Effects of Forage-finished Beef on Cool- or Warm-Season Forages

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2008: $9,685.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Grant Recipient: Auburn University
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Chris Kerth
Auburn University, Department of Animal Sciences


  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: feed/forage


    Fall-born steers (n=60) were used to examine age at harvest and differing forage types on average daily gains, carcass characteristics, and instrumental color characteristics. Steers were placed on annual ryegrass in late fall and allowed to graze. At the onset of grazing, the first group (n=10) of steers were harvested to serve as a baseline for the remaining 5 groups. Every 56 days, a group of steers were harvested until all 6 groups had been harvested. In late spring, remaining steers were moved to a warm-season pasture. Data indicate that increased days on forage allowed for greater marbling, hot carcass weight and greater amounts of backfat.


    Forage-fed beef has gained momentum in the past years due to a variety of reasons. One reason is the rise of input costs of shipping cattle to the Midwest and High Plains for finishing in feedlots. This has been the mainstream of the industry since the 1950’s when the feedlots were established. Recent spikes in fuel and feed has forced producers to examine alternative finishing strategies for their cattle. Not only have the spikes hurt the cattle feeding industry, but constant rises in fuel and feedstuffs have impacted the producers’ bottom line. Another reason is that producers want to keep their investments local, which is virtually impossible if the cattle are shipped 1000 miles away for feeding. The obvious solution would be to build feedlots in the southeast for the cattle for finishing, however, environmental and climate factors do not allow for this type of operation. Due to the abundant rainfall and high humidity, feedlots are not feasible alternatives for finishing. Lack of economical feedstuffs also do not allow for the construction and operation of these feedlots.
    Local, organic and natural products have also risen in popularity among consumers. The need to know where their food comes from is at an all time high and some producers have taken advantage of this. While organic and natural products create an excellent marketing ploy, most beef producers do not have the capabilities to do so. Moreover, the lack of regulation in the organic market also creates problems for producers. However, locally produced commodities such as forage-fed beef provide an excellent opportunity for producers to market their products. Whether it is a freezer beef operation or a small scale fresh meat market, the opportunity for income is great if a market is established.
    While the southeast is not suitable for large scale feedlot finishing, the same things that make it unsuitable for such uses, make it extremely suitable for forage production. The ample amounts of rainfall and the amount of land available for forage production provide an excellent opportunity for large scale forage finishing of beef. This capability allows producers to keep their investment local by allowing for the production and sale of their product within their respective regions. The climates and soils in the southeastern region of the United States are well-suited to forage production and near year-round grazing, and offering opportunities to develop high forage stocker and finishing systems (Allen et al., 1996). Feeding forages can offer economic benefits greater than those of feed grains due to the fact that they are generally less expensive than feed grains per unit of energy or protein (Dixon and Stockdale, 1999). Brown et al. (2005) contributed part of the economic benefit of forages to the fact that there is no cheaper method of harvesting swards than is afforded directly from grazing. Early research in the area of forage finished beef showed promise for producers. However, with the industry shifting towards feedlot finishing in the 1950’s and 60’s, research slowed and moved more towards that of feedlot finished beef. However, in recent years, research has shown a renewed interest in forage finishing.
    Kerth et al. (2007) found in a trial using both beef from a traditional feedlot feeding regimen and beef that was fed ryegrass that about 20% of consumers were willing to pay a premium for the forage-fed beef. They went on to conclude that in a niche market, the opportunity for a viable market could be present and could be a good alternative for producers. Consistency and quality have long been issues for forage-finished beef. Crouse et al. (1984) found that cattle on a forage diet had lower amounts of marbling, KPH, hot carcass weights and live weights compared to cattle on a grain diet. However, shear force values and sensory evaluation values were similar among the two divergent groups. This indicates that although notable physiological differences can exist between feeding regimens, similar quality parameters can be met. It is possible that the very things that make forage-fed beef different from grain fed beef such as fat cover and carcass size can benefit the producers of forage-fed beef by offering a smaller carcass with less total fat.

    Literature Cited

    Allen, V. G., J. P. Fontenot, R. F. Kelly, and D. R. Notter. 1996. Forage systems for beef production from conception to slaughter: III. Finishing Systems. J. Anim. Sci. 74: 625-638.

    Brown, Jr., A. H., P. K. Camfield, Z. B. Johnson, L. Y. Rakes, F. W. Pohlman, C. J. Brown, B. A. Sandelin, and R. T. Baublits. 2005. Interaction of beef growth type x production system for carcass traits of steers. Asian-Aust. J Anim. Sci. Vol. 18, No. 2:259-266.

    Crouse, J. D., Cross, H. R., Seideman, S. C. 1984. Effects of a grass or grain diet on the quality of three beef muscles. J. Anim. Sci. 58: 619-325.

    Dixon, R. M. and C. R. Stockdale. 1999. Associative effects between forages and grains: consequences for feed utilization. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 50:757-73.

    Kerth, C. R., Braden, K. W., Cox, R., Kerth, L. K., Rankins, Jr., D. L. 2007. Carcass, sensory, fat color, and consumer acceptance characteristics of Angus-cross steers finished on ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) forage or a high-concentrate diet. Meat Sci. 75: 324-331.

    Project objectives:

    The objectives of this project were: 1) examine differences between cool- and warm- season forages, 2) examine effects of age at harvest on quality and carcass characteristics, 3) examine forage effects on quality and shelf life characteristics of the differing age and forages on the cattle, 4) provide information to producers and researchers on the differences between cool- and warm-season forages effects on beef cattle.

    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.