Increasing Sustainability of Livestock Production of the Northern Great Plains

2014 Annual Report for LNC11-335

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $199,736.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Grant Recipient: North Dakota State University
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Douglas Landblom
North Dakota State University-Dickinson Research Extension Center

Increasing Sustainability of Livestock Production of the Northern Great Plains


Increasing sustainability of livestock production in the Northern Great Plains has significant implications for the agricultural sector in the focus region. Crop and beef cattle producers are experiencing historically high commodity prices for cattle, calves, and fed cattle, while grain and oilseed prices have trended significantly lower.

Research in this project evaluates integration of crop and beef cattle systems to identify the complementing holistic potential that may exist. Paralleling the actual research is a focus on education for existing producers through farmer-cooperator projects, educational events for high school and undergraduate students, and an international Turkish research scientist connection. This report encompasses activities and events for the first three years of the project. Public awareness of alternative production methodologies is increasing as evidenced by agronomic programing awareness across the entire agricultural sector and attendance at the 2012-2014 Beef Cattle and Forage Field Days held at the Dickinson Research Extension Center Ranch Headquarters.

The field days are designed as workshops for a cross section of stakeholders including farmers and ranchers, research personnel, local, state and federal agency representatives who may or may not be actively raising cattle and crops, but have a focused interest in non-traditional production methods. Program topics include project data summary presentations and tours of the integrated diverse cropping and beef cattle systems being studied, and presentations and tours of producer-cooperator projects that are grazing cover crops and utilizing unharvested corn for extensive backgrounding of approximately 216 calves. The field day/workshops are practical sessions focusing on soil health, and the mechanics of upgrading and attaining soil health benchmarks using the pillars of soil health that include minimal soil disturbance with no-till seeding and planting, crop diversity using cool and warm season broadleaf and grass crops, including cover crops in the crop rotation, maintaining a living root in the soil as long as possible, keeping soil surface residue, and including livestock grazing whenever possible.

Youth education at the high school level has resulted in active participation by southwestern North Dakota Vocational Agriculture students through their annual participation in the Vo-Ag High School Student Field Day. Fifty to sixty enthusiastic students have attended each year to learn about a variety of agricultural topics as well as the connectivity between the microbial world and agriculture, and how the living components of soil and sun are the foundation of food production.

At the undergraduate college student level, Dickinson State University (DSU), Agriculture and Technical Studies undergraduate student, Lauren Pfenning, has been actively participating in the SARE research. After a period of four years of the diverse crop rotation that includes beef cattle grazing, soil bulk density (BD) difference between spring wheat control, rotation crops, and native range was evaluated by Ms. Pfenning. Results from the project will be presented by Ms. Pfenning at the DSU undergraduate student scientific research review. Briefly, when BD values for native range were compared to all of the crops, BD was less except for corn and tended to be less for the pea-barley crop (P>0.05).

Traditional soil testing and fertilizer recommendations from the NDSU Soil Testing Laboratory are used to determine the amount of N-P-K-Cl to apply. Fertilizer recommendations are declining due to the interactive and collective effect of the soil health principles employed, and crop yields have increased steadily as years of crop yield history accumulate. Seasonal growing season nitrogen mineralization was measured during the growing season from June through October 2014. Field plots within each rotation crop were established and affixed with 8”x24” irrigation pipes that were pushed into the soil. Soil samples were collected at 0-6”, 6-12” and 12-24” inside and outside of the soil isolation cylinders. During the period between mid-July and mid-August the average pounds of nitrogen measured per acre was 86 and 66 pounds/acre for the isolated and cropped samples indicating that plant roots scavenged 20 pounds/acre of the 86 pounds/acre of the available mineralized nitrogen.

Non-confinement grazing of crops and residues by beef cattle is showing that less intensive procedures can have a positive effect on profitability. These data suggest that high breeding efficiency can be attained among small (SF) and large (LF) March-April born virgin heifers when transitioned to May-June calving through the strategic use of grazed and harvested forages resulting in a lower net cost per pregnant SF heifer. Compared to traditional feedlot growing and finishing of yearling steers, 141 steers grown for modest winter growth of approximately 1.0 pound/day that grazed perennial and annual forages (crested wheatgrass, native range pasture, pea-barley intercrop, and unharvested corn) for 182 days before entering the feedlot required the least number of days on feed (66 days) compared to the feedlot control (142 days) and an all perennial treatment (91 days). Reducing feedlot residency from 142 days to 66 days was profitable even during a period when corn was priced over $7/bushel. Control feedlot steers lost $298/steer whereas the perennial/annual forage steers brought $9 profit/steer; a margin difference of $307/steer. The data clearly shows that long-term extended grazing has the greatest potential for profitability.

