click image to zoom Beef on grass sounds so simple: Open the gates and let the cattle graze. However, the questions outpace the answers. What is the optimal gain for cattle on grass? What is the optimal gain for steers on grass?
The nutritional needs of the cattle must be met by the grass that is in front of them. The grass will sustain the cattle. However, the grass must not only sustain the cattle, in particular the cow, but also add weight to the steers or market cattle.
Cattle gain is the same as money. Growing grass is good and harvesting the grass through the cattle is great, but the end product must increase in value every day to make the process worthwhile.
So how does one set goals? Some thoughts at various meetings bring some interesting concepts to the table. For instance, if one wants to market 1,300-pound live-grass steers by 2 years of age, the steers will need to gain 1.7 pounds per day to meet the challenge. In fact, at 1.7 pounds per day, the steers easily should weigh more than 1,300 pounds.
Figure that 365 days per year for two years equals 730 days gain. At 1.7 pounds per day for 730 days - equals 1,241 pounds of gain. Add in the typical birth weight of 86 pounds and you get the 1,300-pound or more steer at 2 years of age.
Will the cattle gain that weight? It is well understood that cows and calves gain well on grass. The cows will lose some weight as they nurse their calves, but the calves will gain weight throughout the summer by nursing momma and eating grass.
Typically, for those producers enrolled in the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association’s CHAPS program, young nursing calves gain approximately 2.5 pounds per day on pasture. However, once those calves are weaned, the questions have fewer answers.
The Dickinson Research Extension Center summered yearling steers last year. Those steers gained more than 2 pounds of body weight per day on summer grass. So, the limited work at the center would suggest that grass will support 2 pounds of average daily gain, even for yearling steers.
Although the center has not evaluated growth through all the grazing months, given the starting and ending weights, the average daily gain of 2-plus pounds from May through a good part of October seems very plausible. That would account for two six-month periods that the steers can gain 2 pounds a day, or 730 pounds total. Adding in the typical 86-pound birth weight, the center should be able to produce 816 pounds of saleable beef coming directly off grass.