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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service



2012 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:
Grazing: We completed another year of winter grazing with stockers from Virginia Tech. During the period when fall-saved forages were grazed we compared two stocking rates. Steers initiated winter grazing on permanent grassland, then were moved to orchardgrass, and lastly, tall fescue. This period ended in late December. No differences were found between grazing treatments in final weight of steers. Feeding hay on grassland from January to March increases the proportion of forbs in the vegetation. Including sheep with cattle that graze grassland on which hay was fed from January to March reduced the presence of forbs and improved the botanical composition of the grassland. Multispecies grazing in spring also improved ground cover the following winter. Soils: We developed new lime recommendation equations for each of the common soil orders used for grazing in West Virginia. Currently a single equation is used to make lime 2 recommendations for the entire State. These new equations could improve soil pH management resulting in increased yields and decreased costs. Our work on nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), pH and water availability allows for the delineation of targeted management zones based on topography. These need to be validated with additional field work, but could result in increased forage production, increased fertilizer use efficiency and decreased N and P losses to ground and surface water. We have identified a mechanism that solubilizes P in moderately wet soils that had previously only been described for seasonally saturated forest soils. Humic acids mediate the reduction of iron oxides resulting in the release of iron-bound P to the soil solution. This mechanism is likely to be important for maintaining soluble P in P limited soils. Heifer replacement: The natural cycle for production of pasture raised beef concentrates harvest in a 2-3 month period towards the end of the growing season. A variety of management protocols, both of the pasture and for the animal can be used to expand that harvest period but most of these management options will introduce more cost and risk. All grasslands used for previous years’ winter stockering experiments were used in the current year under sequence grazing management based on past winter stockering data without replication in an attempt to gain insight for new management strategies for the upcoming year. Plans are in place for the implementation of replicated sequence grazing of various forage crops to extend the availability of high quality forage to grazing animals. Heifer reproductive performance: Feed resources used in developing replacement females are a major factor influencing cost of production. Traditional approaches for post-weaning development of replacement heifers used during the last several decades have primarily focused on feeding heifers to achieve or exceed an appropriate target weight, and thereby maximize heifer pregnancy rates. Substantial changes in cattle genetics and the economy have occurred over this time, indicating traditional approaches should be re-evaluated. Intensive heifer development systems may maximize pregnancy rates, but not necessarily optimize profit or sustainability. Developing heifers in this manner requires significant use of fossil fuels and cereal grains, and high capital investment in equipment and facilities. Cereal grains, often used as an energy source in heifer diets, detract from the system’s sustainability due to growing demand for human food and ethanol production. Extending the grazing season to maximize the length of time that livestock feed themselves on pasture could reduce labor, machinery, and storage costs of making and feeding harvested forage, provide more cost-effective distribution of nutrients across pastures by livestock and still meet replacement heifer target performance levels. Therefore, the objective of this phase of the study was to compare heifer reproductive performance following two patterns of gain during the fall grazing period: high herbage DM allocation (7% of BW) vs. low herbage DM allocation (3.5% of BW) with equivalent winter and spring gains. Two years of data have been collected. Because of differences in forage production and accessibility results from year 1 and year 2 are quite different, which is to be expected. The study will therefore be repeated a third time. When the study is completed in the fall of 2012, data from all 3 years will be analyzed together.

4. Accomplishments

Last Modified: 10/16/2017
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