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ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Livestock Nutrient Management Research » Research » Research Project #441154

Research Project: Strategies to Manage Feed Nutrients, Reduce Gas Emissions, and Promote Soil Health for Beef and Dairy Cattle Production Systems of the Southern Great Plains

Location: Livestock Nutrient Management Research

2022 Annual Report

Objective 1: Improve use of manure as a soil amendment and develop manure processing and treatment technologies to increase production value of manure and reduce manure constituent losses to the environment. Sub-objective 1A: Determine optimal rates of manure application on soil nutrient cycling, crop productivity, and soil health on the Southern Great Plains. Sub-objective 1B: Assess long-term (36-47 y) legacy effects of high rates of land-applied beef cattle manure on soil properties on the Southern Great Plains. Sub-objective 1C: Determine long- and short-term impact of cattle manure on soil parameters attributed to soil health. Objective 2: Quantify and develop practices to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other gases of concern to improve nutrient use efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of beef and dairy production systems. Sub-objective 2A: Assess the impact of environmental conditions and management practices on emissions of GHG from open-lot beef and dairy cattle production systems. Sub-objective 2B: Assess the effect of land-applied manure on emissions of N2O and CH4 from soils. Sub-objective 2C: Quantify NH3 and organic N deposition downwind of beef feedyards and open-lot dairies on the SGP. Objective 3: Assess feed additives and alternative feedstocks to reduce enteric CH4 emission and improve cattle nutrient utilization. Sub-objective 3A: In vitro fermentation experiments can identify feed additives and ingredients that can reduce CH4 emissions in beef cattle. Sub-objective 3B: Assess the effects of feed additives and ingredients on enteric CH4 production and performance of live beef cattle. Sub-objective 3C: Design, construction, and testing of respiration chambers for quantification of enteric CH4 and N2O emissions from cattle.

Beef and dairy cattle provide vital human nutrition and important economic activity to a diverse U.S. population. Nevertheless, cattle production is linked to climate change and other environmental consequences. This research project will take a multidisciplinary approach to understand and mitigate environmental risks from cattle systems common to the semi-arid Southern Great Plains (SGP). Over six million beef cattle are finished annually in SGP open-lot feedyards, and over 400,000 cows are milked, with most being in open lots containing thousands of cows. We will quantify and improve prediction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and ammonia deposition from cattle systems. Research will focus on the predominant agricultural GHGs, methane and nitrous oxide. Sources of these emissions include cattle (enteric emissions), pen surfaces at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), fertilized soils, and emissions from soils near CAFO that receive ammonia deposition. Dietary effects on enteric GHG emissions (i.e., emissions from ruminant digestion) will be examined at scales ranging from laboratory studies to entire pens of cattle. We will study specific feed additives for reducing emissions, including malted barley and red seaweed. We will apply cattle manure at varying rates to different forage crops to determine best management practices for the SGP. We will quantify changes in soil health parameters, including salinity, nutrient content and soil physical factors, after manure application or land use change. The research project will provide science-based information and technologies for producers, extension specialists, and regulators to protect air quality, manage feedyard and dairy manure, and ultimately enhance efficiency and sustainability of cattle production.

