Properly managed forage supplies have the potential to increase rib-eye area in long yearling steers by 25 percent. Occasionally, data comes across the desk that causes one to sit back and say: Wow, could you repeat that? Yes, properly managed forage supplies have the potential to increase rib-eye area in grass steers by 25 percent.
Long yearling steers, after a summer of grazing on perennial grass and then switching to annual crops in late August, averaged 10.9 square inches of rib-eye area. Meanwhile, those steers that only grazed perennial grass the whole season averaged 8.7 square inches of rib-eye area. The yearling steers that grazed annual crops late in the grazing season had 25 percent more rib-eye area at the end of the grazing season in mid-October.
Although the two groups were similar in total square inches of rib-eye area at harvest, those steers that grazed late-season annual crops spent 25 days less in the feedlot to reach similar end points. With a little pencil pushing, it did not take long to figure out which group returned more money. Those yearling steers that grazed on annual forage from mid to late August and well into October had improved performance.
Although there is a combination of nutritional effects going on, one notable deficiency in late- season pasture is protein. The value of protein is critical in grass cattle production. The Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC), through research supported by the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, evaluated the impact of summer grazing systems followed by late-fall/early winter feedlot finishing.
The study was a two-year study that involved 144 large-framed steers that were divided into a feedlot only, pasture only or pasture with the addition of late- season annual crops as the three treatments.
This discussion will focus on the two pastured sets of cattle. In visiting with Songul Senturklu, visiting scholar from Canakkale Onsekiz Mart Universitesi, BMYO, Canakkale, Turkey, the steer calves were weaned in November and maintained on low-quality forage through the winter until spring, when the steers were assigned to one of the three treatments.
In the two treatments of interest, the steers were placed on crested wheat grass in early May and then switched to native range in early June. They were maintained on native grass until the third week in August. At that time, half the steers were moved to a field pea-barley pasture, followed by an unharvested corn field.