Grass Genetics Showcase and Conference
A tremendous group of forward thinking cattle producers gathered at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds in Kearney, NE, the last weekend of September to bolster their knowledge and understanding of the emerging beef boon known as Grassfed Beef.
A top drawer slate of speakers inundated the 165+ participants with valuable information, data, and production and genetic guidelines designed to help take a few of the bumps out of the learning curve of grassfed beef production.
On Friday morning the crowd was given the perspective of a 'believer' in grassfed beef who turned investor. Television personality Bill Kurtis, founder of Tallgrass Beef Company, shared his journey from television studios to grassfed beef producer, along with several humorous anecdotes along the way. Tallgrass Beef Company's grassfed beef is being served in some high end Chicago restaurants and being made available in select grocery stores. Quality is assured through ultrasounding prior to slaughter. Animals not meeting the guideline criteria are not marketed through the high end markets, but there are other market channels for these beeves.
On Friday morning, Dr. Dick Diven approached beef production from the profitability standpoint, which is intimately tied to the physiology of the efficient cow and her ability to make it year round with little to no supplementation. The type of cow who will do this is also the very cow whose calves will be able to finish on forage alone. Dr. Diven is founder of the Low Cost Cow/Calf Production School and travels the U.S. and North America putting on schools designed to help producers refine their cowherd into efficient, profitable ones.
Dr. Allen Williams presented real world data from Tallgrass Beef's efforts to procure finished grassfed beeves. The demand is real, and the supply is short. Genetics and good pasture management are critical elements that must be cultivated in this country by producers who are serious about grassfed beef production. Some discussion took place regarding what the finished grassfed animal should look like. The answer: Like a finished grainfed animal. Choice is choice, and the fat is where the quality essential fatty acids reside.Williams showed slides of ideal phenotype cows and bulls, as well as sample crossbreeding schemes that could be employed by producers to produce a consistent calf crop exhibiting high eating quality while still tapping into hybrid vigor. Williams also demonstrated the ultrasound technology that his company, The Jacob Alliance, is using on herds all across North America to help producers identify the genetics within their herds that manifest traits linked with eating quality and profitability.
On Friday a Q & A panel was convened comprised of Diven, Williams, and 3 buyers of grassfed beef: Tallgrass Beef Co, Slanker's Grassfed Meats, Thousand Hills Cattle Co, as well as a representative from the Organic Grassfed Beef Coalition. Panelists fielded a wide variety of questions from participants for well over an hour.
Several sessions throughout both days were scheduled for the Display Pen area. Twenty breeders from 10 states brought examples of grass-friendly cattle genetics, filling 23 display pens. Participants were encouraged to discuss the cattle with their breeders. An Exhibitor's Alley lined the edge of the Display Pens, representing a wide array of ag-related products, ranging from seeds to fencing supplies to mineral supplements for cattle
Friday evening participants were treated to a Devon Cattle Show with a twist: the cattle were first evaluated according to the eye of the judge, Ron Ladner, who is experienced at evaluating grassfed cattle in the field. The cattle were subsequently evaluated by ultrasound. There were some surprising reversals after the ultrasound scores came in. It was an interesting demonstration of how subjective visual appraisal of cattle really is.
Saturday morning began with Dr. Tilak Dhiman, professor of Animal and Dairy Science at Utah State University. Dhiman is the nation's leading researcher on the fatty acid composition of grassfed meats and milk, and dietary factors that affect the final content of these healthful fatty acids in the ruminant meat and milk products. Dhiman stretched the perspectives of the audience by getting them to consider the bigger role that a diverse living environment may have on an organism's ability to assimilate positive forms of energy and dissipate negative forms, and whether the cow living in confinement is perhaps being burdened with an imbalance of negative energy forms as compared to her counterpart living in a functionally diverse and vibrant ecosystem. Dhiman continued his talk with a look at the latest research about CLA and Omega-3 fatty acids, and discussed the need for human trials to better quantify their affect on human health and well-being.
How to produce quality grassfed beef once the right genetics are in place? Terry Gompert gave a dynamic presentation that looked in depth at the whole pasture development and management component. A formula for determining pasture intake and thus rate of gain was discussed, the importance of a high brix count in pasture and stored hay, and the need for highly digestible forage to be available for as much of the year as possible. Gompert also noted that energy was frequently the missing link in pasture, owing to either low fiber content of early spring pastures or high-lignin content of maturing pastures. Protein needs are usually pretty easy to meet in a pasture setting.
Gompert's presentation segued into another panel discussion that found participants discussing many aspects of grassfed beef production with the speakers and two of the buyers that were still on hand.
Evaluations were completed by participants, and all of the speakers, the Display Pens, and the Showcase overall received excellent marks.
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