Effect of Growth Meat Quality, and Profitability of Organically Raised Dairy-Beef Steers

Final Report for GNC12-150

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2012: $9,445.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Bradley Heins
University of Minnesota
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Project Information


There is increased demand for beef from pasture-based systems including grass-fed, grass finished, or organic beef products. For profitability, organic grass-fed dairy steers (pasture and forage-only) had more profit than organic (30% pasture and concentrate) steers because of high organic corn price, but had similar profit compared to conventional dairy steers. The fat from the grass-fed steers tended to be greater for omega-3 fatty acid and lower in monounsaturated fat than the other steer groups. Beef consumers rated the grass-fed beef the lowest in overall liking and flavor. Bull calves raised in organic dairy operations may represent a potential additional source of revenue for organic producers.


There is an increase in global demand for organic products, and organic dairy-beef, especially grass-fed and finished, has the potential to address some of the consumer concerns associated with conventional dairy-beef (Daley et al., 2010). Furthermore, bull calves may represent a potential additional source of revenue for organic dairy producers (Nielsen and Thamsborg, 2002). Currently, with the high price of organic grains in the United States, the male offspring of organic Holstein and crossbred dairy cattle represent a potential resource for pasture-raised beef in the Midwest.

The goal of the dairy program at the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) is to serve the research based information needs of the moderate sized dairy farm, with emphasis on organic reduced input systems. The WCROC dairy is the only certified organic dairy at a land grant institution in the Midwest and was certified organic in June 2010.

A group of organic dairy stakeholders were involved in the development of this research project at a dairy producer focus group meeting during the spring of 2011. Dairy producers were invited to participate in a focus group related to WCROC’s USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative planning grant project. The North Central region has a significant number of organic dairy operations. Therefore, developing additional profit for organic dairy producers through value-added production from dairy-beef steers will have a huge impact on organic dairy production systems in the region and throughout the US. This will have a positive impact on communities because of the increasing demand for organic products.

The main objective of an organic dairy herd is to sustainably produce milk and meat, while maintaining excellent animal health and welfare. Many organic dairy producers sell bull calves for finishing to conventional farms, because the perception is that organic finishing of bull calves is not as profitable as producing organic milk (Nielsen and Thamsborg, 2002). There have been positive evaluations of pasture-fed beef (Steinberg et al., 2009) and comparison of conventional versus organic beef production (Woodward and Fernández, 1999). However, studies have not been conducted using an organic production system that requires animals to receive at least 30% of dry matter intake from pasture. The study reported by Fern&ández and Woodward (1999), noted conventional beef steers had higher rates of gain and higher dry matter intake than organic beef steers. The study concluded that it cost 39% more to finish organic steers. In a study with the same steers, Woodward and Fernández (1999) concluded conventional steers had heavier carcasses, larger ribeyes, and less marbling than organic steers. Steinberg et al. (2009) found that consumers neither liked nor dislike the overall acceptability of grass-finished steers. Furthermore, grass-finished meat was not tender and juicy, but had high conjugated linoleic acid concentrations. In a recent Italian study, Cozzi et al. (2010) reported organic grazing beef steers had lower average daily gain and had a longer finishing period compared to conventional beef steers. Additionally, organic meat samples were less tender, but were higher in CLA content and had higher omega-3 levels than conventional meat samples.

Project Objectives:

The overall objective of the proposed project is to determine the effect of growth, meat quality, consumer acceptability, and profitability of organically-fed dairy steers compared to conventionally-fed dairy steers. The results of this project will be disseminated at workshops, field days at the WCROC, at organic conferences, and in Extension factsheets, social media, peer reviewed journals and other publications.


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  • Bradley Heins


Materials and methods:

The study was conducted at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC), Morris, Minnesota. The research dairy at the West Central Research and Outreach Center, Morris has a 200-head low-input and organic grazing system. The University of Minnesota WCROC organic dairy has been certified organic since June 2010. Pastures at the WCROC are not irrigated, and no soil amendments were applied.

