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

2007 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-round 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 (chicory, alfalfa, cowpea, pearl millet). 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 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

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.


Replicated 5 acre paddocks of alfalfa (AL), pearl millet (PM), chicory (CH), cowpea (CO), and bermudagrass (BG) have been established and grazed in year 1. Average daily gains tended to be higher for AL than BG. Total grazing days (GD)/ha were greatest for PM, with BG having more GD than CH. Average forage mass was highest for PM. Carcass weight tended to be higher for AL and CO than CH and PM. Dressing percentage was higher for AL, CH, and CO than BG and PM. Marbling scores were higher for CO than BG, CH and PM. Postmortem aging increased tenderness; however, Warner-Braztler shear force tenderness scores did not differ among treatments. Oleic acid concentrations tended to be greater for CO than AL and BG. Concentrations of trans-11 vaccenic acid were greater in BG and PM than in CH and AL, and CO was greater than AL. Concentrations of linolenic acid were greater in CH and CO than AL, BG, and PM. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA cis-9 trans-11) concentrations were greatest in BG and PM. Concentrations of monounsaturated fatty acids were greater in AL and BG than CO. Omega-6 to Omega-3 FA concentration ratio was higher in PM than CO. Forage species utilized during the summer finishing period altered animal performance, carcass quality and fatty acid composition in beef cattle. Year 2 grazing is currently underway.

On-Farm Demonstration Plots:
Several on-farm demonstration plots have been established in South Carolina and Florida. A field day was held in Blackville, SC in early October, 2007 and all forages were viewed under grazing. Approximately 80 people viewed the beef grazing paddocks. A field day will be held in late April, 2008 near Pendleton, SC to show beef producers the forage paddocks and grazing management. A consumer sensory panel will also be conducted at this field day. Other on-farm field days will be conducted at the county agent level.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

A major limitation to implementing forage fed beef in the Southeastern U.S. is the seasonality of production. Fall, winter and spring finishing can be accomplished by grazing several perennial and annual cool season grasses and legumes. However, producing a summer supply of forage-finished meat is more difficult due to the lack of high quality warm season forages. On-farm demonstrations continue to show that the forages can be productive and persistent in the humid SE, even under drought conditions. Additional field days are planned to reinforce these concepts and update producers on results from year 1.


John Andrae

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