Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a . . . Happy New Year!

The close of 2007 is almost upon us, but as well the new beginnings of 2008 are around the corner. A new year to make new strides of improvement with our cattle and with ourselves. For me it has been one of the longest years I've lived in perhaps the last decade of my life. That may seem an odd thing to say, but it seems to me that the events of a given year in our lives sometimes have a sort of rush about them, or sometimes an agonizing delay.

I lost my Mom in early October, and I want to thank every one for the kind words of sympathy, and I pray and believe she is in God's Loving Care now and the stresses of the world are behind her. I also lost a cousin this summer and now this past week it seems I've lost my dog, Gabbie, who was a joy to be around, always a happy girl. She looks somewhat like a coyote, and I found out yesterday that many are being found around deer stands shot dead in their tracks. While I understand the need to control the population, I'm not so sure I agree anymore with this tactic.

I had the opportunity to see a humanely captured coyote napping in a trap in the back of a pickup yesterday. It will be taken to a hunting dog operation for use in training. I hope my Gabbie somehow has shared that same fate and someone will realize that she is a good dog, not a killing coyote. At the same time, I wonder, and perhaps hope just a bit, maybe hope really a whole lot, that the loss of Gabbie is my number '3' for this string of deaths in my family, and all will be well with those I love for many years to come.

That's an old saying I grew up with -- that death comes in threes. But I hope Gabbie is alive and well, and her disappearance is enough to count as my family's number '3'.

We had a really great annual meeting at Halliburton Farms in Bells this past month. Amazingly, a large number of people travelled great distances to attend. I don't think they were at all disappointed, and the level of enthusiasm and interest in the breed was contagious and heartening.

The speakers were both excellent and the attendees listened raptly and with great interest in their discussion. Perhaps best of all, everyone there got a bursting full large bag of what look to be perfect pecans from Morris and Jean Halliburton's very old and very prolific pecan trees. Lucky for me, Mike won the bidding as well on two bags of shelled ones which we are quite enjoying.

Not to be left out is the excellent catfish prepared by Morris' family. I could have eaten plate after plate if I'd just shut up long enough -- but the conversation was good and those who know me, know I get started talking and sort of lose all track of time and awareness of what's around -- though I did get a last piece from Dan Herrell sitting next to me -- sharing good catfish is something I consider tops on my list of good people traits.

Fortunately, Dan also let me have a warm cap he had extra with him, and on Sunday morning it was firmly on my head keeping me warm and dry as the sky fell out with a pounding rain and the air cooled down to high 30's, if not lower. Brrr. . . it was surely cold. Thanks Dan, and thanks to everyone who made the meeting a memorable one for all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Not Good News for Turkey Day

H5N1 confirmed at second U.K. site

By Alicia Karapetian on 11/20/2007 for

British officials on Monday announced that testing confirmed an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in turkeys at a second site in the United Kingdom.

The outbreak occurred at a farm deemed a "dangerous contact" premise, which was placed under restriction following the first outbreak last week. (See British AI outbreak highly pathogenic strain: official on, Nov. 14, 2007.)

Officials on Saturday completed the culling of birds on the first infected farm and those placed under restriction.

An almost 2-mile protection zone has been established around the second site, and the existing surveillance zone has been extended.

British AI outbreak highly pathogenic strain: official
By Alicia Karapetian on 11/14/2007 for

British government officials on Tuesday announced that confirmatory tests showed an avian influenza outbreak on a turkey farm in eastern England was the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.

In response, the some 5,000 turkeys, 1,000 ducks and 400 geese on the farm will be culled, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn told British Parliament in prepared remarks Tuesday.

"The health and safety of those involved in the operations are the priority, and a strict approach is being taken," she said. "All workers on the premises already potentially exposed to infection have been given Tamiflu."

The government also has restricted poultry movement, instituting an almost 2-mile protection zone and an approximately 6-mile-wide surveillance area.

Benn's department was informed of a large number of turkey deaths at the farm Sunday. Preliminary tests conducted Monday showed the presence of the H5 strain, and further testing, which revealed the strain was H5N1, was completed Tuesday.

The United Kingdom last faced an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in February when 159,000 turkeys were culled at a Bernard Matthews farm.

Check out this Day-After-Thanksgiving Stew Recipe

This sounds like an really tasty recipe for a Mexican style beef stew provided this week to National Cattlemen's Beef Association members. Check out those ingredients and add them to your grocery list, sounds like a winning combination of seasonings. For the less adventurous, a good old-fashioned soup bowl should work just fine. . . .

Easy Day-After-Thanksgiving Stew

Wondering what to serve the day after Thanksgiving to a houseful of hungry family looking for an encore? Whip up hearty Mexican Beef Stew to satisfy those day-after stomach grumblings!

Mexican Beef Soup in Tortilla Bowls

Prep time: 25 minutes
1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 large onion, cut lengthwise in half and cut crosswise into thin slices
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cans (10-1/2 ounces each) beef consommé
1 can (15-1/4 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
1 cup water
6 medium (8 inches) flour tortillas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro


Heat Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add ground beef and onion; brown 4 to 5 minutes, breaking beef up into 3/4-inch crumbles. Pour off drippings. Season beef with cumin and pepper.
Stir consommé, corn, tomatoes and water into beef. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes.
Meanwhile gently press tortillas into 6 individual microwave-safe (2-cup) soup bowls. Microwave, 3 bowls at a time, on HIGH 5 to 6 minutes or until tortillas are slightly crisp, rotating and rearranging cups halfway.
Stir cilantro into soup; spoon soup into tortilla bowls. Garnish as desired; serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 478 calories; 19 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 8 g monounsaturated fat); 76 mg cholesterol; 1102 mg sodium; 40 g carbohydrate; 2.6 g fiber; 34 g protein; 5.6 mg niacin; 0.4 mg vitamin B6; 2.4 mcg vitamin B12; 4.6 mg iron; 20.8 mcg selenium; 5.8 mg zinc

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Traditional Breed Beef (British White) and Pork in Demand in England

Traditional Breed Beef and Pork in Demand

(Excerpt - Please follow the link above for the full text of the article)

“Shaun bought the British White cattle because they were a traditional breed and he felt there would be a market for them. Also, at the time he was running the farm on his own and the cattle are naturally-polled and are easily handled.

“At the time the breed was classified rare but now the Rare Breeds’ Survival Trust has them on the minority list with around 1,500 breeding females in the country.

“The Middle White pigs are an endangered breed and the Saddlebacks which came last year are classified as at Risk by the Rare breeds Survival Trust.”

British White cattle at
Savin Hill

All Cattle born at Savin Hill are finished on the farm at between 24 to 30 months old and such has been the demand for the meat that the Partingtons have developed good relationships with other British White breeders around the country who now supply them with finished animals to the same standards as their own.

“We were unable to cope with the demand for beef with our own cattle and by taking them off other breeders this has encouraged people either to expand their herds or to go into the breed.

“Our over-riding philosophy with the business is about pure traditional native breeds and sustainably farming in this country which is something that a lot of people are struggling to do in the current climate of change.

“By us creating a market for a quality product, consumers can support these breeds and hopefully encourage sufficient numbers of the animals and make it viable to farm them in this country.”

With the cattle taking at least three years to produce (from conception to the final cuts of quality meat), the small acreage at Savin Hill has not been able to cope with the demand, but the faster turn-around time for the pigs has enabled them to develop this side of the meat business. “We have won several awards for our Middle White home-produced pork which is all born, bred and reared on our farm”. Michelle and Shaun Partington
with Middle White piglets

Pigs are eight to 10 months old at finishing with the Middle Whites weighing 65-80kg and the Saddlebacks will be 85kg-plus.

Meat has always been sold direct to get the best price through farmers’ markets and fine food fairs in Lancashire and the Manchester area and now there is an increasing demand for wholesale meat direct to restaurants which Michelle plans to develop.

On average, one head of Savin Hill's cattle is put through the system each month but this can rise to up to 10 during November and December when other breeders help meet the demand.

A further six pigs on average are used each week.

Michelle’s partner Paul Etherington, who has 20 years’ experience as a butcher, cuts the meat in the on-farm premises to include shin, skirt, loins, legs and belly.

Quality ready-prepared meats are also sold such as loin of pork stuffed with basil and fresh sage, pork fillets wrapped in pancetta, stuffed belly pork with apricot and ginger.

The Saddlebacks are used for bacon and their trim is used in the sausages which have around a 90 per cent meat content. They are made without preservatives or artificial flavourings and colourings.

Meat from the Middle Whites, a traditional pork pig, will continue to be used for the fresh pork cuts and the trim will go into speciality pies including Pork and Lyth Valley Damson.

“We all love to eat good food – it’s an important thing for us. My mum’s side of the family were in farming. Her grand-parents used to sell eggs and milk on Blackburn market.

