A two-year experiment on Angus steers shows different types of feed supplied to cattle can make a big difference on the cattle weight and the quality and nutritional value of the beef they produce.

In a study by Clemson University animal science researchers, data found beef quality varied depending on the forage used for finishing cattle. Researchers judged the taste and nutritional value of cattle raised on five-acre plots of land planted with alfalfa, bermuda grass, chicory, cowpea or pearl millet.

According to the results, steer performance improved for finishing cattle grazing alfalfa and chicory, while higher carcass quality and higher taste test scores were observed in cattle finished on alfalfa and cowpea.

The nutritional benefits of beef sampled in the study also varied according to the forage consumed. Based on study results, cattle finishing on bermuda grass and pearl millet had higher levels of healthy fatty acids which may reduce cancer risks.

The study is beneficial to cattle producers looking to keep cattle on pastures as a cheaper feed alternative to corn prior to sale.

“The study is useful to beef producers in the Southeast, where summer heat is a challenge for finishing cattle” said John Andrae, a forage and pasture specialist. “These forages have potential to boost steer growth and quality when traditional cool-season forages are either dormant or have slow growth rates and don’t do as good a job finishing cattle for market.”