NC1181: Optimizing land use for beef cattle production

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

NC1181: Optimizing land use for beef cattle production

Duration: 10/01/2019 to 09/30/2024

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

Cow/calf production is a vital component of the agricultural economies of the states in the North Central Region (NCR). The states of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota alone have 8.2 million head of beef cows, which comprise over 25% of the nation's beef cows; adding the remaining states in the NCR brings that number to almost 11 million. This region accounts for 35% of the nation's beef cow herd (USDA, 2018). However, the number of cows in the region has steadily declined. We hypothesize that the reduction in cow numbers in the NCR is directly related to the loss of perennial forage resources due to land conversion to row crops such as corn and soybeans. Production of ethanol from corn, oil and oilseed co-products from soybeans, increased worldwide demand for wheat, and high crude oil prices caused a shift in land use in the NCR. During the time period of 1998 to 2008, the cropland acres in the states of ND, SD, NE and KS increased from 80.1 million to 82.8 million. This increase continued over the next decade as well with cropland acres rising to 85.0 million in 2018. Much of the increase in cropland (5 million acres) that occurred in the region over the past two decades resulted from the conversion of acres producing perennial forages. This has resulted in a reduction of the summer grassland acres in the NCR, while croplands with grazeable crop residues and the potential for double cropped fall and winter annual forages (cover crops) are increasing. This land conversion process does provide an opportunity for fall, winter, and early spring grazing, but reduces the amount of summer forages available. Concomitant with the decrease in acres of perennial forages is a decrease in the size of the US beef cow herd. Using the same time period of 1998-2018, the US cow herd declined from 42.8 million to 31.2 million, a loss of 11.6 million head (NASS, 2018). During the same period, beef cows in the 12 states of the NCR declined from 14.1 million to 10.8 million (NASS, 2018).  A large proportion of the decline (3 million head; 29%) of US beef cows numbers during the last two decades were lost in the NCR. The decrease in supply of perennial acres has also resulted in doubling of the rental rates for range and pastureland in the NCR.  Rental rates per animal unit month increased 35% from 1998 to 2008 and an additional 45% from 2008 to 2017 in the states of ND, SD, NE and KS (NASS, 2018).  This has resulted in significant increases in annual cow carrying costs. Thus to support or enhance the size of the region’s cattle herd, greater production and/or greater harvest efficiency of perennial grazinglands and/or alternative systems that do not rely on summer perennial forages are needed.

We propose to: investigate strategies to optimize the sustainable use of the remaining range and pastureland, expand the use of alternative forages such as crop residues, annual forages and double cropped annual forages, and develop integrated crop-cattle systems that optimize resource use and net returns. The loss of range and pastureland to cropland has increased the production pressure on the remaining land mass now producing perennial forages. These lands must be managed to efficiently capture the available forage resource, but in a sustainable manner so that long-term degradation does not occur. Harvest efficiency will increase linearly as grazing pressure is increased on pastures; however, individual animal performance will generally decrease with increased grazing pressure (Smart et al., 2010). To maintain animal production, strategies need to be explored to either increase available forage on grazinglands or to mitigate depressed animal gains as grazinglands receive greater grazing pressure. Greater forage production may potentially be attainable on the same land area by methods which shift species composition toward more productive species (Smart and Owens, 2008), or by incorporation of annual forage production such as interseeding warm season annuals into cool season pastures. Alternatively, strategies that alter the timing and density of animal stocking may enable an increase in animal production without increasing land area used (Owensby et al., 2008; Harmoney and Jaeger, 2011).

Capturing the expanding forage resources that are available with increased cropping systems is critical to the future of the US beef industry, especially in the NCR.  Integrated cow/calf systems have the potential to allow producers to capitalize on locally available feed resources to summer cattle such as harvested crop residues and other crop byproducts (for example distillers grains) and to use forages produced on cropland such as crop residues and cover crops (double cropped annual forages) to feed cattle in the fall, winter, and spring.  As crop yields increase, so does the non-grain biomass (residues). However, removal of the residue biomass, whether by grazing or harvest, must be optimized so that land productivity is not compromised long term. The use of cover crops is known to improve soil characteristics while producing high quality forage. However, data evaluating grazing of cover crops are limited, especially in Midwestern cropping systems. Additionally, as grain prices change with time, some producers may find it beneficial to integrate annual forages for livestock production into their production system to maximize profit. Within these integrated systems optimization of animal management, including timing of calving, feeding management of cows and calves when confined, and health management are also vitally important.

