Expanding the grazing season for sustainable year-round forage-finished beef production

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $163,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Susan Duckett
Clemson University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: millet
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: free-range, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, value added
  • Production Systems: holistic management


    Forage-finished beef can be produced during fall, winter and spring months in the Southeastern U.S. through utilization of high quality cool season forages. However, forages for producing forage-finished beef during the summer months are more limited and the primary perennial forages, bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon L. Pers.) and bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum Flugge), do not support high gains for finishing. Therefore, this study examined the effectiveness of several summer active forages to expand the harvest window of forage-finished beef. Sixty Angus-cross steers were finished on five summer forage species, chicory (Cichorium intybus L.; CH), alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.; AL), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L.; CO), pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum L.; PM), and bermudagrass (BG), to assess the effects of forage species on finishing steer performance, carcass quality, fatty acid composition and tenderness in a two-year study. Ten 2 ha paddocks were blocked and assigned forage species (2 reps per species/yr). Steers were randomly assigned to paddocks (n = 3/yr) and started grazing when adequate forage growth was available. Put and take grazing techniques were utilized. Steers were slaughtered when there was insufficient forage mass to support animal gains, or steer weight exceeded 591 kg. Average daily gains were greater (P < 0.05) for AL and CH than BG, CO, and PM. Total grazing days (d/ha) were greatest (P < 0.05) for PM and lowest for CO. Hot carcass weight was greatest (P < 0.05) for BG and CO and lowest for PM. Dressing percentage was higher (P < 0.05) for CO and AL than BG, CH, or PM. Warner-Bratzler shear force values were lower (P < 0.05) for AL and CO than BH, CH, or PM. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and trans-11 vaccenic acid (TVA) concentrations were higher (P < 0.05) for PM and BG than AL, CH, or CO. Linoleic acid concentration was higher for CH than others. Linolenic acid concentrations were greater for CH and CO compared to AL, BG, and PM. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was higher (P < 0.05) for CH and PM than AL, BG, and CO. In summary, animal gains were highest (1.20 kg/d) for alfalfa and chicory. Steers grazing the legume species, alfalfa and cowpea, during finishing had higher dressing percentages and produced the most tender beef. Steers grazing the grass species, bermudagrass and pearl millet, had greater percentages of anticarinogenic compounds, CLA and TVA. This research project identified several viable forage species for finishing beef cattle in summer months. Palatability and composition of the beef products from steers finished on these forage species was highly acceptable and indicated nutritional benefits for forage-finished beef. Results of this research have been presented in multiple workshops, county agent trainings, and short courses across the Southeast. These trainings in combination with the demonstration plots have lead to adoption of these practices by numerous producers in Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

    Project objectives:

    1) Examine potential forage systems to expand grazing seasons for year-around forage-finished beef production.
    2) Determine the effect of these various warm season forages on beef carcass quality, composition and palatability
    3) Determine the profitability of these forage systems as compared to traditional marketing schemes.
    4) Implement on-farm plots and experiment station field days to demonstrate results and deliver information to farmers.

    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.