Use of Livestock, Forage, and Labor Resources in Beef Production Systems to Reduce Production Costs, Increase Profitability, and Reduce Use of Fossil Fuels
November weaning and the use of supplemental protein (SP) in March calving cows’ grazing period, December through February, increased profitability compared to November weaning without SP and August weaning with or without SP. Feeding SP to pregnant March calving heifers in October through February to meet metabolizable protein requirements increased the pregnancy rate for second calves and profitability, compared to feeding SP to meet crude protein requirements. Biostimulation (exposure to sterile bulls) of June calving cows before breeding increased the pregnancy rate if cows were bred on subirrigated meadow regrowth compared to no biostimulation. Biostimulation had no effect when cows were bred on Sandhills range.
Improve profitability for 25% of the Sandhill ranches with meadows (50% of total ranches in the Sandhills) by extending grazing, reducing purchased inputs and labor, and increasing net returns. Ranches without meadows will also benefit due to reduced inputs and labor from better matching of forages to livestock and extended grazing. Additionally, biostimulation is a low cost input that has potential to improve reproductive efficiency in extended grazing systems on range or on meadows. Improving reproductive efficiency at low cost would result in more calves weaned and increased net returns. This project will also provide a visible demonstration of the proposed practices as well as other practices that extend grazing and increase net returns of beef producers.
Improve 1) community sustainability as these producers become more economically viable, and 2) environment due to the reduced use of fossil fuels and by the use of grazing practices that maintain or improve the health and vigor of natural forages on meadows and rangelands.
Improve profitability for 25% of the Sandhill ranches with meadows (50% of total ranches in Sandhills) by extending grazing, reducing purchased inputs and labor, and increasing net returns.
In past studies and SARE funded projects, we have utilized traditional systems as a control in our studies to extend grazing. In recent work, we fed nearly two tons less hay to cows in a June calving system than cows in a traditional March calving system. In this project we have not used a traditional March calving control; instead we have applied various treatments to March and June calving systems where we have extended grazing and reduced feeding of hay compared to traditional production practices in the area.
Two weaning dates and two winter protein supplement regimens were combined to create four extended grazing systems for cows calving in March. Cows grazed on range early May through February and were fed hay March to early May. Calves were weaned 18 August or 10 November. One half of the cows in each weaning date were fed supplemental protein and one half were fed no supplemental protein while grazing range December through February. About 90 pounds of supplement were fed over 90 days, or 0.4 lb of crude protein/cow/day. Pregnancy rate was about 95% for both August and November weaning dates and for both cows fed protein supplement and those that were not. A 95% pregnancy rate is highly acceptable. If calves were to be sold at weaning, the most profitable system was to feed no protein supplement December through February and wean calves in August. The least profitable was to feed protein supplement December through February and wean calves in August. However, if calves were finished for slaughter, the most profitable system was to feed protein supplement December through February and wean calves in November, while the least profitable system was to feed protein supplement December through February and wean calves in August. A significant finding was that calves from cows not fed protein supplement December through February were about 100 pounds lighter in live weight and 60 pounds lighter in carcass weight than calves weaned in November from cows fed protein supplement December through February.
This finding is of particular interest in extended grazing systems; it demonstrates the importance of providing essential nutrients during critical times of the production cycle and the importance of studying management practices within a system context. Identifying key points in a cow’s production cycle where supplemental nutrients can improve efficiency and improve profitability of extended grazing systems is key to current and future efforts of this project. Research and demonstrations to match cow nutrient requirements to forage nutrients to extend grazing and reduce use of harvested forage is key to improving profitability of beef production.
Improve reproductive efficiency in extended grazing systems on range or meadows. Biostimulation (e.g. exposure to sterile bulls before breeding season) was studied as a low cost method to increase pregnancy rate and profitability of a June calving system. Our research has demonstrated that June calving in our environment reduced the amount of harvested forage fed and increased net returns compared to traditional March calving. Although a June calving system was more profitable than a March calving system, pregnancy rate was observed to be lower in the June than March calving system. It appears there is an opportunity to improve efficiency and profitability of the June calving system if pregnancy rate can be increased inexpensively. In a June calving system, biostimulation increased pregnancy rate from about 89% to about 94% for cows bred on subirrigated meadows. However, biostimulation had no effect on pregnancy rate for cows bred on rangeland. The effects of biostimulation on net returns within the June calving system needs to be determined.
Objective 1 and 2
Improve profitability of the Sandhills ranches with meadows by extending grazing, reducing purchased inputs and labor as a result increasing net returns, and improving reproductive efficiency in extended grazing systems on range or meadows. Traditionally, pregnant replacement heifers in spring calving systems have been wintered with high inputs of hay. We have demonstrated that pregnant heifers can be successfully wintered in extended grazing systems where the primary feed is grazed range forage. Feeding supplemental protein to meet metabolizable protein requirements of pregnant heifers grazing range October through February increased pregnancy rate for the second calf and increased the net value of heifers over heifers fed supplemental protein to meet the crude protein requirement. A significant opportunity exists to improve the efficiency of production and profitability in extended grazing systems with small inputs of nutrients at critical times in the cows’ annual production cycle.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Extending grazing in lieu of feeding harvested forages reduces beef production costs and increases profitability. Extended grazing also reduces the need for equipment, labor and use of fossil fuels. Extended grazing does not imply no purchased or harvested feed inputs. This project has demonstrated that feeding small amounts of supplemental protein at critical times in the production cycle of a cow in extended grazing systems can increase profitability by increasing carcass weight of progeny at slaughter or by increasing pregnancy rate. Biostimulation may be an inexpensive and profitable method of increasing number of calves to sell at weaning by increasing pregnancy rate. This project has demonstrated an increase in second-calf pregnancy rate of about 5% (five additional calves for every 100 heifers) and an increase of $15.30 in net present value/heifer when metabolizable protein requirements were met, compared to meeting crude protein requirements. Feeding about 36 pounds of crude protein per cow during winter grazing in an extended grazing system in combination with November weaning increased carcass weight of steer progeny up to 52 pounds and net returns up to $31.10 per cow, compared to August weaned cows that also received supplemental protein during winter grazing. It increased net returns per cow by $18.75 for August weaning cows and by $10.85 for November weaning cows over those that received no protein supplement. Biostimulation of June calving cows increased pregnancy rate about 5%. Producers utilizing extended grazing systems who adopt these practices may not reduce production costs but will improve profitability by increasing production efficiency. Sustainability of beef production will increase with increased profitability.
Professor Animal Science
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
C220 Animal Science
Lincoln, NE 68583
Office Phone: 4024726443
Assitant Professor Agronomy
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
461 W. University Dr.
North Platte, NE 69101
Office Phone: 3086966710