Dairy bull calves (n = 49) were born from March 18 to May 27, 2011. Breed groups of calves were: Holsteins (HO; n = 9) selected for high production, Holsteins (HOC; n = 11) maintained at 1964 breed average level, crossbreds (n = 19) including combinations of HO, Montbéliarde, and Swedish Red, and crossbreds (n = 10) including combinations of HO, Jersey, Swedish Red, and Normande. Calves were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 replicated groups at birth, but balanced by breed group to reduced potential breed bias; conventional (CONV, n = 16), organic (ORG, n = 16), and organic-grass only (GRASS, n = 17).

At birth, calves were separated from their dams, housed indoors in individual pens, and fed 1.89 liters of colostrum per 41 kg of BW 2 times per day for 2 d. Calves were moved to group housing at 3 d of age. The pens for group housing included an indoor area bedded with organic wheat straw with an outside access space that measured 3.66 × 6.10 m (7.32 m2/ calf inside and outside).

All bull calves, conventional and organic, were fed 1.5% of birth weight of 13% total solids organic unpasteurized whole milk once daily and weaned when the youngest calf in the group reached 90 d of age and consumption of starter averaged 0.91 kg starter/calf/day. The CONV calves were fed a conventional calf starter and ORG steers were fed an organic calf starter from 3 d of age. However, GRASS steers were not provided calf starter, but were fed free-choice organic grass hay from 3 d of age. The organic and conventional starter was manufactured at the WCROC dairy, and was comprised of corn, wheat, expelled soybean meal, soybean oil, and minerals. The starter was 87.6% DM, 18.9% CP, 27.7% NDF, 5.95% fat, 7.5% ash, 1.43% calcium, 0.67% phosphorus, 39.9% NFC, 0.27 Mcal/kg NEG, and 0.40 Mcal/kg NEM.

Post-weaning, the CONV steers were moved to a cross-ventilated feedlot barn at the WCROC with 2.79 m2/head space and fed a diet of 67% concentrate and 33% roughage. Upon reaching a BW average of 204 kg, CONV steers were fed a diet of 80% concentrate and 20% roughage, and the ration contained 78.4% DM. The TMR consisted of corn silage, dried distillers grains with solubles, dry corn, grass hay, soybean meal, and mineral. The ration comprised 12.6% CP, 14.9% NDF, 3.3% fat, 4.3% ash, 0.72% calcium, 0.40% phosphorus, 65.5% NFC, 1.4 Mcal/kg NEG, and 2.0 Mcal/kg NEM. At a pen average of 175 kg, CONV steers were implanted with Synovex® C (10 mg estradiol benzoate + 100 mg progesterone; Pfizer Animal Health), and at 90 and 120 d post Synovex implantation with Component E-S with Tylan® (20 mg of estradiol benzoate and 200 mg of progesterone ;Ivy Animal Health, Inc.), which are used as growth stimulants. During the final 30 d on feed, the CONV steers were fed 400 mg/head/d of Optaflexx® , (ractopamine hydrochloride; Elanco Animal Health).

The ORG and GRASS steers were moved to permanent organic cool-season pasture post-weaning that was comprised of smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis L.), orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.), and timothy (Phleum pretense), as well as alfalfa (Medicago sativa), red clover (Trifolium pratense L.), and kura clover (Trifolium ambiguum M. Bieb.). The ORG and GRASS steers rotated to a new pasture (0.16 ha) every 3 d. Forage samples were collected on the day steers were moved to a new pasture. To obtain forage samples, 2 random clippings of a 61x46 cm metal square were collected in each pasture. After harvest, the pasture forage was placed in zip-lock bags and frozen (?4° C) until delivered to Dairyland Laboratories (St. Cloud, MN) for forage quality analysis and DM determination. The nutrient composition of the organic permanent pasture mix across the grazing season was 28.2% DM, 16.5% CP (ranged 13.8 to 21.7%) , 49.6% NDF (ranged 31.3 to 57.8%), 4.0% fat, 10.9% ash, 0.71% calcium, 0.29% phosphorus, 40.0% NFC, 0.67 Mcal/kg NEG, and 1.24 Mcal/kg NEM. For the ORG steers, at least 30% of DMI was from pasture during the grazing season. During the grazing season and winter, the ORG steers were supplemented with an organic TMR (61.2% DM) of organic corn, organic expelled soybean meal, organic corn silage, and organic certified-minerals. The ration comprised 10.9% CP, 25.6% NDF, 4.1% fat, 5.3% ash, 0.70% calcium, 1.08% phosphorus, 54.6% NFC, 1.2 Mcal/kg NEG, and 1.8 Mcal/kg NEM. The TMR for the ORG steers during the winter was fed at a higher level than the TMR during the grazing season and was 70% concentrate and 30% forage.

