Minimizing reliance on harvested feeds has long been recognized as a foremost management strategy to enhance both environmental and economic sustainability for beef producers. However, the extent to which North Central Region (NCR) beef cow-calf producers utilize extended grazing, cover crop, and stockpiled forage systems, or supplement cows on harvested winter forage is not well defined. Beef cows in the NCR are traditionally fed harvested forage over winter, but no detailed analysis of winter forage and nutritional management exists. Thus, there is a critical need to fully understand winter nutritional management practices of beef cow-calf producers in the NCR to allow for targeted extension programming and future research focused on improved cow nutrition during the dormant forage season. Furthermore, many cow-calf producers do not take advantage of forage testing, despite the dramatic variation in forage quality caused by species, weather, fertilization, and harvest dates. This project will implement an extensive survey to characterize winter forage management and production demographics of NCR cow-calf producers. In addition, 100 producers will be identified to submit forage samples to characterize relative variance in winter forage quality in the NCR. Compiled results from these 2 objectives will facilitate the initiation of an interactive, online, forage quality benchmarking database incorporating analytical reports from major NCR feed analysis labs, allowing producers to evaluate their forage management and observe regional ranges in forage quality within forage type, ultimately raising awareness of the advantages of forage analysis and allowing producers to make more informed winter nutritional management decisions. This novel database and additional nutritional decision aids developed as part of this project will be used to increase knowledge of proper winter nutrition management and improve management skills of beef cow-calf producers. In-person and online curricula will be developed and implemented by extension personnel in conjunction with a subset of cooperators from the project. Producer involvement in each phase of the project will allow survey tools, decision aides, and extension curricula to be properly vetted through focus groups prior to dissemination to the masses. Ultimately, behavioral changes resulting from this project will improve profitability for beef producers, lead to an improved natural resource base through better forage and grassland management, and enhance quality of life through focus group interaction, active learning opportunities, and improved local economies.
Project objectives from proposal:
Short-term outcomes of this project will be increased producer knowledge of optimal winter forage management and nutrition of beef cows. As a result, long-term outcomes involve producer improvement of nutritional skill set and forage management behavior, including more frequent forage analysis, keeping more acres in perennial forage, more widespread adoption and use of annual and novel forages, and sustained environmental quality. Enhanced forage management of producers through active learning opportunities will pave the way to increased economic sustainability which will directly improve economic vitality of rural communities and result in a less costly, high-quality protein product available to society.