Low-Input Beef Cattle Systems of Production

1993 Annual Report for LNC93-054

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1993: $70,686.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $81,750.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Terry Klopfenstein
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Low-Input Beef Cattle Systems of Production


Cornstalk grazing is a critically important component of a low input sustainable beef production
system in the western Cornbelt. However, the impact of stalk grazing on corn production systems
has not been investigated. Most importantly, how grazing interacts with different tillage methods
is unknown.

1) Develop economical, forage based, low-input-cost beef growing finishing systems to enhance
the environment.
2) Determine the effects of cattle grazing cornstalks on ridge tillage system and ridge tillage
system on cattle grazing stalks.
3) Transmit information on low input, economical beef systems to cattle producers through field
days, reports and a multi-state symposium.

Methods and Results:
This research project involved growing-finishing beef systems and the interaction with a corn
tillage system. Ridge-till corn was developed and compared to conventional tillage as a source of
cornstalks for wintering beef calves. The tillage system had little effect on calf growth, but there
was greater trampling in the furrows than in the conventional fields and therefore fewer grazing
days. The calves did not affect the ridges.

Corn production during the following cropping seasons was measured on grazed and ungrazed
areas. Grazing did not impact corn production on either ridge-till or conventional systems. After
stalk grazing, the calves were fed alfalfa hay until grass was available. The cattle grazed eight
different pasture systems until early September or early November when they entered the feedlot
for finishing on high grain diets. Red clover interseeded into smooth brome increased cattle gains
and eliminated the need for nitrogen fertilization during one year but stands could not be
maintained. Rotating the cattle from brome to warm-season grass or to Sandhills range increased
cattle gains. Allowing the cattle to graze brome regrowth, turnips, cornstalks, and rye during the
fall increased the weight of the cattle entering the feedlot. Feedlot performance of the cattle was
measured and economics calculated for the eight grazing systems. Systems with greatest forage
gains were the most economical.

This material has been reported in the annual Beef Cattle Report, in extension meetings, at the
Nebraska Cattlemen's meetings, to the Nebraska Sustainable Agricultural Society, at the annual
American Society of Animal Science meetings and the American Society of Agronomy
meetings. Numerous visitors have toured the research facility.

Potential contributions:
The opportunity to make beef production more sustainable is very great. The high price of grain
the past year has been "a wake up call" to beef producers. Those who were forage-based in their
production systems were better able to survive the grain prices. There is now developing a
renewed interest in forage-based systems. Well-managed forage-based systems are sustainable
from an economic standpoint and are much more sustainable than grain-based systems from an
environmental standpoint.

Farmer Adoption, Impact, Involvement:
The two producers who served as consultants for this project are both outspoken advocates of
forage-based beef production. Both have been used to speak to classes at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. Their involvement in this project has helped reinforce their views. We have
no measure of the effect these two successful producers may be having on other producers.

At least one large ranching operation in Nebraska has moved toward a more forage-based
system. They have typically retained ownership of their calves in the feedlot and have placed the
calves in the feedlot at weaning time. Last year, they kept half the calves (3,000 head) back on
the ranch, wintered them and grazed them during the summer before taking them to the feedlot.
They were aware of our research, and we interact with the ranch manager, but factors such as calf
prices, the cattle cycle and corn prices may have been more important factors than just our

Area Needing Additional Study:
1) Cover crops for grazing during the winter and spring months.
2) Impact of spring grazing of cornstalks with or without cover crops on subsequent crop
3) Summer grazing options.
4) Fall grazing options.
5) Time of removal from pasture to feedlot.
6) Possibility of producing lean, palatable beef from cattle produced primarily on forage with
minimal time spent in the feedlot.