Our project addresses priority research objectives established under the guidelines for Multi-State Research Projects of the North Central Regional Association under two broad areas: 1) agriculture production, processing and distribution, and 2) natural resources and the environment. This project will specifically meet the regional objectives to 1) design economically and environmentally sound methods to convert biomass and secondary products into food and nonfood uses, 2) develop alternative agricultural production systems to enhance economic competitiveness in the rural landscape, and 3) develop guidelines for optimal economic, social and environmental management of non-cropped farm and natural ecosystems and for restoration of damaged ecosystems. This project will be conducted at research stations throughout the NCR. Participants have access to experimental pastures and cropland, livestock handling and feeding facilities, and laboratories at their respective institutions. Researchers at the participating institutions have a history of successful collaborative research through previous committees. The advantages of a multi-state effort include synergistic relationships among multi-disciplinary colleagues at the different institutions, ability to evaluate management practices over wide north-to-south and east-to-west climatic gradients, and the ability to disseminate research findings to a broad regional audience. Several project faculty members have cooperative extension appointments and will assist with the dissemination of research findings. The conversion of range and pasturelands to cropland is widespread in these states, and the potential to incorporate beef production into crop production systems is high. The opportunity to expand beef production is great in the states of the NCR because of the biomass resulting from expanding cropping systems, including crop residues, double cropped annual forages and crop co-products. Furthermore, perennial grass forages still encompass a major portion of the NCR; the land area potentially affected by effective management of rangeland and the number of producers that could benefit is extensive. Collaborative extension efforts will aid in reaching this broad audience.

The likely impacts from successfully completing this work include: 1) Increased knowledge of grazing and management strategies to shift pastures to more productive species, 2) Increase in the forage production output of perennial grasslands, 3) Development of strategies for incorporation of double cropped annual forage production into cropping systems, 4) Implementation of animal management systems that match timing of forage supplies, and 5) Increased understanding and development of systems for management of cows with limited perennial acres. The economic impact of beef production has been estimated to be from $1850 to $5200 per cow, depending on whether or not the economic impact of the feeder and finishing sector is separated from the cow/calf sector. If the cow herd were expanded from 31 million head to 35 million head as a result of the strategies proposed herein, the economic impact would be estimated at $7.4 billion for the cow-calf sector, and over $20 billion for the beef industry as a whole. Much of the potential to expand the cow herd exists in the NCR because of the potential use of traditional and non-traditional forages and co-products in the region.

Related, Current and Previous Work

Several regional committees work in the general area of forage use and beef cattle. One regional committee (W1012) deals with forage use by ruminants, but the focus of this committee is validating research techniques (alkane assays) in beef production. Another multistate project (W1010) deals with feed efficiency of individual animals. The other multistate project (NC1182) deals with nitrogen cycling, loading, and use. No projects are focused on alternative forages and cow systems proposed in this project.

This project was preceded by the multistate project NC1181entitled Enhancing resiliency of beef production under shifting forage resources. The group identified forage resources as a primary limitation to beef production in the next decade. Strategies were developed to take advantage of available forage resources now and in the future. 

The objectives of this previous project were to:

  • Optimize the utilization of crop residues by grazing and harvesting, and determine the effects on agroecosystems.

  • Evaluate strategies to increase efficient use and productivity of range and pasturelands through strategic timing and density of stocking and shifting species composition to more productive species.

  • Evaluate effects of integrating annual forage crops into year-round forage systems for beef production.

  • Develop innovative beef systems that match shifting forage resources.

  • Conduct multi-faceted education/extension program to disseminate research results, to include extension papers as well as regional conferences on the use of crop residues, annual forages, and range and pastureland by livestock

The current prosed project seeks to build on the knowledge gained in the past project. A significant amount of progress was made in the area of grazing corn residue in the winter. The research conducted showed that beef producers can graze corn residue without detrimental effects on the soil or subsequent corn grain productivity (Drewnoski et al., 2016; Rakkar et al., 2017; Rakkar et al, 2018; Ulmer et al., 2018). The group also began exploring the potential for capitalizing on excess feedlot capacity by using intensive cow management system. Data indicate that confinement of cowherds may be a viable alternative when forage resources for grazing are limited and that corn residues may complement an intensive cow-calf production system. Results from economic analyses of alternative cow-calf systems suggest that incorporating corn residue grazing decreased production costs (Gardine et al., 2017).  It was also found that confinement systems were most profitable when cows were fed a nutrient dense diet with limited intake (Jenkins et al., 2015; Warner et al., 2015). However, there is much left to evaluate related to pasture vs. partial confinement and cropland based systems, including: the long term productivity of the cow, best management practices for the confined nursing calf, and strategic use of cover crops or annual forages within the system.

