Cattle Performance

Effect of Pasture Mixes on Cattle Behavior and Performance

Past projects on the pasture project have focused on the effect of pasture variety on diet selection, forage sequence, digestibility and intake. Though there may be many benefits to pasture variety, performance is key for many livestock producers.

Several studies report livestock eat more, and have better feed efficiency when grazing a variety of forages than livestock grazing a pasture with a single forage specie. This spring graduate student, Brody Maughan, plans to study how cattle behavior and performance is affected when cattle graze two grass-legume mixtures. During his study, fall-born calves will be finished on mixtures of tall fescue, which contains alkaloids, with either sainfoin, which contains tannins, or alfalfa, which contains saponins.

The study will run May through September. Cattle will be weighed at regular intervals. They will strip-graze pastures with electric fences moved daily to allow access to fresh forage. Each day, cattle will have free access to strips of grass, legume and a mixture of grass and legume. Brody will record where cattle graze to calculate the proportion of grazing time and sequence of use of each plant species in the alfalfa-fescue mix and the sainfoin-fescue mix.

In September, steers will be slaughtered and carcasses evaluated for grade, Quality and flavor. An economic assessment of the production cost per unit of retail beef will also be conducted.

This research will enable us to better understand how livestock behave and perform on simple pasture mixtures with forages containing different secondary compounds.