Impact of including sprouted grains in the ration of beef cattle relative to animal performance, quality and nutritive value of meat, and economic via

Progress report for SW23-950

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $349,975.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2026
Host Institution Award ID: G105-24-W9981
Grant Recipient: Utah State University
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kara Thornton
Utah State University
Brady Blackett
Blackett Cattle Company
Kelly Crozier
Raise'm Right Ranch
Dr. Matthew Garcia
Utah State University
Dr. Korry Hintze, PhD
Utah State University
Dr. Clay Isom
Utah State University, Dept. of Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Sc
Dr. Ryan Larsen
Utah State University, Dept. of Applied Economics
Jason Morgan
Morgan Ranching Company
Dr. Stephan van Vliet
Utah State University
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Project Information


One of the many challenges Western US beef producers face is climate change and drought conditions that negatively impact animal performance and economic viability. Drought conditions result in increasing price, decreasing yield and variability in nutrient density of feedstuffs. This is relevant because feed costs account for approximately 70% of the total costs of raising beef. In addition, rural areas are becoming more urban and producers are being forced to either move their operations to more rural areas, or transport their feedstuffs a greater distance. These are several of the largest challenges that beef producers currently face and will continue to face in the future. Feeding sprouted grains (fodder) is one method to alleviate some of the issues producers face. Hydroponic fodder systems are used to sprout cereal grains for approximately 6-10 days and are then fed to livestock. Hydroponic growing does not require as much soil, land, fertilizer or water as conventional farming systems and is not affected by changes in the climate, such as temperature or precipitation levels. This is advantageous as fodder can be produced year-round, results in a feed with higher nutrient density than traditional forages, and has a relatively low amount of inputs, which ultimately improves sustainability of beef production. However, to date, little research has been done to understand how including fodder in the ration impacts beef cattle production. As such, the proposed research will analyze the effects of including barley fodder in the ration of beef cattle on live cattle performance, carcass quality, rumen characteristics, nutritive value of the meat, and economic viability. Two different trials will be completed to determine the impacts of providing barley fodder to growing and finishing beef steers, as well as in developing heifers. Completion of these two different trials will provide important insight into two very different, yet important nutritional periods, for beef producers in the Western region of the US. Additionally, this research team believes that it is not only of the utmost importance that this research be conducted, but that this research be disseminated through different outlets. As such, the results of these two research trials will be disseminated to producers, county extension agents and other professionals through more traditional venues such as publication of fact sheets and peer reviewed journal articles and presentations at local, state, and nationwide producer meetings. Results will also be disseminated though less traditional methods such as recorded podcasts and presentations and social media. Furthermore, two different field days will be hosted to provide hands-on experience with including fodder in the ration of livestock. These opportunities will provide individuals with the appropriate knowledge to utilize this resource, as well as learn how to produce fodder and include it in their rations. Being able to provide a high-quality feed produced with less inputs (land, water, fertilizer, etc.) and an increased output (more forage with an improved nutrient density) will impact both economic viability of producers and sustainability of the whole beef industry.

Project Objectives:

Research Objectives:

  1. Understand how including sprouted barley in the ration of beef cattle impacts live animal performance of both growing steers and developing heifers, as well as carcass quality.
  2. Determine how including sprouted barley in the ration of beef cattle impacts rumen fermentation characteristics.
  3. Use novel metabolomic approaches to assess animal health and nutritional quality of meat.
  4. Determine whether including hydroponic barley fodder in the ration of beef cattle is economically viable and impacts water usage of producers.

