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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ECONOMIC PASTURE-BASED BEEF SYSTEMS FOR APPALACHIA (WVU)
2010 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
Grassland is an extensive natural resource in Appalachia. Basing beef production on pasture, from conception to slaughter, will add value to small farm production in the Appalachian area. This agreement supports a multi-state project and the goal of which is to provide production information by cooperatively studying soil, plant, animal and economics. The objective of this agreement is to provide information on winter stocker and heifer development/forage production systems. The Agreement has three specific goals:.
1)Produce a 12-month supply of pasture-based beef by expanding the harvest window with retention of acceptable meat quality,.
2)Develop criteria for pasture raised beef that define “the window of acceptability”, and.
3)Develop tools for pasture-based beef producers to assess and manage risk. Each cooperating institution is responsible for research on particular phases of the production stream. Fieldwork to be conducted at West Virginia University will emphasize heifer development and stocker systems, soil fertility and pasture management.

Objective 1: Produce a 12-month supply of pasture-based beef by expanding the harvest window with retention of acceptable meat quality. Subobjective 1.1: Evaluate the use of variation in frame scores of sire and dams and different creep grazing systems to expand the harvest window of grass-fed beef. Subobjective 1.2: Develop soil, plant species and plant/animal managements for heifer replacement and pasture finishing of cattle. 1.2.1 Heifer wintering systems. 1.2.2 A predictive model for sustained pasture production. 1.2.3 Alternative forage species and nitrogen sources. Subobjective 1.3: Quantify the costs, revenues, and profitability associated with a 12-month production system. Objective 2: Develop criteria for pasture raised beef that define “the window of acceptability”. Subobjective 2.1: Quantify performance efficiency of cattle in pasture-based forage systems. 2.1.1 Estimate residual feed intake (RFI) of forage-fed cattle. 2.1.2 Quantify actual intake of grazing cattle during finishing. 2.1.3 Evaluate utilization of nutrients from forage and their transformation into end products. 2.1.5 Identify life cycle risk factors relevant to meat quality. 2.1.6 Assess economic and market implications of end product production of differing grades. Subobjective 2.2: Define “window of acceptability” by relating animal production systems, meat quality and consumer parameters. Objective 4: Develop tools for pasture-based beef producers to assess and manage risk. Subobjective 4.2: Compare economics and risk potential of different soil, plant and animal systems supporting winter stock gain of at least 1 lb. per day. Subobjective 4.3: Develop risk-profitability decision tools for producers.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
A team of researchers in several disciplines will work together and will include soil scientists, soil microbiologist, agronomist, ruminant nutritionists, animal physiologist, agricultural economist and extension specialist. Experiments will be conducted in the field on stocker and heifer development systems as well as on the soil fertility, pasture production and management components, the results of which can also be applied to cow calf production, backgrounding and finishing. Economic and risk analyses will include all components and phases of the production cycle for marketing pasture-based finished beef. Residual feed intake and forage-use efficiency will be estimated from data under controlled conditions. Continuous-flow fermentation will be utilized to compare digestive kinetics and fermentation with products and byproducts of forages consumed during finishing. Data from experiments will be used to estimate and calibrate risk-profitability decision tools for producers. Potential revenues will be assessed under various live cattle market conditions to predict scenarios that favor marketing harvested grass-fed beef. Data will be obtained in grocery stores to determine consumers’ response to visual and taste characteristics, and their willingness to buy the product.


3.Progress Report

The first year of the heifer replacement winter grazing experiment was initiated. Seventy-two beef heifers were allocated to grazing treatments on November 18. These treatments consisted of daily herbage residual stubble height of 3-4 or 8-10 cm. On December 21, hay feeding began due to snow cover. Soybean hull feeding began on January 12 because heifers consistently lost weight from December 8. Heifer weight, body condition score, hip height, and blood samples were taken at 2-week intervals. Herbage sampled for quality at 10-day intervals. The low stubble height group gained 29 kg during the winter whereas the high group gained 48 kg. Post-winter herbage monitoring began in early April and areas were continuously stocked by the heifers at 4.2 heifers/ha from March 15 through May 23, after which treatments were rotationally stocked. The results of a greenhouse experiment using red clover and sudangrass found that dolomitic limestone increase the pectin concentration in old sudangrass leaves and red clover. The results were inconclusive for young sudangrass leaves. Pectin concentrations in red clover increased from about 3% with calcitic limestone to above 6% when liming agent magnesium content was between 20 and 30%. All four treatments of the steer winter stockering experiment required additional supplementation with soybean hulls to maintain acceptable winter performance. There was no difference between the natural grassland- and alfalfa-haylage fed steers (413 g/d) but the alfalfa-hay fed steers performed the poorest at 213 g/d. The fescue-fed steers gained 349 g/d. All winter stockers in early February were placed in a residual feed intake (RFI) study in which they were fed processed alfalfa cubes before going on to pasture in mid-April. Body weight gain during the RFI study averaged 1868 g/d with no statistically significant effect of previous winter stocker treatment. A web-based, interactive decision-support-system designed to assist producers in estimating the costs and profits associated with their cow-calf operation, given various calf-marketing options including forage finishing, was completed and is available on-line [http://www.wvu.edu/~beefbudgetingtool/]. Preliminary results of an analysis of alternative risk management strategies indicate that purchasing Livestock Risk Protection Plan (LRP) insurance enables pasture-based beef (PBB) producers to better manage the market/price risk. In terms of a rainfall index-based policy, it was found that 70% coverage could increase the chance of a positive pay-out by 38%. Identifying improved risk management options can increase the likelihood that producers will adopt PBB systems. Simple excel computer models enabling farmers to evaluate economic risk for forage species and mixtures was developed. Weather data bases for all states in the region were developed as well as generalized rainfall probabilities for use in these models which are being implemented in the Pasture Land Management System (PLMS) software to enable it to make stochastic estimates of production and economics in pasture based livestock systems. Monitoring was done through email communication.


Last Modified: 10/24/2014
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