Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ECONOMIC PASTURE-BASED BEEF SYSTEMS FOR APPALACHIA (VA TECH)
2011 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. Three cooperating institutions (West Virginia University, Virginia Tech, and Clemson University) and the ARS Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center are together providing production information by cooperatively studying soil, plant, animal and economics. Each institution is responsible for research on particular phases of the production stream. The objective of this agreement is to provide information on winter stocker and heifer development pasture-based 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. Fieldwork to be conducted at Virginia Tech will emphasize on production systems from cow-calf through backgrounding, risk reduction of pasture-based systems and economic evaluation of consumer preferences.

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 1.2.3. Alternative forage species and nitrogen sources.

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.

Subobjective 2.1.1. Estimate residual feed intake (RFI) of forage-fed cattle. Subobjective 2.1.2. Quantify actual intake of grazing cattle during finishing. Subobjective 2.1.5. Identify life cycle risk factors relevant to meat quality.

Subobjective 2.2. Define “window of acceptability” by relating animal production systems, meat quality and consumer parameters.

Objective 3. Identify management and nutritional strategies for minimizing weaning stress in calves.

Subobjective 3.1. Evaluate ability of high quality forage to minimize post weaning weight gain.

Subobjective 3.2. Evaluate the effect of alternative weaning techniques on cattle behavior and stress markers.

Subobjective 3.3. Characterize relationship between cattle behavior and carcass quality.

Objective 4. Develop tools for pasture-based beef producers to assess and manage risk.

Subobjective 4.1. Establish the impact of continuous-use pasture on disease incidence and weight gain of young stock.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Systems for the different segments of beef production will be evaluated. The Virginia Tech team will include scientists, graduate students and technicians from the Departments of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Animal and Poultry Sciences and Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Departments of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology and Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Experiments will be conducted in the field on cow-calf production systems, weaning systems, and backgrounding systems. Risk reduction in pasture-based livestock production will be evaluated relative to forage species and nitrogen sources. Potential production losses from internal parasites on continuous-use pastures will be estimated from data under controlled conditions. Economic data from ethnic demand for pasture-finished products will be evaluated. Weaned calves will be provided to the other cooperators for completion of their phases of the project.


3.Progress Report

In FY 11, calves from the designated creep system weighed 12 lbs more than calves from the forward creep system and calves from large frame cows weighed 47 lbs more than calves from the moderate frame cows. Calves spent more time in designated creep pastures (15%) as compared to forward creep pastures (4%). Forage available tended to be higher in pastures grazed by large frame cows as compared to moderate frame cows. Steers were backgrounded on site and gained approximately 1.1 lb/d during the period. At the end of backgrounding, large as compared to moderate frame steers weighed 6% more. Steers were shipped in November to WVU for winter stockering. Cows produced the fourth calf crop which will be weaned in fall ’11. A separate group of 45 steers and heifers were utilized to compare immunological responses to alternate weaning techniques. Blood glucose concentrations 1 day post weaning in fenceline weaned calves were lower as compared to abruptly weaned calves. A difference in leukocyte gene expression was not detected. Small plot data for cool season and warm season forages was compiled and risk assessment was performed to evaluate probabilities of meeting cow nutrient requirements in late summer. Several warm season forages were more likely to provide adequate forage for cattle, especially in August.

A project database was developed using Microsoft SQL Server software. Legacy forage and animal performance data were migrated into the database using an automated import utility. A web-based user interface was launched to provide a streamlined method for entry of new data, and to facilitate data export for analysis. Mechanisms for ensuring data security were established.

The ADODR communicates with the project collaborators on a regular basis by telephone, internet and in person. Two scientists from each of the collaborating institutions serve as members of the project¹s executive committee that develops project policy and plans execution as well as insuring accountability to the project plan. Quarterly meetings of the executive committee are held via conference call. Project meetings for all participants are held twice a year. The ADODR interacts frequently in person at the USDA-ARS location in Beaver, WV and at the collaborators¹ sites. The ADODR provides guidance and oversight to administer the specific cooperative agreement and insuring project accountability.


Last Modified: 9/1/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page