“We have been brought up to think that quality food is important. These days there are too many flavour enhancers, artificial preservatives and colourings being used in foods,” says Michelle, who enjoys being able to talk to her customers about what is in their products and how the meats are naturally-reared.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A British White Bull Gets Himself in a Bit of Jam

Unfortunately, google blogger is having problems with photos posting, so this pic of JWest's Mazarati in quite a pickle is just an X on your screen most likely.
This picture was Sunday a week ago today, and it was, as is often the case, a weekend just as busy as a week day. Mazarati, better known by the nickname Mo, had made his way along a puzzling course in the hay barn, until he'd reached a dead end -- much like a maze meant for humans that takes many attempts to find the right course out. Unlike a person, Mo couldn't figure out that if he just took those same steps backwards he would be able to find his way back to the beginning. It could have been a disaster, fortunately, he was not injured.

Amazingly, he was quite calm about the whole ordeal; though his new owner, Carol Diodene, would agree with me that he wasn't exactly happy -- his eyes were quite a bit rolled back as tried to look up at us. The first question a cattle rancher would be sure to be asking themself right now is how did he gain access to the hay barn. Well, that would be my fault; and, yes, I am generally a stickler about those gates always being secured even if you are quite sure you'll go right back through that gate within minutes. But, the day before I obviously failed to do just that.

Another herd bull, King Cole, was headed to his new home in the Canton area on Saturday morning, and I opened the hay barn to get a hefty handful of alfalfa droppings from the floor of the barn to use to coax him on into the pens -- and I didn't go back and close the gate, it was merely pushed together, and thus a perfect trap for an unsuspecting cow or bull with access to the corral that adjoins the hay barn. And of course Mo and the two bred heifers leaving for Ocala, Florida had access.

I can't tell you how happy I was to see Mo stroll out of that hay barn with no obvious injury from his ordeal. Two 16' high stacks of 4x4x8 alfalfa bales had to be removed to give him a way out. With all but the bottom row removed, Gentle Mo didn't lunge at the open space as I feared he might -- I could see how easy it would be for him to now try to climb over that remaining 4 foot high bale, but he didn't. Perhaps it was because Carol and I were patting him on the head and telling him to just wait a bit longer, or perhaps it's because he is a British White and his calm disposition saved his life from serious injury while trapped and during his release.

Most amazing perhaps is that Mo didn't bolt out into the corral following his release. He merely strolled and inexplicably stopped to munch on one of the alfalfa bales that had been removed to give him passage out. Carol was great through the whole ordeal, and convinced that this was surely a sign that Mo was meant to join her farm in Ocala, and I think he was as well. He arrived safely at his new home the following day, along with a pot load of great females that Carol found at the British White and Lowline auction in Henderson that weekend.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Calf Birth Weight - Actual versus Tape Measure

A Truly 'laboring' Labor Day weekend!

My fall calving got started this past few days, and because one of the calves born was so very small I decided to try out a set of old bathroom scales that have a big platform and an elevated dial with big numbers for viewing weight results. This little heifer calf was a surprise finding on August 30th when the Animal Compassion Foundation was having another visit with my herd. Anne was thinking on her feet and volunteered her belt to use to measure the newborn and a pen to mark the spot. She was obviously a very little girl, and I ventured the guess that she couldn't weight more than 45 pounds.

We got back to the house and measured Anne's belt and found that she had measured 24 1/2 inches around, and it was a good snug belt measure around her heart girth, the little heifer was totally interested and cooperative. I figured the belt measure probably, because it was a thick leather belt, added some length to the measurement, and later on that evening I went out and measured her again with my tape, and I measured her at 24 inches. While 24 inches got her closer to the mark when you use the tape conversion chart in the Breeder's Guide, I still wasn't convinced that her actual weight was 51 pounds, which is what you get when you use the 4.5 pound increments to back into an off the chart 24 inch heart girth.

The following day I decided to try out my old scales on this little heifer. I found a light weight section of that stick on the floor tile type stuff in the barn, and decided that would work fine. It was nice and sturdy, yet was very manageable. I put the section of floor tile down on the ground, put the scales on my new weighing platform, and weighed her and myself twice for good measure. She was an exact 40 pound little heifer. The difference of 11 pounds is very significant, that is over a 25% error in birth weight estimation.

I decided to go through this same process with each of my newborns. Besides this little heifer, I had four other calves born August 30th through Sept. 2nd. Of those three of them were cooperative, the 27 1/2 inch bull calf born on August 30 to Hill's Dana already found it too much grand fun to scamper about for me pick him and get an actual weight.

August 31st a heifer calf was born to MsRae. She measured 26 inches, and per the tape conversion chart should have weighed 60 pounds, but in fact she weighed more! She had an actual weight of 65 pounds. I also had Mike confirm these same results himself, and it was an accurate weight of 65 pounds -- and she is pictured here.

September 1st a bull calf was born to Madonna (and I actually happened to be out at pasture hanging around in the Ranger and she calved about 40 feet away from me!). This bull calf measured 26 1/4 inches, and had an actual weight of 60 pounds. So in this instance the tape conversion to weight was quite acceptably accurate, and again I had Mike duplicate the weighing process for confirmation.

Then on the afternoon of September 2nd, Polly (pictured here to the right)decided it was time to calve. This calving went on for a bit too long for my comfort, I even called to try to reach a vet just in case I had a problem on my hands. But in between rushing to the house and calling the vet and leaving a message of impending problems, she had delivered a healthy bull calf. (So of course I rushed back to the house and left another message for the vet that all was well!) I tape measured this newborn at a whopping 27 1/2 inches, and had Mike confirm the tape measurement as well this time. We both weighed the little guy and he weighed all of 60 pounds. But, per the tape conversion he should have weighed about 67 pounds -- a greater than 10% error, which in this business is a highly material error.

So what does all this mean to the breeder who relies on tape measure conversion to estimate weight? It means you probably ought to be getting some actual weights as well until, or if, you feel comfortable visually estimating weight and understanding how the tape should perhaps be adjusted for what your eyes tell you.

As well, it could be that I don't handle the tape measure properly. With that in mind, if I haven't been pulling the tape snugly enough around the heart girth then I have a whole lot of historical birth weights that are over-estimated. However, the results from the little study shown here indicate the tape can create error both on the high and low side. I am going to continue to both use a tape measure for weight and get an actual weight with the remainder of my fall calves to get a sense of the average error rate as well as try to understand why.

Earlier I mentioned that Polly (who is also a first calf heifer) was having a more lengthy birth than I like to see. She actually was effectively yelling with her efforts, so I was even more alarmed. It's very unusual for any of my cattle to get vocal over calving. Polly's bull calf measured 27 1/2 inches, yet it only weighed 60 pounds. So, what was structurally different in Polly's bull versus Madonna's (also a first calf heifer) bull that would create an error using a tape measure? To my eye he has wider shoulders and is thicker through the heart girth, a deeper little guy -- yet at a glance looks about the same size/stature as Madonna's 26 1/4 inch bull. So obviously the confirmation of the newborn has a great impact on using a tape measure for an accurate birth weight.

MsRae's heifer is an example of the error to the light side using a tape measure. She weighed a full five pounds more than the tape measured estimate. Why? Perhaps because she has good balance all over, her dam certainly does. How does the tape measure consider a deep evenly made newborn that extends on through to the hind quarters? I don't think it can.

Regardless, I'll continue this small study of tape versus actual weight and see what the final results tell me about my own errors in tape measuring as well as errors due to the actual structure of the calf, and periodically update those results here on my blog.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

British White Beef Cattle - Environmental and Nutritional Effects on Beef Tenderness, Marbling and Overall Palatibility

J.West's Big Mac, British White bull calf sired by Elvis
Beef calves fed on 100% high concentrate grain from weaning to finish in a feedlot environment results in the least desirable beef eating experience for the American consumer, and the least desirable muscle to bone ratio in the final carcass, which directly impacts the end revenues of the beef industry. Conventional high concentrate grain feeding, from the zero pasture stocker phase on through to the continued high concentrate feedlot and finish of beef calves, is often perceived or touted as the only course of feeding that will result in tender, well-marbled beef in an animal genetically predisposed to marble well. The result of a 2002 study funded by Beef Checkoff dollars and conducted with the oversight of the Texas Beef Council suggests that is not the reality.

With the current corn ethanol craze and subsequent corn production targeted to fuel the new corn ethanol market, many cow/calf operations are re-evaluating the cost/benefit of their programs. The majority of cow/calf operations in the United States that provide beef to the American consumer are small shops bringing fifty or fewer beef calves to the local market annually. Browsing through this Texas Beef Council study conducted by Texas A&M one realizes that corn, or any grain, can be largely side-stepped for the majority of the beef calves life when there is ample grass and legume pasture available.

