Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #369648

Research Project: Sustainable Intensification of Crop and Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems at Multiple Scales

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Title: Management characteristics of Northeast U.S. grass-fed beef production systems

item DILLON, JASMINE - Colorado State University
item Rotz, Clarence - Al
item KARSTEN, HEATHER - Pennsylvania State University

Submitted to: Applied Animal Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/1/2020
Publication Date: 10/1/2020
Citation: Dillon, J.A., Rotz, C.A., Karsten, H.D. 2020. Management characteristics of Northeast U.S. grass-fed beef production systems. Applied Animal Science. 36(5):715-730.

Interpretive Summary: Grass-fed cattle production and marketing systems have been promoted recently as an approach to produce beef with potential health benefits for consumers while reducing negative environmental impacts associated with the production of ruminants and their feed. Environmental and economic outcomes are affected by local production conditions and farm management, necessitating whole-farm and supply chain evaluation to support marketing claims and identify opportunities for improvement. To develop this type of assessment, better information is needed on cattle production practices. A survey of producers in the region was conducted to characterize their grass-fed cattle production systems. Differences in management practices were influenced by climate, the amount of off-farm income received, soil properties, and access to land. The information obtained provides a reference for extension agents, researchers, nutritionists, and consultants working with grass-fed beef producers in the Northeast and the basis for in-depth assessment of grass-fed beef production systems in the region.

Technical Abstract: Grass-fed cattle production is increasing in the northeastern U.S. to meet consumer demand. Seventy cattle producers in the Northeast were surveyed to learn their management practices for grass-fed beef cattle production. Responses were assigned to USDA Plant Hardiness Zones according to their location within the region. Farms were also categorized based upon whether they produced or purchased forage to meet the herd’s year-round nutritional needs. Responses were compared using nonparametric methods. Grazing seasons were up to 4.5 months longer in warmer zones than in cooler zones (P < 0.01), likely contributing to the up to 2.5 times lower land requirements per animal observed for farms in warmer zones (P < 0.01). Herd sizes, market weights, and market ages were similar across zones (P > 0.1). Together, these factors culminated in animal productivity per hectare that was up to 2.5 times greater (P < 0.01) in warmer zones than cooler zones. Median market weights on feed sufficient farms were 10% greater than on feed importing farms (P < 0.1) at similar market ages (P > 0.1). Feed sufficient farms also had larger herds (P < 0.01) and required less total land per animal (P < 0.01). These differences gave 2.5 times greater animal productivity per hectare for feed sufficient farms than for feed importing farms. Documentation of management characteristics provides information needed for further assessment of production practices and long-term sustainability of grass-fed beef production in the Northeast.