Beef Systems Projects

Current Research Projects

Enhancing Protein Production through Crops & Cattle

field of wheat remnants

There are three realities that will affect future beef production systems:

  • Rapidly expanding population will require us to feed 9 – 10 people with the land base we currently have
  • Traditional perennial grasslands are declining and will continue to do so, thereby reducing the availability of traditional forage resources for beef production
  • It is difficult for young people to have the capitol to invest into land resources to enter into agriculture

The project will develop a cow/calf system without perennial forage that utilizes crop residues and annual forages following cereal grain production as forage resources for cows.

Production Efficiency of Perennial Grassland Systems

grass rangelands in Sandhills of Nebraska

Cattle production in Nebraska is reliant on the perennial grassland forage resources that compromises about 46% of the state’s land area. Grazing management strategies that increase the efficient use of perennial grasslands can help livestock producers become more sustainable and increase the level of production per land area. Increasing harvest efficiency, the amount of forage intake by cattle compared to the amount available, on grazing lands is significant from a beef production potential because small increases in harvest efficiency can result in considerable increases in carrying capacity of grazing land. This on-ranch project will evaluate the relationships between multiple grazing strategies and harvest efficiency, rangeland health and production, and plant species composition on Sandhills rangelands.

  • Mitchell Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Panhandle Research & Extension Center (Lead Investigator)
  • Walt Schacht, Professor, School of Natural Resources and Department of Agronomy & Horticulture
  • Jerry Volesky, Professor, West Central Research & Extension Center
  • Bethany Johnston, Extension Educator, Panhandle Research & Extension Center
  • Jack Arterburn, Extension Educator, Panhandle Research & Extension Center
  • Daren Redfearn, Associate Professor, Department of Agronomy & Horticulture
  • Jay Parsons, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics

Outcomes of Integrating Cattle into Cropping Systems

field of wheat remnants

There are three realities that will affect future beef production systems:

  • Rapidly expanding population will require us to feed 9 – 10 people with the land base we currently have
  • Traditional perennial grasslands are declining and will continue to do so, thereby reducing the availability of traditional forage resources for beef production
  • It is difficult for young people to have the capitol to invest into land resources to enter into agriculture

The project will develop a cow/calf system without perennial forage that utilizes crop residues and annual forages following cereal grain production as forage resources for cows.

  • Daren Redfearn, Associate Professor, Department of Agronomy & Horticulture (Lead Investigator)
  • Humberto Blanco, Associate Professor, Department of Agronomy & Horticulture
  • Roger Elmore, Professor, Department of Agronomy & Horticulture
  • Robert Mitchell, Professor, Department of Agronomy & Horticulture and Research Agronomist, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Utilization of Annual Forages and Crop Residues in Developing a Year-round Grazing System

field of wheat remnants

Fall calving offers potential opportunities of integrating beef cattle production with farming systems. In the Midwest, fall calving helps to distribute the labor of the beef production and the farming enterprises across the year. The input/output relationships of these beef systems are poorly defined. Two management strategies are being examined. The first system is based on the premise that perennial summer forage is available. The system is designed to utilize perennial summer forage to support cows. Utilization of crop residue is incorporated into the system. The second system is based on utilization of harvested crop residue combined with the use of cover crops. This system is meant to integrate beef production into a farming system where perennial grass is not available.

  • Harvey Freetly, Researcher, USDA MARC, and Adjunct Professor, Department of Animal Science, (Lead Investigator)
  • Bob Cushman, Faculty, Department of Animal Science
  • Kristin Hales, Adjunct Professor, Department of Animal Science
  • Mary Drewnoski, Assistant Professor, Department of Animal Science
  • James MacDonald, Associate Professor, Department of Animal Science
  • Brian Vander Ley, Assistant Professor, Great Plains Vet Ed Center

Predicting Consequences of Changing Systems: Economic & Production Parameters

cattle in field

Agricultural production systems are complex interactions between many biological, environmental, and human factors. A study of such systems, especially integrated crop-livestock production systems, is difficult and time consuming to complete using experimental trials. This project will leverage the data produced from experimental production system trials into computer simulated case study farms that will provide a foundation for testing the proposed systems for robustness and resiliency. The case study models will be used to identify key variables, assess various risk scenarios, and test proposed new systems that will guide future research.

  • Jay Parsons, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics (Lead Investigator)
  • Mary Drewnoski, Assistant Professor, Department of Animal Science
  • Daren Redfearn, Associate Professor, Department of Agronomy & Horticulture
  • James MacDonald, Associate Professor, Department of Animal Science
  • Mitchell Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Panhandle Research & Extension Center
  • Matt Spangler, Associate Professor, Department of Animal Science

Producer & Community Outreach through Extension

researchers and extension personnel study grasslands

Decision making in farming and ranching is extremely complex as it often involves several interacting factors such as impacts on the soil, plants, animals, economics as well as social aspects. In addition to using the information produced as a part of the research component of this project, extension personnel will work with producers currently using management practices being examined and those interested in adopting new practices to serve as case studies/ demonstration sites. The team will develop and deliver information, and conduct educational activities that will enhance stakeholder understanding of:

  • Grazing management effects on harvest efficiency and long-term productivity of perennial grassland
  • Avenues for developing new or expanding existing beef enterprises by incorporating cattle into cropping systems
  • Beef cattle impacts on ecosystem services

Multistate Research Projects

The mission of the multistate research program is to enable research on high-priority topics among the State Agricultural Experiment Stations (SAES) in partnership with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), other research institutions and agencies, and with the Cooperative Extension Service (CES). In this way, technological opportunities and complex problem solving activities, which are beyond the scope of a single SAES, can be approached in a more efficient and comprehensive way.