Progress Report
Researchers at Bushland, Texas completed the following research in fiscal year (FY)2022 for the project 3090-31630-006-000D “Strategies to Manage Feed Nutrients, Reduce Gas Emissions, and Promote Soil Health for Beef and Dairy Cattle Production Systems of the Southern Great Plains”. Objective 1: In collaboration with ARS-DAWG (Dairy Agroecosystems Working Group), project scientists investigated the long- and short-term effects of manure application on soil health, environmental quality, and cattle forage production. Bushland scientists first conducted a greenhouse study where solid dairy manure was applied to growing cattle forage. Forage biomass, nutrient content, and soil health-related properties were investigated. The manure application rate considered to be “optimal” will be used in future studies. To assess the efficacy of solid cattle manure as a soil amendment, Bushland researchers designed and conducted a small-plot study intended to quantify annual application rates of solid dairy manure for optimal crop yield and improved soil properties. Data were collected, and statistical analyses are underway. Preliminary analyses indicate that no observable differences were seen in crop yields or soil health properties with different rates of dairy manure application, compared to inorganic fertilizer control. Measurements of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were taken from these plots using an automated chamber system connected to a real-time GHG analyzer to observe manure effects on environmental quality and GHG flux. Methane analyses are ongoing. Increases in nitrous oxide (N2O) flux were noted following rainfall events. N2O emissions were 3 times higher with a manure application rate of 200 tons/ac than observed in control plots where commercial N fertilizer was applied. Manure application rates of 10 tons/ac and 100 tons/ac resulted in lower N2O losses than in inorganic control plots. A large field study was initiated to investigate the premise that crops can readily attain the benefits of manure (increased carbon, nitrogen, organic matter, microbial enzymes, etc.) if it is applied infrequently at high rates, as crops receiving annual manure applications. Bushland researchers established a large field study with state-of-the-art precision irrigation scheduling, a key component of agricultural sustainability in the water-limited Texas Panhandle. In FY2022, the center points of 64 planned treatment plots were georeferenced and pre-plant soil samples were taken from each of these plots in June 2021. Alfalfa was planted May 12, 2022, to establish the perennial forage system and corn forage was planted May 19, 2022. In 2022 commercial fertilizer was applied at a rate of 170 lbs-N/ac. Soil moisture content was measured by weekly neutron probe readings. These readings were used to manage irrigations and meet full evaporative demand of the two forage systems. The first alfalfa cutting for forage analysis was performed in mid-July 2022. In a historic legacy manure application site located on CPRL property, Bushland scientists characterized any remaining legacy effects of previous manure application on soil parameters. Soil samples from a historical legacy site established 47 years ago by Stewart et al. were collected. Preliminary investigation showed very few differences in soil properties among plots that received different rates of solid beef cattle manure decades ago. Objective 2: Bushland scientists worked to quantify temporal and spatial effects of environmental factors and manure properties on GHG emissions from beef and dairy cattle pens. In order to meet this objective, chamber systems equipped to measure pen-derived GHG were installed at a commercial beef cattle feedyard in the Texas Panhandle. The goal was to evaluate emissions following removal of most manure from the pens in order to determine if emissions were derived from the accumulated, underlying pack manure, the soil-manure interface, or the more recently deposited manure at the top of the manure pack in the animal pens. Data have been collected and statistical analyses are underway. Bushland scientists investigated the effects of varying amounts of land-applied dairy manure on soil-derived GHG emissions. To meet this objective, all required instruments were tested, calibrated, and routine maintenance was conducted. A small test run was done on the aforementioned small plot study, where data were collected, and statistical analyses were completed on measured N2O emissions. In a collaborative study with ARS laboratories across the U.S. and air quality modelers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bushland scientists are working to refine and parameterize existing models to predict ammonia and organic nitrogen transfer from various concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) across the U.S. ARS researchers involved in this project include Lincoln, Nebraska; Kimberly, Idaho; Florence, South Carolina; Ames, Iowa; and possibly others later. The ARS-ADAPT (Ammonia Deposition from Animal Production) team has opted to equip one single CAFO at Ames, Iowa for demonstration purposes. This Iowa site will serve as the basis for team learning of required instrumentation, soil and plant analyses needed. Objective 3: Bushland scientists also investigated the effects of cattle feeding and dietary ingredients on measured enteric methane and animal performance. Bushland researchers conducted experiments to evaluate multiple feed additives for optimum mitigation of enteric methane emissions from cattle using in vitro techniques. We have identified several types of bromoform containing seaweed, along with other methods to supply bromoform to cattle, including the concept of genetically modified microalgae or treated waste water containing bromoform compounds, to assess enteric methane mitigation capability. In addition, Bushland, Texas, has formed a collaboration with Japanese scientists to study the mitigation potential of the shells of cashew nuts as a dietary additive for cattle. Other dietary additives were tested for methane mitigation using in vitro laboratory techniques. In one study, the enteric methane mitigation potential of dietary inclusion of malted barley was explored. The experiment has been completed and samples have been analyzed. Statistical analyses and some further laboratory work are required prior to manuscript preparation and submission to a peer-reviewed journal. Additionally, a novel, corn cob meal that is high in proanthocyanins, condensed tannins with various pharmacological properties, has been collected. This corn cob meal material will be assessed for methane mitigation potential in in vitro laboratory studies. To meet Project Milestones, Bushland researchers have worked to evaluate select feed additives for reducing short-term (<30 days) methane emissions. Based on preliminary in vitro studies, a short-term feeding study has been initiated to assess dietary inclusion levels of malted barley as an exogenous source of alpha-amylase on in vivo and in vitro ruminal fermentation patterns and intake. Cattle feed intake was assessed using SmartFeed systems (C-Lock, Inc., Rapid City, ND). This field work for this experiment has been completed and data analyses and laboratory work are underway. A longer live animal feeding trial was conducted to explore the effects of malted barley inclusion level on enteric methane, feed efficiency, animal performance, and carcass quality of finishing beef steers. Prior to the start of this experiment, GreenFeed enteric methane measuring systems were installed in existing Calan headgate pens and calibrated. The field work of this experiment has been completed.