A second and ongoing similar study is evaluating the performance and economic difference between small (3.4) and large frame (5.31) steers using a similar research protocol. Small and large frame steers were sent directly to the feedlot (FLOT) and a comparable randomly assigned group grazed perennial and annual forages (GRAZ – crested wheatgrass, native range pasture, pea-barley intercrop, and unharvested corn). To determine system net return, expenses (e.g. steer placement cost, grazing and feedlot finishing expenses, transportation and brand expenses) were deducted from the gross carcass value. Net return for the FLOT treatment was considerably smaller than the GRAZ treatment and within the individual treatments net return for SF steers was much lower. Lower expenses were one reason that system net return for GRAZ steers was higher than FLOT steers, but also sales price increased 13.3% from the December sales date to the March sales date. In this first year of the 2-year study, LF steers were more highly profitable than SF steers. The second year of the 2-year project was nearing completion at the time of this report. Cows in the project that produced steers for the yearling steer extended grazing and delayed feedlot entry investigations were also utilized to evaluate cow weight change and wintering cost/cow when the winter grazing season was extended grazing crop residues and stockpiled winter grass (brome and crested wheatgrasses). Control system cows (CS) were fed hay from mid-November to April, integrated system cows (IS) grazed cover crops and crop residue (corn and sunflower) from mid-November to February 3, and the grass and corn residue forage system cows (FS) grazed from mid-November to February 27. Compared to CS cows fed hay, IS cows gained 6.6% less weight during the winter and cost 25.3% less to winter, and the FS cows grazed 24 days longer, gained 40% less weight and cost 28.5% less to winter. Reproductive performance will be determined at calving (May-June 2015).

Producer educational schools have been reserved until the last year of the project to allow for accumulation of data upon which to base the educational format and knowledge transfer. The project PI requested a no-cost extension to completed crop, soil, and animal data collection, and outreach programming. Public awareness of this SARE project is increasing and with increasing awareness project PI, Doug Landblom, has been an invited program speaker at a number of soil health workshop programs in western North Dakota and southeastern Montana. Free-lance writers have also published articles on different aspects of the SARE project in the regional bi-monthly publication, Farm and Ranch Guide, and the national magazine, Feed-Lot.

Research reports have been published in non-peer reviewed publications in research center annual reports, field day reports, and scientific journal abstracts to include the NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center annual and field day reports, NDSU North Dakota Beef Report, abstracts in the Western Section, American Society of Animal Science annual meeting proceedings, and the University of Wyoming field day report. Extensive heifer development research conducted as a component of this SARE project has been published in the Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Science and additional peer-reviewed publications are being prepared for publication. Summarized data to date suggests that by integrating beef cattle production into a diverse cropping system both production systems are improved. When the inputs of mechanical forage harvesting are replaced with grazing, in which the animal does its own foraging and harvesting, profit margins are improved.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  • Compare three cow-calf production systems (Conventional, Integrated, and Yearling) tailored for the semi-arid region of the Northern Great Plains from birth to final harvest to determine the effect of system on production and profitability using whole-systems econometric analyses and ranch profitability analyses.
  • Evaluate the effect of systems integration on the biological responses of animals, crops, weeds, soil, and water conservation.
  • Establish student alternative production system programs to include: High school and college student awareness programs, undergraduate summer internships and research projects.

4. Conduct integrated crop-livestock grazing management workshops for producers, Extension educators and other government agency personnel.


Objective 1

The site location for this project was initially seeded to spring wheat across the entire study area in 2009. Then, during the 2010-2011 crop season the experimental integrated crop and livestock rotation was established (Document 1) and livestock water and fencing were completed. Livestock production data for the project begins with calves born in 2010 and carried over as yearling steers and heifers in 2011, which is necessary given the long generation interval for yearling cattle. Beginning with the 2011-2012 crop season the SARE project LNC11-335 was initiated.

After weaning between November 1st and the 15th of each year, all calves are moved to drylot at the DREC ranch headquarters for 7 days to recover from weaning and are then moved to unharvested corn fields for backgrounding along with supplemental hay. The control cows in the conventional system (CS) were assigned to drylot pens for hay feeding. Cows in the forage-based system (FS) graze fields of stockpiled mixed perennial forage (crested wheatgrass, bromegrass, and native range pasture) and corn residue as an alternative to feeding hay, which is projected to reduce winter feed and labor cost. Cows assigned to the integrated cropping system (IS) cover crops and crop residue (corn and sunflower) following farming and extended steer grazing. Upon completion of the FS and IS cow extended grazing methods, the cows are moved to drylot pens and fed hay until May calving.

