Midwest beef production works just as well off pasture

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Beef producers in the Upper Midwest know pasture is scarce. As more acres are developed or converted to cropland, producers looking to expand their cow-calf operations are looking for alternatives to traditional pasture management.

New research from University of Illinois animal scientists and I-BELIEF students shows that cow-calf pairs can be managed in dry land throughout the summer grazing period with little Negative consequences.

“When we extended the dry yard phase throughout the summer, we were able to get great performance on our dry yard cows. They maintained their body weight and body condition and had good rates. breeding. Everything was excellent in that regard. The calves on the dry yard had increased performance throughout the pre-weaning phase as well,” says Dan Shike, associate professor in the University’s Department of Animal Science. of the Island and principal investigator of the study.

The team compared Angus × Simmental cow-calf pairs on pasture and in dry land – in this case, concrete lots and open-fronted sheds with bedding – between May and August, repeated over two years. Overall, they looked at the growth performance, lactation, locomotion and behavior of calves at weaning and during the feedlot reception period.

“Growers looking to explore drylotting have a lot of questions, so we tried to address as many holistic answers as possible,” says Shike.

In the dry pen, cows were fed a standard RTM maintenance diet, but calves had free access to the same diet in an adjacent pen. Grazing pairs grazed available forage, with calves nursing and eating a processed supplementary feed three weeks before weaning.

The research team expected cows and calves to do as well or better in the dry yard, and that’s exactly what they found.

“The arid park cows performed exactly as we expected because we had more control over their environment and were able to formulate a ration to meet their nutritional needs. Cows on pasture are really at the mercy of the weather,” says Shike. “Consequently, cows on pasture had lower body weight and body condition score than cows on stall.”

The calves did better in the dry field than on the pasture, again due to the controlled diet and environment. At weaning and shipment to the feedlot, pasture-reared calves were significantly smaller than their dry-yard counterparts.

“We anticipated that pasture-raised calves would have compensatory gain, and they did. They had higher rates of gain and tended to be more efficient in this receiving phase,” says Shike. “But, even after 42 days, they hadn’t caught up because they started so far behind the dry ground calves in weight.”

Pasture-raised calves were brought into the dry pen for weaning, where they had nose-to-nose access with their mothers in adjacent pens. Calves reared in a dry pen remained in place, but were separated from their mother by a fence. Drylot’s calves appeared to be somewhat less stressed at this phase, based on behavioral indicators such as vocalization, feeding, walking and lying down.

After six days of weaning, the calves were transported 170 miles from the Orr Agricultural Research and Demonstration Center in Baylis to the farms on the University of the Isle campus to begin the feedlot phase. . Surprisingly, pasture-raised calves showed less signs of stress upon receiving from the feedlot than their dry-lot counterparts.

“We thought if they’re in a dry yard, they’re already used to a heavy-duty system. Maybe that will help them transition to another heavy-duty system like the feedlot. But it didn’t bother them. given an advantage. This was probably one of our most surprising findings,” says Josh McCann, assistant professor of animal science and co-author of the study.

“We think the calves on pasture may have adapted more quickly to the feedlot because they had already gone through a transition – from pasture to pen to weaning – and because being on pasture gives them greater physical separation from their mother.We could imagine that they were mentally more prepared to be separated when they were shipped off to the feedlot.For dry park pairs,it’s like your kids staying home with you all day, sending them to school gets a little more stressful at first.

The researchers say growers should consider a few potential risks associated with drylotting. In the study, they found a higher incidence of foot and leg problems, including lameness and locomotion problems.

Shike says, “The dairy industry has certainly seen more problems with feet and legs as it ramped up and put cows in confinement. The cattle industry will also need to pay attention to this issue, but there are things we can do in terms of how we manage bedding and drainage. Although we had to treat some cows, it ultimately did not affect body weight, body condition or reproduction. There was, however, work and expense associated with processing them.

Although the team did not perform an economic analysis, McCann notes that the cost of treating locomotion problems is not the only expense to consider.

“An intensive system is more labor intensive and of course there is the cost of feed,” he says. “There weren’t many downsides to the dry pen system for animal performance, but producers will want to consider the economic trade-offs for their individual operations.”

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