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

2006 Annual Report for LS06-188

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

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


Markets are expanding for animal products raised naturally on forage based systems with enhanced nutraceutical content. Currently there are limitations in providing year-around supply of forage finished beef, which limits marketing potentials and customer satisfaction. Forages for finishing beef cattle in summer months are limited and research is needed to evaluate alternate forage crops. Utilization of these alternative forages could alter the fatty acid composition, fat soluble vitamin content, and palatability of the resulting beef product. This project will evaluate various forages (chicory, alfalfa, cowpea, pearl millet) to expand the grazing season to improve forage production during the summer months, enhance animal performance and economic returns, and assess changes in beef composition and consumer acceptability.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Examine potential forage systems to expand grazing seasons for year-around forage-finished beef production.

Determine the effect of these various warm season forages on beef carcass quality, composition and palatability.

Determine the profitability of these forage systems as compared to traditional marketing schemes.

Implement on-farm plots and experiment station field days to demonstrate results and deliver information to farmers.


Forage Establishment:
Replicated 5 acre paddocks have been acquired for the research portion of the project. Existing bermudagrass has been killed with glyphosate in all paddocks except for those assigned the bermudagrass treatment. Alfalfa and chicory treatments were planted in October and are in good to excellent condition. Paddocks assigned cowpea and pearl millet treatment will be no-till planted following controlled burning of bermudagrass thatch in early April. Calves for the project are from a single source and have been backgrounded on tall fescue and rye/ryegrass pastures depending upon weather and forage availability. We project that grazing will begin on chicory and alfalfa treatments in mid April and on other treatments from early to mid May.

On-farm Demonstration Plots:
Several on-farm demonstration plots have been established in South Carolina and one in north Florida. To date, three alfalfa demonstration plots (approx. 5 acres each) and two chicory plots (5 acres and 50 acres) have been established. Pearl millet plots and cowpea plots have been organized in north Florida and South Carolina with farmer contacts made in central and north Georgia. Most demonstration plots have established well with one exception. There is a thin stand of both alfalfa and chicory on a demonstration site near Blackville SC which is likely due to excessive bermudagrass thatch at planting and poor weed control. Field day will be scheduled for late summer when all forage types should be in production for viewing.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

A major limitation to implementing forage fed beef in the Southeastern U.S. is the seasonality of production. The purpose of this project is to examine the effectiveness of several warm season forages for summer production of forage-finished beef. Animal performance, meat quality (both nutraceutical and palatability), and economic viability of various forage crops will be evaluated in this study. Information obtained from this project will be disseminated using a variety of methods. County agents identified in the project participant section will identify local “adopter” farms who are currently producing forage fed beef. On-farm demonstrations will be conducted by establishing various summer forage crops (cowpea, alfalfa, pearl millet or chicory) at each location. Short courses and field days at these farms and experiment stations will be conducted in years two and three of the project to reach a broad clientele base. Extension bulletins and presentations will be developed for each project objective and presented at producer and commodity meetings throughout the southeast.


John Andrae

Assistant Professor
Clemson University
274 Poole Agricultural Center
Clemson, SC 29634
Office Phone: 8646563504