Cattle feeding and finishing is characterized as a high risk, low profit, margin business. Doesn’t need to be that way, however. Grazing yearling steers for an extended period of time may replace losses with profit without the use of risk management tools. Two experiments are being conducted. One has been completed and the second is in progress. In the first experiment, three treatment groups of yearling steers were compared to evaluate in an extended grazing comparison that begins after weaning, when the steers grazed stockpiled corn and received supplemental hay. The 1st week of May each year of the 2-year study, the yearling steers were randomly divided into three treatment groups: 1) control, 2) perennial grass only (crested wheatgrass, native pasture and then into the feedlot), and 3) perennial grass + annual forage (crested wheatgrass, native pasture, field pea/barley, unharvested corn and then into the feedlot). The control group was moved directly to the feedlot at the University of Wyoming, Lingle, WY and grown until slaughter. The extended grazing delayed feedlot entry groups graze their respective forage sequences until early November, when they too are moved to the University of Wyoming feedlot for finishing and slaughter. All steers are harvested at the Cargill Meat Solutions packing plant, Ft. Morgan, CO. After a 48 hour chill and federal carcass grading, strip loin steaks are removed from each carcass half for shear force and sensory panel evaluation (tenderness, taste, and juiciness). The 2nd experiment with yearling steers uses the perennial and annual forage sequence just described, but evaluates delayed feedlot entry of differing frame size steers.

Project Data Collection:

Numerous data points are being recorded for crops, livestock, soils, and economic inputs and returns.

Data Collection Includes:


  • Cow, calf, heifer development, and yearling data (costs, growth, efficiency, feed savings, meat sensory evaluation, and systems economic analysis)
  • Soil health analysis (soil food web analysis, bulk density, water infiltration, seasonal soil nitrogen mineralization profile, and also seasonal soil nutrient profile for N, P, K, Ca, Mg, and S)
  • Whole-farm input costs and returns are being managed using the Farm-Works database management system
  • Producer Cooperator demonstration results to the extent that they have kept records.



Objective 2

Baseline soil nutrient and physical characteristic measurements are being conducted. Measurements of change in soil quality are being addressed during project and will be summarized in the final report.

Objective 3

As data is accumulated, it will be compiled and used in programming for youth education at the high school and college level. These are two very different demographic groups that will be addressed differently. At the high school level, students and their Vo-Ag instructors are invited to participate in an annual student field day awareness program in which various aspects of agriculture are presented by university personnel from the Dickinson Research Extension Center, Dickinson State University, Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies, North Dakota State University Extension, and the USDA/Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Educational programming for undergraduate college students is designed student internships and undergraduate student research projects. Due to difficulty attracting students to the internship program, the internship and undergraduate student research programs have been combined. In this way, senior research investigating soil health issues defined in Objective 2 are being linked with undergraduate student research required for graduation with an Agriculture and Technical Studies degree from Dickinson State University, Dickinson, North Dakota. One such student, Lauren Pfenning, Agriculture and Technical Studies graduating Senior, completed a bulk density (BD) and soil texture study of the diverse crop rotation in the integrated systems investigation to determine if differences between treatments and within treatments can be detected and to further determine how the BD results obtained differ between the continuous spring wheat control, rotation crops, and native range. Undisturbed native range would be expected to have the lowest BD values; however, it has been hypothesized that after 4 years in the rotation, there will be some rotation crop BD measurements that will not differ from the native range values.

In addition to the high school and college level education and research projects, the project has been fortunate to expand internationally through an arrangement between the Dickinson Research Extension Center and Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Canakkale, BIGA, Turkey. As part of the educational outreach, a visiting Short-Term Research Scholar, Songul Senturklu, Ph.D., was invited to participate in the project and the invitation was accepted. Geographically and environmentally, there are geographic regions in Turkey with similarities to the northern Great Plains of the U.S. While Turkish farmers and agricultural methods are antiquated and vastly different from American agricultural methods, the relationship incurs an international connection to alternative methods that may fit well into the less intense Turkish farming methods. Dr. Senturklu has been incorporating principles learned from this SARE project into some of the agriculture courses she teaches at her university in Turkey.

