By Charlie Warner
In a recent press release, Luther College announced that 100 percent of the burgers served at the private college located in Decorah, Iowa are made with beef from Grass Run Farms, which is an area business that works with farmers in the region to raise antibiotic-free, grass fed beef.
Luther College is just one of an ever-increasing number of institutions, restaurants and grocery stores that are offering beef products that are never exposed to antibiotics, growth hormones or animal byproducts.
Grass Run Farms is owned and operated by Kristine and Ryan Jepsen of rural Dorchester. They grew up in the Midwest, finished college (Ryan is a Luther grad) and moved “out west” where they worked with old school grazing.
“While I worked at a magazine company and Ryan was a professional farrier, we lived as caretakers on a ranch,” Kristine recalled. “That’s where we were exposed to that type of livestock management. Ryan was interested in grazing and land management and after working with several career graziers, we decided to return to the Midwest.”
The couple purchased an acreage in Alamakee County. Ryan worked again as a farrier and Kristine worked at Luther College.
The Jepsens were so impressed with the grass fed method of raising beef cattle that they put their hearts and souls into it. They found they had the ability to not only raise and market grass fed animals, but were able to convince other livestock farms that this was a viable alternative to conventional beef farming.
Through years spent researching the grass fed industry, they have been able to develop a network of suppliers and markets.
The Jepsens began renting more land and began marketing quarter and half beef sections of grass fed beef. As the business grew, they partnered with a small, family-run processing plant in Omaha and regional distributors.
Six years ago the Jepsens sold quarters and halves out of a chest freezer at farmers markets. Now Grass Run Farms has an office building a half block off Main Street on South Division Street in Spring Grove, where they deal with producers and customers around the Midwest.
Kristine estimated that they are now handling about 2,000 animals a year. Their main distributor is located in Madison, Wis.
“Our goal is for grass fed beef to be a viable enterprise where livestock farmers can make a living and have a viable option to conventional livestock farming,” Kristine explained.
Kristine was quick to point out that Grass Run Farms is not trying to put conventional beef farming in a negative light. She used the words “option” and “alternative” several times when describing what she and her husband hope Grass Run Farms can offer area beef farmers as well as consumers.
One just doesn’t flip a switch when converting to the grass fed method. It takes a lot more pasture to produce grass fed beef. Farmers who raise cattle for Grass Run Farms must ensure the livestock they raise are never exposed to antibiotics, growth hormones or animal byproducts.
While many livestock farmers may pasture their animals as they are growing to maturity, the vast majority “finish” them with a ration of corn or other grains. Grass fed beef are finished using more alfalfa, molasses and other balanced minerals.
“It is more difficult finishing beef without the use of grains,” Kristine said. “But with the right planning and proper rations, it can be achieved.”
According to the Jepsen’s website, grass fed beef production is a year-round effort to meet the nutritional needs of cattle while utilizing grazing systems and infrastructure to improve the health and productivity of the pastures and farm systems. It’s working with and within the slow, monumental cycling of water, light and energy to raise high-quality forage and meat.
To ensure their producers can make a living utilizing the grass fed method, Grass Run Farms pays a premium above commodity beef prices to reward them for the extra care and attention they pay to the interconnected systems on their farm — soil structure, pasture quality, water cycles, fossil fuel usage, renewable energy, etc….
“We also work with our cattle producers year-round to exchange production information and share what we learn in the meat business about carcass yield and quality, thereby helping everyone add value to operations and make grazing meaningful for and attractive to even more producers,” the Jepsens stated.
Raising grass-fed beef also improves the health of the land.
As cows graze our pastures, they spread organic fertilizer (manure), trample organic matter into the topsoil, encourage regrowth of pasture forage and its root system — which prevents erosion, and much more.
Kristine said the grass fed industry has grown considerably over the past two decades. She said 10 to 15 years ago there were only a few specialty stores marketing it. Persons wanting grass fed beef used to buy a half a beef from a neighbor. Now grass fed beef is a commodity with USDA production recommendations.
You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]