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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Overview of Research and Resources at the Subtropical Agricultural Research Station in Brooksville Florida

History

The SubTropical Agricultural Research Station (STARS) is a cooperative research unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service and the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. At the STARS unit, integrated research approaches are emphasized on a multi-disciplinary basis to address specific researchable problems of the industry.

A gift in 1932 to the Federal Government of almost 2,100 acres of rolling west central Florida timber and pasture land by Colonel and Mrs. Raymond Robins formed the basis for the STARS. Additional acreage has been added over the years and the STARS now totals about 3,800 acres with over 3,200 acres in pasture. Cattle used for research on the Station include about 600 head of breeding females with a total of about 1,000 head of cows, calves, and bulls. The headquarters for the STARS is located north of Brooksville, Florida, on Chinsegut Hill, one of the highest points in peninsular Florida at 274 feet above sea level.

The STARS has a distinguished history of accomplishments in support of the beef cattle industry, particularly for producers in the subtropical zones of the US. Prior to the 1950s, research at the STARS was conducted on citrus, poultry, and cattle. Significant contributions were made in beef cattle breeding and genetics during the Station's first 50 years. Differences in and between British, Zebu, and British x Zebu cross beef cattle were characterized. Additionally, widely recognized pioneering research was conducted at the STARS and reported in the Journal of Animal Science between 1971 and 1985. The research demonstrated the existence of genetic x environment interactions in beef cattle and showed that locally produced cows generally performed better than cows introduced from another environment. Starting in the 1980s in keeping with Agency priorities to increase production efficiency and profitability, ARS expanded research efforts in the areas of genetics and nutrition and added research efforts in the areas of reproductive physiology, forage management, and water quality and the environment. In 1998, the Florida Cattlemen supported a program increase for the establishment of a new research direction at the STARS to assess the impact of cattle operations on surface water quality, particularly with respect to phosphorus. This was initiated in 2000 with emphasis on cattle behavior and how congregation sites may contribute to excessive nutrients.

Recent Significant Accomplishments Include:

  • Cooperated to develop the first expected progeny differences (EPDs) for carcass and meat traits in Brahman cattle.
  • Using purebred Brahman progeny testing, determined that carcass traits were moderately heritable and some meat traits (e.g., tenderness) were lowly heritable.
  • In an evaluation of Brahman, Senepol, and Tuli crossbred cows, Brahman and Tuli-sired cows had similar reproductive and maternal performance.
  • Identified molecular markers associated with the slick hair gene isolated to bovine chromosome 20. The slick gene appears related to heat tolerance.
  • Established a herd of Romosinuano cattle with subsequent evaluations as straightbreds and crossbreds (with Brahman and Angus).
  • Heterosis or hybrid vigor between Brahman x Romosinuano and Angus x Romosinuano are lower than those between Brahman and Angus.
  • STARS scientists and colleagues (University of MO, ARS Lubbock, TX) were the first to characterize the pattern of a number of cytokines to an inflammatory response in cattle.
  • Angus and Romosinuano differ in their response to acute stress and this may have implications toward rapid infection, immunity, and heat stress.
  • Romosinuano bulls and heifers reached puberty earlier and at lighter body weights than Brahman. Romosinuano are heat tolerant and have the potential to enhance reproductive efficiency.
  • Conducted the first prevalence study for E. coli O157:H7 in cows in the southern U.S. and demonstrated a breed effect. E. coli O157:H7 is present, and the use of breed as an on-farm control should be studied.
  • Developed establishment and management criteria for perennial peanut (Arachis glabrata), a subtropical perennial legume adapted to the upland soils of the coastal plain with excellent forage quality.
  • STARS scientists showed that the growth rate of most breeds of calves in the late summer is below their genetic potential, largely due to declining milk production of their dams and low nutritive value of available forage. Rhizoma perennial peanut as a creep pasture for nursing beef calves, improved the growth rate, especially in years when grass quality was low.
  • One problem with rhizoma perennial peanut stands is encroachment of broadleaf weeds. Applying spring N fertilization to peanut-grass mixtures increased available dry matter due to the additive effect of increased grass production without compromising the legume contribution.
  • Soil P and other crop nutrient levels declined over a 15-year period (1988-2002) in bahiagrass pastures, and especially in bahiagrass-perennial peanut hay fields. Hence, properly managed livestock operations should not be major contributors to excess P in surface water.
  • Dredged materials from lake bottoms enhanced bahiagrass pasture establishment and reduced the need for its disposal in landfills. Lake-dredged materials did not have any concentration of heavy metals or human pathogens above levels approved by the EPA.

