Beef cattle research looks at raising more cows on less land
A new study by the University of Illinois shows midwestern beef production can work well in a year-round dry lot or confinement setting when pasture is limited or unavailable.
Lead researcher Dan Shike tells Brownfield with more acres being converted to cropland, land for pasture is getting harder to access and many beef producers are looking for alternatives to expand their herds. Their two-year study compared the performance and behavior of cow/calf herds in a pasture grazing scenario vs a dry lot with feed rations.
“It is hard to beat rotational grazing and letting the cows harvest for themselves, but if you are wanting to expand your beef herd and you don’t have access to pasture, I do think we have options. Particularly here where we have access to a lot of different feedstuffs.”
He says the dry lot cows performed well, maintaining body weight, condition and reproductive rates and even increased milk production. The dry lot calves also showed increased performance throughout the pre-weaning phase, having a higher rate of gain.
He says the only notable downfall in the dry lot scenario was an increase in foot problems.
“We did treat a little more foot rot and digital dermatitis in those dry lot cows, but I do believe that is something that can be managed. We need to do more work on and keep an eye on that.”
Shike says they did not do an economic analysis, but it is important to note that a confinement system will require more labor and feed, which is something each induvial operation will need to evaluate.
Undergraduate students in a USDA funded training program called I-BELIEF also helped with the study which was funded by the Iowa Beef Industry Council.