Sustainable Marketing Strategies to Enhance the Value of Weaned Beef Calves Marketed by Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Small Producers

Progress report for SPDP23-018

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2023: $79,002.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2025
Grant Recipients: Tuskegee University; Auburn University
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Frank Abrahamsen
Tuskegee University
Dr. Leanne Dillard
Auburn University
Dr. Nar Gurung
Tuskegee University
George Hunter
Tuskegee University
Dr. Chuck Okere
Tuskegee University
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Project Information


Alabama ranks 8th in the United States for the number of registered beef farms. Many cattle and calves can be found throughout the Black Belt of Alabama, the primary service area of Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program (TUCEP) services. Many of these producers are considered small as they have less than 50 head of cattle and calves. Beef producers represent 44% of all farmers in Alabama and more than 50% of the farms, with an African American principal operator, representing a large portion of the clientele found in the Black Belt of Alabama. Value-added calf production is difficult for most small producers as they do not usually complete the management practices or market a large enough amount of animals to receive the premiums that larger producers often receive. This project aims to establish 4 demonstration sites to demonstrate to mentor producers and agricultural extension agents the methods associated with producing value-added calves by pooling together a group of four small, mentor producers to reduce the cost of production while creating a more valuable animal.


The demonstration pool will consist of four mentor producers and extension agents. At each of these locations (4), the mentor producers and agents will be required to attend multiple training sessions on the management practices associated with forage production, value-added calf production, and marketing.

Project Objectives:
  • Objective 1: Train mentor producers and agricultural extension agents on the importance of herd health, genetics, and a 60-day calving season.
    • This objective will be completed with four on-farm demonstrations on common management practices that could potentially result in a value-added calf across the Black Belt of Alabama. Additionally, the mentor producers will be trained in reducing their calving season overtime at each of these workshops. Finally, the benefits of artificial insemination (AI) will be presented to peak their interest in condensing their breeding season and improving their genetics. This training will focus on creating community leaders that could potentially assist other producers in forming more calf pools across the state of Alabama, improving the production scenario of several other socially and economically disadvantaged producers.
  • Objective 2: Train mentor producers and agricultural extension agents on a forage-based approach to cow-calf production that has a focus on regenerative agriculture which could reduce the dependency on supplemental feeds.
    • Feed cost is the most significant expenditure for all livestock producers; this cost can be reduced by utilizing legumes and cover crops to help meet the needs of the animals. Soil conditions across the Black Belt of Alabama are often lacking in organic matter (Bosarge et al., 2015). Using mixtures of cover crops and legumes can improve the quality of the soil while decreasing dependency on synthetic fertilizers. At each of the four training locations, demonstration plots will be planted utilizing combinations of cover crops and legumes. Before planting, a workshop for the mentor producers and agents will be completed on soil and pasture preparation to ensure the greatest amount of seeds germinate. After the pastures have been established, another round of workshops/ field days will be planned to show local producers the biomass and forage sample collection process allowing us to have the greatest impact. At this stage, mentor producers and agricultural extension agents will be taught how to interpret the results of the forage sample, determine if supplemental feeding is required, and determine the correct rate. Finally, the third round of workshops will be conducted to evaluate the end soil sample results to demonstrate the differences in organic matter and nitrogen requirement. If the forage stage of the demonstrations is successful, more producers will be working together to rent grain drills and prepare pastures for planting. Mentor producers at the four demonstration sites will serve as calf pool leaders and community contacts for more sustainable cow-calf production. At the conclusion of the study, the impact of planting these forages will be demonstrated to producers and published in a how-to-manual.
  • Objective 3: Train the mentor producer and agents on the importance of a weaning period (e.g., 60 days) before marketing the calves. The weaning period will demonstrate the importance of calf-health and nutrition.
    • One of the essential steps to creating a value-added calf is to wean the calf crop for 60 days. This weaning period is necessary to reduce stress, allow the animal to gain additional weight (2 lbs/ day), increase immunity from effective vaccination, and increase animal performance in the next stage of production from the synergistic effect of the previously listed reasons. It is essential for the weaning period to be profitable. The weaning period should be forage-based with some supplementation to train the animal to feed and drink water from troughs. One weaning lot will be set up at one of the four sites to demonstrate the weaning process via the pool concept. If successful, we will see an increase in the clientele marketing weaned, value-added calves in the service area of the TUCEP utilizing the pool marketing concept.
  • Objective 4: Demonstrate the improved returns to participants on calves marketed by socially and economically disadvantaged producers in Alabama.
    • Finally, a mentor producer and agricultural extension agent training session will be conducted to close out the training program. At this event, we will have an agricultural economist and marketing specialist present the data of the four producers compared to the more traditional production and marketing practices of the small, socially, and economically disadvantaged producers. It is expected after evaluating each step of the value-added calf production process that mentor producers will be more inclined to change their management practices to make their small operations more sustainable. Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension will continue to provide consultation and assistance and support for those interested in working with others. Additionally, “How-to manuals” and videos will be prepared as a result of each step of this project. These resources can be distributed to future producers.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Terry Cooper - Producer
  • Audrey Haskin
  • Gilbert Long - Producer


