On a Georgia Beef Farm, Raising Grass-Finished Beef Starts in the Ground

At the time, he was not attracted to agriculture. “I was always reading a book,” Glenn said. “I knew that one day I would have the opportunity or the responsibility to manage or direct things. But I had no interest in studying agriculture or animal husbandry.

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Young heifers graze in the morning light at Deep Grass Graziers in Fitzgerald. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Young heifers graze in the morning light at Deep Grass Graziers in Fitzgerald.  (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Young heifers graze in the morning light at Deep Grass Graziers in Fitzgerald. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Instead, he studied English and journalism at the University of Georgia and planned to be a magazine writer. But after five years and two degrees, Glenn shifted gears to spending time in the culinary world and “writing for fun.” He worked for a time at the Grit in Athens, then joined a friend to set up a catering business.

In In 2002, Glenn moved to St. Croix, where he helped found the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute, a working farm focused on research, education, and local food production and distribution. It was there that he met his wife, Jennifer, who was teaching at the university.

Go home

With a growing interest in the Slow Food movement, the couple returned to Georgia in 2009. Thinking they would open a farm-to-table restaurant, Glenn purchased a century-old building in downtown Osierfield that was once a small country store. . The restaurant never saw the light of day, but during this time he decided to try his hand at becoming a breeder.

“I realized our cow program was suffering, so I stepped in to start looking after our cattle,” Glenn said. “That’s when I went down the rabbit hole to really enjoy the presence of the cattle. And then I had to figure out what would be my role and my philosophy that would put my stamp on the program.

Returning to what he called “a very conventional beef program,” with large, heavily muscled calves that excelled in the feedlots, Glenn made the transition from operation to raising finished cows at the ‘grass. This means they never eat corn or other grains.

In the process, grazing cows naturally increases soil biodiversity and is better for the environment in terms of dealing with animal waste. Additionally, grass-fed beef is increasingly believed to be better for human health.

But first, Glenn had to change the type of cows he raised.

“I was interested in grass finishing from a soil health, human health, and environmental perspective,” Glenn said. “I realized that this type of genetics didn’t work for what I wanted to do. They got too big and it was really hard to get a good finish, where they’ll marble and taste good.

These days his herds are mainly drawn from lines of British breeds, such as Red Angus, Black Angus and Hereford, which can fatten on grass more efficiently than many other breeds. And recently, Glenn began saving some of his own bulls, rather than selling them.

“When you can start rescuing bulls from your best cows that are performing best in your environment, you accelerate the adaptability of that offspring faster,” he said. “My goal now is to identify my best producing cows, save the best bulls and breed them into the herd.”

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Dan Glenn gives Fitzgerald a tour of Deep Grass Graziers. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Dan Glenn gives Fitzgerald a tour of Deep Grass Graziers.  (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Dan Glenn gives Fitzgerald a tour of Deep Grass Graziers. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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The pivot

Another innovation from Deep Grass Graziers is the center pivot irrigation system installed by Glenn. “There aren’t many people who take a pivot that’s been built for row crops and make permanent pasture out of it, and that’s what we’ve done here,” he said.

As the name suggests, the Pasture Pivot is set up with sprinklers attached to steel outriggers that are moved around a 90-acre field. The pie-shaped plot is subdivided into several paddocks by a series of fences, with water troughs positioned on the fence lines so that the cows can reach them between two paddocks.

“The key to finishing grass is having high-quality forage year-round,” Glenn said. “Hybrid Bermuda grass for summer, polyculture plantings in late spring and fall and two pastures for tillage in November and December. By doing managed grazing, we use manure and urine effectively to act as fertilizer. We also use our hay feed in a way that feeds the soil as well. »

Currently, the family owns approximately 3,000 acres and leases an additional 350 acres. But of that, up to 1,000 acres are covered in trees and swamps. “Between row crops and pasture, it’s more like 1,900 acres,” Glenn said.

Glenn describes the day-to-day work as “labour-intensive,” working with multiple breeding groups, multiple bloodlines, developing bulls and selling females. “I’ve managed to make raising cattle as complicated as possible,” he laughs.

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Dan Glenn can smell when the bales are safe for his livestock to eat. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Dan Glenn can smell when the bales are safe for his livestock to eat.  (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Dan Glenn can smell when the bales are safe for his livestock to eat. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Cow pies and balls

Over the years, Glenn has been involved with several science and regenerative agriculture organizations, including the American Forage and Grassland Council, the National Grazing Lands Coalition, and the United States Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. USDA. But in addition to science and data, there are times when his eyes and nose can be just as useful.

With herds of different types, ages and nutritional needs, a cattle farmer often needs to act as a dietician. And one of the best ways to determine forage quality and livestock health is to look at their manure.

“The best cow pies look like pancake batter, are nearly symmetrical, and even have a divot in the middle,” Glenn explained. “It’s the perfect pancake. What you don’t want is a big pie that looks like horse manure. It contains too much fiber.

Although Deep Grass Graziers cows are not fed grain, they are fed turnips, cabbage and kale. Additionally, there are bales, a partially dried, hay-like fodder that is baled and wrapped in plastic. And Glenn has developed a keen sense of when bales are safe for his livestock to eat by visually inspecting certain molds.

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Dan Glenn receives a morning greeting from #172 at Deep Grass Graziers. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Dan Glenn receives a morning greeting from #172 at Deep Grass Graziers.  (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Dan Glenn receives a morning greeting from #172 at Deep Grass Graziers. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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The bigger picture

Spending time on the farm with Glenn, it is evident that he loves and cares for his cows and the land they live on. And he has favorite cows that reciprocate, including a Black Angus who regularly cuddles him up as a morning greeting. As one of his mentors, Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, used to say, he tries to make sure they only have one bad day.

But as the percentage of vegetarians and vegans in the United States continues to rise, meat and the way it is produced continue to create cultural and moral divides.

“It’s easy to feel reluctant to support America’s modern confined animal exploitation system,” Glenn said. “I have no problem with someone having a moral distaste for it. Is this the cheapest way to produce low-cost protein? Yes. But is this the system we want to support?”

As a guiding principle of regenerative agriculture, Glenn sees a future where beef production is not only ethical, but radically improves the environment.

“A properly managed farm or ranch can improve the landscape over time and improve the water-holding capacities of our soils, the amount of biological material you can grow on a given acre over time, and mimic the cycles natural events that have been happening for tens of thousands of years,” he said. “Right now, we’re at the dawn of science measuring these things.”

For more information on Deep Grass Graziers, visit deepgrassgraziers.com. Find more stories about Georgian farmers and recipes for their products at ajc.com/georgia-on-my-plate.


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