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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service



2013 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. Three cooperating institutions (West Virginia University, Virginia Tech, and Clemson University) and the ARS Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center are together providing production information by cooperatively studying soil, plant, animal and economics. Each institution is responsible for research on particular phases of the production stream. The objective of this agreement is to provide information on winter stocker and heifer development pasture-based 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. Fieldwork to be conducted at Virginia Tech will emphasize on production systems from cow-calf through backgrounding, risk reduction of pasture-based systems and economic evaluation of consumer preferences. 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 1.2.3. Alternative forage species and nitrogen sources. 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. Subobjective 2.1.1. Estimate residual feed intake (RFI) of forage-fed cattle. Subobjective 2.1.2. Quantify actual intake of grazing cattle during finishing. Subobjective 2.1.5. Identify life cycle risk factors relevant to meat quality. Subobjective 2.2. Define “window of acceptability” by relating animal production systems, meat quality and consumer parameters. Objective 3. Identify management and nutritional strategies for minimizing weaning stress in calves. Subobjective 3.1. Evaluate ability of high quality forage to minimize post weaning weight gain. Subobjective 3.2. Evaluate the effect of alternative weaning techniques on cattle behavior and stress markers. Subobjective 3.3. Characterize relationship between cattle behavior and carcass quality. Objective 4. Develop tools for pasture-based beef producers to assess and manage risk. Subobjective 4.1. Establish the impact of continuous-use pasture on disease incidence and weight gain of young stock.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Systems for the different segments of beef production will be evaluated. The Virginia Tech team will include scientists, graduate students and technicians from the Departments of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Animal and Poultry Sciences and Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Departments of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology and Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Experiments will be conducted in the field on cow-calf production systems, weaning systems, and backgrounding systems. Risk reduction in pasture-based livestock production will be evaluated relative to forage species and nitrogen sources. Potential production losses from internal parasites on continuous-use pastures will be estimated from data under controlled conditions. Economic data from ethnic demand for pasture-finished products will be evaluated. Weaned calves will be provided to the other cooperators for completion of their phases of the project.

3. Progress Report:
In FY 13, data collection was completed for all phases of the project. Development of the project database was completed. Additional forage and animal performance data were entered in the database, with particular focus on developing a robust inventory system for tracking animal movements throughout their lifetime. A data export function was designed and implemented to allow relationships between grazing intervals and forage quality and quantity in a rotational grazing system to be investigated. The success of pasture-based beef systems depends on combining animals, forages and management in a way that enhances productivity and sustainability. Research investigating these systems therefore must capture and integrate the multidisciplinary data needed to describe them. This is achieved most effectively through the design and implementation of a relational database, which facilitates the entry, validation and manipulation of large and complicated data. A database built on Microsoft SQL Server software was completed. The available remaining forage, hay and animal data were integrated into the database. A web-based user interface was completed to streamline entry and validation of forage analyses. An animal inventory that allows mapping lifetime performance also was finalized. The completion of the database allowed the multidisciplinary data collected during the project to be reliably and efficiently extracted for analysis.

4. Accomplishments

Last Modified: 10/18/2017
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