1. Water soluble soil organic matter content decreased with dryland cropping systems typical of the Texas High Plains. Healthy and productive soils contain labile (i.e., readily available soluble compounds) organic matter from the breakdown of plants, microorganisms and other compounds. While the portion of soil organic matter (SOM) that is extractable in water is generally small in relation to the total SOM pool, it is an essential component to deliver compounds for cellular metabolism of microbes and plants. Over the years, different dryland cropping systems for the Texas High Plains have been developed that capture rainfall for future crop production. The effects of these dryland systems on water soluble organic matter in soils are not well understood. Scientists from ARS (Bushland, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana) and University of Alaska-Fairbanks investigated the long-term effects of different winter wheat cropping systems on the amount and stability of water-soluble organic matter in soils. Using soils taken from a long-term dryland study conducted from 1941 to 1977, we evaluated the properties of water-soluble organic matter in archived soils collected in 1977 and those resampled in 2013. Results showed that water soluble organic matter content decreased over time by 13 to 60% with all cropping systems. These results indicated that current dryland systems may be insufficient to maintain water soluble organic matter in soils. Better dryland systems in semi-arid regions need to be developed that improve levels of water-soluble organic matter but it may be challenging to develop such practices because of the high temperatures and limited soil water.

2. Manure on the pen surface contributes only slightly to the methane emissions of a beef feedlot. Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) linked to climate change. High carbon concentrations and reducing conditions in manure from cattle production facilities create readily available sources for pen-derived methane emissions. However, there have been few studies to quantify methane emissions from open-lot, soil-surfaced pens in semi-arid environments, such as the Texas Panhandle, an area with numerous beef feedyards. Scientists from USDA-ARS (Bushland, Texas and Clay Center, Nebraska) and Texas A&M AgriLife Research (Amarillo, Texas) quantified methane emissions from pens at a commercial beef cattle feedyard in the Texas Panhandle. Measured methane emissions varied greatly over space and time in this study. Manure-derived methane represented less than 1% of total feedyard methane, as most methane came directly from eructation of rumen contents from the mouths of cattle. Thus, future research to mitigate methane emissions from cattle facilities should focus on enteric methane emissions.

3. Protein supplementation of low-quality forage will decrease the carbon foot-print of cattle production. Cattle are a significant source of methane, a potent GHG and thus, part of the carbon footprint of cattle production. Methane production is greater when cattle are fed low-quality forages. The feeding quality of grazed forages decreases as plants mature. Protein supplementation may be one means to increase animal performance when grazing low-quality forages. However, it is not known if protein supplementation will increase or decrease methane production. Therefore, scientists from ARS (Bushland, Texas), University of Missouri, and Texas A&M AgriLife Research examined the effects of feeding two different protein supplements (cottonseed meal or dried distillers grains with solubles) on forage intake, diet digestibility, and enteric methane production. The research demonstrated that the quantity of methane produced per unit of ingested forage decreased when protein supplementation was provided. Results of this study indicate that the routine practice of supplementing cattle with protein when grazed forages are deficient in protein will lower the carbon-footprint of cattle production.

4. Successful establishment of winter wheat pasture can be achieved with no-till on the Southern Great Plains. Grazing of winter wheat is an economically important endeavor. One management decision that wheat producers face is which tillage system to use: no-till or conventional tillage. Most prior research into pre-plant tillage systems has been conducted on small plot studies where crops were harvested via machinery. Unfortunately, these mechanically harvested crops may not reflect grazing preferences and trends when wheat is grazed by cattle. Therefore, research is needed that explores the effects of tillage type where the winter wheat is grazed. Scientists from ARS (Bushland, Texas), Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, Oklahoma), and the University of Arkansas (Batesville and Fayetteville, Arkansas) conducted an experiment comparing no-till and conventional till establishment of wheat pasture. While there was observed lower forage production in the no-till plots, no differences in dry matter intake or body weight gain of the steers were noted between the two tillage systems. These results indicate that no-till wheat establishment can be used without detrimental effects on animal performance during fall and winter and with greater final performance during the spring graze-out period. These results are of interest to farmers using wheat pasture for grazing cattle.