Current Research Thrusts

  • The research at the STARS for subtropical regions is to improve the development, adaptation, system sustainability, and lifetime productivity of crossbred Brahman-Angus cows, to maximize the value of their progeny using all available genomic and physiological tools, and to minimize their impact on the environment.
  • Developing a Brahman herd to evaluate and improve reproductive efficiency, carcass quality, and feed efficiency.
  • Evaluation of tropically adapted beef cattle germplasm for productivity traits throughout the production cycle and different climates.
  • Assessment of nutrient (N & P) loadings and cycling in extensive beef cattle operations.

Human Resources

  • Research Animal Scientists - Dr. Chad Chase, Dr. Sam Coleman
  • Research Soil Scientist - Dr. Gilbert Sigua
  • Cat 3 Scientists - 2
  • Biological and Physical Science Technicians - 3
  • Office Automation Assistant - vacant
  • Administrative, Accounting, Purchasing networked with ARS, Gainesville
  • Automotive and Maintenance Mechanics - 2
  • University of Florida furnishes Animal Caretakers - 4

Incoming Funds

  • University of Florida, $98,000, salaries for Animal Caretakers.
  • ARS STARS Cattle Fund, $200,000 carryover.

Physical Resources

The station is located in west central Florida and is composed of three major areas of land and one smaller parcel. The four units comprise the field laboratory of 3,800 acres of which about 3,200 acres are in permanent pasture. Cattle production at STARS is forage based with bahiagrass and rhizoma peanut as the predominant forage species. At any given time there are approximately 1,000 head of cattle (600 cows). Each major unit has animal handling and working facilities (hydraulic squeeze chute equipped with an electronic scale). Hay making equipment is used annually as are hay storage barns and equipment to feed the hay in winter. Facilities to store purchased dry feed and bulk molasses are used as is equipment for feeding. A 16-pen feeding barn is available pending renovation. Office and laboratory buildings are located at the Main Station. Laboratory equipment includes two automated wet-chemical analyzers, a near infrared reflectance (NIR) spectrophotometer with small and large sample devices and transport mechanism, a portable NIR analyzer, an automated gas chromatograph, an inverted light microscope, two stereomicroscopes, two fiber optic light sources, an embryo freezer, an embryo splitter, an ELISA plate reader, an ELISA plate washer, a HeatWatch system, two ultrasound imagers with 3.5, 5.0, and 7.5 MHz probes, a trans-vaginal probe, a laminar flow hood, four conventional hoods, a single gas incubator, a dual gas incubator, an automated autoclave, a water purification system, walk-in refrigerators and freezers (2 ea), centrifuges, incubators, muffle furnace, pH meters, conductivity meters, ovens, hydrometers, spectrophotometers, CNS Analyzer, iCAP 6000, and a freeze dryer. Equipment for soil sampling and processing include motor-powered trailer mounted soil auger and bucket augers (dry and soil sampling).

Collaborators

University of Florida, IFAS
Texas A&M University
University of Missouri
New Mexico State University
Louisiana State University
Texas Tech University
ARS -
Livestock Issues Research Unit, TX
Genetics & Breeding, NE
Grazinglands Research Laboratory, OK
Bovine Functional Genomics, MD
Small Farms Research Center, AR

Principal Stakeholders

Florida Cattlemen's Association
Florida Brahman Association
Florida Farm Bureau
American Brahman Breeders Assoc.
National Cattlemen's Beef Assoc.
Texas Farm Bureau
Leachman Cattle of Colorado
Decatur County Feed Yard
Barthle Brothers Ranch
Doc Partin Ranch
Gray Shadow Ranch
Kempfer Cattle Co.
Texas AgriLife - Overton

Last Modified: 6/9/2011
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