Low-Input Beef Cattle Systems of Production
Beef producers can be more competitive by increasing the economical use of forages and by
reducing input costs. The direction of the beef industry has been toward large cattle, fast gains,
and high grain feeding (including corn silage which is 1/2 grain). This type of cattle doesn't
necessarily fit with the resources available in the area of southern Iowa, eastern Nebraska, and
northern Missouri. There is a need to study systems of beef production which emphasize the use
of forages, minimize harvest of feeds and minimize input costs for supplemental feeds. It is
important to optimize the use of the forages and crop residues produced in cropping sequences
that include forages, especially legumes to supply lower cost nitrogen to the soil and to minimize
1) Develop economical, forage based, low-input-cost beef growing finishing systems.
2) Develop systems that maintain beef cow reproductive efficiency with minimum use of fuels
in the form of N-fertilizer or harvested feeds.
3) Transmit information on low-input, economical beef systems to cattle producers through field
days, reports and a multi-state symposium.
Researchers in Iowa developed cow/calf production systems that maintained beef cow
reproductive efficiency with minimum use of hydrocarbon fuels. Summer pastures of all grasses
versus grass legume mixtures were compared. Fall and winter grazing included stockpiled
fescue plus alfalfa pastures and residues from a 3-crop rotation (corn, oats, alfalfa). Researchers
in Missouri and Nebraska developed forage-based, low-input beef growing-finishing systems.
Year-round beef production was compared from weaning to market via fall grazing, winter
feeding, summer grazing and feedlot finishing. Conventional feedlot systems were compared to
systems using crop residue grazing, stockpiled cool-season grasses, hays, and by-product feeds.
Summer grazing included cool-season grasses, warm-season grasses, legume-grass mixtures, and
summer annuals. After finishing to minimal fat levels, animal performance and system
economics were calculated. Information on low-input, economical beef production systems was
transmitted to producers at field days held in each state, plus a 3-state symposium for producers
and extension personnel held in Omaha, NE, on June 13-14, 1990.
Stocking rates on cornstalks as high as 0.4 hectare/cow can maintain cow bodyweights and
condition for 2 months if continuously grazed. Strip-grazing at a stocking rate of 0.4
hectare/cow resulted in body weight gains comparable to continuous grazing at 1.6 hectare/cow.
The quantity and nutritional quality of corn crop residues decreases with time after harvest.
Inasmuch as decreases in the quantity and quality of the corn residues which were not grazed
were observed, nutrient losses observed during cornstalk grazing resulted from microbial
metabolism and nutrient leaching as well as animal utilization. Such losses would be related to
weather conditions. Therefore, weather conditions should be considered when grazing
The opportunities to improve summer gains on yearling cattle were demonstrated. These
differences are expected to be greater in "normal" situations where the problem with the
endophyte is greater. Either sorghum sudan or warm-season grass is an alternative to grazing
fescue in the summer. The opportunity to use sorghum sudan in the conversion of
endophyte-infected fescue to endophyte-free fescue is probably an economic breakthrough.
It was clearly demonstrated that grain feeding can be minimized. It took 5.3 lb of grain/lb of
gain for calves that entered the feedlot at weaning. In the current reasearch, the grain needed per
lb of gain was reduced to 2.8 lb for the cattle that entered the feedlot on September 4, and about
2.4 lb for the cattle entering on November 20, thus halving the utilization of grain. By reducing
grain use and increasing forage, not only are there beneficial implications on soil and water, but
economics is improved as well.
Information Product Available:
Conference Proceedings from the LISA Beef and Forage Conference, held in Omaha, NE on
June 13-14, 1990. Contact Terry Klopfenstein.