During the study, the GRASS steers were provided certified-organic steer mineral (Vita Plus Corporation) free choice in the pasture. During the non-grazing season, the GRASS steers were fed haylage. The haylage was 50.3% DM, 20.0% CP, 48.9% NDF, 3.3% fat, 10.6% ash, 1.34% calcium, 0.30% phosphorus, 18.1% NFC, 0.6 Mcal/kg NEG, and 1.2 Mcal/kg NEM. All conventional and organic hay, alfalfa silage, corn silage, and corn for all steer groups were grown and harvested at the WCROC dairy. During the winter, the ORG and GRASS steers were moved to a cross-ventilated feedlot barn adjacent to the CONV steers.

The amount of TMR offered at each feeding for CONV and ORG was recorded daily with a herd management software program with the use of a TMR mixing wagon (Feed Supervisor, New Richmond, WI), and then downloaded to a computer for use. For the ORG and GRASS steers, actual pre- and post-grazing pasture measurements were recorded within 24 h of the first and last steer entering the paddock during the grazing season with an electronic Filips folding plate pasture meter (Jenquip, New Zealand). The plate meter was calibrated with regression equations for the pasture conditions at the WCROC dairy.

All steer groups were weighed on a digital scale at birth, weaning, and monthly thereafter. Hip heights and heart girths were measured at weaning and the day before harvest.
The CONV steers were sent for harvest and fabrication on July 24, 2012 to the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Dakota City, NE, and the ORG and GRASS steers were sent for harvest and fabrication to Lorentz Meats, Cannon Falls, MN on September 19, 2012 and November 13, 2012, respectively. The ORG and GRASS steers were harvested at a different abattoir because Lorentz Meats was a National Organic Program inspected facility, and Tyson Fresh Meats was not. The slaughter dates were determined by the market conditions during 2012. The CONV steers were harvested according to the weights and standards of Tyson Fresh Meats. Hot carcass weight was recorded at the time of slaughter. Post-harvest, all steer carcasses were chilled for 24 h, and backfat thickness, ribeye area, percentage of kidney, pelvic, and heart fat, marbling, maturity, quality grade, and yield grade were recorded for each carcass. After a 48 h chilling period, beef products were fabricated and 8 randomly selected strip loins from each steer group were removed for future evaluation.

Carcasses were selected randomly, within breed group, before carcass data collection, and subsequently, fabricated after chilling for 24 h according to North American Meat Processors guidelines (NAMP, 2002). One strip loin was removed from 8 carcasses from each treatment group, CONV (slaughter conducted on July 24, 2012), ORG (slaughter conducted on September 19, 2012), and GRASS (slaughter conducted on November 13, 2012). For the CONV and GRASS steers, 2 carcasses from each breed group were randomly selected for strip loin collection (8 in total), and 1 CH, 2 HO, 3 HI and 2 LO steers were randomly selected from the ORG steers for strip loin collection. Strip loins were identified using carcass identification tags during slaughter. Identified strip loins were followed through fabrication and vacuum-packaged at a commercial abattoir (Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., Dakota City, NE for CONV steers, and Lorentz Meats, Cannon Falls, MN for ORG and GRASS steers). The ORG and GRASS steers were harvested at a different abattoir because Lorentz Meats was a National Organic Program inspected facility, and Tyson Fresh Meats was not. The same research personnel collected all samples at both abattoirs. Meat samples from the CONV steers were in a freezer 2 mo longer than ORG steers and 4 mo longer than GRASS steers until analyzed for WBSF and consumer senory panel.

Strip loins were maintained at 2° C during transport to the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center where they were unloaded and aged for 10 d postmortem at 2° C before further evaluation of meat quality and consumer acceptability. After aging, six 2.54-cm thick, frozen steaks were cut from the cranial end of each strip loin. The most cranial steak of the 6 steaks cut from the frozen strip loin was used for WBSF analysis, 2 steaks were used for objective color score analysis, and the remaining 3 steaks were used for consumer panel sensory evaluation.

