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Grassfed Beef and Soil Health: Profit, Possibilities and Promise

By December 10, 2019 No Comments

By Tim Goodnight • Pharo Cattle Company

The Program: In early 2018, Tyson Foods approached Cactus Feeders about developing a grassfed beef program due to growing retail demand. Cactus quickly realized that to produce premium grassfed beef they were going to have to select the best genetics available, improve soil health, and utilize cover crops in a rotational grazing system. The genetics questions was solved by exclusively utilizing Pharo Cattle Company genetics, as for the past 30 years, PCC has been producing moderate-framed, easy-fleshing, low/no-input bulls that excel on grass. The soil health questions were solved by partnering with Green Cover Seed to provide customized diverse forage mixes.

The Process: This system utilizes cover crop forage grazing mixes on pivot irrigation to produce dependable year-round forage. Rotations are done each afternoon when the carbohydrate levels (brix) are the highest in the plants. Providing a diverse mix of forages that include legumes, grasses, brassicas, and forbs allows the cattle to make selection decisions while grazing and enhances animal performance. We have seen these diverse mixes boost plant production, due to the symbiosis that takes place between multiple species that is not achieved in monocultures. We have also added mycorrhizal inoculant that promotes additional symbiosis as fungal hyphae connect the various root systems and translocates nutrients between plant species and make otherwise unavailable soil nutrients plant available. The fungal hyphae also produce glomalin, which is important in building soil health and improving soil organic matter. We are taking the soil health aspect of this project very seriously, as we would not be able to accomplish our goals without the use of proper forage selection fitted for our environment, maximum plant species diversification, added carbon through surface residue/animal impact, and by continually maintaining a growing root system in the soils.

The Challenges: While we will always look for ways to improve genetics, we feel that Pharo Cattle Company has a firm grasp on the genetics required to perform and finish on a 100% forage-based diet. The biggest challenge we faced is degraded soil health in fields that had been corn/cotton, with low SOM and almost non-existent soil biology. By eliminating tillage and synthetic inputs while adding animal impact, we expect our soil health to grow. As the soil health increases, plant BRIX levels will also increase which will translate into better animal health and performance. Studies also show that higher plant nutrition will translate to higher nutritional levels in the meat produced which will result in flavor and health benefits to consumers.

The Future: The program is still growing with 2,000 feeders headed to Cactus Feeders in November 2018. We will also continue to experiment with a variety of forage mixtures that perform best in our environment and result in maximum animal performance. The great working relationship between PCC, Cactus Feeders, and Green Cover Seed has allowed us to accomplish so much in a short time. As we grow, it has been great to work with forward-thinking groups that are putting a focus on producing the best grassfed beef possible. One of our goals with this project is to displace the large percentage of imported grassfed beef that is marketed as a “Product of the USA.” In 2017, grassfed beef sales totaled over $4 billion, of which only $560 million came from domestic production. Our quality grassfed beef products will help us to reach more consumers and take market share from our foreign counterparts while rebuilding our soils at the same time! 

If you have questions or comments about the program,

you can contact Tim directly.

Office phone: (800) 311-0995 • Email: tim@pharocattle.com.

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