With feedyard cost of gain at record levels and increased consumer interest in grass- or pasture-finished beef, a group of researchers at Iowa StateUniversity conducted a study to evaluate a program of feeding cattle to market weight by grazing cool-season grass supplemented with self-fed byproduct pellets.

The researchers used yearling steers with an average starting weight of 850 pounds. They allotted the cattle into two treatments, with continuous grazing or rotational grazing in three paddocks. They rotated the cattle weekly for the first six weeks of grazing and then every two weeks for the remainder of the trial. The byproduct pellets were a blend of dry distillers’ grains with solubles, soy hulls and wheat midds. The group chose this feed for its low starch content and high digestible fiber content, which compliments the forage and minimizes negative associative effects. They note it also is easy and safe to feed in a self-feeder with minimal risk of acidosis, overeating or bloat problems.

The researchers report that the cattle performed well with an overall gain of 3.16 pounds per day, regardless of grazing method. Daily intakes averaged between 22 and 23 pounds per day in both groups. The cattle went directly to harvest following the summer grazing period, and 60 percent graded low Choice or better.

Analysis of the fatty acid composition of meat from these cattle found no difference between the grazing treatments, but on average, the level of conjugated linoleic acid was similar to that typically found in grass-finished beef, suggesting that feeding distillers’ grains might not decrease CLA.

The researchers report that the self-fed pellets cost $108 to $119 per ton, with an additional $25 per ton for delivery. Average daily feed cost excluding the pasture was $1.70 to $1.80 per head per day or 55 to 60 cents per pound of gain.

The report includes these conclusions:

  • The byproduct feed was safe and consumed readily.
  • The byproduct feed should be offered immediately for maximal gains.
  • One key to having cattle at market weight in the fall is to start with heavier yearlings in the spring.
  • Daily gains over 3 pounds per day can be achieved with this system.
  • Achieving a high percentage of cattle that grade Choice is possible with this system.

Cattle will not meet “natural,” “grass-finished” or “organic” standards, but the beef could be described as “pasture-finished.”

For the full report, click here.