Consumers increasingly are interested in finding locally produced products and, in some cases, grass-finished beef. As a result, some beef producers might be considering a return to a pre-mid-century model of finishing their own cattle and marketing it locally, rather than shipping their stock to Midwest-based feedlots.

The University of Kentucky two-part Pasture-Based Beef Finishing Workshop will help them analyze their operations and explore the financial potential for locally finished beef.

"The farmers will be able to make a decision about whether they want to go to a completely pasture-based system or if they want to do a grain-on-grass supplemental system," said Lee Meyer, Extension professor in the UK Department of Agricultural Economics. "There are pros and cons to both, and there are risks, different costs and different product quality."

Funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Education Program, two workshops have already been held in central and eastern Kentucky. A third two-day workshop will be held in western Kentucky at the Muhlenberg County Extension office Jan. 5 and 6. This workshop will be geared toward farmers with experience in cattle and grazing, who are interested in exploring the locally produced beef alternative.

"There are lots of examples of financially successful locally-marketed beef, but there are examples on the flipside as well," Meyer said.

Significant challenges

Greg Halich, UK assistant Extension professor in agricultural economics and one of the workshop organizers, said there are significant producer challenges in such a system.

"Bringing animals to a finishing weight in a reasonable time frame is no easy task and requires not only a fundamental understanding of how beef cattle mature, but also an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of various forages. Butchering can be a challenge, with issues such as federal inspection, aging and scheduling being potential problems. And marketing may be the biggest obstacle to selling grass-finished animals," he said.

Meyer said the workshop is a response to help both sides of the supply chain.

"We're trying to help satisfy that consumer demand (for a locally produced product) and really help producers find a way to profitably provide consumers with what they're looking for," he said.

The first day's session will include discussions about pasture management, production costs, production systems, cattle breeds, marketing systems, market outlets and butchering and processing. The second session will go into more depth. Participants will have a chance to analyze specific production and marketing scenarios.

"If you're running 100 head of stocker cattle right now, you're not going to finish all those head and have a market for it all right away. You're going to have to grow your business," Halich said.

For that reason, he said, all aspects of a successful locally produced beef operation would be explored — everything from different types of forage and finishing methods through options for processing.

Meyer and Halich will teach the workshop along with other members of the UK College of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension staff and faculty, including Extension Meat Specialist Gregg Rentfrow, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Jeff Lehmkuhler and Sarah Lovett, Extension associate in agricultural economics.



To register for the workshop sessions, contact Lovett at 859-257-7272, ext. 281 or sarah.lovett@uky.edu or the local county Extension office. These offices can be found at http://ces.ca.uky.edu/ces/. Cost per session is $10. Lunch is included.