Back fat samples (approximately 6.4 x 0.5 cm) were collected from 8 random carcasses from each treatment group 72 h postmortem at the commercial abattoir. The back fat samples were collected from the same carcasses that were used for strip loin collection. Samples were placed in air tight plastic bags, transported on ice to the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center and frozen (-20° C) until subsequent analysis. Eight frozen fat samples were chosen at random from each of the 3 treatment groups, were placed on ice packs in a polystyrene insulated container and shipped to R-Tech Analytical Lab (Arden Hills, MN) for fatty acid profile analysis.
Fatty acids from the 8 selected steers per group were determined according to AOAC method 996.06 (AOAC, 2002) by R-Tech Analytical Lab (Arden Hills, MN). Briefly, lipids were extracted from a 3 g sample, saponified, derivatized, and then run on the gas chromatograph to determine which fatty acids were contained in the sample. Results were reported as a percentage of a specific fatty acid in the total fat, and the value of all fatty acids add to 100%.

Tenderness was measured on a steak from each strip loin using the WBSF instrument (G-R Elec. Mfg. Co., Manhattan, KS). Steaks were removed from the freezer, thawed for 84 h at 4° C, wrapped in aluminum foil, and then cooked in an electric oven to a final internal temperature of 71° C. Internal temperature was monitored with a thermometer inserted into the geometric center of the steak. Each steak was cooled to room temperature, and 3 1.27 cm cores were removed from each steak parallel to the muscle fiber orientation using a hand coring device. A single peak shear force measurement was obtained for each core.

The color of each steak was measured using a Hunter Lab Miniscan XE Plus spectrophotometer equipped with a 6-mm aperture (HunterLab Associates Inc., Reston, VA) to determine color coordinate values for L* (brightness, 0 = black and 100 = white), a* (redness/greenness, positive values = red and negative values = green), and b* (yellowness/blueness, positive values = yellow and negative values = blue) following procedures of the Commission International de I’Eclairage (CIE, 1976). Readings for each of the L*, a*, b* values were taken at 3 spots on the surface of the steak exposed to the light; readings were averaged for each steak at the time of evaluation.

Consumer sensory evaluation
One-hundred consumers were recruited by the University of Minnesota’s Food Science and Nutrition Sensory Center. Consumers were at least 18 yr old, had no food allergies, and had consumed cooked beef within the past month. All panelists were compensated $5 for participating in the sensory panel. Steaks were thawed and cooked to an internal temperature of 71° C in the same manner as described for WBSF. When steaks were removed from the oven, cubes of approximately 1 cm x 1 cm x 2.5 cm were placed in double boiler pots containing simmering water and the pots were replenished with cubes every 30 min to serve to the panelists for evaluation. Each panelist received 2 pieces of steak per sample in lidded 57 mL plastic soufflé cups coded with random 3-digit numbers. To maintain sample serving temperature, cups were nested in insulated foam trays and kept warm with heated towels. The samples were served to panelists in 3 sets of 3 samples on 1 tray. The first set corresponded to replicate 1, the second set corresponded to replicate 2, and the third set corresponded to replicate 3. The 3 samples within each set were balanced for order and carryover effects by personnel from the University of Minnesota Sensory Center using a latin-square design with SIMS Sensory Evaluation Testing Software (http://www.sims2000.com/).

Subjects were asked to taste 1 piece of the sample and rate it for overall liking, liking of flavor, liking of texture, and off flavor. Samples were evaluated using a labeled affective magnitude scale. A mark was placed anywhere on the scale that appropriately described the panelist’s liking of tenderness, flavor, texture, and overall liking (0 = greatest imaginable dislike, 120 = greatest imaginable like). Furthermore, panelists were then instructed to consume the second piece of meat and rate the intensity of toughness, intensity of juiciness, along with a rating for off flavor (0 = none, 20 = extremely tough, extremely juicy, and extremely intense, respectively). Panelists repeated all steps 2 additional times.