Some methods of increasing efficiency when using traditional grasslands without damaging botanical ecosystems were explored to provide recommendations to producers. Although mob grazing, using ultrahigh stocking density during the growing season, is commonly reported to increase aboveground plant production and to increase soil organic matter and soil depth, we have found no improvement in vegetation characteristics or soil properties relative to other grazing strategies after 7 years on Sandhills meadows. Furthermore, mob grazing has not resulted in an increase in harvest efficiency, carrying capacity, or livestock performance. The additional infrastructure and human resource requirements of mob grazing compared to other grazing strategies does not appear to be justified.  However, using management practices that mimic modified early intensive stocking to increase beef cattle stocking density for breeding herds appears to allow producers to maintain or increase cow numbers for beef production on fewer perennial grassland resources. In Missouri, Iowa, eastern Nebraska and eastern Kansas cool season perennials (smoothbrome grass or tall fescue) are the predominate grasses in pasture. The majority of their forage production is in the spring, and in the fall to a lesser extent, leaving a summer “gap” in forage availability and quality. The interseeding of annual warm-season grasses was explored to provide some much-needed forage during that period. A two-year experiment suggested that the practice may have merit given the forage production potential (Harmoney and Guretzky, 2018). However, effects on the productivity and botanical composition of existing perennial cool-season grass pastures and the potential interactions with cattle grazing need to be evaluated. Strategically incorporating annual forages into existing perennial grass pastures may provide: 1) options for an extended grazing season, 2) greater forage production on the same acres, and 3) options for weed control and mitigation of forage production losses experienced when renovating pastures that have been invaded by undesirable species. Future research will evaluate seeding rates of annual forages, use at a larger pasture scale, and use in pasture renovation to native grasses.

Understanding the influence of grazing management strategies with both spatial (e.g., upland and subirrigated lowland meadows) and temporal (e.g., precipitation) variability is important for the efficient use of rangelands in the Northern Great Plains. Upland rangelands provide an important forage resource for many cattle producers in the Northern Great Plains, which supports about 20% of the US cowherd. Subirrigated meadows and similar types of subirrigated or seasonally wet environments, while not as expansive as upland rangelands, are common throughout the Great Plains and provide many opportunities for livestock grazing and haying. For example, subirrigated meadows only account for 10% of the total acres in the Sandhills region of Nebraska, but are up to 6 times more productive than adjacent upland rangelands (Volesky et al. 2004). Grazing and haying management strategies that optimize livestock production while maintaining appropriate ecosystem function and services will provide flexible options for extreme climate events (i.e., drought and wet years) in the future. Evaluation of different grazing, burning, and haying strategies provides insight into how to more efficiently utilize both upland and lowland areas while understanding potential ecologic and production tradeoffs to the management strategies in the North Central United States.

The group also explored the use of cover crops as an additional forage resource. The majority of the work explored the opportunity to incorporate winter sensitive annuals into wheat or corn silage systems (Cox-O’Neil et al, 2017; Farney et al, 2018). Forage production typically ranged from 2,500 to 4,500 kg DM/ha when planted in August but timeliness of planting was key. These late summer planted small grains and brassica have high nutritive value and can be used to cost effectively grow calves post weaning (Drewnoski et al., 2018). Oats (Avena sativa L.) typically has the greatest fall growth of the small grains often used as cover crops. However, it nearly always winter-kills in the Midwest. Thus, the committee is planning on exploring the option of planting simple mixtures of winter and spring small grain species in late summer/early fall to increase the chance of producing both fall and spring grazing. Cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) is very winter hardy with short winter dormant periods and is often the first of the small grains to begin growth the following spring. Oats will provide the majority of the forage during the fall. It will winterkill, then the cereal rye will provide early spring grazing. Preliminary data from the previous project suggests that there may be a small synergistic effect (≈500 kg/ha) in fall growth from planting a mixture of cereal rye and oats at an earlier planting date but at later planting dates, this effect disappeared. There is also a need to explore the use of cover crops for forage in corn grain and soybean systems as these make up a significant amount of the crop production in the North Central Region. Cattle performance data are limited for spring grazing of small grain forage crops in the North Central Region. Data is available for the Southeast and Southern Plains where small grains are grazed during winter growth. Given differences in growing conditions and cropping systems, cattle performance data specific to North Central Region is needed.  Currently, cereal rye is preferred because of earlier and greater spring forage yields than other winter-hardy small grain cereals (Maloney et al., 1999). However, it matures earlier resulting in lower forage nutritive value. Additionally, cereal rye can contaminate winter wheat grown for grain resulting in lower grain quality. Thus, when using these small grains as forage sources within a cropping system there are potential trades-offs for each of the species.

