Breed types and cover crops provide alternatives for sustainable year-round supply of forage-fed beef for small farms in the Gulf Coast region: Research and on-farm demonstrations

Project Overview

LS14-266
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $171,988.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Louisiana State University
Region: Southern
State: Louisiana
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, heritage breeds
  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns

    Abstract:

    The Gulf Coast region has abundant forage resources during most of the year. All around the US, there is a trend showing that consumer demand for grass-fed beef is increasing. Adding to this trend, consumers are more inclined to support locally-produced products, favoring localized economies. Forage-finished beef can be beneficial in the human diet and promotes environmentally sound practices, improving soil nutrient cycling, conserving soil and water, and minimizing the dependence on non-renewable resources.

    Of major interest in the grass-fed beef industry is the study of any possible breed type effect on these systems. Breed types can provide alternatives for small and very small beef and dairy producers. Gillespie et al. (unpublished data) conducted a survey of approximately 1,000 forage-fed beef producers nationwide. Seventy-five percent of respondents with a farm of 40 acres or less reported using British breeds. This number increases to 92% when farms are between 40 and 80 acres.

    In Louisiana and the SE region of the US, Holstein steers may provide an additional source of income for struggling dairy producers. Demand for these steers for forage-fed programs may help increase the prices producers receive for them. The use of “rare” or “heritage” beef breed types such as those derived from the Criollo cattle (Pineywoods, Florida Cracker, Longhorn, etc.) can also be an excellent genetic resource for small producers. These breeds are of small frame with concomitant low forage demand, hardy, and very well adapted to the heat and environment of the Southeast region. There is very little information on the performance and carcass characteristics of these breeds or comparisons of them with conventional beef and dairy breeds under similar management conditions. A British breed that is considered by producers (and that will be evaluated on one of the collaborator farms) as the typical for forage fed systems is Dexter. It is a small frame animal with mature weights around 1000 lb. Unfortunately, there is a time period (45-60 days) between weaning (usually mid-October) and the time cool-season annuals are ready for grazing that negatively affects animal performance. This ‘fall forage gap’ or ‘transition period’ is normally filled using warm-season grass hay only or balage or hay plus supplement with concomitant increased costs of production. Conventionally planted pastures are usually ready earlier than no-tilled but effects on soil characteristics are different. Alternative forages such as brassicas are available and may provide abundant forage mass and quality during this time.

    With the help of producers who will provide information (animal performance, cover crops production) and host pasture-walks, we hypothesize that planting brassicas with a mix of small grains and clovers will improve animal performance during the ‘transition period’ and hence the sustainability and profitability of beef stocker and forage-fed finishing operations. Our objective is to evaluate the impact of two forage systems that differ in the intensity of resources used and breed types on productivity, carcass and soil characteristics, and economics.

    Project objectives:

    1) Evaluate the interaction between forage systems and traditional (Angus) and non-traditional (Holstein and Pineywoods) breed types. This evaluation will be conducted by measuring the productivity and economic sustainability of producing beef on 100% forage diets and on the impact of tillage and forage systems on soil physic-chemical properties.

    2) Measure the impact of breed type (Pineywoods, Braford, and Dexter) and the use of cover crops (brassicas, clovers, small grains and native grasses) under different management practices (rotationally grazed, stockpiled forages) at the farm level.

    3) On-farm research and outreach program will be run jointly enhancing technology transfer through theory and on-hand work. Pasture walks will be organized annually on each of these farms and at the Iberia Research Station (IRS). Information will also be disseminated via peer-reviewed journals, extension publications, magazines and other venues. A workshop in Year 3 will compile all information dealing with animal productivity, effect of forage system on soil characteristics and economic analyses

    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.