Extension Objectives:

  1. Host two field days to show producers, extension agents and other professionals in the field how sprouted grains are produced and how they can be fed to cattle in order to give them hands-on experience with this technology.
  2. Present the results of the research trials at local, regional and national meetings.
  3. Publish the results of the research trials as extension facts sheets and peer reviewed publications.
  4. Develop and host training sessions and materials to share with county extension agents across the Western region of the US.
  5. Discuss and present the results of the research trials through several social media outlets including Facebook, Instagram and podcasts.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Kara Thornton, PhD (Researcher)
  • Dr. Korry Hintze (Researcher)
  • Dr. Clay Isom (Researcher)
  • Dr. Stephan van Vliet (Researcher)
  • Dr. Ryan Larsen (Educator and Researcher)
  • Brady Blackett - Producer
  • Jason Morgan - Producer
  • Kelly Crozier - Producer


Materials and methods:

The research objectives will be completed by conducting two different research trials at the Utah State University South Farm. In the first trial, 60 commercial Angus steers weighing approximately 700 pounds from the Utah State University beef herd will be stratified by weight into one of four different treatment groups: (1) inclusion of 40% (as-fed basis) sprouted barley in the ration, n=15; (2) inclusion of 60% (as-fed basis) sprouted barley in the ration, n=15; (3) inclusion of 80% (dry matter basis) sprouted barley in the ration n=15; and (4) conventional total mixed ration with a grain concentration of 85% (dry matter basis) in the final ration. The authors acknowledge that it is unorthodox to present rations on an as-fed basis, however preliminary research from our group as well as anecdotal information from producers leads us to hypothesize that when cattle are fed a feed that is as nutrient dense and has a high level of nutrient availability, such as sprouted barley, that the animals will not be required to consume as much dry matter and have similar or improved production parameters. As stated previously in the narrative, a recent research trial that was conducted at Utah State University investigated the effects of providing either feeder quality alfalfa hay or a diet that was half feeder quality hay and half sprouted barley (as-fed) to 20 cow-calf pairs (n=10 per treatment). The cows received their respective diets for a period of 90 days. Our research group is still in the final stages of analyzing the data, but preliminary results show that there was no difference (P=0.96) in cow weight throughout the trial. Nor was there a difference in calf weight (P=0.32). However, we believe it is important to note that the calves that were in the treatment group that received sprouted barley did have a numerically increased average daily gain (1.6 vs. 1.4 pounds). This preliminary data provides compelling evidence that the proposed research needs to be conducted to better understand the effects of including sprouted barley in the ration of beef cattle. These different treatments were chosen so that we would have a better idea of how three different inclusion levels of sprouted grain could be compared to a conventional total mixed ration to help produce a feeding guide for sprouted grains that can be shared with producers. Each of the treatment diets will be balanced to be isocaloric and isonitrogenous. In addition, we will balance for the animals on each diet to receive similar amount of feed on an as-fed basis. However, all animals will be fed ad libitum. All animals will be housed in pens that are each equipped with two GrowSafe bunks allowing for collection of individual animal intakes and feeding behavior. In this system, an RFID tag is placed in the ear of each animal and each time they place their head through the bars of the bunk, the GrowSafe unit records who that animal is and how long they are there, allowing for animals to be group housed while collecting individual feeding and feed behavior data. The trial will last approximately 120 days. Animals will be weighed on day 0 and every 30 days after. Additionally, ultrasound measurements and blood and rumen fluid will be collected by trained personnel at each weight date. Animals will remain on trial until they reach an industry standard average of 0.5 inches of backfat as measured by ultrasound, at which time they will be harvested at a commercial harvest facility. Commercial carcass data will be obtained for each animal as well as a sample from the aged steak of each loin to determine nutritive quality of the meat.

Research results and discussion:

We are in the process of conducting the first research trial and do not yet have any final results to share. 

However, the first research trial (the feedlot trial) began in January 2025. Prior to beginning this trial, and before receiving funding from WSARE, we completed a backgrounding trial to test out the four different diets proposed in the research trial. We did not observe any differences between the different diets, but noted that a 20% inclusion (DM basis) of sprouted barley in the diet resulted in numerically increased gain and feed efficiency. As such, we decided to look at just two different diets in the finishing trial (typical feedlot diet; CON vs. a 20% inclusion of sprouted barley (DM); SB) nad utilize an n=30 for each treatment to increase our statistical power. To date, we have collected data for weights, hip height, rumen fluid pH, and ribeye fat thickness via ultrasound on days 0, 30, 60, and 90. Based off of these measurements, we anticipate that the steers will go to harvest middle to end of May. However, we are collecting samples and weights again the end of April and will have a better idea of weight and backfat thickness at that point. 

