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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DEVELOP TECHNOLOGIES TO PROTECT AIR QUALITY, MAINTAIN PRODUCTION EFFICIENCY & ENHANCE USE OF MANURE FROM SOUTHN GREAT PLAINS BEEF & DAIRY AG

Location: Livestock Nutrient Management

Title: Nutritional practices to reduce environmental impact of grazing beef cattle.

Author
item Cole, Noel

Submitted to: Ruminant Nutrition Conference Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: December 15, 2012
Publication Date: January 31, 2012
Citation: Cole, N.A. 2012. Nutritional practices to reduce environmental impact of grazing beef cattle. 2012 Florida Ruminant Nutrition Symposium, January 31- February 1. 2-12, Gainesville, Florida. p. 119-133.

Interpretive Summary: The effects of beef cattle operations on water quality, air quality, climate change, wildlife, and the general environment is a growing concern. With increased concern about the environment, many "common" practices might need to be revised in order to balance production efficiency and income with real and perceived environmental concerns. This paper provides a brief review of potential strategies that can be used by cow-calf and stocker producers to decrease the environmental impact of their operation. The paper provides a "top ten" list that producers can use to decrease potential adverse effects on the environment. The list includes the following: 1. Minimize, as much as possible, the purchase and importation of feeds to the farm; 2. Minimize the purchase and import of fertilizers to the farm; 3. Maximize recovery of nutrients in forages through a combination of grazing and haying, intensive grazing strategies, use of legumes, etc; 4. Make use of technologies that increase beef production without adversely affecting nutrient management (implants, etc.); 5. Minimize erosion and runoff; 6. Become informed and knowledgeable about critical issues in your water- and air-shed; 7. Develop a written ranch conservation plan; 8. Properly train employees; 9. Critically analyze costs and evaluate options to minimize losses; and 10. Follow water quality best management practices.

Technical Abstract: The effects of beef cattle operations on water quality, climate change, wildlife, and the general environment is a growing concern. With increased concern about the environment, many "common" practices might need to be revised in order to balance production efficiency and income with real and perceived environmental concerns. This paper provides a brief review of potential strategies that can be used by cow-calf a stocker producers to decrease the environmental impact of their operation. Beef cattle excrete 80 to 90% of the nutrients they consume thus these nutrients can potentially runoff into surface waters causing eutrophication, percolate into ground water, volatilize as ammonia (NH3), be lost as grenhouse gases (GHG), or be stored in soils. Nutrients applied in fertilizers can also be lost. By balancing the quantity of nutrient inputs with nutrient outputs the risk of nutrients being lost to waters or the atmosphere are minimized. In intensive grazing systems fertilizer and feed are the dominate nutrient inputs. Dietary and mangement regimens that increase the reproductive rate of the cow herd and/or decrease loss of nutrients, ammonia and GHG, decrease the overall C footprint of the beef herd, and increase nutrient outputs in cattle sold. Nutrient requirements of cows and calves vary with stage of production and the quality of forage varies with stage of growth and season. To minimize nutrient losses, the supplement(s) provided should balance the difference between animal requirements and the forage available while not adding unneeded nutrients. In some cases, feeds can act as an indirect fertilizer via manure nutrients to the pasture. This can also decrease losses of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Supplements high in fat can potentially decrease enteric methane emissions as well.

Last Modified: 12/22/2014
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