Educational approach:
  • After receiving funding, a survey will be distributed across the Black Belt of Alabama utilizing online software to evaluate the producers that could be selected to serve as a mentor producers. This survey will assess the willingness to work with other producers, genetic potential, and breeding season. The PD and CO-PDs on this project will serve as the selection committee. Before breeding, all animals will be vaccinated for various clostridial, respiratory, and reproductive diseases as part of a herd health hands-on demonstration for the mentor producers and agricultural extension agents. Animals will be bred utilizing fixed-time artificial insemination. Pregnancy confirmation will be completed 1-month post-fixed-time artificial insemination via enzyme-linked immunoassay. During this entire process, workshops, videos, and publications will be created explaining the importance of herd health for all animals (i.e., cows, bulls, and calves), artificial reproductive technologies, and pregnancy diagnosis.  
  • Three months after parturition, all calves will be ear-tagged with customized T.U. ear tags indicating they are candidates for the value-added marketing weaning lot which will be at at one of the four demonstration sites. Additionally, each producer will have a unique color assigned to their calves. At this time, all bull calves will be castrated and implanted with growth-promoting implants following the requirements of all of the commercially advertised value-added marketing programs. Additionally, all calves will be vaccinated utilizing a clostridial vaccine to protect them from a disease commonly referred to as "Blackleg." Calves will also be treated for internal and external parasites giving them the best opportunity to perform optimally. Calves will be provided with a 14% crude protein, creep feed commercially available to increase the average daily gain and animal performance before weaning. Cows will begin being rebred utilizing fixed-time artificial insemination.
  • Two months before weaning, calf weight will be recorded, and calves will be vaccinated with a modified live vaccine for various reproductive, respiratory, and other diseases associated with shipping and stress. Two months later, the calves will be weaned at one of the four sites, which will primarily be forage-based with different annual grazing forages and supplementation at .5-1% body weight to train the animals to the feed bunk. The selected forages will combine cover crops, legumes, and grasses to improve soil quality and health while improving animal performance, a regenerative approach. Each animal should gain an average of two pounds per day. The size of the calves will determine the length of the weaning period. The weaning period will be 60 days. Fourteen days before marketing, the steer calves will be revaccinated to ensure a quality immune response and adequate protection. A marketing plan will be designed to meet the unique circumstances of our pool.
  • Finally, the equipment purchased for the fixed-time AI will remain available to producers that undergo training in Reproductive Management Program at TU.
  • This entire process will rely on the assistance of mentor producers, agents, undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These participants will receive training in working with small producers, creating value-added calves, marketing, cattle nutrition, and herd health. Additionally, programs like this allow participants to see different production scenarios, increasing the diversity in agriculture, academia, and veterinary medicine. Developing a passion in students for serving those considered small, socially, and economically disadvantaged has not been accomplished by any land grant university, providing Tuskegee University the opportunity to set an example for other 1890 institutions to follow.
  • All results from this project will be published in a “Calf Pool: How to Manual for the Small Producer” along with a series of training videos.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Field visits with CVM

Objective 1


Throughout this year we have been preparing demonstration sites and training producer on the importance of herd health practices in conjunction with the College of Veterinary Medicine. These visits consisted of demonstrations with the goal of producers being able to implement these practices on their own as this program continues on. At many of the stops, fellow producers would attend the field visit ,to learn more about the different management practices. 

Additionally, we established three demonstration  farms at which we will begin hosting training sessions in the coming year. Producers at the demonstration sites free AI services so we could demonstrate the cost savings the improvement in the calf quality.  

Farms visited: 20

Outcomes and impacts:

Before the end of each visit producers were required to complete these management practices on their own under the supervision of the experts to show that they had learned the necessary skills to complete them. 

Educational & Outreach Activities

20 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
20 On-farm demonstrations
2 Tours
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

5 Extension
4 Researchers
2 Nonprofit
1 Agency
50 Farmers/ranchers
10 Others

Learning Outcomes

50 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
5 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This year we have established two demonstration sites to demonstrate the year round forage production, artificial reproductive technologies, and herd health management practices. We will  continue to working towards creating virtual training material to increase the impact that our programs have on small scale producers across the southeast. 

5 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
25 Farmers reached through participant's programs
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.