While this study has a bit of age on it, it remains the only study sponsored by the Texas Beef Council with the goal of evaluating various backgrounding scenarios and their impact on Tenderness, Marbling, Palatability, and other sensory factors involved in the enjoyment of a beef steak. The eight study groups were located in three distinct geographical areas of Texas in the interest of evaluating the impact of environment on the final carcass attributes. The East Texas studies conducted in Overton, Texas out-performed the other groups in many key areas: finish weight, ribeye area, and backfat thickness.   

This 2002 Texas A&M conducted study evaluated eight different pasturing and feeding regimens to try and understand nutritional and environmental factors that impact variability in Texas beef. While the stated focus was primarily carcass tenderness, the results provided insight into all the desirable primary attributes of beef. Of the eight study groups, the "McGregor-Calf Fed" (MCF) group receiving high concentrated grain rations from weaning to harvest scored the poorest in many key areas -- but perhaps most surprising was the detrimental impact on ribeye area, backfat, and finish weight. All of these attributes were noticeably deficient in the MCF group in comparison to the Overton/East Texas and Uvalde/South Texas study groups which were backgrounded on pasture and finished the final approximately 4 months on high grain concentrate -- with the East Texas study groups providing significantly superior results overall.
J.West's Elvis, British White Bull

There are two major factors in a consumers enjoyment of beef -- Tenderness and Marbling. The primary stated focus of this Texas Beef Council study was carcass Tenderness. While all study groups were within an immaterial range of one another for initial Tenderness scoring, the MCF high concentrate (post-weaning to finish)group had the actual least tender carcass upon initial harvest than any of the other study groups.
After 14 days of aging the Tenderness scores were comparable across all study groups.

What is significantly missing from this reported study is the sire parentage of the many groups. We are told that Half-blood Bos indicus (Brahman)-influenced steers raised at the Agricultural Research Center, Texas Agriculture Experiment Station in McGregor, Texas were used in this study to understand the impact of environment (south, east and central Texas) and nutrition (low versus high grain supplementation) immediately post-weaning and prior to feedlot feeding on the growth, composition and eating characteristics of beef, but we are not told if the steers in all study groups were half-siblings, sired by the same bull. This is critical information, inexplicably withheld, for purposes of evaluation of the final, very comparable, results across the board for Tenderness and Marbling.  

At the time of this 2002 study the calcium dependent protease inhibitor, calpistatin, had been identified as a key component present in a live animal that greatly increases that animals genetic potential to express Tenderness in the final carcass product. Today, a cattle rancher can pull a few tail hairs and send them off for genetic testing to determine whether his prize bull or cow has the genetics to potentially produce a tender as well as an optimal marbled carcass in their offspring. This genetic testing has become an invaluable tool for seedstock producers seeking to create key bulls and cows that will produce offspring that will excel in the commercial beef market for Tenderness and Marbling.

However, despite this stated fore-knowledge of the impact of Calpistatin, one of two key genetic attributes for Tenderness known today in the year 2007, the results of this study cloud the impact of Calpistatin on the study results. One is left with the sense that the genetic comparability of the steers evaluated, which is a stated parameter of the test, is the driving reason for the comparability of carcass Tenderness scores. While the study addresses and theoretically evaluates the Calpistatin in the resulting beef carcasses, it mysteriously couches the tested Calpistatin results in non-layman gibberish and declines to even address its existence or significance in the final narrative summation of results -- it is found only in the summation charting. As all carcasses resulting from this study had comparable Tenderness scores via Warner Bratzler Shear Force measures, it may be that the presence or absence of the identified Calpistatin gene had no material impact on actual carcass Tenderness.
J.West's Blossum, El Presidente sired British White Heifer

Perhaps of even greater interest are the Marbling scores of the study groups. Despite backgrounding via rotational or continuous grazing in either North, South, or East Texas -- or no grazing as is the case with the high grain concentrate from weaning to finish MCF group -- marbling scores in all study groups were not materially different. However, the MCF group had significantly higher percentage carcass fat scores over all other groups, which is undesirable in today’s market and had no additive impact on actual Marbling scores of the final beef product compared to the others, and thus no positive impact on the final value of the beef carcass -- the excess fat is waste.

Of major importance to the beef cattle producer would be the expense of the constant level of "high concentrate" grain feed from weaning to finish of the McGregor-Calf Fed (MCF) group -- which had the lightest finish weight, and as well the highest fat percentage of the harvested carcass weights. While the MCF group had comparable marbling to the other groups, the higher fat level/percentage to accomplish this feat is essentially money down the drain for packing shops such as Cargill or Smith & Company, as well as for the feeder and cow/calf producer who so costly and conscientiously kept that supplemental "high concentrate" grain at the ready in their post weaning/backgrounding phase of production that they perceive should result in their highest profit at the local auction barn or via a direct order buyer.

Today, beef cattle producers are faced with increasing costs of corn. If the corn ethanol craze continues unabated in the coming years, the ease and value of shoveling corn at a growing calf will be re-evaluated for the ultimate financial gain to the beef producer, stocker, and finisher. The use of genetic testing for inherent ability to produce a Tender and well Marbled carcass will become one of increasing importance as reflected in the results of this Texas Beef Council sponsored study.
The day is likely well in hand when the small beef producer, the primary entity that grows our beef in America, must evaluate the financial pros and cons of raising their calves on expensive corn or other sundry grain mixes, or the less costly raising of their calves on pasture grasses and pasture legumes that provide both the major beef packing houses and the American consumer with an end product that has less fat and comparable to greater muscle, marbling, and tenderness on a higher nutritional plane than that of 100% grain fed and finished beef. 

The small shop beef producer who raises a high end, healthy product has only one primary venue for realizing the value that should be derived from their superior beef product, and that is the direct marketing of wholes, halves, splits, or pre-packaged cuts of their beef. While this is measurably a quite profitable venue, there remains the fact that many beef consumers have neither the time, the space, or perhaps the funds to purchase healthy, clean beef in bulk in this manner. It will be the small shop grocery markets that will on the front end provide a venue for the sale on a larger scale of this superior healthy beef product.

Of perhaps even greater difficulty to the small shop grassfed beef producer, at least in this part of Southeast Texas, is finding an abattoir that is either State or USDA licensed. They are as few and far between as a cow having triplets. So a rancher producing healthy grassfed beef for the local Southeast Texas market has no retail venue to market that beef -- they are forced to sell it on the basis of hanging weight at a less than desirable slaughterhouse to their customers. Many times it matters not how much the need for aging, whether grain finished or grass finished, is important to the optimal result for the ranchers' customers. If the person in charge in the local butcher shop doesn't wish to age a carcass, or doesn't think/understand that it serves a purpose anyway, the customer gets the news when they arrive to pick up their beef --- and worse, the beef producer ultimately hears from an unhappy customer.

Maybe it is time for apartment architects, home architects, to begin to consider in their designs the presence of a large deep freeze as an integral part of home design. With this in place, more consumers who desire a healthier beef product will have the space readily at hand to store for a season the beef they wish for themselves and their family to consume as a staple in their diet.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Animal Compassion Foundation Spends a Day with an East Texas Herd of British White Beef Cattle

Pictured here is Dr. Frances Flower, an extraordinary young lady with a passion for the humane treatment of animals. Frances hales from England, and is a Research Associate with The Animal Compassion Foundation™, a non-profit organization dedicated to discovering and sharing knowledge to improve the lives of farm animals. Founded in 2005, the Foundation supports a worldwide network of producers and researchers, seeks to learn and share best practices, and leads and funds on-farm research and producer workshops. Were it not for a pair of dead batteries! I would be sharing photos with you of Frances and my cattle. The charming photo above was taken when Frances was working with dairy cows at UBC in Canada, a research project involving the impact of weaning age on dairy cows and their calves.

Several weeks ago Frances visited the ranch and we spent hours walking amongst my friendly British White cattle and visiting about the goals and programs taking shape within the Foundation. My cows were on their best behaviour, and I was pleased to see that Frances was impressed with both their beauty and their docile nature, which are of course my two favorite British White traits. I have to say that while the cattle were quietly contented, I found myself quite animated by the conversation and interest of Frances in both my cattle and my thoughts and practices on raising cattle here at the ranch, and believe I fairly wore her out with all my yakking. Frances is a very engaging and intelligent young lady that would make any parent proud, and her passion and tenacity of spirit are certainly an asset to this newly formed Foundation that is a non-profit subsidiary of Whole Foods Market based out of Austin, Texas.

The Animal Compassion Foundation was established by Whole Foods Market as a natural progression of the Company's efforts to help producers evolve their practices for raising farm animals naturally and humanely. The launch of the Animal Compassion Foundation parallels the development of Whole Foods Market's enhanced species-specific Animal Compassionate Standards.