Profit was estimated as a function of the revenue and expense for beef value, feed cost, pasture cost, health cost, and yardage for a pen (8) of steers during the study. Table 2 has default revenues and expenses used to determine profit. Beef income for the CONV steers was $2.71/kg of beef, which was the mean beef price from 2011 to 2012 from beef prices of the USDA Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS, 2012). The organic premium for the ORG and GRASS steers was $0.33/kg, which was the premium above the CONV beef price received for the ORG and GRASS steers (Organic Prairie, LaFarge, WI). The calf milk cost ($0.6166/kg) and calf grain cost ($0.56/kg) were from the costs at the WCROC organic dairy. The corn silage cost ($0.06/kg), alfalfa silage cost ($0.08/kg), dry hay cost ($0.20/kg), corn cost (conventional = $0.25/kg; organic = $0.54/kg), dried distillers grains with solubles cost ($0.21/kg), and soybean meal cost (conventional = $0.44/kg; organic = $0.98/kg) were from 2012 prices of the USDA Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS, 2012). During 2012 in Minnesota, there was no price premium for organic corn silage, dry hay, or alfalfa silage. However, organic hay prices can be variable across the United States depending on forage quality and availability. Pasture costs were $0.09/kg/DM, which was greater than cost calculated by Benson (2012). Mineral cost ($1.03/kg) and fixed yardage cost ($0.25/hd/d) were from the WCROC organic dairy. Profitability was calculated as profit for a pen of steers. The average cost per kg of gain for groups was the total feed costs divided by the total weight gain for a pen of steers.

Sensitivity analyses were performed to evaluate the effects of changes in the input variables on profit. Alternative organic corn, hay, and beef prices were used for sensitivity analysis . The organic corn cost was decreased from $0.54/kg to $0.41/kg (25% lesser) and $0.27 kg (50% lesser), and increased to $0.68/kg (25% higher), which reflect potential market conditions for organic corn. The organic hay cost was increased to $0.25 (25% higher). Alternative organic beef premium scenarios were higher at $0.41/kg, $0.66/kg, and $0.99/kg. Furthermore, an organic direct market price ($7.12/kg) to reflect the price that organic producers may receive on farm or at farmers markets versus marketing organic dairy steers through a commercial abattoir.

For statistical analysis of pre- and post-weaning body measurements, carcass measurements and profitability, independent variables were fixed effects of steer group. All observations within pens were averaged for analysis. For all pre-weaning body measurements except birth weight, birth weight was a covariable in the statistical model. The MIXED procedure of SAS (SAS Institute, 2012) was used to obtain solutions and conduct the ANOVA. All treatment results were reported as LSM with significance declared at P < 0.05. A ?2 test (SAS Institute, 2012) was used to compare the GRASS and ORG steers to the CONV steers for percentages of carcasses grading select and greater and choice and greater. For statistical analysis of fatty acid profiles, WBSF, and objective color score, the independent variable was treatment group. All observations within pens were averaged for analysis. Additionally, for analysis of fatty acid profiles, WBSF, and objective color scores, pen within group was included in the statistical model as a random effect. For consumer acceptability analysis, independent variables were fixed effects of treatment group, replicate, and the interaction of treatment group and replicate. Additionally, consumer subject and the interaction of consumer subject and treatment group were included as random effects in the model. Additionally, a ?2 test (SAS Institute, 2008) was used to compare treatment groups for alternative measures of overall liking.

Research results and discussion:

For weaning weight, the GRASS (96.9 kg) steers were not different than CONV (106.8 kg) and ORG (111.7 kg) steers. Furthermore, the GRASS (54.4 kg) steers had similar (P > 0.10) total gains through weaning compared to the ORG (68.3 kg) and CONV (54.4 kg) steers. Consequently, ADG from birth to weaning were similar for the GRASS (0.60 kg/d) steers and for the ORG (0.76 kg/d) and CONV (0.73 kg/d) steers. The GRASS (584 d) steers had more (P < 0.05) days to slaughter than ORG (528 d) and CONV (466 d). Additionally, the GRASS (401 kg) steers had lesser (P < 0.05) slaughter weights than ORG (476 kg) than CONV (576 kg) steers. Slaughter weights were not different for the ORG and CONV steers. The GRASS (+359 kg) steers had lesser (P < 0.05) total gains from birth to slaughter than the CONV (+537 kg) steers, but not ORG (+435 kg) steers. Hence, ADG from birth to slaughter for the GRASS (0.62 kg/d) steers were lesser (P < 0.05) than ORG (0.82 kg/d) and CONV (1.1 kg/d) steers.

