The Pennsylvania Beef Task Force was established in August 2007 by Governor Edward G. Rendell and consists of over 60 members representing all aspects of the cattle industry in the Commonwealth.
The vision is to enhance the beef industry.
The mission is to create opportunities for collaboration throughout the beef industry by developing credible infrastructure to improve economic well-being for all partners of the beef industry.
Four main interest areas are:
Education- to enhance the understanding of the beef industry for producers, consumers and end users
Production Efficiency/Business Management- to explore and communicate best practices information/resources for producer profitability
Government and Community Relations- to obtain funding to support the Center for Beef Excellence and monitor implications of government regulations on the beef industry
Economic Development- to identify, evaluate and develop infrastructure opportunities to enhance producers’ economic well-being
Through Task Force and Committee endeavors, the Pennsylvania beef industry has achieved a streamlined process for outreach initiatives, government relations, grant pursuits, education, economic development, research, corporate relations and management objectives.
The Center for Beef Excellence was developed to manage the work of the Task Force on a day-to-day basis.
There are several organizations dedicated to supporting Pennsylvania beef producers, including the Pennsylvania Cattlemen’s Association, Pennsylvania Beef Council, and state breed associations for most major beef breeds. Additional information on raising beef cattle can be obtained through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Penn State Cooperative Extension.
Raising beef cattle can be done with minimal facilities. If they are kept outside, a good fence around the pasture will keep cattle contained and a run-in or stand of trees can serve as shade in summer and shelter in winter. Feeder cattle can also be kept in a barn, with a suggested pen size of 25-35 square feet per animal. In addition, it is important to have an area where animals can be contained and treated for health or emergency reasons. This is best done through the use of a corral and chute system which will restrain the animals for treatment.
The land used by one cow-calf pair in a year varies considerably based on efficiency of pasture use, quality of forage available, and amount of rainfall. Typically, Pennsylvania farms can support a cow-calf pair on about 2 acres.
Cows will do fine on hay or silage over the winter. Grain supplements are generally unnecessary unless cows are in poor body condition or the weather is extremely cold and wet. In addition, cows should always have access to plenty of water and a free-choice mineral mix.
The minerals supplemented to a beef herd depend on the specific diet for the herd, but some minerals should generally be supplemented on Pennsylvania farms. These include calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and often selenium supplemented in a trace-mineralized salt.
Preventative care is best, and animals should be vaccinated annually for IBR, BVD, BRSV, PI3, Lepto and any other diseases recommended by a veterinarian familiar with the health risks of the region. In addition, cows should be dewormed to get rid of internal parasites and observed for any abnormal signs that may indicate a need for additional treatment.
Creep feeding, or allowing calves that are not yet weaned access to solid feed, improves pre-weaning growth and allow for a smoother transition from a liquid to a solid feed diet. However, the benefits of additional calf growth must be weighed against the cost of providing feed for the calves and the decision of whether or not to offer creep feed may change depending of circumstances.
Seedstock operations are usually focused on purebred cattle, to sell as breeding animals for other farms. Cow calf operations may be purebred, but more often gain performance advantages through crossing different breeds to produce feeder calves to produce beef products.
Expected Progeny Differences are a measure used to compare animals of the same breed in important traits. They measure the expected difference between the progeny of two animals. EPDs are used to make selection and breeding decisions. They predict not the absolute performance of an animal’s offspring, but their performance relative to other animals in the breed.
Artificial Insemination is a relatively simple procedure that allows producers to utilize top genetics from around the country in their own herds. In this way, calf performance and value can be increased without a large investment. Producers can attend an AI class or hire a technician to breed their cows.
There are several steps that pay off when selling feeder calves. Calves should be identified through an ear tag, dewormed, and receive a basic set of vaccinations. Additionally, it is recommended that calves are backgrounded (broken to bunk feed) for 30-45 days before selling. Bulls should be castrated and any calves with horns should be dehorned.
Calves can be sold through the local livestock auction, to other producers for breeding animals, or directly to a feedlot or backgrounding operation. Producers may also enroll their calves in a value-added marketing program, such as the PA Calf Pool, to receive a premium for superior calf management practices.
