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Evaluation of an Integrated Crop and Beef Cattle Operation

Background / Justification

Illinois farmers are faced with the difficult decision each year of determining what crops to grow and trying to predict what will be the most profitable. Cash rent for cropland continues to increase. Input costs have risen the last few years and are very unpredictable. The combination of higher land and input costs combined with potentially lower crop prices may force farmers to investigate alternative systems. Farmers in Illinois that have a diversified crop and cattle operation may have more opportunities to capture value out of the land. Summer annual forage crops may provide opportunity for increased production. Teff is a major annual cereal crop in Ethiopia and has been grown as a hay crop in other African countries. Because of its high quality, rapid growth, and adaptation to dry climates, Teff has gained popularity in the U.S. Teff can be hayed or grazed and is excellent feed for beef cattle.

Beef cattle producers continue to search for lower cost alternative feed sources. Feed costs hit a record high in 2008. Although, feed prices have dropped off from summer highs, the future is still unpredictable. Feed costs account for over 60% of the total costs associated with maintaining a beef cow and are the largest detriment to profitability for beef producers. Producers can save money on stored feed costs by grazing crop residue and stockpiled grass. Cattle could graze corn residue and stockpiled Teff during the early months of fall and winter, and be supplemented with harvested Teff during the later winter months. Farmers need more information on how to utilize summer annuals such as Teff as part of their crop rotation as well as part of their feed resources for their beef cattle operation. An integrated crop and beef cattle system would allow Illinois farmers to capture the most value out of each acre of land.

Objectives

  1. Compare the profitability of summer annual forage (Teff), soybeans, and corn
  2. Determine the grazing days, cow performance, and cost of cows grazing corn and soybean residue, stockpiled Teff, and harvested Teff
  3. Determine grazing days, grazing costs, and cow performance of cows grazing spring and summer pastures with every 3rd day supplementation of corn gluten feed
  4. Determine the feasibility and economic impact of an integrated crop and cattle operation

Approach / Methodology

Allocation of land
The 159 acres of cropland is divided into 3 replications. Each replication includes 5 acres that has been and will continue to be continuous corn. Each replication will also include 24 additional acres of corn, 12 acres of soybeans, and 12 acres of Teff (annual forage crop). There are also 60 acres of pasture that are divided into 3 replications with 8 paddocks (2.5 acres each) in each replication. The land allocation is shown in figure 1.

Management of Teff
The Teff grass will be seeded in mid-May. The first cutting will be harvested 45 days following seeding. The hay will be harvested and transported off the farm. Following an additional 45 days, the second cutting of hay will be harvested and stored in the field to be used during the winter grazing period. After the second cutting, the Teff will be allowed to re-grow and rather than harvest a third cutting the Teff will be stockpiled and left standing for grazing during the fall and winter.

Summer grazing of pasture
75 cows (3 groups of 25) will graze the pastures from mid-April until mid-August depending on rainfall. The cows will be supplemented every 3rd day with corn gluten feed from mid-June until mid-August. The paddocks will be allowed to rest and after fall re-growth, 75 cows (3 groups of 25) will again graze the pasture until mid-October.

Fall-Winter grazing of cropland
75 cows (3 groups of 25) will graze the cropland from mid-October until mid-February. The cows will strip-graze the corn and soybean residue as well as the stockpiled Teff grass. The cows will also have access to the harvested 2nd cutting of Teff hay. The harvested Teff hay will provide necessary protein to supplement the crop residue as well as provide available feed during snow and ice events.

Impact / Potential Synergies

This project will provide crop and beef producers with an evaluation of the feasibility and economic impact of an integrated crop and beef cattle operation. It is difficult for farmers to assess a value to residue and forage grazing. This project will provide valuable information that will assist in the decision to allocate land to different crops. Because this is a one year project the effects of this system on subsequent soil characteristics and crop yield will not be evaluated. A long term project would allow for a very integrated multi-disciplinary project that looks at the impact on cattle production, crop production, and soil characteristics.

Potential for DSystems Program

This project has tremendous potential to become a multidisciplinary long-term DSystems Program. To fully evaluate the long term impact of this management practice, yield data as well as soil characteristics should be collected and evaluated. To fully evaluate the effects of grazing corn and soybean crop residue and stockpiled Teff on future yield and soil characteristics, there should not only be a control plot that is not grazed, but also a control corn plot that has the residue mechanically harvested. There are preliminary data that suggest that mechanical removal of crop residue can actually improve crop yields. The potentially negative effects of grazing on compaction could be offset by residue removal. Economic analysis also should be done on a long term project to determine the total dollars of revenue that could be generated per acre when crops and beef cattle are raised on the same land. A DSystems Program evaluating corn, soybeans, and Teff rotation with fall and winter grazing of beef cattle would generate research data pertaining to beef production, crop production, soil characteristics, and overall economics of an integrated system.

Intended Outreach

The research team will disseminate results at a wide array of producer meetings and industry events. The results will be published in the Illinois Beef magazine, Illinois Agri-News, Illini BeefNet (online resource), Departmental Beef Research Report, and other extension publications. Animal Systems Extension Educators will play a key role in assisting with on farm implementation and dissemination to producers. This project will be producer focused, with the expectation that the results of this study could provide for immediate implantation in Christian County and on Illinois farms.

Timeline

April, 2009 – Plant corn and soybeans/ cows begin grazing pastures May, 2009 – Seed Teff grass June, 2009 – Begin corn gluten feed supplementation July, 2009 – Harvest first cutting of Teff August, 2009 – Harvest 2nd cutting of Teff/ cows end summer grazing September, 2009 – Cows graze re-growth of pastures October, 2009 – Harvest corn and soybeans/ cows begin grazing cropland March, 2010 – Cows end winter grazing of cropland June, 2010 – Begin dissemination of results through extension meetings and beef seminars

Qualifications and Experience of Principle Investigators

Daniel W. Shike (PhD) has an active research program in the UIUC Dept. of Animal Sciences focusing on heifer development and cow/calf nutrition and management. He has done considerable work with feeding corn co-products and crop residues to cows. He was involved with a previous Dudley Smith project as a graduate student.

Dan B. Faulkner (PhD) has an active research program in the UIUC Dept. of Animal Sciences focusing on cow/calf nutrition and management systems to produce high quality beef. He has been involved with past Dudley Smith projects and is very familiar with Dudley Smith Farm.

Alan J. Miller (PhD) is the Integrated Resource Management/ Standardized Performance Analysis coordinator in the UIUC Dept. of Animal Sciences. He has vast experience in the economic evaluation of integrated cattle operations.

Edward N. Ballard (MS) is a retired Animal Systems Educator. He is still actively involved with overseeing and coordinating the cattle grazing system at the Dudley Smith Farm.