As expected, the GRASS and ORG steers had lesser (P < 0.05) less fat thickness, smaller rib eye area, lesser kidney, pelvic, and hear fat, a lesser dressing percentage, and a lower yield grade than CONV steers. The GRASS (190 kg) steers had lesser (P < 0.05) hot carcass weight than the CONV (341 kg) steers, and the ORG (251) kg) steers tended (P = 0.06) to have lesser hot carcass weight than CONV steers.

Along with the smaller carcass weight and less backfat of the GRASS and ORG steers, they had less (P < 0.05) marbling than the CONV steers. Consequently, the ORG and GRASS steers had less intramuscular fat in the meat. Choice carcasses were fewer (P < 0.05) for the GRASS (0.0 %) steers than for the ORG (12.5%) and CONV (81.3%) steers.

Fat from GRASS steers had greater (P < 0.05) means of palmitic (C16:0), stearic (C18:0), linoelaidic (C18:2T), linolenic (C18:3), and heneicosanoic (C21:0) acids than fat from ORG and CONV steers. The ORG steers had fat that was greater (P < 0.05) for oleic (C18:1) acids than fat from GRASS and CONV steers.The fat from GRASS steers had lower (P < 0.05) levels of monounsaturated fat (21.9%) than the ORG (42.1%) and CONV (40.4%) steers. The 3 steer groups had fat that was not different for polyunsaturated fat. Furthermore, the GRASS steers tended to have greater levels (P = 0.08) of omega-3 fat (0.50%) and lower levels (P < 0.05) of omega-6 (0.68%) fat than the ORG (0.21% and 2.1%, respectively) and CONV (0.19% and 2.5%, respectively) steers. Consequently, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio was lower (P < 0.05) for the GRASS (1.4%) steers compared to the ORG (10.0%) and CONV (12.9%) steers. The GRASS steers tended to have lower levels (P = 0.08) of total triglycerides than CONV steers. The steer groups were not different for saturated fat and trans fat (unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acids).

For overall consumer liking, means were similar for ORG (71.3) and CONV (69.2) beef steaks; however, the GRASS beef steaks were rated lower (P <; 0.05) for overall liking than the ORG and CONV beef steaks. Furthermore, means for texture, toughness, and off-flavor were similar for ORG and CONV beef steaks. Surprisingly, the ORG (73.3) beef steaks had greater (P < 0.05) flavor ratings compared to the CONV (69.2) beef steaks. As expected, the GRASS beef steaks had less (P < 0.05) flavor and texture, and the beef was tougher, less juicy, and exhibited more off flavor. For overall liking of beef, only 12.6% of consumers moderately liked (scores of 81 to 120) the GRASS steaks compared to ORG (30.0%) and CONV (32.0%), and the difference was lower (P < 0.05) for the GRASS compared to the ORG and CONV steaks. Only 2.7% of consumers liked the GRASS steaks very much, and no consumers extremely liked the GRASS steaks. There were no differences for ORG and CONV steaks for consumer like/dislike categories.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Results of this research were presented by Elizabeth Bjorklund at the 2013 Minnesota Organic Conference. A poster of this project was presented at the 2013 MOSES Organic Conference in February 2013, and at the American Dairy Science Association meetings in Indianapolis in July 2013. Popular press articles based on this project were published in the Organic Broadcaster, the Dairy Star, and the Midwest Forage Focus magazine. Dr. Heins presented a seminar on this project at the McIntosh Dairy Days in McIntosh, MN in March 2013. Elizabeth Bjorklund presented this information at the U of MN Organic Dairy Day in August 2012, where over 85 producers and industry representatives attended the event. The workshop scored a 4.4/5, and indicated that this topic was very relevant to the audience in attendance.