Increasing cover crop establishment success in grain crop systems can lead to economic benefits from forage production (Franzluebbers and Stuedemann, 2014; Mirsky et al., 2011). Despite these potential agronomic and economic benefits, the primary challenge of integrating cover crops into a grain crop production system is timely establishment of cover crops (Bich et al., 2014; Hively & Cox, 2001; Johnson et al., 1998; Wortmann et al., 2012). When planted following cash crop harvest, a window that typically ranges from mid-September to late-October, cover crops may not have time to produce significant biomass prior to the onset of cold weather. Therefore, using shorter-season cash crops that are harvested earlier, and consequently, planting cover crops earlier may increase biomass production potential and increase potential benefits. To fully realize this alternative system, and to persuade adoption, systems must be economically robust (Blanco et al., 2015; Weil and Kremen, 2006). One advantage of using lower maturity group soybean varieties is an earlier harvest time, which could increase fall forage growth as well as spring forage potential. For example, early maturity group cultivars (< 1.0) were harvested late-August to early-September, whereas the later maturity group varieties (> 3.5) were harvested from early- to mid-October. This is a difference near 30 to 45 days. Previous work with triticale (x Triticosecale) in southern Iowa suggests that planting triticale in mid-September increased early May forage yield by 1350 kg/ha compared with a mid-October planting (Schwarte et al., 2005). However, using early maturity group varieties can reduce yield in soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.]. This points out a critical economic trade-off between soybean yield and forage production and suggests that enhanced evaluation of economic market conditions under different production scenarios is needed.


  1. Enhance productivity and efficient use of pasture, rangeland, and other forage resources
  2. Create and evaluate opportunities to incorporate forage production within cropping systems
  3. Develop management strategies for cows/calf systems that use limited or no perennial pasture
  4. Assess economic performance, resiliency, and adaptability of the systems and management practices explored
  5. Improve stakeholder understanding of the systems and management practices evaluated


Objective 1.

Old world bluestem (Bothriochloa spp.) and smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis) have become increasingly invasive in Kansas and Nebraska (Hickman et al. 2018).  Studies will be conducted near Lincoln, NE, North Platte, NE, and Hays, KS to compare the use of herbicides, cover crops, and annual forages to revegetate invaded old world bluestem and smooth bromegrass in native rangelands.  Replicated study plots will be monitored for control of the invasive grasses and density, cover, and biomass of native species, cover crops, and seeded annual forages. The use of cover crops may aid weed control and mitigate the loss of production experienced when renovating pastures that have been invaded by undesirable, weedy species. 

Studies also will be conducted at these locations during the first three years of the project to evaluate effects of seeding rate of annual warm-season grass species (sudangrass, crabgrass, and teff) on productivity and botanical composition of existing perennial cool-season grass pastures. Experiments will be seeded in new areas of each pasture but in the same soil type during the first two years.  Botanical composition will be assessed during the 2nd and 3rd years to determine lasting impacts of interseeding on the existing cool-season grasses.  In years 2-5, an additional experiment will be conducted at Mead, NE to determine how cattle stocking density influences success of annual warm-season grasses interseeding, forage composition, and cattle weight gains in interseeded smooth bromegrass pastures.

Effects of stocking density and grazing duration on grazing land productivity, use efficiency, and ecological site health will be evaluated on Sandhills upland range. While many ecosystems in the northern Great Plains are generally considered strong functionally, it is possible that management regimes providing a wide range of disturbance treatments, including a mosaic of extreme long-term and intensive grazing followed by long periods of recovery, could increase habitat value, biological diversity, and ecological resilience. Evaluated treatments will have a wide range in the level of management intensity, stocking rates, stocking density, number of days grazed per season, and period of grazing within a season. The number of days grazed per season will be 3, 38, or 150.  These days simulate the grazing period length occurring in a 50-pasture rotation system, a 4-pasture rotation, and a season-long continuous system.  Each of these grazing period length treatments will be at two stocking rate levels, 1.85 AUM/ha and 2.77 AUM/ha. The 1.85 AUM/ha stocking rate is considered moderate for the ecological sites at this location. Treatments will compare the tradeoffs between ecosystem services and livestock production on rangelands.  Key response variables that will be measured include (1) herbage production, (2) botanical composition, (3) spatial distribution of grazing, and (4) soil characteristics. Our experiment is planned for 4 to 8 years to test treatments under a variety of climatic conditions and because plant community and soil nutrient changes may occur slowly as they respond to cumulative effects of the grazing treatments.

