STRATFORD, Wis. – “I’m no expert but I’m willing to be an open book and share some of things we’ve learned since we began building pasture in 2015,” Jason Cavadini told visitors to his farm for an evening pasture walk Sept. 3.
Just beyond the group a colorful mix of cross-bred beef cattle grazed contentedly while he spoke. The cattle were in a field that was the first to be converted to pasture from corn and soybeans in 2015. Cavadini pointed out a spread pattern from this spring’s frost seeding – a seeding he performed with an old-fashioned hand-held seeder as he walked the field this past April.
Cavadini and his wife, Jocelyn Cavadini, have owned Cavern Point Farm near Stratford for five years. They hosted the walk, which focused on building a pasture-to-consumer farm business. Jason Cavadini is also the assistant superintendent at the nearby University of Wisconsin-Marshfield Agricultural Research Station near Stratford. Bill Kolodziej, owner of Sandstone Ranch near Plover, Wisconsin, was a co-host of the walk. Kolodziej is a grazing specialist with the Marathon County Land Conservation, Planning and Zoning Commission.
There are 10 things that affect the farm’s profitability, Cavadini said. Most important is the potential for profit through direct marketing.
“Bill will say that you should set up your farm to be profitable even if your cattle are sold at the sale barn,” Cavadini said. “Even though that’s true there’s an opportunity to make more money through direct marketing. It’s been a hot topic since the COVID-19 breakout. Direct farm sales of beef are in big demand.”
Number two on Cavadini’s list refers to buying animals.
“Buying animals jeopardizes profit,” he said. “That’s a big statement to make. But we’ve come to realize until we can grow from within our profits will be limited. We’ve been selling a lot of beef in the past few years – and then we turn around and buy more animals and it defeats the purpose. We’re focused now on growing from within.”
Homegrown genetics is third in importance to the health of his pasture-to-consumer business.
“By culling animals that show a weakness in your system you improve the genetics of your herd,” he said. “When you eliminate bringing in replacements you accelerate that genetic progress.”
Fourth on Cavadini’s personal list is understocking his pastures. Rather than pushing his young pastures to the limit by maximizing the stocking rate, he has reduced his cattle numbers in recent years. In the past he had an arrangement with a dairy farmer to custom-graze heifers. But because his farm was heavily stocked, all the money gained from custom grazing was eaten by needing to purchase hay for his own cattle in winter.
Being overstocked led him to No. 5 on his list.
“If you’re custom-grazing and keeping the animals for the winter make sure you charge enough for the winter feeding season,” he said. “Don’t let custom grazing lead you to being overstocked. It’s too stressful.”
No. 6 for Cavern Point Farm is to target a 40-day rotation for grass recovery.
“We’ve learned that the hard way,” he said. “I’ve tried fast rotations where I let the cattle top pastures and rotate the herd faster, but I thought it really stressed the pastures.”
Cavadini listed using a leader-follower grazing system as essential to his success.
“You can get more bang for your buck by leading with the steers and following with the cow herd,” he said. “The steers really do well when they get the cream of the crop.”
At No. 8 he talked about the importance of a good mineral mix.
“We’re convinced our mineral mix has helped us avoid pinkeye,” he said. “We’ve never had a case and don’t vaccinate for it. We also don’t use fly tags.”
Winter bale grazing is the ninth element that he believes is key to his farm’s success.
“Get your bales set up early,” he said. “Last year we got caught unprepared; it snowed the day after Halloween. We dinked around all winter getting hay out in the fields.”
Handling facilities rounded out the list for Cavern Point Farm.
“Any investments that we’ve made in handling facilities have been well worth it,” Cavadini said. “Even though we haven’t used them heavily it’s good to be able to treat an animal when you have to.”
With almost four years of experience selling grass-fed beef he’s no expert, he said. His list of factors represents what he’s learned until this point in utilizing his farm for intensive grazing and direct marketing. He said his farm definitely needs a website but he finds Facebook just as valuable.
“A website would be good for answering the many similar questions we get,” he said. “I spend a lot of time answering basic questions from customers.”
Overcoming the hurdle of deciding on a processor is an important step to consider. He said most processors are full to capacity and have significant waiting lists. He believes the carcass should dry age for 14 to 21 days.
“By using vacuum sealed packaging, you can “wet age” cuts for up to a week in your refrigerator prior to cooking,” he said.
He stressed the importance of knowing production costs so customers can be charged accordingly.
“COVID has changed how consumers think about the food they eat and how it’s processed,” he said. “It used to be that folks bought beef from a farmer to save money. Now we do it because it’s a superior product. And people are willing to pay for that.”