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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SUSTAINING AND ENHANCING SOUTHERN PLAINS RANGELAND AND PASTURE LANDSCAPES

Location: Rangeland and Pasture Research

Title: Improving the production, environmental, and economic efficiency of the stocker cattle industry in the Southeastern United States

Authors
item Beck, Paul -
item Anders, M. -
item Watkins, B -
item Gunter, Stacey
item Hubbell, D -
item Gadberry, M -

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 19, 2012
Publication Date: May 31, 2013
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/56763
Citation: Beck, P., Anders, M., Watkins, B., Gunter, S.A., Hubbell, D., Gadberry, M.S. 2013. Improving the production, environmental, and economic efficiency of the stocker cattle industry in the Southeastern United States. Journal of Animal Science. 91(6):2456-2466.

Interpretive Summary: Grazing small-grain fields can be a profitable “2nd crop” for grain producers and an opportunity for cow-calf producers to retain ownership of weaned calves. The increasing costs of conventional tillage and movement of soil nutrients into streams creates a need for more sustainable production practices to be adopted. Research was completed over a 9-year span to characterize the impacts of pasture systems on forage production, animal performance, soil quality, water runoff, and the economics of the stocker cattle enterprises. Producers with spring-calving cowherds can utilize these improved forage systems to accelerate stocker performance when retaining calves. Economic analysis indicates twice the increase in net returns for producers retaining ownership of calves. Rainfall simulations have indicated that runoff volume and nutrient load does not differ between conventionally tilled fields and no-till fields in the spring. However, following tillage operations, conventionally tilled fields had four-times greater runoff. Hence, these conventionally tilled fields emitted about two-times more nitrogen and three-times more phosphorus in water runoff than no-till fields. Total natural rainfall runoff from conventionally tilled wheat fields were two-times greater than from no-till fields with two and half centimeters rainfall events, yet were four-times greater with six and a quarter centimeter rainfall events. Soil analysis shows that soil aggregate content was greater in no-till compared with conventional till, indicating the potential for greater soil porosity, improved water infiltration rate, and reduced erositivity of soil. Carbon concentration in no-till soils was 50% greater than conventional tillage after 9 years. These studies show that production systems can be designed that maintain livestock production, increase soil quality, reduce nutrient discharge and promote improved economic returns.

Technical Abstract: Grazing forages on small-grain fields can be a profitable “2nd crop” for grain producers and an opportunity for cow-calf producers to retain ownership of weaned calves. The increasing costs of conventional tillage and movement of soil nutrients into streams creates a need for more sustainable production practices to be adopted by the systems. Research at the Livestock and Forestry Research Station near Batesville, AR and the Southwest Research and Extension Center near Hope, AR has been conducted over a 9-year span to characterize the impacts of pasture systems on forage production, animal performance, soil quality, water runoff, and the economics of the stocker cattle enterprises. Compared to bermudagrass or toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue, gains of growing cattle are increased by 80% with non-toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue and 150% with small-grain forages. Producers with spring-calving cowherds can utilize these improved forage systems to accelerate stocker performance when retaining calves. Economic analysis indicates a 99% improvement in net returns for producers retaining ownership of calves with these production systems. Rainfall simulation indicates that runoff volume and nutrient load does not differ between conventionally tilled fields and no-till fields in the spring before tillage when soil surface cover is similar. In the fall following tillage, conventionally tilled fields had 4-times greater runoff; hence, 1.9-times greater nitrogen and 3.2-times greater phosphorus left the field compared with no-till. Total natural rainfall runoff from conventionally tilled wheat fields were 2-times greater than from no-till fields with 2.5 cm rainfall events, yet were 4-times greater with 6.25 cm rainfall events. Soil analysis shows that soil aggregate content was greater in no-till compared with conventional till, indicating greater soil porosity, improved water infiltration rate, and reduced erositivity of soil. Carbon concentration in no-till soils was 50% greater than conventional tillage after 9 years. These studies show that production systems can be designed that maintain livestock production, increase soil quality, reduce nutrient discharge and promote improved economic returns.

Last Modified: 4/23/2014
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