Posts Tagged: Fadzayi Mashiri
The health benefits of grass-fed beef are well documented. Meat from cattle that live out their lives grazing on rangeland before being processed has more beta-carotene, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids than the meat from animals finished at feed lots.
The health benefits – and for some consumers, the idea that cattle raised on the range have longer, happier lives than conventional beef cattle – increases the value of the product. Grass-fed beef generally sells for 60 percent more per pound than standard beef. These potential premium prices get cattle ranchers' interest, and therefore captured the attention of UC Cooperative Extension rangeland advisor for Mariposa and Merced counties Fadzayi Mashiri.
Two major challenges face ranchers who wish to produce grass-fed beef: the lack of local processing plants, and the unfamiliar marketing strategies that successfully selling a niche product demands.
“I decided to bring ranchers together to discuss these issues,” Mashiri said. She formed a group that meets regularly in Mariposa County to discuss how they might be able to work as a team to break into the grass-fed beef market. Mashiri sees this project as an opportunity for the ranchers to diversify their sources of income and increase profit margins.
“Farm to fork is getting big,” said Marshall Long, a Mariposa County supervisor and rancher who attended the meeting this fall. “I want to keep those value-added dollars in the county.
Most of the ranchers in the valley and foothill counties of Merced, Mariposa, Madera and Fresno have cow-calf operations. After calves are born on the range, they stay on the land for about a year before being sold at auctions and fed grain or other high-carbohydrate feeds in feedlots. In grass-fed production, yearlings aren't sold, but rather kept on the land for another two years before they are processed.
The meat can be quite different. Grass-fed cattle produce meat with a distinctive flavor, less marbling, and a yellow cast. And, it commands a higher price.
“We have strength in numbers,” Schiff said.
Made in Mariposa is a potential marketing partner, or represents a model for local beef producers to emulate.
“If we think big, how big do we want to be?” Mashiri asked. “Can we work together to relieve individual producers of the pressure of selling on their own?”
The producers concluded that their next step would be a market study to determine whether stores and restaurants would be willing to pay for a ready supply of grass-fed beef. Schiff of Made in Mariposa and Mashiri will identify grant opportunities that would allow the group to move forward with the study.
Under Mashiri's leadership the ranchers will come together again in the spring to continue their planning work together to increase their businesses' bottom lines by diversifying into the production of a specialty meat product.
With some recent forecasts bringing encouraging news about a potential El Niño, some ranchers have been asking about what they should expect in terms of forage production, if and when the rains come. What they want to know is how soon rangeland productivity will reach the pre-drought levels again. One issue that I always draw their attention to is the levels of residual dry matter (RDM) on the rangelands. Even with the reduction in herd sizes and shorter grazing seasons employed by most producers, more rangelands now have less than recommended RDM levels.
RDM is a measure of the old plant material (without counting summer annuals) that are left standing or on the ground before the fall precipitation comes. It is a great indicator of both forage production and grazing intensity. These leftover plant materials are critical on California rangelands to reduce erosion and nutrient loss, and to create a conducive environment for diverse plant communities to thrive. Optimum RDM levels are site specific, they range from 100-2,100 pounds per acre, and depend on precipitation zone, slope and tree canopy cover. Ideal RDM levels increases with precipitation and slope, and decreases with tree cover. Studies show that too low or too high RDM levels will reduce species composition and forage production, both factors critical to any livestock production system. The good news is that annual rangelands are resilient and will likely return to normal production within two years after bringing RDM level to recommended standards.
Knowing the RDM standards for one's rangeland and continuously monitoring is an important step towards achieving sustainable rangeland management and livestock production.
Details about RDM standards, data collection methods and more can be found in the free UC Agriculture and Natural Resources publication Guidelines for Residual Dry Matter on Coastal and Foothill Rangelands in California.
Author: Fadzayi Mashiri, Ph.D.
Statements such as: "This year is the best (or worst) grass year of my adult life" or "We started seeing this weed on our property about 10 years ago and now it is all over" are commonly used to describe rangeland condition. Although such statements are most likely correct, what is lacking in most cases is rangeland monitoring data to support these statements.
What is rangeland monitoring? Rangeland monitoring is observing, collecting and analyzing data to document change over time and how these changes may relate to management and environmental factors such as climate and soil.
Landowners need monitoring programs to detect:
- Rangeland improvement so they know to continue the good management
- Negative changes in order to take corrective measures
- Weed infestation in order to start weed control
- Effects of an extreme event, e.g. drought.
Although most ranchers and rangeland scientists agree that rangeland monitoring data is critical for landowners to make informed management decisions and to better understand rangeland ecosystems, the problem is that most monitoring protocols can be time consuming and data too complex to analyze and interpret. This is especially true for rangeland managers and landowners who are busy with all the day-to-day land, animal and infrastructure management. As a result most find it difficult to add consistent rangeland monitoring to their schedules.
However, repeat photography, which is a simple and fast monitoring method that produces easy to interpret information, can be the answer. Although repeat photography does not provide detailed information, it can show changes in plant growth, plant cover, species composition, residual biomass, litter and vegetation structure.
Establishing a good repeat photo monitoring protocol involves selecting the right 1) site to take photos, 2) plot size (small plot to landscape view), 3) timing (what season) and 4) frequency (how often) to take photos, based on the goals. When monitoring for trends at management unit level, it is best to select a site that is representative of a largest part of the management unit.
For more information, see the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources guideline for using photographs to monitor rangeland, Photo-Monitoring for Better Land Planning and Assessment./table>
Medusahead, an unwelcome transplant from Europe, is anathema to the cattle living off rangeland grass. The weed's three-inch-long bristles poke and sometimes injure the animals' mouths and eyes. The weed is also low-quality forage for livestock. When medusahead takes over rangeland, it reduces the forage value by 80 percent.
When Fadzayi Mashiri, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Mariposa, Merced and Madera counties, was appointed in 2013, she became the first natural resources and rangeland expert to hold the position since the retirement of Wain Johnson more than a decade before. She polled local ranchers to determine their most pressing problems. They said weed management, and in particular, medusahead.
Medusahead is relatively easy to identify on the range. It has distinctive stiff awns and a seed head that does not break apart as seeds mature. Patches of medusahead are obvious when spring turns into summer.
“Medusahead stays green after most of the annual grasses have dried off,” Mashiri said.
Medusahead has high silica content, making it unpalatable to cattle. The silica also protects the plant from decomposition, so a thick thatch builds up on the rangeland, suppressing more desirable species, but not the germination of the next year's medusahead seedlings.
- Corral cows on medusahead before the plant heads out or employ sheep to graze medusahead patches. It's not sheep's favorite forage either, but they will eat if left with no other option.
- Prescribed burning in late spring or early summer. However, this strategy poses air quality and liability issues.
- Apply nitrogen fertilizer to medusahead to improve palatability before it flowers, which is showing promise for controlling the weed and boosting the value of infested rangeland.
- Chemical control.
In spring 2014, Mashiri conducted a demonstration field trial in Mariposa County of medusahead control with the herbicide Milestone, which was developed by Dow AgroSciences mainly to control broadleaf weeds like yellow starthistle. The trial followed rangeland weed control research done by scientists including Joe DiTomaso, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. DiTamaso found that the density of medusahead in treated areas declined and concluded that Milestone prevents medusahead seedlings from thriving.
Unfortunately, Milestone treatment of large rangeland areas is expensive.
“But if the value of forage declines, the productivity of livestock is compromised,” Mashiri said. “When you look at it that way, the chemical treatment might be useful.”