Adoption of established cow-calf management practices can improve production efficiency and thus reduce the environmental impact of beef production, according to results of a study recently published in the Journal of Animal Science. The research, led by Robin White, PhD at Washington State University, is reported in a paper titled “Cow–calf Reproductive, Genetic, and Nutritional Management to Improve the Sustainability of Whole Beef Production Systems.”

The researchers, which also included sustainability consultant Jude Capper, PhD, used mathematical models and economic and environmental diet optimizer to compare eight management scenarios.

·         Average U.S. production practices.

·         Average practices with variable nutritional management.

·         Twinning cattle.

·         Early weaning.

·         Sire selection by EPD using on-farm bulls.

·         Sire selection by EPD using artificial insemination (AI).

·         Decreasing the calving window.

·         Selecting bulls by EPD and reducing the calving window.

The researchers found that altering nutritional management alone resulted in a 1.5 percent reduction in the three environmental metrics used in the study, which were land use, water use, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, compared to the baseline average practices.

Decreasing the calving window improved calf uniformity and simultaneously decreased land use, water use, and GHG emissions by 3.2 percent.

Twinning resulted in a 9.2 percent reduction in the three environmental-impact metrics.

Early weaning allowed for an 8.5 percent reduction in the three metrics.

Using EPD-based selection and AI resulted in an 11.1 percent reduction in environmental impacts, similar to the 11.3 percent reduction achieved by EPD selection of bulls for natural-service.

Based on the modeling assumptions used in this study, the researchers conclude that “optimizing nutritional management while concurrently improving genetic and reproductive efficiency may be promising avenues to improve productivity and sustainability of U.S. beef systems.”

 View the report online.