Whole Foods Market is making a concerted effort to provide a market for locally produced beef -- but not just 'beef'. The demand for humanely raised beef, and for grass/forage raised beef, is a blooming niche market. American consumers are becoming more educated on the process that brings that beef steak to the glass case at the meat counter, and they are making purchase decisions based on that knowledge. It is that 'process' which can create great variability in the taste, tenderness, and perhaps most importantly -- the nutritional aspects of consuming beef.

Humanely treated beef cattle are much more likely to provide a tender carcass. This is supported by many studies that indicate docile steers well out score their more volatile peers who bullet themselves into and out of a head gate rather than taking a stroll to see what its all about at the other end of the alley. Nutritionally, grass/forage raised and finished beef far outscores the 100% grain and/or other weird stuff raised and finished feedlot beef -- which is what is found in the majority of supermarkets in the United States.

If you aren't familiar with the superior nutrition of grass/forage raised and finished beef -- I encourage you to check it out. You may find that a T-Bone steak from a grass fed steer isn't going to hurt your cholesterol and will provide you with a plethora of beneficial anti-oxidants. And if that beef steak originated with a gentle breed of cattle such as British White, then you've got a good shot at both a tender and a healthy eating experience.

The Animal Compassion Foundation™ provides educational workshops for farmers and ranchers. A recent workshop was Grazing Colorado Grass, which was held in June at a Colorado Whole Foods Market location with Harvey Sprock, Rangeland Management Specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA), as the primary speaker. Whether you are a farmer, or an interested consumer, I would encourage you to visit the web site of the Foundation and keep an eye out for upcoming workshops in your area.

American Veal Association - Confinement Phase-Out or Fake-Out?

I have to wonder what kind of folks actually sit on the Board of the American Veal Association, what kind of folks it takes to actually stick a baby calf in a crate and feed it for early slaughter, and not just one every now and then -- but rather there are multitudes of mewling calves confinement crated and fed every day by humans as a matter of the course of their daily business life. It's one of those things I rarely let my mind wonder about or ponder too long. It makes my stomach hurt, and my eyes glare at unknown culprits out there sharing the same blue sky I'm looking at right now.

While one might be inclined to give a hearty slap on the back to the American Veal Associations baby (calf) step to bring an end to the crating of calves for veal production, I'd much rather give them an extra kick in the pants to see if perhaps they might cut that absurd ten year phase-out by at least half.

Further, a ten year phase-out of the crating of calves for veal production is hugely, and might I say strangely, at odds with those one would assume are it's most influential members. As per the following article ". . .considering that the nation's largest veal producers have already committed to a two-year phaseout. . ." Those two widely varying positions - by essentially the same parties- do not sit well together, smells just a little rancid.

HSUS: Statement On American Veal Association’s Veal Crate Announcement

WASHINGTON (August 6, 2007)—Humane Society of the United States President and CEO Wayne Pacelle released the following statement:

“The Humane Society of the United States welcomes the news that the American Veal Association has recommended that the confinement of calves in crates should come to an end. For years, the humane community in the United States has said that these crates are inhumane and unnecessary. We are pleased that the industry now agrees and is taking some steps to phase out this confinement system. Last November, Arizona voters approved a ballot measure to outlaw veal crates.

The American Veal Association's recommended ten-year phaseout is a long time, especially considering that the nation's largest veal producers have already committed to a two-year phaseout, but it is a step in the right direction that further makes the writing on the wall clear: Veal crates are too cruel and inhumane even for the veal industry to continue defending.”

Monday, June 18, 2007

Great Article for Guidance on Grass Genetics in Cattle and Producing superior Grassfed Beef

Jolley: Five Minutes With Ridge Shinn

Q. Thousands of cattlemen read What would you like to say to them?

A. I’d like to encourage those folks that love their land, their family, their lifestyle and their cattle to dig in and learn about 100% grass-fed cattle. The opportunity for profitability and health is enormous and as always the early bird gets the worm.

Ridge Shinn is a one man conglomerate - Hardwick Beef, Bakewell Reproductive Center, even a home building company. It must be that old, New England, Calvinistic work ethic that’s been buried deep within his bones. You might say he’s as genetically predisposed to hard work as his cattle are to giving up gourmet cuts of beef.

He’s a grass farmer, an avid advocate of sustainable agriculture and one of the leading experts on getting gourmet beef from grass-fed cattle. What he’s managed to do is take a product that has been uneven in quality and elevate it to a status that makes foodies drool and gourmet magazines seek him out. How many ranchers do you know that are quoted in Wine Spectator and Food & Wine magazines? And whose products are described with the same effervescent terms used for hundred dollar a bottle wines?

Have we gone from Clara Peller searching for “the beef” at Wendy’s to finding it in the most upscale of institutions? Has beef attained the status of a Joseph Phelps 2000 Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon which Wine Advocate describes this way: "The 2000 Insignia reveals a smoky, rich, cassis characteristic, medium to full body, and an open-knit, lush, generous style . . . Expansive, fleshy and seductive, it should drink well for 15–16 years."

Can we really talk about a t-bone steak that way? Let’s talk with Ridge Shinn and find out.

Q. How did you get into the cattle business?

A. I started milking cows in the 1970’s as a herdsman on a typical New England dairy (100 cows). Spent 20 years in the building business and returned to cattle when I started the New England Livestock Alliance (NELA) in 2001. NELA’s core business was figuring out how to finish and sell 100% grass-fed beef.

Q. You’re involved in Hardwick Beef, the Bakewell Reproductive Center and a home-building company called Hardwick Post and Beam. It makes for a busy daily schedule. When you do get a little free time, what do you do?

A. When I do have spare time I generally spend it on my farm. I have a home farm and lease a 150 acre farm in Hardwick and have a herd of Devon cattle there. It takes any spare time I can find.

Q. The Bakewell Reproductive Center is a cooperative venture with Gearld Fry that aims to build a “grass-based bovine gene pool that produces gourmet beef.” You’ve been quoted in Wine Spectator and Food & Wine magazines, two publications aimed squarely at the gourmet crowd, so you must be making some progress. Can you define gourmet beef for me and tell me what you’ve done to build a gene pool that meets your standards?

A. Gourmet beef is beef that is tender and tasty. All beef should be gourmet. Over the years in its quest for volume, the cattle industry lost sight of quality. The industry rewards pounds of beef and size of frame. The result is lower quality (read leaner or less marbled) and tougher beef. The continental breeds that were imported to increase size and volume brought with them lack of marling and slightly tougher beef. In a quest for gourmet beef, one always returns to the “British Breeds”. Historically they had the best fat and tenderness.

Wine Spectator and many others say our beef has a “more robust flavor”. What most people find remarkable is that we can produce beef that is well marbled and tender on a grass-only diet. Visit our web site ( to see the results of testing done on our meat at Clemson University‘s meat lab. In the first sample, the meat was 87% choice or better and the tenderness values measured by the Warner-Bratzler shear test were better than restaurant quality (average of 3.2 KG of force versus 4.1KG of force for restaurant quality). Remember this is a grass only diet and the cattle tested were steers produced by our Rotokawa® Devon bulls bred to commercial Angus mother cows.

Bakewell Repro imported 12 females from the Rotokawa® Devon herd in NZ and semen from Rotokawa® Devon bulls. Bakewell has harvested embryos and started new herds of Devon cattle in Wyoming, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and a number of herds in the Northeast. Using semen from these bulls on commercial cattle is the quickest way to move toward a set of cattle that thrive on grass. Every cattleman and woman has some cattle in their herd that will work on a grass-only diet-the challenge is to evaluate the herd and then concentrate on the breeding of these cows.

Q. At a time when ‘Angus’ has been marketed as the best source of top quality beef, you’re raising Devons, an old English breed. What advantages do you see in Devon cattle?

A. Angus was a premier breed for top quality beef. I use the past tense because today the “Angus” breed has been polluted by many other breeds. Because black covers all sins, any cattle bred to Angus come out black-indeed the Rotokawa® Devon cross Angus steers are black unless the mother cow has a red Angus gene. Even the Certified Angus Beef programs will admit that quality has gone down hill since it’s hey day. Recently, CAB announced they would not accept any carcasses over 1000 pounds. I am positive that none of the “good old Angus premium beef” came in a 1000 pound Hot Carcass. The success of the CAB marketing and the quality of the beef created tremendous demand and the breed made the mistake of accepting cross bred black cattle into the registry which diluted the original quality. It’s a sad story of a breed’s popularity being its undoing.

The North Devon or Red Devon breed fell out of favor in the ramp up of all other breeds to become “feedlot friendly” cattle. The Devon breeds only crime is that it is too easy-fleshing-they get fat too fast. The feed lot does not want this trait and it won’t work on the feedlot-the Devon will go to yield grade five or six in ninety days on full feed. But if your production method is grass-only you want an easy feeder that is easy fleshing that will get fat on grass. The breed also was never bred for frame size so most of the Red Devon cattle are still moderate in height (48” to 50”) a trait that correlates to early maturity and function on grass.