Retained ownership occurs when a cow-calf producers chooses to send their animals to a feedlot, but does not sell the animals to the feedlot. This allows the producer to receive data on how the animals perform in the feedlot and the quality of the carcass at the packer’s.
In this way, producers have more information to make decisions about their breeding and marketing programs in the years to come. Furthermore, research has shown that in 6 out of 10 years it is more profitable to retain ownership of calves rather than simply selling them at weaning. However, this is generally available for larger operations, which can put together load lots (48,000-50,000 lbs of calves) for sale. Smaller operations can benefit from retained ownership when working through a co-op or with other local farms of similar size and production (calf colors, weights, management, etc.).
Many things can change the cost of a feeder calf, such a feed prices, the age/type of calf purchased and health costs throughout the year. For a steer calf purchased at weaning and raised to harvest weight, a cost estimate is around $925. A heifer calf (raised to a lighter finished weight) will cost closer to $800.
The amount of beef varies with factors such as the size of the calf, breed, and body composition. Most beef breeds will finish out from 1,200-1,400 lbs, of which approximately 50% will become retail beef products.
Carcass composition is critical for the best taste in beef products. The animal should have enough fat to give the meat some flavor, but not so much fat that there is a lot of waste to trim. The animal can be evaluated for fat in the brisket, cod/udder region, and over the ribs to determine when they are finished. In larger feedlots, it is common practice to use ultrasound technology to sort cattle into lots for appropriate harvest dates.
There are small, local meat processing businesses across the state that will do custom orders. It is important to contact the processing plant well before the time when the animal must actually be harvested, as some times of the year are very busy and may have a long wait before the facility can take your animal.
Permits and environmental regulations are unnecessary for the farmer with a few feeder calves, but a large scale feedlot faces higher regulation. Feedlots with over 1,000 head are classified as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), and require a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit as well as a Nutrient Management Plan.
Implanting involves inserting a small growth promotant in the animal’s ear. This allows the animal to gain faster and more efficiently convert feed into beef, although there may be a small loss in carcass quality as some studies have shown that implanted calves have less marbling.
Some farmers choose to grow their own corn and soybeans as a feed base, while others will purchase these ingredients from local producers or through a contract. Another option is to buy mixed feed directly from the feed mill.
Manure has many nutrients that are valuable for use on soils as fertilizer. Often, an agreement can be reached with nearby crop farms to spread manure, thus turning a problem into a valuable resource. Prior to application, it is recommended to get a nutrient analysis listing N, P, and K levels in the manure.
Measures of feedlot performance include average daily gain, feed conversion, mortality (death rates), morbidity (sickness rates), and turnover. Carcass quality is also important, and can be assessed through yield grade (affected by fat thickness and ribeye area), quality grade (amount of marbling), carcass weight, fat thickness (subcutaneous fat- fat on the exterior of the muscle), and ribeye area.
Tenderness and juiciness are the most cited factors in beef quality. These factors can be influenced by age of the animal at slaughter, breed, diet during the finishing phase, amount of fat within the meat (marbling; fat holds in water, increasing the juiciness and flavor of the meat), and hanging/dry-aging time.
Grass fed beef tends to be leaner than beef from traditionally fed animals and higher in vitamin D, conjugated linoleic acids, and omega-3 fatty acids. However, this can come with a tradeoff in beef flavor, as fat is one of the main components giving beef its taste and juiciness.
Guidelines (defined by USDA) for organic beef are much stricter than those for a ‘natural’ product, which has no exact specifications for product labeling. In general, consumers looking for a natural product are concerned that there are no hormones or unnecessary antibiotics used in raising the animal.
The risk of contamination from implants or antibiotics is minimal at best. There are strict withdrawal periods in place to ensure that the animals have enough time for these substances to clear from their system (half-life) before slaughter. In addition, the total amounts of hormones included in an implant are minimal in relation to the animal or human body’s own production of these same substances, or levels found in other plant products!