Farmers Turn to Cattle Grazing to Improve Soil, Bottom Lines


by: Chris Hubbuch, La Crosse Tribune

COON VALLEY, Wis. — Rod Ofte likes to think of himself as a soil farmer. But unlike the proverbial subsistence farmer too poor for a hired hand, Ofte has help. And he makes money.

“These are my employees,” he says, gesturing to a herd of 58 black Angus cattle munching on fermented hay as they fertilize a hillside overlooking Spring Coulee Creek.

Once the grass turns green, they’ll resume their summer diet until they grow to market size — between 1,100 and 1,200 pounds. There’s no corn in their future.

Ofte is one of a small but growing number of farmers who are turning to managed grazing to increase earnings while also improving the land.

His cattle spend three to five days grazing in 2- to 4-acre paddocks. Before they can eat the grass down to the roots, he moves them to the next section. Each pasture gets 30 to 45 days to recover, ensuring lush and nutritious grass when the cattle return.

Advocates of managed grazing say that makes for healthier pasture, healthier soil — and a healthier bottom line.

Exponential growth

Allen Williams grew up on a farm in South Carolina, earned a PhD in animal genetics and spent 15 years in academia. These days he raises cattle on a 6,000-acre ranch in Mississippi.

He’s seen the grass-fed beef industry grow exponentially — from only about 100 producers generating $5 million in retail sales in 1998 to more than 3,500 farmers who last year sold $550 million worth of grass-fed beef — while not even meeting demand. Throw in imports, Williams said, and grass-fed beef is now a $2.5 billion industry.

Consumer research, Williams said, indicates pastured beef now accounts for 6 percent of the overall U.S. market. While that may seem small, it’s enough to attract the attention of major producers such as JBS — the largest meatpacker in the world, which last year announced it is launching a domestic grass-fed beef program this year in the U.S.

“It’s been growing at 25 to 30 percent annual growth rate,” Williams said. “Now with the entry of the big boys it’s going to grow exponentially.”

As president of Livestock Management Consultants, Williams advises producers up and down the food chain on how to successfully raise and market grass-fed livestock.

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Source: LaCrosse Tribune

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