Cattle Gain on Pasture-Finishing
Ranchers who put their beef cattle out to pasture can produce animals that
are ready for market, say Agricultural
Research Service scientists at the Grazinglands Research Laboratory at El
Reno, Oklahoma. They have found evidence that adding a lot more grass to
cattle's diet will still produce high-quality beef.
Animal nutritionists William A. Phillips and Samuel W. Coleman have been
comparing performance of cattle from similar herds finished for market two
ways--either fed on grass with limited grain or fed a high-grain diet, a
traditional feedlot practice.
"In the usual system, grain constitutes at least 95 percent of the
diet," says Phillips. "In the system we developed, we use as much
grass as we can and decrease the amount of grain."
Findings from the 3-year study show beef cattle can be finished as
efficiently on grass pastures, with some grain, as they can with mostly grain.
A high-energy diet composed mostly of corn is provided in a covered feeder
to give cattle additional energy for fattening. In the grain-on-grass system,
cattle make their own dietary choices, deciding how much grain they need,
depending on the grass supply.
The ARS scientists finished cattle using wheat pasture and perennial grass
pastures, such as Old World Bluestem, millions of acres of which grow in the
Southern Great Plains region. They stocked the grass pastures with twice as
many cattle as they would normally, to ensure that most of the grass would be
"As the grass supply dwindled, the cattle ate more of the high-grain
diet. Cattle fed grass plus grain needed less feed to reach market weight than
herdmates fed in the feedlot," says Phillips.
"Less feed means lower production costs. Under the grain-on-grass
system, feed savings were around $25 per animal. With four animals per acre,
the producer's grass pasture is worth $100 per acre for finishing cattle.
That's a lot more dollars per acre than could be anticipated from other uses of
"And carcass measurements have been similar between the two
systems," says Coleman. "Cattle finished in the pasture reach about
the same end weight as those finished in feedlots, but they have about 3
percent less fat.
"Finishing cattle under either system would bring the producer the same
amount of money," Coleman says, 'but production costs are lower under the
Regulations require farmers to capture, store, and dispose of the animal
waste they generate. Phillips says in their system the cattle distribute the
manure over the pasture, where it can be incorporated into the soil and used to
fertilize the grass for future growth.
"From an ecological standpoint," says Phillips, "the
grain-on-grass system reduces the concentration of animal waste and allows some
producers to finish their own cattle without incurring the added cost of waste
Phillips and Coleman say their system needs further refinement, but they see
great opportunities for producers in the Southern Great Plains region to market
their cattle more efficiently.--By Tara
Weaver, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
William A. Phillips and
Samuel W. Coleman are at the
USDA-ARS Grazinglands Research
Laboratory, 7207 West Cheyenne St., El Reno, OK 73036; phone (405)
262-5291, fax (405) 262-0133.
"Cattle Gain on Pasture-Finishing" was published in the
June 1998 issue of Agricultural Research magazine. Click
here to see this issue's table of