Whole Farm Planning for Grass-fed Beef

2002 Annual Report for LS00-113

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $214,069.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Ann Wells
National Center for Appropriate Technology

Whole Farm Planning for Grass-fed Beef


Research trials and case studies with producers are underway to assess whole farm planning for production of grass-fed beef. Producers have learned about production and direct marketing of grass-fed beef and defined the constraints involved in production on their farms. Preliminary data from research trials have evaluated performance on forage systems with some new observations of relationships such as supplementation with soyhulls on pasture systems did not decrease CLA content of the meat as has been reported with grain supplementation. Complete information on the project will be available by the end of 2003.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The objectives are: 1) to address the constraints in implementation of a whole farm plan for production of grass-fed beef. 2) to investigate, through farm case studies, the factors limiting production of a pasture-fed beef carcass with a high degree of consistency and consumer acceptability. 3) to investigate animal and pasture relationships in production of pasture-based beef production to ensure adequate information for producers to achieve a quality product.


Work this last year has concentrated on objectives 2 and 3. Eleven producers had pooled cattle for a grazing phase for production of grass-fed beef in order to assess their animals. The animals were grazed on cool season annuals (wheat and ryegrass) from December through May and harvested at a constant condition score. The carcasses were processed through the University of Arkansas abattoir and meat sold to the public. Because of the experience the group of producers is forming a limited liability corporation to market grass-fed beef. In addition to performance data, carcass information including complete cut-out data, cooking losses, and tenderness was estimated. Producers are evaluating their forage program, cattle breeding program and management to determine the feasibility of producing grass-fed beef.

The effects of biological type across different forage-based feeding systems were analyzed to determine differences in carcass quality, chemical composition, and sensory attributes. Small-framed/intermediate-maturing (SI), medium-framed/intermediate-maturing (MI), and large-framed/intermediate-maturing (LI) calves (n = 53) were randomly chosen and stratified across either orchardgrass/clover pasture with soyhull supplementation (O), fescue grass/clover pasture with soyhull supplementation (F), or fescue grass pasture with no supplementation for the control (C). Effects for hot carcass weight showed that the F and O cattle were heavier (P < 0.05) than C. The F and O cattle had larger (P < 0.05) loin eye areas than C, but did not differ (P > 0.05). Control cattle (C) had less (P < 0.05) back fat and lower (P < 0.05) quality grades than F or O cattle, whereas F and O cattle did not differ (P > 0.05). The LI cattle were heavier (P < 0.05) and had larger (P < 0.05) loin eyes than SI, whereas SI, MI, and LI did not differ (P > 0.05) in terms of back fat or quality grade. Percent total lipid was lower (P < 0.05), and percent moisture was higher (P < 0.05) for C compared to F and O. No differences were exhibited between biological types for percent total lipids or percent moisture (P > 0.05). The C steaks contained higher (P < 0.05) linolenic acid concentrations than F or O, and there were no differences (P > 0.05) between treatments for conjugated linolenic acid. Sensory evaluation revealed no differences (P > 0.05) between treatments or biological types for sensory characteristics. These results suggest that biological type may not influence quality grade for cattle supplemented with soyhulls on forage, and that supplementation can improve carcass quality without drastically altering the fatty acid profile of grass-fed cattle.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

This project is allowing producers to explore production and marketing of grass-fed beef through a formalized research effort. Producers have been able to collect performance data on their own cattle, procure carcass information with quality grades, yield grades, complete cutability information, as well as other characteristics including CLA content, cooking losses and tenderness. Additionally, research projects are being conducted to gather more scientific information including complete fatty acid profiles, taste panel information, and peformance data on various forage systems.