Grazing management on subirrigated meadows will be evaluated to explore options to improve the forage quality and quantity within a grazed and hayed management system. A study will be conducted that evaluates the use of 1) early-season fire and 2) grazing to reduce the amount of carryover standing dead plant material and increase forage quality of hay later in the growing season. The effect of previous year’s grazing on hay regrowth will be evaluated in research paddocks that are grazed at moderate and heavy levels in the fall and winter. Fall grazing on regrowth of hayed subirrigated meadows has often been recommended as an economically favorable management option to reduce fall and winter feed costs (Adams et al. 1994). However, limited research has evaluated how grazing plant regrowth following haying impacts the subsequent year’s hay production on Sandhills meadows. Different grazing intensities (i.e., no grazing, moderate grazing, heavy grazing) will be applied on 0.1 acre plots set up in a randomized complete block with 4 replications in early October (i.e., pre-freeze) and in mid-December (i.e., post-freeze) in two meadow pastures. Forage will be harvested from the plots during the subsequent year growing season to evaluate the influence of the time, intensity, and the interaction of time/intensity of grazing during the fall and winter on plant production. Plots will be managed under the same management strategies for at least 3 years to evaluate the cumulative effect of these grazing treatments on subirrigated meadow hay production. In Missouri and southern Iowa, tall fescue is the dominate perennial pasture grass. Two experiments will evaluate the incorporation of late winter prescribed fire into tall fescue forage systems. Our hypothesis is that late winter prescribed fires in tall fescue pastures will reduce ergot alkaloid-accumulating seed heads and reduced exposure to seed heads will improve beef cattle productivity.  In the first experiment 40 plots will randomly assign to be either 1) burned in early March, 2) burned in early April, 3) not burned (control), or 4) mowed during winter to simulate aboveground biomass removal from grazing.  During the growing season, monthly forage samples will be taken for analysis of nutritive value, presence of ergot alkaloids (total ergot alkaloids and ergovaline).  The second experiment will graze lightweight weaned cattle (~200 kg) on endophyte-infected tall fescue pastures that had been burned in late winter (March) or not burned.  Both “toxic” K31 and novel endophyte-infected pastures will be used, in a 2x2 factorial treatment arrangement. Each paddock (n=16; 1.80 ha) will be grazed by 6 steers per paddock for 90 days, beginning in April and repeating each spring for three years.  Cattle performance (weight), prolactin concentration (coccygeal venipuncture during individual animal weighing), rectal and tail-skin temperatures will be recorded at 30 day intervals.  Additionally, we will characterize botanical composition of forages in pastures, forage production, and seed head production by tall fescue at the end of the experiment.

Objective 2.

Experiments will be conducted in Kanas and Nebraska to evaluate the use of both monocultures and mixtures of cool-season and warm-season annual forages in place of various cash crops or within traditional cropping systems to provide forage that can be grazed or mechanically harvested. Likewise, monocultures and mixtures of cool-season annual forages and warm-season annual forages that can be double-cropped and used as forage resources will be evaluated in alternative cropping systems such as those that include spring pea (Pisium sativum L.) or small cereals harvested for grain in eastern NE. Additionally, three experiments will be conducted that evaluate crop production and economic impacts of incorporating a range of soybean maturity groups and winter-hardy small grain forages into cropping systems. Timing of small grain forage planting dates will impact the amount of cover achieved in the fall and the amount of spring growth. Additionally, species selection could potentially have impacts on forage quantity and forage nutritive value, thereby affecting economics. Current work assessing soybean maturity group grain yields will be linked with planting date studies using winter wheat, cereal rye, and winter triticale and planted at dates that correspond to soybean maturity group harvest. Spring forage biomass and forage nutritive value will be measured and the impact of species selection on growing calf performance will be evaluated.

Objective 3.

Four experiments will be conducted to evaluate cow systems that use little or no perennial grass. In eastern Nebraska, an experiment will be conducted over 3 years, in which fall calving cows will be managed using cropland grazing and summer confinement compared to a perennial forage based system. The inputs and costs, health of the cows and calves and production parameters (pregnancy rate, live calves born and weaned, weaning weight etc.) will be evaluated to determine potential feasibility and profitability.  During the summer, pairs in drylot will be fed a distillers and corn residue based diet and those on pasture will be rotational grazed and given free choice mineral.  In October, cows on the drylot treatment will move to annual forage for grazing and those on perennial pasture will start receiving supplemental feed. In January, all cow-calf pairs will start grazing corn residue and be provided with a distillers based supplement. In the middle of February, calves will be weaned and all cows will receive harvested feed until April at which time the perennial pasture treatment will start grazing while the cows on drylot will continue to remain in drylot. A subset of cows in each treatment will be fitted with accelerometers to quantify standing and lying time, steps taken, lying time, and lying bouts per day. A similar experiment will be conducted in Iowa, in which a system where cows housed in a hoop barn will be compared to a system based on perennial grass grazing system. In Illinois, spring calving cow-calf pairs will be housed in either drylot or on pasture from breeding through weaning. The objectives are to compare the effects of housing cows in drylots or pasture on cow and performance as well as behavior of calves at feedlot arrival. The cows in drylot will be limit-fed a ration consisting of corn silage, dried distillers grains, corn residue, corn grain, and soybean hulls to meet their protein and energy requirements. Calves will have ad libitum access to same diet in an adjacent pen. Cows and calves on pasture treatment will be rotationally grazed with free-choice mineral. Cow body weight and body condition score as well as calf body weight will be measured. Cow pregnancy will be determined on d 35 and 84, respectively. On d 56, milk production will be determined using the weigh-suckle-weigh technique. Calf hair coat score and dirt score will be assessed on d 0 and d 84. Calves will be weaned on d 84 and shipped to a feedlot. Calf behavior (standing/lying/walking/eating) will be assessed for 2 days following feedlot arrival. Calf body weight, dry matter intake, and feed efficiency will be assessed during a 42 day receiving period in feedlot.  Pen will be the experimental unit. In western Nebraska, management of the confined nursing calf will be evaluated as well as the health of the calf in that system. Fall born calves will either be 1) weaned at 120 days of age and fed a growing diet, 2) calf will stay with the dam and consume the same diet as dam in the same bunk with her, and be weaned at 240 days of age, or 3) the calf will not be weaned until 240 days but will be fed the growing diet in a bunk area inaccessible to the cow while the cow consumes a limit fed ration. A collaborating state veterinarian will assess the health of the confined calves in these studies.