The Devon historically was known as the butcher’s breed and has always had an excellent meat to bone ratio because of its fine dense bone. When it was popular in the 1960’s and 70’s it won a great share of the carcass competitions they were placed in. Fortunately the breed changed little in the feedlot years and therefore the breed is ready to put back in production on a grass-only diet and return to prominence as the Butcher’s Breed.

Q. Raising grass fed cattle requires a very different management technique to be successful, something that’s foreign to most cattlemen today. Can you walk me through the process?

A. To succeed in raising quality grass-fed cattle one must choose the right kind of cattle. By quality, I mean cattle that will fatten and be tender on a grass-only diet. They need to be moderately tall and wide and deep (some folks say they need short legs but they need a deep body). Look at photos of the cattle from the 1960’s and those are the kind of cattle you need. You can choose a subset of the right kind of cattle from any of the British Breeds but will struggle with the continentals on grass---most cattle in Europe are not harvested until 36 months of age.

The major keys to success in raising grass-fed cattle are to get your breeding season in synch with nature. You want to calve when the wild ruminants have their young---May or June in most parts of the country. You want to have the calf nurse on the mother cow for at least ten months and then be weaned (with virtually no stress) onto green grass. With the right kind of easy fleshing mother cows you will develop reproductive problems if you do not make them work through the winter. Today, the industry typically weans at 6 months so our tall, hard-doing, late-maturing mother cows can build back some condition to make it through the winter. We find that the calves that stay on the mother for 10 months will gain about 15% more than the calf weaned in the fall. With this head start, and being weaned onto green grass, the steers can finish in 18 months on a grass-only diet.

Grass feeding requires grass management. There is no better feed for a ruminant than green grass. The key to success is learning how to keep the grass vegetative throughout the growing season and then figuring out how to extend the grazing season. Every ounce of stored feed fed is extremely expensive. Any time the bovine can walk out and harvest its own feed is like money in the bank. has to give up on a lot of paradigms and be open to learning some new ways of grazing-MIG or management intensive grazing emphasizes the management because that is the intensive part-it is different on every farm or ranch and it is different every season of every year. Electric fence and plastic water pipe to deliver water to paddocks are two of the tools that are critical to our success. Obviously many areas of the country have different challenges, but the key is to let the cattle graze in great density and then move them to let the grass rest and re grow-the circuit around the ranch might be as long as once a year or as quick as every 23 days depending on rainfall, sunshine, etc. The model is the buffalo that moved in herds of incredible density but then they moved on. We need to replicate this with our cattle.

Another level of management of our grass is to measure the Brix of the grass with a refractometer to gauge the nutrient density and sugar content of the grass. The rumen is a remarkable compost facility that needs the proper carbon nitrogen ratio as well as the right amount of protein, energy and minerals to function optimally. It is our job as a grass farmer to optimize the inputs to the rumen in terms of quality, if our expectation is to get quality in the meat that we harvest.

Although this all sounds complicated it is not unplowed ground. New Zealand has spent years farming this way principally because, as well as being the healthiest for the rumen; it is the lowest cost of production. They have to produce efficiently if they are going to access markets that are oceans away.

Q. “Grass-fed” has become a fast-growing niche in the beef business. Some foodies even use terminology similar to that used to describe fine wines when they talk about it. Are those kinds of glowing description justified? And can “grass-fed” escape the niche business?

A. Grass-fed is the current clamor of the market. Many folks do not know what it means. My feeling is that it is critically important that people understand the terms and what they mean. I like to compare 100% grass-fed beef to pregnancy-either you are or you are not. All beef producers want the “grass-fed” claim since all cattle do eat grass for a substantial part of their lives.

The real changes to the tissue and the health benefits of the beef occur when the cattle begin to eat grain. When cattle eat just grass they cannot get Mad Cow (the consumer doesn’t want this); they have almost immeasurable levels of E. coli because acidosis does not occur in the gut. Read about the Cornell research at There are no nutrient loading problems since manures are spread evenly daily and incorporated into the soil. Once you remove grain from the cattle raising equation, you eliminate plowing, petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, soil compaction, fossil fuels for tillage, harvest and transport.

The real compelling part of the story is that the fats in 100% grass-fed beef are much healthier for the human. The ratio of Omega 3 Omega 6 is very different in the grass versus grain fed and nearly a perfect 1:1 ratio.

The “story” of 100% grass-fed and finished beef is a compelling story and most people will buy it. The only way that “grass-fed” can escape the “niche” status it has today, is if producers learn to produce gourmet beef on grass and then they put a great piece of beef in the hand of each consumer that buys the “story”.

The challenge today is that many consumers have heard pieces of the story and they find it compelling once they do-the challenge is how we produce enough quality beef to satisfy the demand. As I said to a restaurant crowd in NYC a while back, it took me 2 ½ years to grow the piece of meat you are eating tonight-from a gleam in my eye, to breeding the cow takes 2 ½ years to the plate-so it is hard to ramp up a product like this.

Today with fuel prices, many cattle men and woman are beginning to be open to other options. The feedlots are feeling the pinch and the time of opportunity is upon us. It is a rare time in history when the producer is demanding quality, clean (no antibiotics or hormones), healthy food and they are willing to pay for it-It is a time of opportunity for the cattle industry.

Q. Thousands of cattlemen read What would you like to say to them?

A. I’d like to encourage those folks that love their land, their family, their lifestyle and their cattle to dig in and learn about 100% grass-fed cattle. The opportunity for profitability and health is enormous and as always the early bird gets the worm.

Copyright 2007 Integrated Management Information, Inc.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Ethanol Refineries - Fair or Foul?

The Environmental Protection Agency, just a few short weeks ago, revised downward the pollution control standards for ethanol producing plants. It wasn't exactly major news for the networks -- but it should have been. This action by the EPA no doubt is a result of strong lobbying efforts from major corn and ethanol producers. Prior to this revision, the threshold of toxic emissions allowed before an ethanol producing site must install the latest pollution controls was 100 tons annually; the EPA's April revision more than doubles that threshold to 250 annual tons of toxic emissions. In addition, the EPA agreed to allow so-called 'fugitive' emissions from small vents or pipes to be excluded from computation in reaching the new 250 ton pollution emission threshold for ethanol plants.

While many U.S. farmers and rural communities are eagerly on board for raising more corn and building ethanol plants in their communities -- many are not. The concerns abound regarding the permanent loss of quality of air and life and many are fighting to stop the building of ethanol plants in their rural communities. The EPA's willingness to relax pollution control standards for ethanol production facilities certainly strengthens the argument and position of those farming communities fighting to keep the fumes of ethanol production out of their air space.

One of the primary arguments for the use of ethanol, or ethanol mixed with gasoline, is that it reduces carbon monoxide emissions, which sounds just grand on the surface. However, what is largely absent from all ethanol rhetoric is that ethanol emissions contain "nitrogen oxides, acetaldehyde, and peroxy-acetyl nitrate". (Patzek, 2004) And that's just to name a few of the toxic by-products of cooling off the earth by pumping some ethanol into your tank.

What a joke. And the jokes on us. Do you really want to be an Ethanol Patriot and pump bio-fuel into your car? You see, ethanol is pretty volatile, it will break down while you are pumping it into your car. Take a deep breath, pull those carcinogens into your lungs - could that be the new American way to save the earth?

The State of Minnesota has embraced on a fairly large scale the construction and operation of ethanol plants, having some 16 ethanol plants in operation, and several more are under construction today. The following is an excerpt from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) web site -- and it surely must be scary for a state or region to feel like a virtual guinea pig or lab rat as the emissions from ethanol plants are studied after the fact to determine just what is coming out of an ethanol smoke stack.

"Consent decrees negotiated with the plant owners revealed underreported emissions and required pollution control equipment to be installed in an effort to accurately quantify and reduce air emissions. Most facilities consistently reported similar constituents including detectable levels of acetaldehyde, acetic acid, formaldehyde, ethanol and methanol, although there was considerable variation in quantities of analytes among facilities and among different processes at a facility. Although the data set is small, it is the most extensive available. Further systematic testing is necessary to thoroughly characterize the complex gas stream from various stages of the ethanol production process. Until additional data are obtained and analyzed, we cannot say with complete certainty whether data gaps have implications for risk analysis." Any state, any community, considering building a 'biorefinery' to produce ethanol should visit the MPCA web site -- it is pretty darn scary, and it looks like it's a money pit from an administrative and regulatory viewpoint as well.

