Finishing Beef Calves on Legume Pasture

Final Report for FNC96-144

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1996: $2,504.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


We currently have 4100 acres under tillage or which 480 acres is in transition to becoming organic the rest is already certified organic. We also have 500 acres in grass and alfalfa hay. We have 180 cows we run on 3300 acres of native pasture in a grazing rotation. We grow the following crops in different rotations; spring wheat, barley, oats, flax, soybeans, sunflowers, millet, and grass seed. We use a long term alfalfa rotation in all of these fields as well as cover crops and companion cropping. We use some compost but mainly rely on crop rotations and cattle to provide nutrition and weed control. We have been developing these cropping systems since 1985 and are still learning what works.

Our goal for the grant was to find out if grazing steers on an alfalfa/grass pasture using management intensive grazing practice could fatten steer adequately for market. We found that the practice was indeed practical and very low cost per pound gain. We had little to no sickness problems but we found that the pasture mix did not in it self have sufficient energy to fatten the steers to market trim. Grain supplement would be necessary for the final finish.

I experienced that a gain supplement was needed to get the finish necessary for prime or choice grade. This supplement could be supplied by self feeder or by a grain field nearby to graze. Beyond the term of this grant we are grazing steers on a field of corn called “Amazing Graze” designed for this very purpose. They are doing very well indeed.

The second year of this trial we held a farm tour on August 6, 1998 and the calves were still on the alfalfa/grass mixture and gaining very well. On 5-28-98 the 26 head of calves weighed an average of 666.6#/head and on 6-28-98 they weighed 798.8#/head for an average daily gain of 2.2#/head/day. The steers were removed form the grazing alfalfa pasture on 10-02-98 and run with some cows on a grass field until 11-02-98. When we finished soybean harvest, then we moved them to 38 acres of grazing corn. I was unable to weigh the steers on the corn but the estimated average weight of 1100#/head. The proposed finish weight of these steers will be 1250 pounds by mid December.

There was no death loss with this set of calves, nor any sicknesses. The performance of this group of calves was better than last years in growth and finish due to more consistent feed ration. The cost of the winter ration was the same as last year. With the mix of grass and alfalfa there was no bloat problems and the rotation worked better due perhaps to experience with using the grazing system. Retained ownership cost is actual cost to producer to the point of sale of that animal.

Income off of grass pasture project:
10-02-98, $67.52/900 = $607.68
Retained ownership costs, $472.41
Equal $135.27
Commission and trucking, $17.07
That equals, $118.20

1997 $75.10/869 = $646.04
Retained ownership cost, $472.41
Equals $173.63
Commission and trucking, $17.07
That equals, $156.56

12-20-98, $62.00/1250 = $775.00
Retained ownership cost, $545.47
Equals $229.53
Commission and trucking, $17.07
That equals, $212.46

In the above numbers we have projected and actual figures. The 1997 shows that actual income of the steers when they were sold at Ft. Pierre. The 1998 feeder steer price is projected from the price quote off the DTN screen for the indicated date. These steers will be sold after they finish on a field of grazing corn. The amount indicated is a projection as this summary is being completed before the steers are sold.

With the low prices being received by the cattle feeders and cattle producers these trials have shown that retained ownership of steer calves can be profitable. The use of intensive grains to lower the cost of grain is necessary. As one can see by comparing 1998 to 1997, average gain was better, no death loss, but a lower market price both for feeder calves and live cattle reduced the profit potential. I am pleased with the results of these trials and feel this value added program will become a regular practice on this farm.

Jeff Adrian, our Extension Agent, was actively involved in the project from the planning stage thru helping weigh the steers at different stage of their growth to planting the farm tour and sending out the notices of when and where it would take place. He also took the pictures of the tour.

Modern Farm provided the tractor to pull the wagon and was involved with the tour.

The Extension Ladies Club provided the meal for the noon lunch and the food was paid for by Norwest Bank.

The field day was a great learning tool for all involved, as some of the producers on the tour are making plans to convert some of their crop land to a grazing pasture and the local dealer of high intensive electric fence supplies had indicated increased sales as more producers begin to apply intensive rotational grazing practices into their farming systems.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.