Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/11/2008
Publication Date: 3/31/2009
Citation: Phillips, W.A., Horn, G.W., Northup, B.K., Damron, W.S. 2009. Challenges and Opportunities for Forage Based Beef Cattle Production Systems. Meeting Proceedings. In Farming with Grass. Achieving sustainable Mixes Agricultural Lanscapes, ed. A.J. Fran luebbers p. 37-42. Ankeny, IA. Interpretive Summary: abstract only
Technical Abstract: Beef cows are widely distributed throughout the US, but the calves they produce are transported to the center of the country for finishing in high-density animal production systems that utilize large amounts of cereal grains. There is growing consumer demand for beef produced on pasture with no or limited grain inputs because of desired nutritional and social attributes. Also, the present beef cattle finishing system is competing with the bio-fuel industry for domestic grain resources. Between the extremes of the traditional high-density animal production system and an all-forage finishing system, lays an unexplored potential to produce beef on pasture with limited grain inputs. The beef products produced under such a hybrid system can be marketed as pasture-fed beef reared under low-stress, free-range conditions, which appeals to socially conscious consumers. However, there are technological constraints to economically and consistently producing grass-fed or pasture-fed beef. Some of these constraints are a lack of appropriate forage systems for year-round grazing, identification of suitable beef cattle genetics that fit within the hybrid systems and convert solar energy into lean beef at efficient rates, and management systems to provide a steady supply of retail beef products. A series of experiments were conducted to develop beef production systems that utilized different combinations of forage species to extend the grazing season and increase the proportion of beef derived from forages rather than cereal grains. We also explored the interaction of breed type, farm of origin, previous management and finishing system on animal and farm enterprise productivity and the impact of these hybrid systems on the environment. The systems we developed and tested were successful in reducing the amount of cereal grain needed to produce a finished product and were able to increase gross income to the livestock and forage components of a cropping-livestock-forage enterprise.