Michigan grass fed beef production update

Information on grass fed beef production is now available right at MSU, in fact MSU has become known as one of the research leaders in the grass finished beef industry.

Cows on pasture Lake City MSU Research Center.
Cows on pasture Lake City MSU Research Center.

Grass fed beef production in Michigan is a growing industry. For many years small producers have been selling and marketing grass fed beef but there were very few places for them to obtain research based information on the practice. Thanks to Jason Rowntree and his Michigan State University (MSU) team of Doug Carmichael, Jerry Lindquist, and Kable Thurlow information on grass fed beef production is now available right at MSU, in fact MSU has become known as one of the research leaders in the grass finished beef industry. 

The MSU team has conducted much of their research with the University cattle herds at the Lake City and Chatham Research Farms. They have analyzed the many aspects of grass feeding and finishing beef without grains including: production systems, cattle nutrition, cattle genetics, grazing methods, carcass and meat qualities, economics, and consumer preferences to name just a few. The team has also worked on a sustainable farm grant (North Central SARE) with 17 farms in northwest Michigan to help these farms establish a system for grass fed beef production.

Through four years of training these farms have evolved to the point where seven are now producing grass-fed beef. These farms in conjunction with the MSU Farms have now produced over 250 head of finished cattle that were supplied to the grass-fed market. Carcass quality and yield measurements have been taken on the majority of the cattle produced. This data is still being compiled as the fall harvested cattle of 2015 are just being entered, but in general the average carcass grade of the cattle has been USDA High Select and the average carcass yield at 19 – 21 months of age has been 53 -54 percent. Price premiums of 25 percent above the general cattle market prices have been received for the hanging carcasses.

Informal and formal interviews with buyers and consumers of the product have been conducted. From the butchers, to the food wholesale buyers, to the chefs and the consumers the reviews have been good to excellent. For example, one butcher that received four heifers from one of our cooperative farms said, “Before I butchered these cattle I had a bad opinion of the quality of grass-fed beef. You guys at MSU have shown me there can be quality beef produced in a grass-fed way." A chef in Traverse City wrote ".... the grass-fed beef coming from the MSU project is some of the best I have had in close to 30 years in the business ... the taste, texture and flavor of your work is something that I hope continues on for many years to come". One major food wholesaler in Northwest Michigan has increased their annual purchases of grassfed beef carcasses from the MSU project from 40 carcasses per year to 70. They say this is because their retail demand for the product continues to grow.

To showcase the growth and significance of grassfed beef production in the U.S., and to highlight the grassfed beef research conducted by MSU, the grassfed beef team orchestrated the 2015 Grass-fed Exchange Conference that was held in Mt. Pleasant over three days in September. Over 275 attendees from 23 states and Canada attended the event. Michigan attendees made up 57 of this total. A tour of the Lake City Farm showcased the MSU research on grass-fed cattle, pasture grazing management, and utilizing cover crops for grass finishing.

To further disseminate the research results on this project to the people of Michigan as they are completed, the MSU Team will offer two educational sessions in Michigan this winter. The first session hosted by Michigan State University Extension will be at the Great Lake Forage & Grazing Conference on March 10 at the MSU Kellogg Center. For more information go to the event website. The second will be on March 17, at 7 p.m. at the Harrison Campus of Mid Michigan Community College, 1375 S. Clare Ave, Harrison, MI 48625, held in conjunction with the Mid Michigan Cattle Network meeting. For more information on the March 17 meeting, contact Kable Thurlow at (989)426-7741 or thurlowk@msu.edu

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