As we have already completed a cow-calf trial and a backgrounding trial, we are pretty adept at producing, mixing and delivering the sprouted barley diets to the steers. We have not had any issues in growing or feeding these diets to the cattle. 

Although we do not have a complete data set yet, and have not yet run the final statistics - our preliminary data shows that the steers receiving the SB diet have gained more weight, have a slightly lower (but within normal range) rumen pH, have similar hip heights, and the steers fed SB have an increased ribeyefat thickness compared to the CON steers. 

We will continue analyzing the samples that have been collected (blood, rumen fluid, intake data) through the rest of the summer of 2024 and should have results complete for the finishing trial around the end of 2024. We will also get carcass data and meat quality data this summer as well. In late fall (November ish depending on the weather) of 2024 we will begin feeding animals for our second trial, the heifer development trial. 

Participation Summary
3 Producers participating in research

Research Outcomes

Recommendations for sustainable agricultural production and future research:

We are in the process of conducting the research and do not yet have any results to share that might help producers make informed decisions related to sustainability. 

3 New working collaborations

Education and Outreach

3 Consultations
1 On-farm demonstrations
3 Tours
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

150 Farmers participated
10 Ag professionals participated
Education and outreach methods and analyses:

Our team believes that it is of the utmost importance that not only is this research conducted in order to come up with feed options that are more sustainable, but that we disseminate the results of this research trial with producers, extension agents, and other professionals in the agricultural field. As such, two members (Drs. Garcia and Larsen) of the research team have extension as their primary role in their respective positions at USU. In addition, all of the other members of the research team have experience in extension and are excited to be able to share the findings of the research trial with both the agricultural and scientific communities. Our team believes that is it of the utmost importance that the findings of this research are shared to ensure that everyone is aware of different resources that are available to them to help improve sustainability and economic viability of their operations. As such, we will disseminate the results of the proposed research trials to a wide audience utilizing several different methods of dissemination to ensure that this information is easily accessible by a broad audience. The following extension and education objectives will be completed in order to reach our dissemination goal:

  1. Host two field day to show producers, extension agents and other professionals in the field how sprouted grains are produced and how they can be fed to cattle in order to give them hands-on experience with this technology.
  2. Present the results of the research trials at local, regional and national meetings.
  3. Publish the results of the research trials as extension facts sheets and peer reviewed publications.
  4. Develop and host training sessions and materials to share with county extension agents across the Western region of the US.
  5. Discuss and present the results of the research trials through several social media outlets including Facebook, Instagram and podcasts.

To complete objective 1, two different field days will be hosted to give producers, extension agents and other professionals in the field hands-on experience with how automated systems can be used to produce sprouted grains, how sprouted grains can be included in the ration of beef cattle at different stages of production, the economic viability of these systems and feedstuffs, and how water usage is impacted. These field days will be performed at two different locations, the South Farm at Utah State University located in Logan, UT and at Blackett Angus Ranch in Mona, UT). The hydroponic fodder production system that will be used in the proposed research trials is portable, so once the trial and field day have finished in Logan, UT, the system will be transported to Blackett Angus Ranch, which is located in a more southern region of Utah. We anticipate that by hosting two different field days at two different locations we will be able to reach a larger audience. In addition, an individual from the Utah State University College of Agricultural and Applied Science Marketing and Production team will be present at both field days to produce promotional information that can be shared on social media platforms (more detail included in objective 5) and produce a video that will be shared on YouTube documenting how the systems work and how sprouted grains can be fed in order to provide this information to individuals who are not able to attend in person. Completion of this objective will provide valuable hands-on experience and online material that can be shared and implicitly demonstrated to producers and other agricultural professionals how this technology functions, how the feed can be included in rations, the economic impact of these systems, the effects of including this feedstuffs relative to production and animal health, and how water usage is altered at the operation level.