The more than 200 U.S. ethanol plants in operation or under construction emit thousands of tons of pollutants a year, including nitrogen oxides, a key element of smog and damage to the ozone layer. As the EPA has apparently little concern for the air pollution of rural areas from ethanol production, other States are hopefully investigating ethanol plant emissions and implementing their own regulatory standards to ensure the cleanest air possible for those who must now live with an industrial smoke stack next door.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), which bills itself as the national trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry, has a very lame response on their web site to the results of a very recent Stanford University study that concluded there were risks from ethanol emissions. Per the RFA, "this study by Professor Jacobson does show that most of the air quality “problems” he identified stem from acetaldehyde that is either emitted directly or results from excessive ethanol emissions. If these problems were found to be serious enough, then regulations could quickly be put into place that would require vehicles . . . meet more stringent ethanol and acetaldehyde emissions standards before they could be certified for sale." Excuse me? Why are we subsidizing the creation of a bio-fuel before we've even fully explored it's new and singular impact on the air we breath? How does this fella know we can find a way to lessen acetaldehyde emissions? He doesn't; he just has to be hopeful and positive, that's his job. By the way, acetaldehyde is a known carcinogen.

Within the EPA's April decision to relax the pollution standards for ethanol refineries, there is an exception made that both undermines the basis for relaxing the standards and clearly shows a lack of concern for the clean air in rural communities: The newly revised EPA standards do not apply to ethanol plants in urban areas where air pollution is already a problem. So, just what does that tell you? Tells me there is known 'bad stuff' coming out of those smoke stacks, and allowing 250 tons to be emitted into good clean country air is a cop out on the part of the EPA.

U.S. ethanol production has jumped more than 300% since the year 2000. Per the RFA in early April, there are currently 114 ethanol biorefineries (RFA's earth friendly term for their ethanol plants) nationwide with the capacity to produce more than 5.6 billion gallons annually. There are 80 ethanol refineries and 7 expansions under construction with a combined annual capacity of more than 6 billion gallons.

The National Corn Growers Association says U.S. corn growers hold the potential to produce 15 billion bushels by 2015 - a third of which could be used to produce some 15 billion gallons of ethanol. But, corn based ethanol producers and farmers don't have a corner on the ethanol market. What happens when the subsidies and tax incentives dry up? or when there is a major long term drought? The Global Warming fanatics might be right. Where does that leave corn based ethanol? Nowhere really. Can that new corn based ethanol plant in Littletown, Kansas be converted to the latest and greatest? If so, at what cost? Or will it eventually become nothing more than a massive incinerator for the worst industrial waste money can produce in the world? I'll leave that possibility for another day -- but it is quite real.

How is it that we as a country have gotten in such a rush to subsidize ethanol production when we have not fully explored all the alternative sources and arrived at the most economic and healthy approach to producing ethanol in the USA? If this were a drug, it would still be under testing.

There are many alternatives to creating ethanol other than from corn that are being explored globally. The one I find most intriguing was recently announced by LanzaTech, a New Zealand based company. They are using bacterial fermentation to convert carbon monoxide into ethanol. Per LanzaTech, this technology could produce 50 billion gallons of ethanol from the world's steel mills alone, turning the liability of carbon emissions into valuable fuels worth over $50 billion per year at very low costs and adding substantial value to the steel industry. There would be some poetic beauty to that alternative, and one that would economically and environmentally have a positive impact on industrialized areas in the USA and around the world -- including Southeast Texas.

Research is underway as well to produce ethanol from other plants, including wheat, oats and barley. Sugar cane is already a viable source of ethanol -- while it is a water needy crop, it can withstand a wide range of drought and freeze conditions, and it's a perennial crop. Others are looking at genetically engineering microbes to produce enzymes that will convert cellulose in crop waste, wood chips and other plants into ethanol. The Energy Department is investing $385 million in six new cellulosic ethanol plants around the country. More than half the ethanol made in Kansas already comes from sorghum, which requires less water than corn.

And speaking of water, do you really find much coming out of Citizen Green's mouth about the massive amount of water required to produce ethanol from corn? How about the enormous fertilize, herbicide, and pesticide requirements for those annual crops of corn, and the post-production waste water the ethanol plant has to find a home for? How will all of this impact the biology of our water, our oceans? Do you know? I didn't think so. Have a chat with a long time resident of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and see what they have to say about chemical run off from the cotton, grain, and corn fields that makes it's way to the Laguna Madre and impacts the ecosystem of that once pristine bay. Ask them if they willingly drink water out of the tap. Then magnify their response by multiples of......oh, say 100, let's think big, let's think long term ethanol production, long-term blinders. Ouch, it's just too scary. It needs to be curtailed now.

I think most of us would go back to riding a bicycle before we'd knowingly create a national dependency and drain on our water resources just to have ethanol to buzz over to Cousin Joe's for a beer, or Aunt Bet's for bowl of gumbo. We can strap a bottle of water to that bike and life goes on. Suddenly car-pooling wouldn't seem such an irritating idea, after all, we can't live without good clean water -- or air, or for that matter good old Southern cornbread. If this corn ethanol takes off, just how costly will a pound of corn meal be?

If we're going to create a whole new dynamic in America's food supply in order to mitigate our dependence on oil, let's pick something that would have a healthy impact on the American diet. After all, we are the most obese country in the world -- let's fix that problem and at the same time create an alternative bio-fuel. With those joint goals, sugar cane becomes the ultimate ethanol crop with enormous positive consequences for the health of America. No doubt with less sugar in our diet we could breathe a whole lot more of that fouled country air -- our immune systems would be much stronger without all that sugar, and we'd be a lot thinner and could more easily fit in little bitty cars that run on bio-fuel.

Copyright, May 7, 2007, Jimmie Lynn West

Links: - Ethanol Fact Sheet

Ethanol BioRefinery Locations in the USA

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency - Ethanol in Minnesota

Massive Water Requirements of Ethanol - Let the Ethanol Producers Tell You Themselves How Much They Need

States, EPA Raise Water Quality Concerns Over New Ethanol Incentives, April 2007

Thermo-Dynamics of the Corn-Ethanol BioFuel Cycle, Tad Patzek, UC Berkely, 2004

The United States of America Meets the Planet Earth, Patzek, 2005

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Pasture raised Beef - True Natural Beef for the Consumer


Grass fit for beef
At Betsy Ross' ranch near Granger the restored land produces natural munchies that make for tasty beef
By Patrick Beach


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

GRANGER — On the subjects of nematodes, microbes and the ever-popular saprophytic and mycorrhizal fungi, Betsy Ross sounds positively evangelical. They're the reason, she says, her beef tastes so good.

Ross, her sister, son and daughter-in-law run some 150 head of cattle a year through their operation near here, along the San Gabriel River, and once the cattle are weaned they're placed on a novel diet: grass. Rye grass, clover, Bermuda, alfalfa and native prairie grasses, grazing on 500 acres divided into 100 paddocks. They eat what, in other words, they were built to eat — as opposed to grain. Some of the cattle are sold to other producers; the rest wind up as about 20,000 pounds of packaged beef annually.

Betsy Ross beef, sold as frozen steaks, roasts and ground beef, is available at all the People's Pharmacies in Austin and, Ross says, should soon be stocked at the downtown Whole Foods Market.

Ross and a handful of other livestock producers in Texas and nationwide are no threat to conventional operations that raise huge numbers of cattle on corn: According to the Texas Beef Council, there are 140,000 beef producers in Texas alone. By comparison,, a site for "grass-fed food and facts," lists just 42 grass-fed beef producers in the state. (Ross believes the number to be closer to 100.) But with the obesity epidemic, food safety scares (contaminated spinach?) and books such as Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" raising public consciousness about what we put in our bodies, there are signs the movement is growing, albeit not at the rate of a pound a day as Ross' cross-bred cattle do.

The argument that Pollan and other believers make is that it's not necessarily our food that's making us sick, but what we feed our food. And when we raise cattle on corn, pump them full of antibiotics and fatten them to market weight rapidly, what winds up on a hamburger bun is invariably unhealthy.

And, flying in the face of the conventional wisdom that fat equals flavor, a lot of folks say the leaner grass-fed cow actually tastes better, too. It does. Really. A couple of years of personal eating research confirms a meatier, slightly stronger taste, but enough fat to keep the meat from being too dry or tough.

"People are connecting the dots," Ross says. "I mean, come on — people are having to drink bottled water."

Not that it didn't take Ross herself a while to connect the dots. After a career in Austin real estate and retiring as the Web master for the Texas Department of Insurance, this former West Texas ranch girl wanted to get back to the land. Ross' brother, Joe David Ross, had owned the former cotton farm 13 miles north of Taylor since 1975, and Ross and her elder sister, Kathryn, a retired geologist, moved there around the turn of the new century. They were feeding the cattle a lot of corn when they had to, Ross recalls. Not coincidentally, to her mind, they also kept a refrigerator full of antibiotics.