Hatch-multistate projects are similar to Hatch-regular projects, but involve a team of investigators associated with several State Agricultural Experiment Stations working together to solve complex scientific problems of regional or national interest. Approximately 25 percent of the Hatch Act funds provided to the Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station (NEAES) are set aside to support multistate research activities. The Agricultural Research Division (IANR) encourages faculty to participate in Multistate (regional) Research Projects that benefit Nebraska and its citizens.

Enhancing Resiliency of Beef Production under Shifting Forage Resources

In order to maintain or increase the size of the US beef cow herd, improving the use of forage resources in a sustainable manner is essential. This project will 1) investigate strategies to optimize the sustainable use of the remaining range and pastureland, and 2) expand the use of alternative forages such as crop residues and annual forage crops.

Project Objectives
  1. Optimize the utilization of crop residues by grazing and harvesting, and determine the effects on agroecosystems.
  2. Evaluate strategies to increase efficient use and productivity of range and pasturelands through strategic timing and density of stocking and shifting species composition to more productive species.
  3. Evaluate effects of integrating annual forage crops into year-round forage systems for beef production.
  4. Develop innovative beef systems that match shifting forage resources.
  5. Conduct multi-faceted education/extension program to disseminate research results, to include extension papers as well as regional conferences on the use of crop residues, annual forages, and range and pastureland by livestock.
University of Nebraska Researchers
  • Deb Hamernik, Advisor (Associate Dean & Director of ARD)
  • Bruce Anderson
  • Jeff Bradshaw
  • Mary Drewnoski
  • John Guretzky
  • Karla Jenkins
  • James MacDonald
  • Jay Parsons
  • Daren Redfearn
  • Walter Schacht
  • Mitchell Stephenson
  • Jerry Volesky
Participating States
  • Tennessee
  • Nebraska
  • Kansas
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Michigan
  • Iowa

Management and Environmental Factors Affecting Nitrogen Cycling and Use Efficiency in Forage-Based Livestock Production Systems

cows at dawn in mist

Increased demand for meat products by consumers during past decades has encouraged producers to respond with an increased intensification of forage-based livestock production. Hence, there is an urgent need for scientific information to help producers make decisions about how to best manage rural landscapes and to produce agricultural commodities while maintaining soil, water, and air quality. Experiments will examine alternative strategies to enhance legume establishment and persistence, improve N harvest efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints in pastures; assess secondary plant metabolites in forage legumes for increased N retention and altered N cycling in dung and urine excretions from grazing ruminant animals; and quantify the effects of intensive pasture management strategies on N harvest efficiency and spatiotemporal patterns of N cycling in grassland agro-ecosystems.

Project Objectives
  1. Evaluate legume cultural and management strategies emphasizing legume establishment, N cycling and use efficiency, and GHG emissions. (AR, KY, NE, UT). Specific objectives: (i) identify practices that optimize legume establishment and persistence. (ii) Compare N cycling and use efficiency of ruminants grazing pastures with and without forage legumes. (iii) Determine the impact of legumes on the GHG footprint of livestock production systems.
  2. Assess the efficacy of secondary plant metabolites in legume species for increasing N retention and improving N cycling in forage-livestock systems. (AR, KY, MI, UT) Specific objectives: (i) Evaluate effects of birdsfoot trefoil, a tannin-containing legume, on N partitioning in dung and urine excretions. (ii) Determine soluble phenolic and genotypic effects of forage legume protein fractionation and nitrogen availability. (iii) Evaluate effects of genetic variability in tannin concentration on soil N availability in mixed birdsfoot trefoil/tall fescue swards.
  3. Quantify effects of pasture management strategies on N use efficiency by ruminant animals and N cycling in herbage and soils of grassland agro-ecosystems. (AR, NE, MI, OK) Specific objectives: (i) Investigate effects of management strategies that alter spatiotemporal distribution of grazing and nutritive value of forage on ruminant performance and N harvest efficiency. (ii) Evaluate effects of management strategies on herbage mass and accumulation, nutritive value, botanical composition, and N use efficiency across growing seasons and pasture landscapes. (iii) Determine N pool and cycling responses to management strategies across variable soil environments and climatic conditions. (iv) Evaluate byproduct supplementation as a source of N for annual forages in integrated cropping livestock systems.
  4. Disseminate research results through coordinated extension/education activities, including extension publications, university course material, and regional and state conference on nitrogen cycling and use efficiency and management of grass-legume mixtures. (AR, KY, MI, NE, OK, UT)
University of Nebraska Researchers
  • James MacDonald
  • Walter Schacht
  • John Guretzky
Participating States
  • Tennessee
  • Iowa
  • Ohio
  • Michigan
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Nebraska
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Kansas

Foundation for Food & Ag Research Grant (FFAR)

Enhancing Animal Protein Production through Crops & Cattle

cattle grazing

Our primary aim is to increase the efficiency of land use by increasing the amount of food produced per acre by incorporating beef cattle onto cropping systems while improving ecosystem services to ensure resiliency and sustainability. Our specific objectives for this project are to:

  • Evaluate the effects of traditional and integrated forage production systems on cow/calf production,
  • Quantify the impacts of incorporating beef cows onto existing farmland on crop production and soil health,
  • Quantify GHG emissions and water budgets from replicated production-scale systems utilized in Objective 1,
  • Develop applicable budgets and financial performance indicators, and conducting socio-economic analyses associated with adoption of the new crop-livestock system, and
  • Deliver the results of the project to producers, students, and the scientific community.

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