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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service



2009 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)
Researchers in several disciplines will work together and will include soil scientists, agronomists, ruminant nutritionists, animal physiologist, agricultural economist and extension specialists. 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. 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
Grassland areas for the heifer wintering experiment were established. The two treatments (patterns of winter gain) will be created by providing constant vs. increasing herbage allowance of pasture as the winter grazing season progresses. Increasing herbage allowance will be expected to compensate for decreasing forage quality and increasing maintenance requirements due to colder weather. Soils and soil textural classes have been defined. Detailed soil spatial information has been taken in pastures used for winter grazing, including moisture content (0-5 cm), bulk density, organic matter, available Ca, K, P, Mg, and soil pH. Preliminary measurements were taken using site-specific sensors. A laboratory incubation study was completed to determine the role of soil humic acids in iron reduction and phosphorus solubilization. A greenhouse experiment on effects of water potential and Ca/Mg ratio on forage quality of sudangrass and red clover was completed. Most plant parameters (fiber, crude protein, pectin, and mineral concentrations) were determined for both species. Another winter of stocker feeding on hayfields was completed. The four wintering treatments become more alike in ability to produce 1 lb gain per head per day. Some supplementation with soy hulls was again made this year. The winter stockers were placed in a residual feed intake (RFI) study before going on to pasture in May. Body weight measures indicate that for the first 24 days in the RFI study, consuming processed alfalfa cubes, winter stocker carryover effects may be present with the Naturalized Grassland steers gaining the least at 4.66 lbs/d and the Fescue steers gaining the most at 5.31 lbs/d and the Alfalfa-hay and Alfalfa-haylage being intermediate at 4.84 and 4.95 lb/d respectively. An assessment of consumer acceptability (demand) of pasture-beef products was completed. Profitability of PB systems at the producer level was evaluated. A user-friendly, web-based, decision-support-system that can calculate such things as producers’ costs of production, profitability, and break-even prices for four calf-marketing options (selling live at weaning; selling live after grain backgrounding; selling harvested beef after grain and forage finishing; and selling harvested beef after grass finishing) is almost complete. The tool is intended to allow producers to enter numerous data points that are specific to their operation so that outputs from the decision-support-system are producer-specific. The ADODR communicates with the project collaborators on a regular basis by telephone, internet and in person.

4. Accomplishments

Last Modified: 08/22/2017
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