Her change of heart came when a grandson was born prematurely and she was worried about what the boy would eat.

"I wanted to give him some good meat," she said. "But I didn't know what that meant, either."

After perusing a booklet from the Soil and Water Conservation Society called "Soil Biology Primer" (carbon sequestration, anyone?), she was off to Oregon State University to study under Elaine Ingham, an authority on healthy soils.

The idea is simple: "Soil organisms decompose organic compounds, including manure, plant residue and pesticides, preventing them from entering water and becoming pollutants," according to the booklet. "They store nitrogen and other nutrients that might otherwise enter ground water, and they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, making it available to plants."

That means that nitrogen fertilizer, which is dumped onto farms and ranches by the barrel in conventional agricultural operations, is produced naturally.

As a result of switching to grass in the mid-'90s, Ross is known in some circles as "the crazy lady with the green pastures." But she doesn't seem to mind.

"This is sweet clover!" she exclaims in one of the paddocks. "This is just free! We're finding the old seed bank is still here. This is an old cotton farm that's been chemicaled to death. But Momma Nature is powerful. It took us 10 to 12 years to quit fighting nature. All of this is Old World knowledge that people have brought to the front again. The movement of people wanting to rehabilitate their land is moving right along with the good food movement."

She points to another section: "That's an alfalfa patch right there. They told us we can't grow alfalfa in this part of the country. It's not easy to rebuild this whole system. All grass is not equal. Until we found the soil biology, we really didn't have the cattle humming."

But all this requires a fundamental shift in thinking, summed up by Ross' son, J.R. Builta, who works the ranch with his wife, Kim Builta:

"What a row farmer considers a weed, we consider food," Builta says.

It also requires careful management vastly different from conventional farming. Each paddock, containing different warm- and cool-weather grasses, is grazed seven or eight times a year and rested otherwise. Natural nitrogen is being slowly released into the soil.

Ross likens it to conducting a symphony.

"Once the biology is in there, it has its own community," she says. "These are live critters. When you come in with a tractor (and a disc) four or five times a year, you kill the community. This is spotted clover. This is free clover! I didn't have to plant it."
Jimmie's Comment: (This clover is an example of 'free clover', both planted and sustained by nature's work.)

On the other side of the road from the clover, a calf born hours earlier is beginning to nurse while its mother eats the placenta. And next to an outbuilding there's a huge compost pile, another critical part of the operation. Running the compost through an extractor with water can produce 3,000 gallons an hour of organism-rich — 25,000 species per teaspoon — of irrigable water. (Ross is also founder and co-owner of Sustainable Growth Texas, which uses liquid compost to fertilize homes and agricultural operations.)

Ross now laughs at the memory of what her brother said when he paid a visit years ago: "Whatever you do, don't go organic." The operation follows organic principles but the beef is not certified organic. ("We just don't see any sense in it right now," Ross says of the rigid certification process.) Nonetheless, Ross says again, there's evidence the end product of all this work is better for you — less fat and better fats, including Omega-3s and no hormones or antibiotics.

No hormones also means it takes longer to raise a beef to slaughter weight: A conventionally raised animal is ready in about 14 months to 16 months; Ross' can take as long as 29 months. (That means from pregnancy to finish, it takes three and one-half years to make money on a beef.) And if the animals have to be treated with antibiotics or fail to gain weight on schedule, they're sent to the sale barn.

The market-ready animals — what Ross calls "a block of butter with four little legs" — are harvested humanely at Readfield's in Bryan. Then the cuts are aged 14 days, cut, wrapped in Cryovac and hard-frozen. In addition to People's in Austin, Old Thyme Garden, an organic nursery in Taylor, sells the meat, and Ross is partnering with Whole Foods' producers alliance to get their products into Austin's flagship store. They also do a mail-order business and will deliver if it's to a nearby destination.

Because grass-fed operations tend to be small, they can't hope to achieve the economies of scale of so-called factory farms and that translates into higher prices, even though it costs eight times as much to feed a cow out of a sack as on grass: A 12-ounce to 18-ounce bone-in Betsy Ross ribeye is $13.50 per pound, New York strips $14.25 and ground meat $5, a good bit north of supermarket prices.

But customers say the meat doesn't evaporate when it hits the grill and the more flavorful product — there's more than just texture to this cow — often means it takes less meat to feed a crowd. Ross and her sister usually split a single-serving sirloin.

There's often a three-month wait for tenderloins.

Their customers come looking for them.

They don't want economies of scale.

They want to make food that's good for you and, not to get too high-falutin', reflects the web of life.

"There's more than one way of doing things," Betsy Ross says. (And yes, that's really her name.) "Nothing sits alone. We're all so connected."; 445-3603

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Economics of AI Breeding vs. Maintaining a Group of Herd Sires

Suggested Guidelines for Beef Heifer Selection

**Moderate frame & milk - 425 lbs at Weaning, 600 lbs at Yearling, 700 lbs at breeding, Frame Score of 4

**Large frame & milk - 500 lbs at Weaning, 750 lbs at Yearling, 875 lbs at breeding, Frame Score of 5

"The University of Minnesota maintained records and summarized the net profit or loss for heifers sold during a developmental period during a three-year period. Heifers culled on the basis of pelvic area, average daily gain, reproductive tract scores, disposition, or structural soundness at the time of the prebreeding exams and finished in a feedlot had a 3-year average net profit of $9, whereas heifers diagnosed as nonpregnant shortly after the breeding season were sold for a net loss of $86. The loss for pregnant heifers that were then diagnosed nonpregnant after wintering on native pasture and sold at a sale barn was $133."

"These figures indicate the importance of identifying heifers that will not breed during the breeding season and culling those heifers before they become an economic liability. Heifers that were diagnosed pregnant during the breeding season were allocated to three groups: first-service AI, second-service AI, or natural mating. Average profits were $163 for first-service AI heifers, $139 for second-service heifers, and $83 for heifers naturally mated. These figures take into account all synchronization costs."

"Therefore, the advantage of AI over natural mating is certainly evident from these analyses, but without sound data these results could not have been noticed. In fact, many people would (and still do) shy away from AI because of the initial costs associated with synchronization, management, and an AI technician. Nonetheless, these results would encourage a producer to seriously consider AI, realizing that the profit potential is far greater than just using natural mating.

Net Profit or Loss Associated with the Sale of Heifers at Various Stages of Reproduction . . . follow the link in the article title above for the remainder of the cost analysis provided by this Cattle Network article.

Source: Steve Boyles OSU Extension Beef Team

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Natural Beef? Doesn't Sound Like it......Do You Find Grass Mentioned Anywhere?

Stika Says CAB Natural Product Line Developed To Meet The Needs Of Consumers

(Nashville, TN) "John Stika, president of Certified Angus Beef®, said the company made the decision to enter the natural beef market to meet the demands of their food service and retail partners. Stika, speaking at Ivy Natural Solutions conference for natural beef producers and brand managers, said their customers had been requesting a CAB natural product for more than 7 years. CAB made the decision to enter the natural market in 2004.

“Over the past 30 years CAB has earned a reputation for exceptional quality and consistency based on sound, science-based specifications. We decided that for us to enter the natural market with a brand other than Certified Angus Beef Natural would not be taking advantage of the franchise we have developed and would not serve us, our partners nor our customers very well,” Stika said.

“CAB does not see natural beef as better, than conventional beef. Both are excellent, safe, wholesome products. There are consumers, however, that feel natural production systems are important and are a critical part of their buying decision. By placing Certified Angus Beef Natural in the meat case along side our conventional CAB products, we are offering these consumers a choice,” Stika added.

Certified Angus Beef defines their natural program as a “never ever” program. To qualify, the animal must not have been administered any supplemental hormones, beta-agonists, antibiotics, including ionophores, nor have been fed any animal by products any time during its life.

Stika said, “Our Natural program is projected to be only 1.5 % of CAB sales in 2007, up from 0.5 % in 2006. However, the demand is increasing rapidly. The growth of CAB Natural in our food service division is currently limited by product supply.”

The conference for natural beef producers and branded beef managers was held during the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in Nashville. Ivy Natural Solutions (INS) sponsored the conference as part of their first anniversary celebration. INS was founded a year ago to meet increasing natural beef producers’ demands for natural production inputs.

INS provides “plate friendly” products and services that enable cattlemen and beef brands achieve their brand specifications. INS products include ProTernative® Continuous Fed Formula – a natural, rumen-specific yeast that enhances performance and maintains rumen health and function when natural beef programs do not allow the use of ionophores, antibiotics or implants – and ProTernative® Stress Formula, a natural GI tract-specific yeast that helps improve feed consumption and health when cattle are under stress. Helping keep cattle healthy minimizes the fall-out rate if cattle are being fed in a program that does not allow therapeutic antibiotics."