Objective 4

Our research team planned to begin offering alternative production systems management schools and workshops during the 2nd and 3rd production cycles of the project. However, we felt that more data and information was needed before embarking on the schools. Therefore, the day-long schools will be taught during the last year of the grant. Education to stakeholders is being facilitated through other outlet venues. Specifically, 1) through field day/workshops that are conducted in the classroom for part of the day and in the rotation fields for the remainder of the day, 2) the project PI has been invited to speak and talk about the integrated crop and beef cattle systems and cover crops at a number of producer meetings in North Dakota and eastern Montana, 3) YouTube videos, and 4) farmer-rancher cooperator farm tours and program presentations. The day-long schools will condense a large body of information into focused educational events for extension educator Train-the-Trainer programming and for farmer-rancher-end users that desire to learn what to expect and about how to employ alternative integrated crop and grazing management principles on their farms and ranches. To augment these educational events, tours of the Farmer/Rancher Cooperator Demonstration Projects are being conducted.

Five farmer/ranchers signed participation letters to conduct a project. Of the 5 producers, 2 have actually completed their intended projects two years in a row. A 3rd producer planted a corn crop for grazing, but grasshoppers destroyed the crop and is no longer interested in participating in the project. A 4th producer wanted to do a project, but his involvement depended on receiving EQUIP funds for infrastructure construction, which did not materialize, and the producer is no longer interested in doing a project. And the 5th producer decided to withdraw from the project citing that he was retiring; fishing trumped working. The two producers that have been doing the projects they agreed to do have really done a tremendous job and their willingness to host meetings and tour groups at their farms has enhanced the outcome of the project.

Video documentation of the Farmer/Rancher Cooperator Demonstration Projects provide documentation of their projects. Video documentation of the research at the DREC has also been conducted during the growing season.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Objective 1

The comparative crop and livestock systems are running smoothly. Crop production from the diverse rotation and integration with livestock grazing are key components of this SARE project. The crop rotations were established a year before SARE funding was received; therefore, yields for 2011-2014 are shown in Table 1. Establishment prior to the start of the funded study enabled us to work out any project management problems in advance of the project’s initiation date. Biological production data collected in objective 2 will be used to determine systems effect on profitability. Systems whole farm production and economic data to include input costs and returns are being accumulated for analysis in the project’s final report.

Objective 2 A very brief summary of crop production data is shown in Table 1. Cow performance following grazing of summer native range pastures, crop residue (corn and sunflower) and cover crops, grass pastures, and drylot winter forage is incomplete at the time this report was prepared. For cow and calf performance through weaning, the data is summarized in Table 2. Integrated crop and beef cattle production systems cow performance data is being accumulated for the CS, FS, and IS will be reported in the project’s final report.

Tables 1 and 2 (Document 2)

Research Reports:

Referred Journal Publication:

Effect of frame score on growth, fertility, and economics

Senturklu, S., D. G. Landblom, G. A. Perry, and T. Petry. 2015. Effect of frame score on growth, fertility, and economics. Asian-Australasian J. Anim. Sci., Vol. 28(1):69-78; HTTP// Abstract (Document 3)

Alternative approaches to growing and finishing yearling steers that may improve profitability through retained ownership is being studied as one of the livestock project initiatives. A brief summary for the 1st year of a 2-year investigation using medium to large frame steers follows:

Scientific Research Abstract:

Consequence of perennial and annual forage grazing systems before feedlot entry on yearling steer grazing and feedlot performance, carcass measurements, meat evaluation, and system net return


  • Senturklu1,2, D. G. Landblom1, R. Maddock3, and S. Paisley4


1Dickinson Research Extension Center, North Dakota State University, Dickinson, North Dakota; 2Canakkale Onsekiz Mart Universitesi, Canakkale, Turkey; 3Animal Sciences Department, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota; and 4Department of Animal Science, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming

Western Section Proceedings, Am. Soc. Anim. Sci., Vol. 65:106-110. (Document 4)

Research Progress Report:

The combined effect of beef cattle frame score and forage grazing sequence on yearling steer grazing and feedlot performance, carcass trait measurements, and systems economics

Senturklu, S1,2., D.G. Landblom1, R.J. Maddock3, and S.I. Paisley4

1Dickinson Research Extension Center, North Dakota State University, Dickinson, ND, 2Animal Science Department, Canakkale Onsekiz Mart Universitesi, Canakkale, Turkey, 3Animal Sciences Department, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND, 4Animal Science Department, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY

In: Dickinson Research Extension Center Annual Report: pp 281-284. (Document 5)