Review Publications
Waldrip, H., Schwartz, R.C., He, Z., Todd, R.W., Baumhardt, R.L., Zhang, M., Parker, D.B., Brauer, D.K., Min, B. 2022. Soil water extractable organic matter under long-term dryland cropping systems on the Texas High Plains. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 1-15.
Min, B., Parker, D.B., Brauer, D.K., Lockard, C.L., Hales, K., Akbay, A., Augyte, S. 2021. The role of seaweed as a potential dietary supplementation for enteric methane mitigation in ruminants: Challenges and opportunities. Animal Nutrition. 7:1371-1387.
Parker, D.B., Casey, K.D., Willis, W.M., Meyer, B.E. 2021. Nitrous oxide and methane emissions from beef cattle feedyard pens following large rainfall events. Transactions of the ASABE. 64(4):1211-1225.
Min, B., Pinchak, W.E., Hume, M.E., Anderson, R.C. 2021. Effects of condensed tannins supplementation on animal performance, phylogenetic microbial changes and in vitro methane emissions in steers grazing winter wheat. Animals. 11(8). Article 2391.
Parker, D.B., Casey, K.D., Waldrip, H., Min, B., Woodbury, B.L., Spiehs, M.J., Campbell, T.N., Meyer, B.E., Willis, W.M. 2022. Temporal and spatial variability of methane emissions from Texas open-lot beef cattle feedyard pens. Transactions of the ASABE. 64(6):1781-1794.
Campbell, T.N., Rhoades, M.B., Parker, D.B., Blaser, B.C. 2022. Biogas production with beef cattle manure and wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. Transactions of the ASABE. 65(1):113-121.
Crawford, D.M., Hales, K.E., Smock, T.M., Cole, N.A., Samuelson, K.L. 2022. Effects of changes in finishing diets and growth technologies on animal growth performance and the carbon footprint of cattle feeding: 1990 to 2020. Applied Animal Science. 38:47-61.
Beck, M.R., Gunter, S.A., Moffet, C., Reuter, R. 2021. Technical note: using an automated head chamber system to administer an external marker to estimate fecal output by grazing beef cattle. Journal of Animal Science. Article skab241.
Marshall, C.J., Beck, M.R., Garrett, K., Barrell, G.K., Al-Marashdeh, O., Gregorini, P. 2021. Nitrogen balance of dairy cows divergent for milk urea nitrogen consuming either plantain or perennial ryegrass. Animals. 11(8). Article 2464.
Marshall, C.J., Beck, M.R., Garrett, K., Fleming, A.E., Barrell, G.K., Al-Marashdeh, O., Gregorini, P. 2021. Dairy cows with different milk urea nitrogen breeding values display different grazing behaviours. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 242. Article 105429.
Marshall, C.J., Garrett, K., Beck, M.R., Barrell, G.K., Al-Marashdeh, O., Gregorini, P. 2022. Differences in the microbial community abundances of dairy cattle divergent for milk urea nitrogen and their potential implications. Applied Animal Science. 38:62-69.
Marshall, C.J., Beck, M.R., Garrett, K., Barrell, G.K., Al-Marashdeh, O., Gregorino, P. 2022. Urine and fecal excretion patterns of dairy cows divergent for milk urea nitrogen breeding values. Journal of Dairy Science. 105(5):4218-4236.
Beck, P.A., Beck, M.R., Adams, J.M., Hubbell III, D., Hess, T., Foote, A.P., Kegley, E.B. 2022. Effects of tillage method and seeding rate of wheat pasture on forage production and calf performance. Applied Animal Science. 38(3):211-221.
Lee, M., Koziel, J.A., Li, P., Jenks, W. 2022. Mitigation of air pollutants by UV-A photocatalysis in livestock and poultry farming: a mini-review. Catalysts. 12(7). Article 782.