In the middle of the 20th century, the traditional method of raising and finishing cattle on the farm gave way to a newer concept of Midwest-based feedlots that could take advantage of low priced grain and improved transportation to finish and market beef in vast quantities.
But half a century later, the traditional production model is beginning to re-emerge.
Beef producers watching consumers' growing demand for locally produced products, and in some cases, for grass-finished beef, might be considering finishing their own cattle and marketing it locally. A 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 those, 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, the workshops will be held in Lexington on Feb. 18 and Feb. 25 and in Princeton on March 2 and March 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A third workshop will be offered in Eastern Kentucky at a date to be announced later.
All workshops consist of two sessions and are geared toward farmers with experience in cattle and grazing and 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.
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 was a response to help both sides of the supply chain, producers and consumers.
"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 what they're looking for," he said.
The first session will include discussions about pasture management, production costs, production systems, cattle breeds, marketing systems, market outlets and butchering and processing. Participants who decide to take the next step toward producing a locally finished product should attend the second session.
"Session Two will be a lot more hands-on," Meyer said. "We'll lay out alternative systems, and they can match up the resources on their farms with what they've learned about production systems. It will almost be like a cafeteria offering of options."
"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 classes 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 mailto:[email protected]  or the local county Extension office. Cost per session is $10. Lunch is included.