Objective 4

Economic analysis of different production systems is best done using whole farm financial analysis when case farm information is available. However, such information is costly to collect and assimilate into viable scenarios. As data is collected from trial work conducted for objectives 1, 2, and 3, enterprise budgets will be used to evaluate the profitability of individual production enterprises such as a cow-calf enterprise or a forage crop enterprise under differing scenarios. These enterprise budgets can then be used to populate case farm scenarios for whole farm financial analysis as the project progresses. Partial budget analysis will be the primary tool used throughout this project to analyze potential changes to management practices. For example, an experiment will be conducted to evaluate nursing calf management in the confined production cow system.  Weaning management systems will be evaluated to determine economic feasibility along with performance data. Comparison of the weaning management systems is best done in a partial budget analysis. In a partial budget analysis, a proposed change (experimental treatment) is compared to a base case (control treatment) by subtracting the negative economic effects (added costs and decreased revenue) from the positive economic effects (increased revenue and reduced costs) associated with change compared to the base case. This provides a nimble economic comparison of management practices that can easily be combined with stochastic tools for sensitivity analysis to test the robustness of the economic results. Throughout the project, partial budgets and enterprise budgets will be utilized to analyze proposed system changes for economic performance and resiliency. These will serve as building blocks toward the construction of whole farm system analyses as the project progresses. The magnitude of the economic benefits of integrated crop–livestock systems depend upon the adaptability of management strategies at the farm level to varying production and market conditions within and between years (Hendrickson et al., 2008). Risk scenario models will be developed to analyze the resilience the various production systems have to future uncertainties using readily available stochastic analysis tools.

Objective 5.

The goal of the proposed research is to improve the productivity and efficiency of cattle production but the research has to be translated and implemented for an impact to be realized. The participants of this committee will use a vast array of Extension outreach platforms, including extension websites, podcasts, newsletters and social media to provide information to producers. Outputs (such as articles, podcasts, and webinars) will be shared with the other members of the committee to distribute using their Extension platforms to further increase the number of clientele reached. Train-the trainer sessions will be held with Extension educators at professional development events to provide training on how to interpret and present the results to producers. The committee will also coordinate producer conferences in years 3, 4, and 5. Meetings will be held live in a different state each year with other states offering the meetings virtually at satellite locations.   

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Knowledge of grazing and management strategies to shift pastures to more productive species
  • Strategies for incorporation of double cropped annual forage production into cropping systems to increase the forage base
  • Development of novel management practices for integrated crop-cow/calf systems
  • Implementation of these strategies and systems by cattle producers

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Retention or expansion of the North Central Region beef cattle herd with fewer grazed perennial grass acres
  • Implementation of novel management practices for optimized environmental and economic outcomes of integrated crop-cow/calf systems
  • Improved profitability of beef cattle producers in the North Central Region


(2020):Begin experiments evaluating: 1. Use of herbicides and annuals when revegetating native rangelands, 2. Seeding rate of interseeding warm season annuals into cool season perennial stands, 3. Effect of stocking density and grazing duration on native rangeland, 4. Fire as a management method for tall fescue, 5. Forage crop production in place of cash crop, 6. Alternative cash crops plus double cropping forage, 7. Small grain forage production in soybean systems, 8. Cow/calf systems using limited or no perennial pasture compared to traditional perennial pasture based systems, and 9. Management of the calf when cow/calf pairs are in drylot.