Baseline soil health measurements to include chemical (N, P, K, S, Zn, Fe, Mn, Cu, Cl, pH, and Elec. Conductivity), physical (bulk density, water infiltration rate, and water holding capacity), and biological (organic matter, soil Foodweb, and growing season nitrogen mineralization) data are being collected. The final evaluation of soil health change due to systems integration will be reported after ending measurements are taken and will be reported in the project’s final report. Fertilizer application to the crop rotation fields is being done according to traditional soil testing procedures. Soil test recommendations are declining, but remain higher for corn than desired. Transition from conventional farming practices to the combination of no-till, crop rotation, multi-species cover crop plantings, and beef cattle grazing will improve soil health characteristics over time. Soils related information to date includes multiple-year soil test fertilizer recommendations (Document 6), Soil Foodweb measurement of biological activity (Document 7), growing season nitrogen mineralization results (Document 8), and the soil bulk density study conducted by DSU undergraduate student, Lauren Pfenning (Document 9)

Objective 3

Outreach educational programming:


  • The Beef Cattle and Forage Field Day/Workshops have been held on August 29, 2012, August 19, 2013, and August 27, 2014. Estimated attendance has been 120, 100, and 70 people during 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively. After the main field day/workshop, a discussion session with dinner was held at the Center’s main office in Dickinson. This session was well attended and people asked a wide variety of questions – some we could not answer –provided great food for thought. The next annual field day/workshop will be held on August 27, 2015.


2014 Field Day/Workshop Agenda (Document 10)

Workshop presentation by Dr. Allen Williams, Ag. and Food Industry Consul. (Document 11)

Workshop presentation by Ryan Jepsen, Grass run farms (Document 12)

Workshop presentation by Dr. Songul Senturklu, Visiting Res. Scientist (Document 13)

Workshop presentation by Jason Gross, UNL Bio. Syst. Engr. (Document 14)

Workshop presentation by Lucas Hoff, SARE Farmer/Cooperator (Document 15)

Workshop presentation by Dr. Larry Cihacek, NDSU Soil Scientist (Document 16)

Workshop presentation by Derrick Dukart, Farmer/Cooperator (Document 17)

Workshop presentation by Doug Landblom, SARE Project Coordinator (Document 18)


  • Short-Term outcomes are being accomplished by increasing awareness among producers and students. Producer demonstration projects are among the most positive and encouraging elements of the project that will help increase awareness of alternative approaches to crop production and cattle management, while improving the environment. Farmer-rancher cooperator demonstration projects at the Lucas Hoff and Derrick Dukart Farms included YouTube videos, and farm tours. Lucas Hoff hosted the Growing Beef with Forages program at his farm (Document 19) and Derrick Dukart hosted an annual bus tour at his farm to show his cover crop fields and prospects for summer and winter grazing.



  • 2012 – 2014 High School Vo-Ag Field Day/Workshops have been attended by 50-60 students each year. Students are very interested in the integrated beef cattle and cropping systems research.


2014 High School Vo-Ag Field Day/Workshop Program Agenda (Document 20)

High School Workshop Live Animal Tissue Evaluation by Dr. Songul Senturklu and Doug Landblom (Document 21)


  • Project PI, Doug Landblom program presentations:


Growing Beef with Forages program presentation (Document 22)

Little Beaver Conservation District, NRCS, Soil Health Workshop (Documents 23, 24, 25)

Objective 4

The integrated crop and livestock grazing management workshops and train-the-trainer programs for extension, SCD, and NRCS personnel are planned activities. These activities are scheduled to be presented in April-May 2015.


Dr. Songul Senturklu
Short - Term Visiting Shcolar
NDSU - Dickinson Research Extension Center , Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University
1041 State Avenue
Dickinson, ND 58601
Office Phone: (701) 456-1110
Chester Brandt

3132 Co. Rd 89
Hebron, ND 58638
Office Phone: 7018784966
Tim Petry
Assoc. Prof/Livestock Economist
NDSU - Dept. of Agribusiness & Applied Economics
608 Barry Hall
NDSU Dept. 7610
Fargo, ND 58108
Office Phone: 7012317469
Lance Gartner

6285 46 St.
Glen Ullin, ND 58631
Office Phone: 7013483740
Derrick Dukart

11261 15 St. SW.
Manning, ND 58642
Office Phone: 7015734322
Dr. Kevin Sedivec
NDSU Extension Rangeland Management Spec.
NDSU - Extension School of Natural Resources Sciences
100F Hultz Hall
NDSU Dept. 2230
Fargo, ND 58108
Office Phone: 7012317647
Lucas Hoff
8969 31.St. SW
Richardton, ND 58652
Office Phone: (701) 974-2316
Gerald Bieber

6430 County Rd 20
Beulah, ND 58523
Office Phone: 7018735533