Pasture-Based Beef Finishing Systems

Project Overview

LNC94-076
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1994: $60,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $97,566.00
ACE Funds: $51,817.00
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Fredric Martz
University of Missouri

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: pasture fertility, grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, value added, whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, sustainability measures

    Abstract:

    [Note to online version: The report for this project includes tables that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request. Just contact North Central SARE at (402) 472-7081 or ncrsare@unl.edu.]

    Objectives:

    1. Develop profitable systems for pasture-finishing beef cattle of consistent and acceptable carcass quality.

    2. Evaluate an intensive pasture-based beef finishing system in terms of animal waste dispersion.

    3. Demonstrate in a pilot commercial-sized trial, the feasibility of marketing pasture-finished beef using an integrated alliance model.

    Methods: This study was designed to research the finishing of beef cattle on pasture without the use of a confinement feedlot. Such a finishing system has the potential of economizing the cost of gains and disperses the animal waste over a broad pasture area where it will be recycled into the ecosystem and is utilized as soil nutrients to grow more pasture and control water runoff. Varying numbers of 700 to 800 lb crossbred steers were randomly allocated according to appropriate stocking rates to five experimental treatments. Treatments consisted of pasture plus grain supplement to supply different proportions of the steers’ daily ration. Treatments were: 0%, 25%, 50%, and 75% supplement and FL, a conventional feedlot treatment of a self-fed feedlot ration containing 10% ground hay with no pasture. Each intensively managed pasture was eight acres grazed from the last week of April to early November. Samples of beef from each steer was analyzed in a sensory laboratory for tenderness and eating quality.

    Results: Aging beef from pasture-based finished steers in vacuum packages for three weeks resulted in beef with equal tenderness and eating quality to feedlot finished beef. The 75% supplement group was more like the feedlot finished beef than the 0 supplemented group. The cost of gain for steers finished on pasture alone was as low as $27 per cwt compared to about $60 per cwt for feedlot finished steers. Finishing cattle on pasture appears to be a profitable, value-added practice of producing beef. Nutrient levels (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and organic matter) did not decrease during the 2-year period of this study in the 0 supplemented pastures and increased only small amounts in the supplemented pastures. Pasture finishing appears to cycle nutrients to the soil in moderate amounts to enrich the soil and augment enhanced pasture production on low to medium fertility soils. Farm demonstrations illustrated that cattle can be finished on pasture but that marketing in the conventional market channels is a problem because of a stigma against pasture finished beef that results in price discounts.

    Steers gained more rapidly with each increment of grain supplement fed, which resulted in the 0 grain group having the least finish and the feedlot group having the most finish. Ninety percent of the feedlot steers graded choice, whereas 70% of the 0 grain supplemented group graded standard and only 30% graded select. The low grades for the 0 and 25% groups of steers were because they were about 100 lbs lighter in weight at slaughter than the FL and the 75% steers. Had these steers been fed an additional 30 to 45 days, they would have been of equal finish (we have finished other steers in such systems to show this). The steers were removed from pasture because of the ending of the pasture season and a major focus of this study was eating quality of the beef. We did not want to affect flavor by some other type of ration.

    Introduction:

    This project was a two-year study. The objectives of the study have been accomplished. Sensory evaluation of the harvested beef and carcass quality data were collected and this part of the project was added and funded by the Missouri Agriculture Experiment Station. All work on the project has been completed except publication of the work in scientific journals. We are currently working on these publications to add credibility to the work and to sustainable agriculture concepts.

    The study used home raised steers that were either Hereford X Gelbvieh (HG), HG X Angus, or >3/4 Angus. Spring born calves were weaned in late October, grazed tall fescue stockpile until January 1, then wintered on large bales of mixed grass-legume hay and 5 lb daily of a grain mix (1/3 corn gluten feed and 2/3 cracked corn) until turn-out in late April. Steers gained about 1 lb per day during winter and went to pasture weighing 730 to 750 pounds.

    Pasture treatments were grain feeding levels to equal 0%, 25%, 50%, and 75% of the steer’s nutrient needs with the remaining nutrients coming from pasture. A fifth treatment consisted of steers assigned to a conventional feedlot finishing program. Each treatment had two replications. The number of steers per pasture replication was 8, 10, 12, and 14, with 8 acres per replication. The base stocking rate in the zero grain system (1 steer/A) was consistent with previous experience on similar pastures at the Forage Systems Research Center.

    Pastures were mixed cool season grass-legume species with about 20% legume in most pastures. Some pastures were predominantly tall fescue with an endophyte infection level of about 90%. Steers were moved to new pasture every 1 to 3 days depending on the season and need of the system. Each pasture treatment group was assigned to a grazing cell with six permanent paddocks. Steers were allocated about 1/3 of a paddock each day during Phase I and 1/6 paddock during Phase II. Steers had water in each paddock.

    Steers gained more rapidly with each increment of grain supplement fed, which resulted in the 0 grain group having the least finish and the feedlot group having the most finish. Ninety percent of the feedlot steers graded choice, whereas 70% of the 0 grain supplemented group graded standard and only 30% graded select. The low grades for the 0 and 25% groups of steers were because they were about 100 lbs lighter in weight at slaughter than the FL and the 75% steers. Had the 0 and 25% supplemented steers been fed an additional 45 to 60 days, they would have been of equal finish (we have finished other steers in such systems to show this). The steers were removed from pasture because of the ending of the pasture season and a major focus of this study was eating quality of the beef. We did not want to affect flavor by some other type of ration.

    Aging beef from pasture-based finished steers in vacuum packages for three weeks resulted in beef with equal tenderness and eating quality to feedlot finished beef. The 75% supplement group was more like the feedlot finished beef than the 0 supplemented group. The cost of gain for steers finished on pasture alone was as low as $27 per cwt compared to about $60 per cwt for feedlot finished steers. Finishing cattle on pasture appears to be a profitable, value-added practice of producing beef. Nutrient levels (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnisium, and organic matter) did not decrease during the two-year period of this study in the 0 supplemented pastures and increased only small amounts in the supplemented pastures. Pasture finishing appears to cycle nutrients to the soil in moderate amounts to enrich the soil and augment enhanced pasture production on low to medium fertility soils. Farm demonstrations illustrated that cattle can be finished on pasture but that marketing in the conventional market channels is a problem because of a stigma against pasture finished beef that results in price discounts.

    Project objectives:

    1. Develop profitable systems for pasture-finishing beef cattle of consistent and acceptable carcass quality.

    2. Evaluate an intensive pasture-based beef finishing system in terms of animal waste dispersion.

    3. Demonstrate the feasibility of marketing pasture-finished beef using an integrated alliance model in a pilot commercial-sized trial.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.