Jimmie's Comments: Natural CAB beef remains unnaturally raised beef as long as it is predominantly grain fed and finished beef product. All 'natural' beef programs that fail to indicate the diet source are feeding essentially 100% grain in their programs, and as you can see from the final paragraph above, they are already looking for and using some unnatural natural additives to help boost performance.

Carbon Monoxide - Future Source of Ethanol?

If the new technology discussed below proves to be a viable approach to Ethanol production one day, it will surely improve the air quality of the USA due to captured and utilized carbon monoxide emissions, and perhaps take some pressure off the demand and thus price of corn. A continued increase in the price of corn effects not only the cost of gains in a feedlot and on the family farm, but also is having 'trickle down' ramifications throughout our economy that will become increasingly apparent to the American consumer.
An alternative for the family farm is to raise their cattle on grass and legumes, rather than depend on corn and it's byproducts, and that requires moderate-framed easy-fattening grass genetics.
Pictured here is a British White grassfed yearling bull, grassfed from conception onwards.

New Zealand company converts carbon monoxide to ethanol

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, April 24 /PRNewswire/ ‒LanzaTech, the leader in technology using bacterial fermentation to convert carbon monoxide into ethanol, officially announced April 24 that it has secured US$3.5M in Series A funding, led by Khosla Ventures and supported by two existing New Zealand based investors.

This funding will support further technology development, establishing a pilot plant, engineering work to prepare for commercial-scale ethanol production and positions the company to raise significant capital in the near future. This technology could produce 50 billion gallons of ethanol from the world's steel mills alone, turning the liability of carbon emissions into valuable fuels worth over $50 billion per year at very low costs and adding substantial value to the steel industry.

The technology will also be a key contributor to the cellulosic biofuels business as it can convert syngas produced through gasification into ethanol.

"We have proven in our laboratories that the carbon monoxide in industrial waste gases such as those generated during steel manufacture can be processed by bacterial fermentation to produce ethanol. Garnering the financial and strategic support of Khosla Ventures is a significant validation of our approach, and we welcome Khosla Ventures Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Doug Cameron, to our Board of Directors," said Dr. Sean Simpson, Chief Scientist and Founder of LanzaTech.

Vinod Khosla commented, "Technology to produce fuel ethanol from waste material, such as the carbon monoxide produced in steel manufacture and other industries, makes use of a low cost and plentiful point source carbon feedstock. The opportunity is a large one as carbon monoxide is a significant byproduct of steel manufacture. LanzaTech has developed technology and a process to cost-effectively convert carbon monoxide into ethanol -- this ground breaking technology provides the tools to address the challenge of reducing emissions and turns waste into a valuable product, while developing new businesses based on innovative science."

LanzaTech was co-founded in 2005 by Dr. Richard Forster and Dr. Sean Simpson, who both have many years of experience in biotechnology and biofuels. The company is aggressively pursuing the development of advanced gas to ethanol technologies based on work developed in its laboratories in Auckland, New Zealand. As part of its two-pronged strategy of technology development and deployment, LanzaTech has sought international patent protection for its ethanol production process and is forming partnerships to commercialize its technologies and processes.

Khosla Ventures offers venture assistance, strategic advice and capital to entrepreneurs. The firm helps entrepreneurs extend the potential of their ideas in both traditional venture areas like the Internet, computing, mobile, and silicon technology arenas but also supports breakthrough scientific work in clean technology areas such as bio-refineries for energy and bioplastics, solar, battery and other environmentally friendly technologies.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Favorites From my Spring Calves

This little beauty was christened 'Dixie' by the girls Easter weekend. Her dam is JWest's Brigit and she was sired by JWest's El Presidente. Dixie was 14 days old in this photo and is obviously a healthy, thriving little heifer. Her dam is one of my favorite cows, having an excellent nature as well as being a really beautiful, well made British White cow that she passes on to all her calves.

Lucy Rae also had a quite friendly, well made heifer sired by El Presidente. In the following video clip I am sitting just a few feet away. She is 7 days old in this clip. Lucy Rae's Heifer

This bull calf is out of JWest's Emily and JWest's El Presidente, and is pictured here at 18 days old. His sire's thickness and muscling are apparent and his dam is one of my best cows. In the following video clip he is 8 days old. The girls didn't decide on a name for this beefy little guy, so any suggestions are welcome. :)
British White Bull Calf

This Spring has seen zero calving problems and last fall I had none as well, which makes a full year and a half without any vet calls to assist with calving, and the last one was a breach birth, which was a first here at the ranch. The typical British White herd has few calving problems, the birth weights being an average 75 pounds, and my moderate framed cows calve with ease, as well as my smaller 1000 pound cows. Check out the slideshow of my British White cow Wanda Mae giving birth to a young bull calf at Cow Calving Slideshow

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

British White Cattle and Early Spring in East Texas

Well, it is time I got back to blogging and sharing what's happening here at the ranch with my herd. (and to Taylor and Alana, all the photos can be clicked on and enlarged. . . and of course you both are so up on things, you no doubt realize that!) It's Springtime, and it is looking to be a beautiful Spring here in East Texas. We did have a quite odd Easter, with Easter morning requiring one to hide Easter eggs beneath a thick layer of sleet from the night before, we even had lots of snowflakes the evening before! Butt, Taylor's Mom, Catheryne, hid some candy filled eggs for Taylor and Alana in the house late morning and they had quite a hunt.

My niece, Taylor, and her friend, Alana, were thrilled with the change in the weather and the snow and sleet, having nothing on their minds but the uniqueness of the experience -- which we all should, how boring if the days and months of the seasons of the year were always the same. I realize it creates difficulties for many, these odd turns in the weather, but all the same it is our life, and without these seasonal changes and oddities . . . I don't know, I think I would miss them. I spent most of the winter indoors on essentially numbers and book work, and felt like I'd missed the winter;this last bit of winter suddenly appearing in the Spring made me happy, and certainly ready to let it go and get on with the Spring. Taylor and her good friend, Alana, really enjoyed the weekend 'joy-riding' as they termed it in my new Ranger, but judging from the quite apparent track through the center of my best back pasture that ends with a few berms that lead down to a ravine, (no doubt quite fun to roar through) they will not be having free reign with the Ranger in the coming seasons until they realize the damage they can do.

Besides buzzing around in the Ranger, the girls took turns trying to blow an old horn made from a cow's horn, or maybe a bull, who really knows! The photo above is of Alana giving it one last try on the Eve of Easter with the weather turning very windy and cold. The cows were coming up for a look and a listen, not accustomed to hearing the quite odd sounds Alana managed to make with the old horn. The next picture is of Taylor, suited up in my coveralls again (and yes, I'd dearly love to find some feminine coveralls from someone manufacturers please listen!) We newby cowgirls would like to have a more ....feminine and better fitting coverall for cold days working the cows! And even some very light weight ones for the summer....

Note how Taylor is able to approach this two day old calf without it's dam, who is just to the right in the photo, having not any problem with Taylor's approach and touching of the newborn, beyond being . . .watchful. That's what is so wonderful about this breed, their trusting and docile nature. This particular cow is actually a British White half blood, her dam was an excellent registered black Angus cow who would have done much more than appear to glare a bit at Taylor's approach or touching of her calf -- her Angus dam would have knocked you down.

My newborn calves weathered the cold sleet quite well and all were fine on Easter morning, with one cow, J.West's Madison, calving late that morning just in time for Taylor and Alana to see the newborn bull's birth before they left to spend the rest of that special day with their families. We didn't have the camera going, one of those moments when running back to the house seemed the wrong thing to do, we might all miss the big event, but the girls were able to watch from a close distance, and were quite enthralled to witness their first complete birthing of a calf, and Madison the cow was quite fine with her audience.

The following photo is of J.West's Wanda Mae, an outstanding heifer, who found herself a cozy spot in native clover and wasn't much interested in moving with the rest of the herd, including her mama, through this pasture to the next pasture this past week. I think the heavy native clover growth must surely be due to all the rain this area has had the past several months, and perhaps as well to my haying of the cattle on this once red muddy hilltop these past few years, adding much needed organic matter to the soil -- as well as scraping top soil from other areas and spreading it somewhat thinly across the surface a few years back. The combination of those efforts and this very wet Spring seems to have paid off.

If I could post a video or photo that allowed you to smell the sweet scent of this pasture of clover I would. It has been quite a beautiful early Spring pasture, buzzing with the hum of bees and smelling like Spring. It's all the more amazing to me knowing that it was nothing more than a barren red hill top a short 4 years ago. The prior owner had scraped this hilltop completely down deep into the clay soil that lies beneath the sandy layers of usually about 3 to 4 feet. It has taken much time to bring this pasture back to productivity, and this Spring has seen it at it's best for certain.