Sul Ross State University researchers awarded $245,000 grant to develop sustainable cattle.
Scott Ericsson and Bonnie Warnock, faculty members at Sul Ross State University (SRSU), Alpine, TX, have received a five-year, $245,370.26 grant from the Dixon Water Foundation to develop a biological type of cattle through utilization of traditional Hereford genetics.
The project will utilize Hereford bull semen frozen since the 1960s, and donated by the National Animal Germplasm Program, to artificially inseminate the SRSU cowherd and the Mimms Ranch cowherd. Production traits and carcass merit will be assessed during the grant period to ascertain the feasibility of developing a biological type of cattle for a sustainable grass-finished, cow-calf operation.
It’s envisioned that at the end of this project, there will be two nucleus herds in which bulls can be produced as herd sires for crossbreeding in a commercial grass-finished cow-calf operation.
Ericsson is a professor of animal science, and Warnock is an associate professor and chair of natural resource management, in SRSU’s School of Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.
Sustainable beef production requires that a specific biological type of cattle (puberty, calving ease, mature weight, rebreeding and longevity) be matched to the most economically available feed resources. Generally the “most economical” feed resources would be grazed forages rather than harvested or supplemented feeds. The majority of the market cattle produced in the U.S. are fed concentrates in the feedlot prior to harvest. This method of beef production isn’t sustainable due to the rising costs of energy, increasing price of corn, and reduction-contamination of underground water supplies.
Over the past several decades, the selective emphasis on cattle for increased frame size, growth rate and mature size has negatively affected many production traits such as calving ease and increasing brood cow maintenance costs. These modern types of cattle require substantially more resources (financial, land/forage and labor) than previous biological types of cattle.
Cattle with traditional Hereford genetics were hardy, early maturing and capable of fattening on grazed forage, Ericsson says. “These cattle had good fertility and were easy calving with excellent mothering-milking qualities. In addition, they were docile, easily managed and had great longevity. These cattle could efficiently and economically convert grass into beef products without having to grain-finish them in order to produce a quality carcass. The National Animal Germplasm Program has conserved these traditional Hereford genetics in the form of frozen semen and has allowed industry and the research community to access the collection of semen from bulls born from the 1960s to the present.”
Ericsson adds that diet-health perceptions have raised consumer demand for grass-finished beef, as there is some evidence that grass-fed beef might have some health advantages over grain-fed beef. The more environmentally friendly nature and reduced animal welfare concerns of grass-finished beef production when compared to grain-fed beef production have also increased consumer demand for an entirely grass-fed beef product. Uruguay and Argentina still employ grass-based finishing systems and effectively market their beef in Europe.
-- Sul Ross State University news release