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

Project Overview

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


  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: housing, feed rations, grazing management, implants, livestock breeding, grazing - rotational, winter forage
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: extension, focus group, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, cooperatives, budgets/cost and returns, value added
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, public participation, sustainability measures


    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.

    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.