, seed stock producers that furnish purebred replacements and specialty cattle markets that feature Kobe, kosher, grass-fed, and halal beef,” Wormuth said. She also mentioned show string operations, which raise cows for show ring purposes, are also in New York, which tend to be found more in the western part of the state.
The presentation covered a variety of topics, including breeds, feeding, watering, herd health, reproduction and genetics, finishing and marketing beef herds.
Wormuth listed the more common breeds of beef cattle, or “English breeds” – Angus, Hereford, Devon, Galloway and Shorthorn, with Angus and Hereford being by far the most prevalent. Though less common, there is still an important presence of niche, or “Continental,” breeds that have found a market in the region. These breeds include Charolais, Gelbveih, Main-Anjou, Simmental, Scottish Highlander, Long Horn and White Park.
When it comes to feeding, the industry standard is for a calf to add two pounds a day of normal weight gain until it has reached maturity. Wormuth said farmers should decide if their herd’s diet will focus more on forages or concentrates, and that striking the right balance is often the key to seeing optimal herd growth.
Watering the calves is equally important. “Your calves should be getting 15 gallons per day,” explained Wormuth. “If at all possible, their water source should be cleaned daily, since unclean water is a leading cause of diarrhea in calves.” Farmers should consider a float that can monitor the water levels of a drinking supply, to ensure that their herd is drinking enough. Finally, Wormuth said, “This is New York. It gets cold. If you don’t have a heated water vat, always make sure that the herd’s drinking supply is clear of ice.”
When it comes to herd health, Wormuth said that if there was one practice she could emphasize above all others, it is that preventative measures are the best measures. In order to stay on top of things, farmers must monitor the herd daily for any ill or lame animals, adhere to all vaccination protocols, keep a clean and safe environment for the herd, engage in proactive parasite control and maintain a strong veterinary-client relationship.
When it comes to breeding and genetics, Wormuth outlined the two main avenues farmers can take. “Artificial insemination is a popular choice. It allows a herd to breed with advanced genetics from the most elite breeding selection. It is sanitary and minimizes the chances of spreading disease or inbreeding.” AI is, she admitted, a more expensive route. Bull breeding is less expensive; however, Wormuth noted that the chances of inbreeding and the spread of disease is higher.
Knowing when your cattle are finished is key to being a successful beef farmer. Wormuth explained that identifying a finished beef animal depends on being able to properly identify briskets, ribs, flanks, trailheads, roper fat (in heifers), loins, eyes, width stance and dew claws. These will provide the best indicators for when a beef animal is finished.
Wormuth said farmers should tell their story when marketing their beef. “Consumers have become more interested in learning where their beef comes from and about the farmers. Take pictures of your family or how you care for the animals in order to have the consumer feel more connected to you and your business,” she said. She also emphasized the importance of utilizing social media and websites such as Meat Suite and North Star Food Hub to better market their products.
Earning their Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification is another step that cattle raisers can take to assure their consumers of the health of their herd. Wormuth told webinar participants that BQA is a nationally coordinated program providing standardized information of husbandry and accepted scientific best practices to raise cattle under optimal management and environmental conditions. BQA certification is available both in person and online.
Wormuth added that she is also charged with distributing free hand sanitizer and face coverings donated by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets. She encourages anyone in the area who might need a supply to contact her.
Before closing the meeting, Wormuth announced that her department will be presenting similar opportunities to learn about pasture management and meat processing.
To contact Gabrielle Wormuth, call 315.788.8450 ext. 278 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.