Participants visit two different operations in Pennsylvania
By TAMARA SCULLY
FLEMINGTON — Where is the beef? For a group of New Jersey cattle farmers, the answer was Pennsylvania. More precisely, the Masonic Village Farm, in Elizabethtown, Pa., and the Nissley Brothers Feedlots, in Mt. Joy, Pa.
Both facilities were visited as a part of the Beef Quality Assurance Tour, sponsored by the New Jersey Beef Industry Council, and the New Jersey Angus Association, held on April 21.
The tour leader was Bob Mickel, Hunterdon County Extension agent and New Jersey Beef Council representative.
Of the two dozen tour participants, about 18 indicated they were beef producers, while three indicated that they had herds nearing 100 head.
In comparison, Masonic Village Farm raises 180 cow/calf pairs, and finishes approximately 200 head of steer annually in their feedlot.
The farm also maintain its own bulls and breeding program.
The farm has about 500 head in all phases of production at any given time.
Nissley Brothers Feedlots finishes cattle year-round, with more than 500 head at any given time.
These larger facilities, both BQA certified, would give New Jersey producers the opportunity to learn first-hand about production-scale agriculture, which has been losing ground — literally — in New Jersey for many years.
The farm at Masonic Village is a combined cow/calf, stocker and feedlot operation.
Cattle are primarily purebred Shorthorns.
It is a rotational grazing-based program, with pastures connected by alleyways, all designed to be operated by one person.
Farm manager Frank Stoltzfus and herdsman Stephen McMahon, along with Gerald Tracy, Director of Environmental Services and Land Management, led the tour.
The farm has converted all of its erosion-prone former cropland into grassland, Stoltzfus said.
Pastures are located where erosion or wetlands occur, and therefore are spread across the farm.
The alleyways provide connection between these locations.
“We can run cattle to any part of the farm without handling them,” Stoltzfus said of the alleyway system.
With only two farmers, the entire system must run efficiently.
The farm also has the Conoy Creek, a tributary to the Susquehanna River, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay, crisscrossing its land.
Part of the conservation activities on the farm include fencing off the stream from livestock pastures, constructing three planned stream crossings for livestock, adding a spring-fed cattle watering system to the pastures, implementing a nutrient management plan to protect runoff and water quality, using cover cropping, and no-till techniques on the entire farm.
Sediment was removed from the stream, and the banks were stabilized and replanted.
Masonic Village Farm consists of 600 managed acres, 300 of which are in permanent grass, most of them enrolled in the NRCS Grasslands Reserve Program.
There are 200 acres of corn, 50 of soybeans, 50 in permanent hay rotation and 60 acres of orchards.
The fields are all manure fertilized, utilizing about 6,000 gallons of manure in the late winter.
They will not haul manure on frozen ground or on snow.
These efforts led to the Masonic Village Farm being named the 2011 National Cattlemen’s Foundation Environmental Steward Award winner.
They are the first winners to come from the Northeast. The farm provides educational tours to promote its conservation and resource management, and best agricultural practices.
“Managing the grass is how we manage the cows,” Stoltzfus said.
Matching the number of head with the acres of grazing land optimizes the economic value of the land, by maximizing the grazing capacity.
The cow herd is rotationally grazed, with all the hay produced on the farm.
The herd is ideally maintained at 180 head.
A newer hay storage facility holds 1,600 large square bales, and has greatly decreased hay waste.
Prior to this, the farm used round bales, stored outside and suffered a thrity-percent hay loss each year.
With the covered storage, designed to hold 200 large square bales per bay, 100 per row, with the bottom row elevated off the dirt floor by landscape timbers, the loss is down below five percent.
The storage has also decreased the amount of labor needed, he said.
Heifers do get fed corn and are put into their own feedlot before breeding to fatten up.
The farm’s breeding program is working to develop Shorthorns with calving ease, McMahon said.
Calving is done outside, but they have the capacity to move the pair into the barn if needed.
The farm works to keep calving season as condensed as possible, with primarily spring calving, completed by April 15.
“We try to cover just about all aspects of feeder production,” McMahon said.
The farm has its own bulls, incorporates some artificial insemination, and also uses embryo transfers, doing 30 last spring.
They collect and sell semen as well, and synchronize some groups of heifers.
Calves are vaccinated against E. coli at one day old.
Calves are surgically castrated, and dehorned if needed, at three months, as well as given appropriate vaccinations, McMahon said.
The feedlot operation at Masonic Village Farm finishes some cattle on contract.
The farm’s own cattle go into the show barn or are seed stock, with the remainder going into the feedlot.
The group also toured the Nissley Bros. Feedlots in nearby Mt. Joy.
This operation is a finishing operation on 150 acres.
They grow some of their own feed on their acreage, plus another 300 rented acres.
“We’re here to run as many cattle as we can,” Darwin Nissley said.
The seventh generation farm operates the feedlot year-round, buying cows in the 800-pound range and finishing them at about 1,300 pounds.
The cows primarily originate from farms in Virginia or North Carolina, Nissley said.
Ninety percent of the cattle are sold to JBS Swift, the world’s largest beef producer, with over a dozen consumer brands of beef alone.
Feed consists of food processing waste, such as cocoa hulls, cereal waste, candy meal, plus their own barley, corn silage, and soy hulls, and some supplements.
They work closely with a nutritionist.
Feed is stored in silos and in bunkers, with efficiency being a primary concern of the operation.
Feeding occurs twice per day, and the average daily gain is about 3.5 pounds.
The animals are on the farm for about 120 days, with a constant rotation of new animals and animals going to slaughter.
All animals are vaccinated the day after arrival, and all are started on concrete floors, before being moved to the primary barn, which has a slatted floor.
Animals have 20 square feet of space at their stocking density, and they are able to turn or lay down.
While they are considered a high-density operation, they are not a CAFO, due to their acreage.
The manure pit is separated from a stream which runs through the farm, and is designed to protect the waterway from any runoff.
Pits are pumped twice per year and manure is spread on the fields.
The farm is also contour planted, and has incorporated low-till practices.
They will not spread manure on snow.
The farm also has “speed bumps” to prevent runoff when moving cattle between barns.
Participants on the tour were able to see examples of two different farm operations, both BQA-certified, which have implemented best practices for their situations.
The group returned to New Jersey with practical knowledge that can be incorporated on their own farms as appropriate, having experienced many different aspects of the beef business, from breeding to finishing.