(2021):Begin experiments evaluating the effect of cattle stocking density when grazing interseeded warm season annuals. Continue experiments evaluating: 1. Use of herbicides and annuals when revegetating native rangelands, 2. Seeding rate of interseeding warm season annuals into cool season perennial stands, 3. Effect of stocking density and grazing duration on native rangeland 4. Fire as a management method for tall fescue, 5. Forage crop production in place of cash crop, 6. Alternative cash crops plus double cropping forage, 7. Cow/calf systems using limited or no perennial pasture compared to traditional perennial pasture based systems, and 8. Management of the calf when cow/calf pairs are in drylot. Complete experiments evaluating small grain forage production in soybean systems and partial budget analysis.

(2022):Begin experiments evaluating the effects of fire and winter grazing management on meadow. Continue experiments evaluating: 1. The use of herbicides and annuals when revegetating native rangelands, 2. Effect of stocking density and grazing duration in on native rangeland, 3. Effect of cattle stocking density when grazing interseeded warm season annuals, 4. Forage crop production in place of cash crop, 5. Alternative cash crops plus double cropping forage, and 6. Cow/calf systems using limited or no perennial pasture compared to traditional perennial pasture based systems. Complete experiments evaluating: 1. Seeding rate of interseeding warm season annuals into cool season perennial stands and conduct partial budget analysis, 2. Fire as a management method for tall fescue and conduct partial budget analysis, 3. Evaluation of fall calving cow/calf system using no perennial pasture compared to a perennial pasture based system and conduct whole farm analysis, and 4. Management of the calf when cow/calf pairs are in drylot and conduct partial budget analysis.

(2023):Continue experiments evaluating: 1. The use of herbicides and annuals when revegetating native rangelands, 2. Effect of stocking density and grazing duration on native rangeland, 3. Cattle stocking density when grazing interseeded warm season annuals, 4. The effects of fire and winter grazing management on meadow, 5. Forage crop production in place of cash crop, and 6. Cow/calf systems using limited or no perennial pasture compared to traditional perennial pasture based systems. Complete experiments that evaluate alternative cash crops plus double cropping forage and conduct enterprise analysis.

(2024):Complete experiments: 1. The use of herbicides and annuals when revegetating native rangelands, 2. Effect of stocking density and grazing duration on native rangeland, 3. Cattle stocking density when grazing interseeded warm season annuals, 4. The effects of fire and winter grazing management on meadow, 5. Forage crop production in place of cash crop and conduct enterprise budgets and whole farm analysis, and 6. Cow/calf systems using limited or no perennial pasture compared to traditional perennial pasture based systems and whole farm analysis.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

We plan to disseminate information and share research findings with scientists, extension educators, natural resource agency personnel, and producers. We will accomplish this by:

  • Creating new and revising existing extension publications

  • Disseminating information using extension websites (,,, newsletters (such as UNL CropWatch, UNL BeefWatch, Cornhusker EconomicsK-State Extension eUpdate, BeefTips, KLA Connection and ISU Growing Beef), and social media (Twitter and Facebook).

  • Hosting and participating in educational field days, workshops and conferences

  • Publishing research summaries in university research reports (such as Nebraska Beef Report, Iowa State University Animal Industry Report and Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station Reports).

  • Presenting research finding at regional and national scientific conferences (such as meetings of the American Society of Animal Science, Crop Science Society of America, and Society for Range Management)

  • Publishing research finding in refereed-reviewed journals (such as Journal of Animal Science, Applied Animal Science, Crop Science, Forage and Turfgrass Management, Rangeland Ecology and Management, and Agronomy Journal).


The project will be governed by two officers: a chair and a secretary. Project participants will initially elect the two officers who will serve the first year. For each succeeding year, the secretary will become the chair for the following year and a new secretary will be elected. Terms for each will start at the end of the annual meeting. The chair and secretary will be responsible for conducting necessary business in close coordination with the administrative advisor. The duties of the secretary will be to take meeting minutes and prepare the approved minutes and the annual report . The chair will conduct the annual meeting and with the help of the secretary coordinate any other reports or proposals as required. The chair will appoint subcommittees for each project objective. Subcommittees will be responsible for drafting uniform research procedures for each objective, subject to approval by project members and preparation of materials and meetings for technology transfer.

Literature Cited

Bich, A.D., C.L. Reese, A.C. Kennedy, D.E. Clay, and S.A. Clay. 2014. Corn yield is not reduced by midseason establishment of cover crops in northern great plains environments. Crop Management. 13:1 doi:10.2134/CM-2014-0009-RS

Blanco-Canqui, H., T.M. Shaver, J.L. Lindquist, C.A. Shapiro, R.W. Elmore, C.A. Francis, and G.W. Hergert. 2015. Cover crops and ecosystem services: insights from studies in temperate soils. Agron. J. 107(6): 2449-2474.