To complete objective 2, findings of the two research trials, as well as general information about what sprouted grains are and how this feed can be produced, will be presented at several different types of conferences in order to reach a broad audience of individuals. Results from both trials will be presented at national scientific conferences such as the annual meeting of the American Society for Animal Science, as well as more regional conferences such as the Pacific Northwest Animal Nutrition Conference and the Western Section Meetings of the American Society for Animal Science. These conferences have attendees that vary in backgrounds from producers to academics, but are primarily academics. In addition, the results will also be presented at both national and local conferences that are geared more towards producers, extension agents and other professionals in the field of agriculture. These venues include the Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA trade show that is attended by individuals from across the country with varied backgrounds. Some of the local venues that research will be presented at include: the Utah Beef Cattle Field Day, Utah Cattlemen’s Convention, Cowman’s Repro Workshop, and the Arizona/Utah Range Cattle Symposium. Through completion of objective 2, we will be able to reach a wide audience of individuals and share the results of this research in order to raise awareness and understanding of automated production of sprouted grains and how it might impact production, economics and water usage within a beef operation

To complete objective 3, data collected from both research trials will be published in extension facts sheets, peer reviewed scientific journals, and technical and trade journals. By publishing the results in several different outlets, we will be able to disseminate the findings to several different audiences in a print form. Extension fact sheets can be accessed through a simple google search or from the extension home page at Utah State University and are read by people of many different backgrounds; including students, producers, extension agents, academics, and other industry professionals. However, data published in extension fact sheets is meant to be fairly brief in nature and only provide a quick synopsis of the results and how they are applicable. As such, we will also publish in peer reviewed scientific journals, such as Journal of Animal Science or Animal Feed Science and Technology, as well as trade and technical journals such as Beef Magazine and Progressive Cattle. Upon completion of objective 3, we will be able to disseminate the results of the research trials in print journals that will be ready by a wide array of different individuals.

To complete objective 4, materials such as presentations and informational sheets, will be created for both extension agents and VoAg teachers. This “train the trainer” model has been historically used with past programs and has been shown to multiply outcomes. Agents will be trained at USU’s annual extension conference, annual area in-service training, and monthly Stock and Flock Talks with full access to printed, multimedia, and presentation medium. Furthermore, online training modules will be developed for dissemination via social media and monthly podcasts to producers and county agents in order to have a continual flow of information and updates about the project. Completion of objective 4 will allow us to specifically target individuals that interact with the agricultural community, such as VoAg teachers and extension agents, so that they may each use their own networks to help inform individuals about this research, the results of this research, and how these techniques may be beneficial to their operations

To complete objective 5, the results of the research trial will be shared through extension social media, youtube and podcasts in order to reach a broader audience. It is important that some of the newer technologies, such as social media, are included in the dissemination of the research results as some individuals use these platforms as their primary form of communication and information. To date the “USU Extension – Beef Cattle” facebook page has 850 followers and the “Utah State University Extension” facebook page has just over 37,000 followers. This information demonstrates that sharing information through these outlets will allow for a broad audience to be reached. Additionally, the USU Beef Educators Podcast hosted on PodBean has 173 downloads of 12 different episodes and is growing.

We believe that by completing each of these objectives we will be able to disseminate the findings of the research trial to a wide audience by utilizing a number of different outlets in order to impact the greatest number of individuals possible. As evidenced by the seven different letters of support that this proposal has received from producers, producers in the Western region of the US are very interested in learning more about hydroponically produced fodder grown in automated systems in order to improve all three aspects of sustainability (environmental, social, and economic) within their respective operations. The proposed extension and education plan casts a wide net of many different avenues through which this information will be delivered to ensure that many producers, not just the ones involved in this proposal, are aware of this technology and the results of the research trials.

Education and outreach results:

We have not yet conducted any of the outreach activities associated with this project as we are still in the process of collecting research data from the first trial. However, Utah State University hosted the Utah Beef Field Day in February 2024 and the rationale behind the research was shared and producers seemed excited to get the results over the next year. 

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

To date, we have just shared the concept and rationale with producers. Besides producers being interested in the research, we do not have any recommendations for education/outreach to report yet. 

Key areas taught:
    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.