Sustainable Beef Cattle Production: Ranch to Ribeye

Final report for WPDP19-15

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $57,310.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Host Institution Award ID: 4W7723
Grant Recipient: Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Megan Van Emon
Montana State University
Colleen Buck
Montana State University
Callie Cooley
Montana State University
Molly Hammond
Montana State University
Elin Kittelmann
Montana State University
Kari Lewis
Montana State University
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Project Information


Principal Investigator Van Emon and several program collaborators, Extension Agents, Callie Cooley (former), Molly Hammond (former), Colleen Buck, and Kari Lewis, conducted web-based educational sessions and a professional development conference, Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum.  The aim is to promote sustainable beef cattle production practices and aid Extension Agents in developing new programming information.  The specific objectives for the project:

  • Record web-based education sessions for Extension Agents to utilize in local livestock producer meetings. These were recorded and uploaded to YouTube for ease of distribution livestock producers and Extension Agents. 
  • Educate Extension Agents in sustainable beef cattle production so they may conduct meetings in their respective counties.
  • Due to COVID and the departure of three of the Extension agents, we conducted education through the Montana Nutrition Conference each year of the grant.


Project Objectives:

With the funds, we will conduct web-based educational sessions and hold the Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum to improve the knowledge of Extension Agents on sustainable beef cattle production in Montana and the region.  The specific goals for the project are

  • Record web-based education sessions for Extension Agents to utilize in local, livestock producer meetings.
    • Timetable: Sessions are available for use by Extension Agents in April 2020. Five of the videos are available for public viewing on YouTube.
  • Educate Extension Agents in sustainable beef cattle production so they may conduct meetings in their respective counties.
    • Timetable: This was conducted through the Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum each year.
  • Due to COVID and the departure of three of the Extension agents, we utilized the Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum to educate the Extension agents in attendance on Sustainable Beef Cattle Production.
    • 2020 Theme: Feeding the Future
    • 2021 Theme: Herd Nutrition and Health
    • 2022 Theme: Technology in Livestock Production

Montana’s largest industry is agriculture, with livestock valued at approximately $1.6 billion in 2016 (USDA, 2017).  Overall, cattle and calves in Montana made up 42% of the cash receipts in 2016 (USDA, 2017).  With approximately 1.5 million head of beef cows in Montana (USDA, 2018), we have the potential to have a large impact on beef production in the United States.  As the agriculture sector and land availability continues to shrink in the United States, new methods need to be developed and introduced to beef cattle producers to maintain sustainability.  Over the last 8 years, average farm size has steadily increased and the number of farms has steadily decreased (NASS, 2018).  Although the average farm size has increased, the total land in farms has steadily declined (NASS, 2018).  Therefore, less land is available to produce needed food for the increasing world population.  According to Tillman et al. (2012), global per capita meat production has increased more than 60% in the last 40 years.  Even with a steady decline in farm size, production efficiency continues to increase.  Therefore, there is an urgent need for continued sustainable beef cattle production to help negate the loss in cattle numbers to increase the supply of beef products to keep up with increasing demand. 

In 2014, a survey was distributed to Extension Agents in Montana to determine the needs of producers and ranchers in their communities.  Extension Agents wanted additional programs and meetings to provide information related to grazing management (64% of Agents), forage feeding (62% of Agents), and cow reproduction (52% of Agents).  Research areas that were indicated to be important were: grazing management strategies (3.74 out of 5), grazing impacts on forage quality (3.76 out of 5), nutrition impacts on reproduction (4.09 out of 5), and nutrient supplementation strategies (3.94 out of 5).  The areas of importance indicated by the survey have major impacts on sustainability and beef cattle production. 

Beef production tours have been conducted previously, but without the educational sessions.  The partnering of the educational sessions and beef production tours will provide an excellent opportunity for Extension Agents to gain classroom and hands-on knowledge and experiences in sustainable beef cattle production.  Principal Investigator Van Emon will work with several Extension Agents (Elin Kittelmann (former), Callie Cooley (former), Molly Hammond (former), Colleen Buck, and Kari Lewis) as program collaborators to address the program goals. However, due to the COVID pandemic and the departure of three of our extension agents, we were unable to conduct the tours. We decided that we would provide educational sessions through the Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum. Funds will be focused on the 2022 conference to aid in speaker travel and conference fees.

