Beef Farmer’s Success Built on Grass


Philip Gruber, Lancaster Farming (PA)

Feb 1, 2019


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — As a building contractor, John Lima was used to making things with wood and stone.


As a beef farmer since 2010, he’s built his business on grass.


Lima, of Lima Family Farms in Hillsborough, talked about his pasture management during the winter conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey on Jan. 26 at Rutgers University.


Lima’s first experience with farming was growing straw as mulch for his construction business.


As a result, he knew something about grass when he bought his first livestock, 17 heifers he planned to raise on pasture.


“Honestly, up until then, I never had anything more than a goldfish,” Lima said.


He now has 60 cow-calf pairs and 60 feeders, which are grass-fed on 360 acres.


Lima moves the cows at least once a day, preferably twice.


He follows the current recommendation to have the cows eat half of the plant and leave half. Paddocks that start at 10 to 14 inches are grazed to 5 or 6 inches.


Grazing lower hinders regrowth, Lima said.


This strategy also puts cattle in the best position to grow efficiently.


Grass-fed beef only tastes good if they’re growing quickly, and “you have to have leafy grasses for them to gain,” he said.


As for haymaking, Lima makes mainly balage.


It’s not the cheapest option — the plastic used to wrap those wet bales costs $5 per bale — but it can be hard to get a long enough window for drying the grass.


“If I have dry weather, I’ll make dry hay,” Lima said.


Balage production is the quicker process, taking less than 24 hours.


It starts when Lima cuts the crop in the evening or morning. Around 10 a.m., he teds, then rakes, bales and wraps. He’s done by dinnertime.


The plastic cuts off oxygen to bacteria that would otherwise heat up a wet bale and potentially cause it to burn.


Instead, the wrapped bale ferments...