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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Lexington, Kentucky » Forage-animal Production Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #337752

Title: From the Lab Bench: The challenges of finishing cattle on pasture

item Aiken, Glen

Submitted to: Cow Country News
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/10/2017
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: The challenges can be considerable in Kentucky to pasture finish post-weaned calves by adding 600 or 700 pounds of body weight before they are 30 months of age. It can be done because there are some producers in the State doing it, but these production systems can only be successful if they are managed by a good grass farmer. The challenges in managing pastures used for finishing will intensify as the time taken to finish calves to a marketable weight decreases. Cattle can be finished on toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue in 24 months if the average daily weight gain per calf is at least 1.0 pound per day, but the majority of time on pasture will be when there is inactive forage growth. As the time period the cattle are in pasture decreases to 16, 12 or 8 months, it becomes more critical that higher yielding and quality grasses and legumes be utilized, and that cattle be purchased in the early spring to avoid winter feeding. This information will be useful for cattle producers that are considering the option of finishing beef calves on pasture.

Technical Abstract: A column was written to discuss the challenges in Kentucky to finish beef calves on pasture. It might seem feasible to finish a calf in 24 months. This can be accomplished if the average daily weight gain is 1.0 pound per day, but the calves will spend almost half of those 24 months on pasture with inactive forage growth (slump in forage growth during the summer and winter), which will require concentrate feed and moderate quality hay to be fed during these inactive growth periods. There will be a need for concentrate feeds and/or moderate-quality hay during those periods of inactive growth to achieve targeted weight gains. With a 16-month period, less than half of the time on pasture will be during periods of inactive pasture growth, but the average daily weight gain must be above 1.25 pounds per day. This can be achieved with a novel endophyte-infected tall fescue for spring and fall grazing, and a warm-season annual grass for summer grazing. For finishing calves in 12 months, the need to obtain ADG above 1.6 pounds/day will require higher quality forages. It can be done with novel endophyte tall fescues plus clover or orchardgrass-alfalfa mixtures for spring and fall grazing, warm-season annual grasses for summer grazing. An 8-month finishing period on pasture will require even more management. It will be necessary to purchase the calves in early spring to avoid winter grazing. The average daily gains will need to be above 2.4 pounds per day, which will require a system using warm- and cool-season annual grasses and legumes to have the best opportunity to meet this high production goal.