K-State Seeks Out Best Forage for SE Kansas Cattle

US - It’s as true for livestock as it is for humans -- what animals eat has a big impact on their health and performance. That’s why researchers at K-State’s Southeast Agricultural Research Center are working to find the best forages for cattle that can be grown in that part of the state.
calendar icon 30 April 2009
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“We’re a little different here – our agriculture is more like what you’d see in the southeastern U.S. than like the rest of Kansas,” said Lyle Lomas, who is an animal scientist and head of the research center. He cited the area’s shallow claypan soils, a longer growing season and higher average precipitation totals than the rest of the state. Because of those differences, the center’s forage research focuses on introduced forages rather than the native forages that grow in much of the rest of the state.

Given the value of Kansas’ cattle industry to the state’s economy, coupled with the challenges facing the beef industry including high input prices, Lomas believes that now more than ever, it is important for the center’s researchers to help producers find ways to raise beef as efficiently as possible.

“The Southeast Agricultural Research Center has the only Kansas State University (KSU) grazing research programme dedicated exclusively to introduced forage species,” he said. “Native grasses predominate in other parts of the state and at other K-State research locations.”

Some of the species studied at the center include tall fescue, bermudagrass, smooth bromegrass, and crabgrass.

“Our grazing work can be divided into two major categories,” Lomas said. “One is the supplementation of grazing livestock and the other is evaluating forage systems with different varieties or species of forages – the quality and quantity – that grow well in this part of the state.”

One recent project on which Lomas and forage agronomist Joe Moyer collaborated, involved supplementing grazing stocker cattle with distillers grains – a byproduct of the ethanol industry. The team is trying to determine how a distillers grain supplement affects grazing, as well as finishing performance.

One study conducted in 2005-2007 using steers grazing smooth bromegrass pastures and another in 2006-2007 with steers grazing bermudagrass showed that steers supplemented with dried distiller’s grains (DDG) at the rate of 0.5 percent or 1.0 percent of body weight had significantly higher grazing gains and gain per acre than when steers were fed no supplement. Feeding DDGs at that level had no effect on forage availability during 2005 or 2006, but in 2007, overall forage availability was higher on bromegrass pastures where the steers were supplemented with 0.5 percent or 1.0 percent DDG.

“Because pastures were assigned to the same supplementation treatment during each year of the study, it is possible that the effect of supplementation on forage availability was cumulative and not detected in bromegrass pastures until after the third year of grazing,” Lomas said.

In addition to the Parson site, which includes 450 acres, the research center has another 400 acres near Mound Valley, Kan., where cattle from grazing studies are finished. Once the cattle reach market weight, they are slaughtered and the carcasses are evaluated.

“Most of our grazing studies utilizing stocker cattle are followed by a feedlot phase to determine the effect of grazing treatment on subsequent finishing performance and overall profitability,” Lomas said.

Other projects the team is involved in include comparing grazing and subsequent finishing performance of stocker cattle grazing non-erogot alkaloid tall fescue, Midland 99 bermudagrass and wheat double-crop system, and Red River crabgrass and wheat double-crop system.

The researchers are also evaluating the effect of interseeding of legumes in bermudagrass pastures on beef cow performance.

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