Additionally, five videos were uploaded and are public on YouTube. These public videos have been viewed 55 times since being made public. Therefore, these videos are not only available to Extension Agents throughout Montana, but also the world. This is much needed information for sustainable beef production and will aid in educating all those interested.


Educational approach:

We have produced 6 educational videos so far for our project. Five videos have been made public on YouTube and have been viewed 55 times. Video links have been submitted to the project products section. These videos are focused on demonstrating common elements of the job for Extension agents on Sustainable Beef Production, but are also useful to livestock producers.

Due to the COVID pandemic and departure of three of the Extension Agents involved in the project, we were unable to complete the originally planned tours. However, we moved in a difference direction and focused our education efforts on the Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum. Over the past three years, we have conducted a virtual conference in 2020 and two in-person conferences in 2021 and 2022. The online conference was conducted through WebEx and was made free for all those that registered. The main theme in 2020 was Feeding the Future, with speakers discussing topics of alternative meats, beef cuts and meat quality, forage quality and mycotoxins, fetal programming, ranch diversification and and overall cattle market update. The main theme in 2021 was Herd Nutrition and Health, with speakers discussing weaning stress and calf health, cold stress in newborn calves, considerations when developing a meat shop, alternative feeds, tax implication of destocking the herd, and winter feeding the cow herd. The main theme for the 2022 conference, which was also the main focus for the project, was Technology in Livestock Production, with speakers discussing social media use, current nitrate toxicity knowledge, extensive grazing systems, virtual fence technology, bull fertility measures, tax implications of buying cattle back, and grazing management during drought. 

Although the focus of the project was on the 2022 conference, each of the three years offered a great opportunity to educate not only Extension agents, but also students, livestock professionals, and livestock producers about sustainable beef cattle production. The information provided at the conference can be easily disseminated to those that were not able to attend the conference. The 2020 conference due to the webinar availability had approximately 200 attendees. The 2021 and 2022 conferences had approximately 100 attendees each. 



Education & Outreach Initiatives

Web-based videos

YouTube videos allowed us to provide needed information to new and current Extension Agents without the travel cost. Therefore, 5 videos have been made public through YouTube on much needed Extension information and procedures.


The 5 public videos have been viewed 55 times. These have been viewed by those accessing the Montana State University Beef Cattle Extension YouTube channel.


Outcomes and impacts:

These videos helped new and current agents learn common issues faced by Montana beef producers and provide additional information to help answer questions. There are several other public videos on the Montana State University Beef Cattle Extension YouTube channel that are not directly related to the project, but are related to Sustainable Beef Cattle Production.

Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum

Provided much needed information to Extension agents on Sustainable Beef Cattle Production through the Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum.


Due to the COVID pandemic and the departure of three of the Extension Agents, the originally proposed tours were not able to be conducted. Therefore, we adjusted our objectives in 2022 to include the Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum. The theme in 2022 was Technology in Livestock Production and topics discussed were nitrate toxicity in forages, extensive winter grazing systems, virtual fencing, bull fertility measurements, grazing management during and after drought, tax implications of buying cattle back after the drought and utilizing social media for agriculture. By including the conference, were able to educate Extension Agents, livestock professionals, students, and livestock producers. The agenda for 2022 and some of the presentations are linked below.

Nutrition Conference 2022 Draft Agenda

2022 Montana Nutrition Conference, drought [Autosaved] Nitrate toxcity MontanaNutritionConference_08112022JR MNC_Extensive Systems Nov 2022

Outcomes and impacts:

The conference was rated an average of 4.5 out of 5 for educational opportunity. The information presented will impact most livestock producers throughout Montana via the Extension Agents and livestock professionals in attendance. The conference had approximately 100 attendees, which will lead to a large impact in the state and region. 

Educational & Outreach Activities

25 Consultations
6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
6 Online trainings
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

50 Extension
5 Researchers
200 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
10 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Fifty-five viewers of the YouTube videos gained valuable knowledge for common activities for Extension Agents. Additionally, the approximately 400 attendees over the three years of the Montana Nutrition Conference also gained knowledge and will lead to indirect impacts with livestock producers. The number of indirect impacts are difficult to ascertain. However, in face-to-face discussions with those in attendance at the conference, approximately 50-75 indicated they would utilize the knowledge gained in future presentations and information provided to livestock producers. Through the conference and videos, there is a possibility of impacting most of the livestock producers in Montana and the region.

75 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
10 Farmers reached through participant's programs

Information Products

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.