E. A. Bjorklund and B. J. Heins. 2012. Growth measurements of organically raised dairy steers compared with conventionally raised dairy steers. J. Dairy Sci. Vol. 95 (E-Suppl. 2): 84

E. A. Bjorklund and B. J. Heins. 2013. Fatty acid profiles, meat quality, and sensory attributes organic versus conventional dairy-beef. J. Dairy Sci. Vol. 96 (E-Suppl. 2): 356

E. A. Bjorklund and B. J. Heins. 2013. Growth measurements, carcass characteristics, and profitability of organic versus conventional dairy-beef steers. J. Dairy Sci. Vol. 96 (E-Suppl. 2): 356

Popular Press
E. A. Bjorklund and B. J. Heins. 2012. Comparison of growth of organically raised and conventionally raised dairy-beef steers. 2012 Midwest Organic Farming Conference Program. p. 43

Brad Heins and Elizabeth Bjorklund. 2013. Feeding dairy steers on pasture, grain or no-grain? http://www1.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/dairy/organic/feeding-dairy-steers-on-pasture/index.html. February 9, 2013

Brad Heins and Elizabeth Bjorklund. 2013. Research on raising dairy steers provides insights. Organic Broadcaster, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, May-June 2013, p 7,11.

Brad Heins and Elizabeth Bjorklund. 2013. Feeding dairy steers on pasture, grain or no-grain? Midwest Forage Association Forage Focus, March, 2013, p 14-15.

Brad Heins. 2013. Feeding dairy steers on pasture. University of Minnesota, West Central News, February 20, 2013.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Organic dairy producers may improve the profitability of dairying by feeding dairy steers on 100% pasture versus feeding expensive organic concentrates. The higher cost of production for the ORG steers was due to the extremely high value of organic corn. The profit potential for ORG and GRASS steers greatly depends on the organic premium; however, that benefit may not be sustainable in the long term as meat quality is generally lower for GRASS steers. Consumers are becoming more concerned about the origins of food, and grass-fed beef and organic beef has the potential to provide an alternative beef product for consumers. Through the results of this project, organic dairy producers will be able to make informed decisions about feeding dairy steers on pasture.

Economic Analysis

The GRASS steers tended (P = 0.06) to have less beef revenue than CONV steers, The CONV and ORG steers were not different for beef revenue. Not surprisingly, feed costs were the highest expense for all of the steers groups. For steer costs, ORG steers had greater corn silage cost, greater corn cost, soybean meal cost, pasture cost, and fixed yardage cost than the CONV steers. For the ORG steers, organic corn costs was the highest expense, and therefore, organic corn price would have to be significantly lower for the ORG steers to remain profitable. The GRASS steers had feed costs and total costs that were much less (P < 0.05) than the ORG and CONV steers.

For profit, the GRASS ($4,394.89) steers were not different from CONV ($3,539.25) steers. However, the ORG ($-5,773.67) had lesser (P < 0.05) profit than GRASS and CONV steers. Therefore, cost per kg of gain was the greatest (P < 0.05) for the ORG ($4.96 compared to the GRASS ($1.97) or CONV ($2.10) steers. A lower organic corn price ($0.27/kg) substantially decreased the difference between the ORG and CONV steers. Compared with the default values; however, the ORG steers continued to have a disadvantage for profit (Table 7). Consequently, the ORG steers gained (-$9,312.92 to -$4,048.20) for profit relative to the CONV steers. However, a high organic corn price ($0.68/kg) resulted in much lesser (P < 0.05) profit compared to the default profit for the ORG steers versus the CONV steers. A higher organic hay price decreased the difference in profit for the GRASS steers compared to the CONV steers. A higher organic beef premium dramatically increased profit for the GRASS steers, and reduced the significant loss for profit of the ORG steers. The gap between ORG and CONV steers was substantially reduced for profit (-$9,312.92 to $6,436.94) at the higher organic direct-market beef price.

Farmer Adoption

Numerous farmers have been in contact with the project investigators to learn more about feeding dairy steers on pasture. This project has provided much needed information to farmers thinking about feeding dairy steers on pasture. Over 85 producers and industry representatives attended the U of MN Organic Dairy Day to gather information from this project and tour the steers in the pastures. Over 40 people attended the workshop at the Minnesota Organic Conference, and their were many discussions with farmers after the workshop about the project. Based on the feedback from farmers, many people are looking to adopt the practice of feeding dairy steers on pasture.


Areas needing additional study

Organic dairy producers continue to explore alternative ways to make profit on their dairy. This project observed that it is possible to feed dairy steers on pasture, and receive a profit. This project could be replicated with a larger sample size with numerous breed combinations. Also, the effects of forage feeding systems (cool versus warm seasons grasses) could be evaluated with dairy steers on pasture. However, profitability decisions should always be included in any study with feeding dairy steers on pasture.

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.