Cattle Diets and Performance: Enhancing What We Know with Advanced Plant DNA Technology

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2017: $24,970.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Wyoming
Region: Western
State: Wyoming
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
John Derek Scasta
University of Wyoming


  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - continuous, grazing - rotational, range improvement
  • Education and Training: extension, participatory research
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships


    Livestock production is important to the global economic and food security (Thornton et al., 2009; Thornton, 2010). The United States beef industry alone had a retail equivalent value of approximately $105 billion in 2015 according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Cattle and Beef Statistics and Information (USDA 2017). The provision of range and pasture forage is one of the most practical ways to meet the needs of cattle, and ranchers use many different grazing management systems to avoid risk and meet their individual operation objectives (Quaas et al., 2007; Roche et. al, 2015). The animals utilizing these rangelands are subject to seasonal shifts in forage quality (Kunkle et al., 2000; Cline et al., 2009; Jung et al., 1985). Coupled with seasonal declines in forage quality is the impact climate change has on forage quality and quantity. Augustine et al. (2018) suggests that climate change will result in a decline in overall forage quality, specifically nitrogen content of palatable species, and a 38% increase in forage quantity. However even with a quantity increase in forage, climate change is projected to have a negative effect on livestock production by requiring supplementation earlier in the grazing season to counteract the declines in forage quality (Augustine et al., 2018). Understanding what forage species are being utilized by cattle during certain parts of the year may help ranchers develop better grazing strategies and aid them in creating supplementation plans during critical time periods. 


    Project objectives:

    The overall goals of this study were to 1) validate DNA metabarcoding with a feeding trial, and 2) create a snapshot of cattle diets across the state of Wyoming while introducing a new technology to the general public.

    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.