Pasture-Based Beef Finishing Systems
Objectives are: 1) To develop profitable systems for pasture-finishing beef cattle of consistent and acceptable carcass quality; 2) To evaluate an intensive pasture-based beef finishing system in terms of animal waste dispersion; and 3) To demonstrate in a pilot commercial-sized trial, the feasibility of marketing pasture-finished beef using an integrated alliance model. This study was designed to research the finishing of beef cattle on pasture without the use of a confinement feedlot. Such a finishing system has the potential of economizing the cost of gains and dispersing the animal waste over a broad pasture area where it will be recycled into the ecosystem and utilized as soil nutrients to grow more pasture and control water runoff.
Varying numbers of 700 to 800 pound crossbred steers were randomly allocated according to appropriate stocking rates to five treatments, consisting of pasture plus grain supplement to supply different proportions of the steers daily ration. Treatments were: 0,25,50,75 percent supplement and FL, a conventional feedlot treatment of a self-fed feedlot ration containing 10 percent ground hay with no pasture. Each intensively managed pasture was eight acres grazed from April to November. Samples of beef from each steer was analyzed in a sensory lab for tenderness and eating quality. Aging beef from pasture-based finished steers in vacuum packages for three weeks resulted in beef with equal tenderness and quality to feedlot-finished beef. The 75 percent supplement group was more like the feedlot beef than the 0 supplemented group. The cost of gain for steers finished on pasture alone was as low as $27 per cwt compared to about $60 per cwt for feedlot steers. Nutrient levels did not decrease during the period of this study in the 0 supplemented pastures and increased only small amounts in the supplemented pastures. Pasture finishing appears to cycle nutrients to the soil in moderate amounts to enhance pasture production on low to medium fertility soils. Farm demonstrations illustrated that cattle can be finished on pasture but conventional marketing is problematic due to a stigma against pastured beef, resulting in price discounts. However, finishing cattle on pasture appears to be profitable.
Steers gained more rapidly with each increment of grain supplement fed, resulting in the 0 grain group having the least finish and the feedlot group having the most finish. Ninety percent of the feedlot steers graded choice; 70 percent of the 0 grain supplemented group graded standard and only 30 percent graded select. The low grades for the 0 and 25 percent groups of steers were because they were about 100 pounds lighter at slaughter than the FL and the 75 percent steers. Had these steers been fed an additional 30 to 45 days, they would have been of equal finish (we have finished other steers in such systems to show this). The steers were removed from pasture because of the ending of the pasture season and a major focus of this study was eating quality of the beef. We did not want to affect flavor by some other type of ration. North Central Region SARE 1997 Annual Report.