Clemson cattle researchers see green pastures as a way for ranchers and consumers to cope with the costs of the 2012 corn fizzle. Scientists are investigating pasture-finished beef, where cattle grow to market size on grasses instead of feedlot corn.
Drought and sweltering temperatures in the central U.S. have caused corn prices to nearly double since last year as the harvest withers. The price is forcing cattle producers, who fatten herds in corn-fed feedlots, to look for ways to trim their costs. Consumers, too, have a stake in this: Beef prices are expected rise in the supermarket as ranchers reduce their herds.
“I believe the sell-off is primarily due to drought and unproductive pastures, but the high corn prices will certainly drive up feedlot costs and may decrease prices for animals headed to the Midwest for finishing,” said John Andrae, forage and pasture expert for the Clemson University Extension Service.
Andrae is a member of the university’s Center for Nutritional Physiology and Metabolism, which seeks to improve livestock genetics, health, nutrition and dinner-plate appeal. Center researchers, including director Susan Duckett, Tom Jenkins, Scott Pratt and Andrae, reported study results that can help Southeastern cattle ranchers raise cattle to market weight — called “finishing” — without corn or with less of it, reducing the time and expense of using corn-based feedlots.
The researchers held a workshop Tuesday evening at the Simpson Station, Clemson’s beef research farm in Pendleton to summarize two studies conducted over the last five years.
One study focused on five forage species for finishing beef cattle in the summer. Forages are bermudagrass, pearl millet, chicory, alfalfa and cowpea.
“This study presents alternatives for growing and finishing cattle in hot months,” Duckett said. “These forages can be used as options to grow cattle to heavier weights for finishing on grass/forage alone or cattle could be placed in a feedlot and finished for a shorter period of time on corn grain after grazing on these forages.”
The second study is ongoing, comparing grasses and legumes, such as soybeans and alfalfa, said Duckett, who holds the Ernest L. Corley Jr. Trustees Endowed Chair in animal and veterinary sciences.
“We are in the middle of a study examining grazing an all-grass forage chain and comparing it to an all-legume forage chain,” she said. “Within each chain half of the animals are receiving a moderate amount of corn to improve weight gain and reduce the stress on pastures.”
The South Carolina cattle industry in 2010 had a total of 385,000 cattle and calves and 16,000 milk cows, with a market value of approximately $157 million, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. The state ranked 39th nationally for cattle and calves; Texas ranked first. The leading cattle county in South Carolina was Anderson, followed by Laurens, Newberry, Saluda and York.