Last month, the newly formed START Farmers’ Network leadership decided it was time to visit farms. Surveys have shown that a large percentage of new and beginning farmers (both part-time and full-time) are interested in growing livestock. So our first trip was to a cattle farm run by Yates Clagett, President of the Prince George’s County Farm Bureau.
Part-time farmer and full-time Soil Conservation District employee, Yates obviously enjoys raising his cattle and finds that he can fit it into his busy schedule. The cattle almost take care of themselves. He says that every few days he moves them to another pasture. From each pasture, the cattle have access to water and, of course, plenty of grass. His cattle have been very healthy and not required a veterinarian over the years.
He explained that he grew up on a tobacco farm and had no experience with livestock. He decided to buy a few cows to avoid having to bush hog some farm fields. They were easily managed, so he decided to breed the cows and have a cow-calf operation. He approached a friend, Michael Heller at Clagett Farms, for advice. Michael leads the Maryland Grazers Network. Mike visited his farm and became Yates’ mentor for establishing a pasture rotation grass-fed beef operation. Yates also had the opportunity to visit other Grazer farms throughout the state and picked up many tips for his own cattle operation. With a number of years’ experience himself now, Yates is serving as mentor with the Maryland Grazers network.
Of course, if you sell directly to the consumer, you can get a higher financial return. So Yates joined Southern Maryland Meats which helps to create market opportunities for producers. He also coordinates the rental of a meat freezer trailer for Southern Maryland Meats members, which ensures that the USDA certified meat is kept at proper temperature when transported from the processing facility.
Another pleasant surprise was that he found he has no problem selling the beef. Once he gives notice to customers that his locally-produced, grass-fed beef is available, he sells out in a couple of days.
Virginia’s famous farmer/author and owner of Polyface Farm, Joel Salatin might represent the ultimate full-time livestock producer. He has a grass-fed pasture-rotation, multi-species operation. Interviewed for an article entitled Greener Pastures, Salatin said that he runs “five times more cows on his land than the county average and makes $1480 a hectare out of them; he makes $741 a hectare for the laying chickens; almost $5000 a hectare for turkeys; and from the meat chickens he
claims a staggering $17,000 a hectare. . . Salatin runs all his animals on the same acreage, so the total return he’s claiming is edging up towards $25,000 a hectare.” Those kinds of numbers seem impossibly high. For a new farmer just starting to farm “grass”, they certainly would be.
Joel and his father spent decades building up the soil on the farm after previous owners had allowed it to erode and wear thin over the rocky substrate. Over the years, their chickens, turkeys, cow manure and grasses have done all the work in building a very healthy soil.
The Union of Concerned Scientists approve of the raising of pasture-raised livestock, noting in 2006 that “producing pork, chicken, and eggs on pasture is a winning proposition for all involved . . .” It also issued a full report in 2011 entitled Raising the Steaks, Global Warming and Pasture Raised Beef Production in the United States which noted the carbon-sequestration value of pastures.
Part-time or full-time, locally-produced grass-fed beef seems to be a win-win for farmers, as well as customers and the environment.