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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service



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. 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
Herbage allowance (3.5 and 7 percent of body weight as daily dry matter (DM)) of stockpiled pasture during the winter grazing period affected fall average daily gain (ADG) of heifers but not puberty or pregnancy rates. Heifers averaged 357 and 369 kg in low and high herbage allowance treatments, respectively, at breeding, which met a target of 60-66 percent of anticipated mature body weight. Sixty percent of heifers had reached puberty at the onset of the breeding season. Pregnancy rates for low and high herbage allowance treatments were 74 and 81 percent, respectively. Total-season herbage utilization ranged from 11,696-13,962 kg/ha. Surface compaction as measured by bulk density was much more variable across the hayfield and permanent pasture, than were the shear vane values. In the hayfield, bulk density and shear values tended to increase from the summit to the downhill, but the permanent pasture showed the opposite trend. Aggregate stability was higher in the permanent pasture compared to the hayfield. Soil bulk density was affected more by landscape position than by grazing treatment. Saturated hydraulic conductivity in the hayfield was lower than in the permanent pasture, despite the soil being classified as the same soil series. Stockpiled herbage mass, disappearance and utilization were all greater on tall fescue hayfields compared to orchardgrass hayfields and pasture. Tall fescue herbage mass at 2427 kg/ha was almost 20% higher than the other grasslands. Simple to use Excel computer models were developed that enable farmers to evaluate economic risk for forage species and mixtures used on farms in the region. Random daily rainfall, minimum and maximum temperature, and solar radiation were generated by coding a published model called WGEN. The WGEN model was recoded into Java to make it compatible with the WV forage model and PLMS, so that the forage model can be driven directly from linked code. Historical weather statistics for all county based weather stations in 27 states in the eastern US were generated for use in this model. 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.

4. Accomplishments

Last Modified: 10/18/2017
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