Skip to main content
ARS Home » Research » Research Project #433840

Research Project: Use of Animal Genetics and Diversified Forage Systems to Improve Efficiency and Sustainability of Livestock Production Systems in the Southern Great Plains

Location: Forage and Livestock Production Research

Project Number: 3070-31630-007-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Oct 1, 2017
End Date: Jul 25, 2022

The long-term objective is to improve understanding of forage-based production systems and genetics that allow ruminant livestock to efficiently consume and convert feedstuffs, primarily forages. Specifically, during the next five years we will focus on the following objectives. Objective 1: Evaluate nutrient-use and production efficiency in reproductive and terminal beef cattle within conventional and unconventional production systems in the Southern Great Plains (SGP). • Sub-objective 1A: Determine the relationship between frame score and calf growth rate, carcass quality, and economic returns under different finishing systems. • Sub-objective 1B: Evaluate traditional and novel annual grain crops for their efficacy as forages within beef production systems used in the SGP. • Sub-objective 1C: Determine the relationship between Residual Feed Intake (RFI) evaluations conducted in growing heifers and those conducted again in the same animals as mature cows within the SGP. • Sub-objective 1D: Characterize rumen metagenome and metabolome in relation to animal nutrient-use/production efficiency in beef cattle consuming forage and forage-grain diets. Objective 2: Determine the impact of management and animal genetics on health and stress related indices, and beef quality. • Sub-objective 2A: Determine the impact of finishing system (pasture versus confinement) on animal stress level indicators, and end product. • Sub-objective 2B: Evaluate the impact of cow management system on temperament and productivity in range cows and their offspring. Objective 3: Determine relationships between genetic/genomic characterizations in beef cattle and: a) the environmental and managerial responses, and b) the production phases. • Sub-objective 3A: Characterize environmental, managerial, and sire impacts on production responses within contemporary groups of cattle. • Sub-objective 3B: Evaluate the relationships between genetic markers of the rumen biome and key responses during the production phases.

Over the last 50 years, annual U.S. beef production has increased with fewer cows in the national herd by harvesting larger animals. This is due in part to availability and use of low-priced, abundant feed grains. While feed costs represent the single largest expense in beef production, less than 20% of the post-weaning feed energy consumed is converted to edible product. As competition and the price of feed grains increases due to growing global human population, use of grains for energy production, and other uses, beef production enterprises may need to transition from greater grain dependency to greater reliance on forage resources (pasture and rangeland) produced on lands not suitable for more intensive crop production. We propose to improve the efficiencies and sustainability of conventional forage-based components of beef production systems by development of more efficient management systems. In addition, identification of animal genetics best adapted to forage-based production systems in the Southern Great Plains (SGP) will aid in understanding how to reduce animal stress in management systems. The end result will be improved efficiencies of beef production with less grain and fossil fuel inputs, less need for capital through increased use of on-farm products, and increased competitiveness and profitability for producers. To accomplish this goal, the interactions of animal genetics, nutrient-use, health, and the beef system components must be understood to best match the animal resource with the forage resource. There is also a need to understand some of the ecological benefits and impacts of forage-based components of forage-based beef production systems.