The Berea College Farm beef cattle operation is managed entirely on pasture to produce grass-finished beef. Constantly evolving based on breeding success, herd health, and market needs, the herd currently consists of about 175 head. The herd consists of 50 cows, 28 calves born in 2020, 43 yearlings born in 2019, 9 steers from the 2018 season, and two bulls. The primary breeds are Angus, Hereford, and Red Devon. The operation is start-to-finish; the farm uses its two bulls for breeding, and calves are raised on pasture for meat purposes or integrated into the breeding group. Students working on the farm or involved in the Animal Science courses offered by the ANR program have the opportunity to experience all parts of the cattle enterprise while being supervised by Farm staff and ANR faculty. Processes include grazing rotations, feeding hay, calving, working calves, selecting heifers for the breeding group, selecting steers ready for market, and carrying out the pest management and vaccine schedule. Students are taught safe and ethical handling practices and expected to adhere to these standards at all times.
Calving season begins in May when the pastures are in full spring flush. During this time, pastures can support the high nutrition needed for lactation. After some time to bond with their mothers, calves receive an ear-tag, and the males are castrated. This is a hands-on experience that requires a team effort and a lot of precautions. At about 7-8 months of age, before the next breeding season, the calves are fence-line weaned to reduce stress on calves and mothers. Based on their behavior and health, heifers will be selected to join the breeding group, and steers will be to provide meat sold to the dining hall and the College Farm Store.
Throughout the year, the Farm follows a vaccination and pest management schedule. Cattle are dewormed and vaccinated regularly depending on their age and if they are in the breeding group. Students learn to administer vaccines and dewormer as well as assign a behavior score and a body condition score. Record keeping is also an essential part of each process. Cattle will graze or be fed hay/haylage depending on pasture quality, quantity, and time of year. Farm staff manages grazing intensively to improve efficiency and distribution of manure for nutrient cycling. Students and staff complete and follow a grazing plan that optimizes the use of pastured land. In the winter or drought conditions, cattle are fed hay or haylage produced on the College Farm land.
The beef produced is Animal Welfare Approved and American Grass-fed Association certified. It is also sold to the College’s dining hall and the Berea College Farm Store.