BCI Research Update: Cow-Calf Management Strategies to Impact Sustainability of the Beef Industry

Management decisions in the cow-calf sector can alter the sustainability of the beef industry by impacting land usage, water usage, and greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle producers need to be profitable to maintain their livelihoods, but also need to sustain the environment they depend on for cattle production; balancing these two requirements can be a struggle. In a recent study conducted at Washington State University, a modeled system evaluated the impact of reproductive, nutrition, and genetic management decisions on the environment.

When evaluating the efficiencies of pasture/land management the optimized diet for environmental purposes was a rotational grazing system that incorporated irrigation and fertilization for the spring, summer, and fall grazing seasons. It also included a winter management strategy of utilizing grass hay. While this system might not be financially suitable for all producers, it is based on the conclusion that increased land efficiency leads to more pounds of beef produced/acre which optimized sustainability in the model. Management strategies such as reducing the length of the calving season resulted in a heaver, more uniform calf crop, while also reducing the environmental impact. Another strategy that reduced the environmental impact was early weaning. Early weaning calves had an increased growth rate post-weaning, but this strategy did come with extra feed expense. Utilizing EPD’s as a tool for bull selection had a similar impact on the environment regardless of whether or not AI was used. Environmental impact was greatly reduced when utilizing EPD’s as a selection tool for bulls was combined with reducing the calving season length. The bonus for this combined strategy was the impact on economically important traits such as more uniform and had increased weaning and finishing weights. There was also a decrease in calving difficulty, as well as an increase in herd fertility.

Realizing that these results will not be optimal for all producers across the US, due to differences in climate, feed sources, etc., the study concludes that optimized management strategies positively influence production efficiency and decrease the environmental impact of cattle production.

Cow-calf reproductive, genetic, and nutritional management to improve the sustainability of whole beef production systems
Journal of Animal Science 2015.93
R. R. White, M. Brady, J. L. Capper, J. P. McNamara, and K. A. Johnson Link to full article. 


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