Twenty (20) years ago, Kenneth Hamilton and his friend Rod Steward began experimenting with fermented forages as a way to reduce feed input costs in small finishing operations. Mr. Stewart was purchasing newborn Holstein bull calves from dairies and raising them to about 600 lbs when he would sell them off to feed lots for finishing. A spike in grain and other high-quality feed inputs put his operation in jeopardy so he contacted his friend Mr. Hamilton, an independent agricultural researcher, to brainstorm possible solutions.

The solution they came up with was to ferment low-quality grass forage, releasing typically inaccessible nutrients and generating fermentation metabolites to support the animal growth. Since cattle are natural grazers, the grasses should be all they need. The “experts” all told them it couldn’t be done, but through their own independent research, they were convinced it was possible. Through research, trial, and error, they developed a fermentation process that was not only successful, but palatable to the animals. In fact, the animals loved it.

Stewart was able to purchase low-quality grass hay from any available source, ferment it, and feed it, and the animals not only grew, but they thrived. They gained weight consistently, even during hot summer months and cold winter months, which were previously slower times. Their health and condition continually improved over previous calves as they gained weight rapidly, and the quality at sale weight (600 lbs) was exceptional. The only feed they received was milk replacer (with some fermentation probiotics mixed in) when they were first acquired, transitioning soon to the fermented forage, supplemented with occasional straw for roughage. They did not receive any grain.

In addition to the elevated and consistent weight gain, Mr. Stewart discovered that the animals were also much healthier than previous calves. Many of the calves came straight from birth, without even having any colostrum from the mother, so they often had very weak immune systems. The introduction of the fermentation biology into their diet from the very beginning appeared to be extremely effective at strengthening their immune systems. The new calves did not scour, and they did not get sick. Veterinary expenses were drastically reduced to almost nothing. The animals were healthier, and they looked like it.

After the first two years, the operation was changed to take the animals from newborn to finish, eliminating the feed lots and relying on the faster growth performance with the fermented forage. Animals were typically reaching 1200 lbs by 12-13 months without any additional feed supplements, just the fermented grasses.

As the finished animals were run through local processors, the butchers took notice of the quality and the differences. The meat was all prime and even the internal organs were different from typical beef. The fat cover was white and clean, and the meat was tender and easy to cut. Some of the butchers indicated they hadn’t seen meat like this for over 30 years. Over the next few years, Mr. Stewart’s finished beef was in high demand from specialty shops and restaurants for its flavor and quality.

The operation continued for about eight years, until Mr. Stewart decided to retire from his cattle operation (it was a side-line anyway, not his primary occupation).
The fermentation process that was developed and used during that time was effective, but not scalable in the real world. It was very labor intensive and didn’t translate well to other, more typical operations.