Are Feedlot-based Performance Cattle Limiting Ecological Services for Rangeland Ecosystems in Northern Mixed-grass prairies?

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2015: $49,961.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Emily Meccage
Montana State University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), Range
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - rotational, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management, stocking rate, winter forage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, focus group
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement


    The goal of this project is to evaluate the impacts of steer frame-size and finishing time in a forage-based system. In January and November of 2016, the advisory committee met to discuss the project. The committee consists of 4 Montana ranchers who are located throughout the state. The goal of the January 2016 meeting was to outline the research project, the sampling methods, as well as discuss end-point expectations and questions. Committee members discussed the practicalities of the project, and whether or not the project was practical from a rancher standpoint. During the summer of 2016, an undergraduate student was hired to construct all fencing, as well as help put in place permanent water tanks. Four separate pastures were created, 2 which which enclosed the introduced Russian wildrye pasture that was established the previous year, and two that were larger, native range pastures.

    In November 2016, the committee met once again to go out to the fields, observe the vegetation, fencing, and water availabilities, and again offer the insight. The fencing plan was changed based on some of the advice. Initial herbage mass samples were taken from all pastures, and the steers were allowed in to the Russian wildrye pastures on November 29, 2016. They stayed on the Russian wildrye pasture for about a month, and were then moved onto native range the end of December. Due to extremely cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time, steers were fed supplemental forage in order to prevent any health issues from occuring. Herbage mass, vegetation, and habitat sampling will continue to occur throughout the summer of 2017, until all animals are finished.

    The group of "control" or feedlot-finished steers were put into the feedlot the same time as the forage-finished steers, and they are expected to finish sometime in May 2017.

    Project objectives:

    1. Assess the economic impacts of reducing frame size of cattle finished on forage.
    2. Assess the influence of cattle frame size on the capacity of conventional stocking rate models to protect or improve watersheds, wildlife habitat and rangeland condition.
    3. Develop new winter stocking rate model for native ranges that will protect/promote soil health, forage quality, watershed function and wildlife habitat persistence.
    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.