Cox-O’Neill, J. L., K. E. Hales, K. M. Ulmer, R. J. Rasby, J. Parsons, S. D. Shackelford, H. C. Freetly, and M. E. Drewnoski. 2017. The effects of backgrounding system on growing and finishing performance, and carcass characteristics of beef steers. J. of Animal Sci. 95:5309-5319.

Drewnoski, M. E., J. Parsons, H. Blanco, D. Redfearn, K. Hales and J. MacDonald. 2018. Can Cover Crops Pull Double Duty: Conservation and Profitable Forage Production in the Midwestern U.S.? J. of Animal Sci.

Drewnoski, M.E., J. C. MacDonald, G. E. Erickson, K. Hanford and T. J. Klopfenstein. Long-term corn residue grazing improves subsequent soybean yields in a corn-soybean rotation. Crop, Forage, and Turfgrass Management. doi: 10.2134/cftm2015.0192

Drewnoski, M.E., J. C. MacDonald, G. E. Erickson, K. Hanford and T. J. Klopfenstein.  2016. Long-term corn residue grazing improves subsequent soybean yields in a corn-soybean rotation. Crop, Forage, and Turfgrass Management. doi: 10.2134/cftm2015.0192

Farney, J. K., G. F. Sassenrath, C. J. Davis, and D. Presley. 2018. Composition, forage production, and costs are variable in three-way cover crop mixes used as fall forage. Crop Forage Turfgrass Manage. doi: 10.2134/cftm2018.03.0020.

Franzluebbers, A.J., and J.A. Stuedemann. 2014. Crop and cattle production responses to tillage and cover crop management in an integrated crop–livestock system in the southeastern USA. Europ. J. Agron. 57:62-70.

Gardine, S. E., J.M. Warner, C.J. Bittner, R. G. Bondurant, K.H. Jenkins, R.J. Rasby, M.K. Luebbe, G.E. Erickson, and T.J. Klopfenstein. 2017. Wintering System on Cow and Calf Performance in a Summer- Calving Intensive Production System. Nebraska Beef Report. MP104:19-21

Harker, K. N., and J. T. O’Donovan. 2013. Recent weed control, weed management, and integrated weed management. Weed Technol 27(1):1–11. doi: 10.1614/WT-D-12-00109.1

Harmoney, K.R., and J.R. Jaeger. 2011. Animal and vegetation response to modified-intensive early stocking on shortgrass rangeland. Rangeland Ecology and Management 64:619-624

Harmoney, K. R. and J. R. Jaeger. 2018. Can Modified Intensive Early Stocking Be Used in Cow/Calf Production?. Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station Research Reports: Vol. 4: Iss. 2.

Harmoney, K. R. and J. Guretzky. 2018. Interseeding Warm-Season Annual Grasses into Perennial Cool-Season Western Wheatgrass Pasture.  Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station Research Reports: Vol. 4: Iss. 2.

Hively, W.D., and W.J. Cox. 2001. Interseeding cover crops into soybean and subsequent corn yields. Agron. J. 93:308-313.

Jenkins, K.H., S.A. Furman, J.A. Hansen, and T.J. Klopfenstein. 2015. Limit feeding high-energy, by-product-based diets to late-gestation beef cows in confinement. Prof. Anim. Sci. 31:109-113.

Johnson, T.J., T.C. Kaspar, K.A. Kohler, S.J. Corak, and S.D. Logsdon. 1998. Oat and rye overseeded into soybean as fall cover crops in the upper Midwest. J. Soil Water Conserv. 53:276–279.

Lark, T. J., Salmon, J. Meghan, Gibbs, H. K., 2015. Cropland expansion outpaces agricultural and biofuel policies in the United States. Environmental Research Letters 10:044003

Maloney, T. S., E. S. Oplinger, and K. A. Albrecht. 1999. Small grains for fall and spring forage. J. Prod. Agric. 12:488–494.

Mirsky, S.B., W.S. Curran, D.M. Mortenseny, M.R. Ryany, and D.L. Shumway. 2011. Timing of cover-crop management effects on weed suppression in no-till planted soybean using a roller-crimper. Weed Sci. 59(3):380-389.

Owensby, C.E., L.M. Auen, H.F. Berns, and K.C. Dhuyvetter. 2008. Grazing systems for yearling cattle on tallgrass prairie. Rangeland Ecology and Management 61:204-210.

Rakkar, M.  M. E.  Drewnoski, Ulmer, K. M.,  R. J. Rasby,  J. L. Cox-O’Neill, J. C. MacDonald  and H. Blanco. 2018.    Regional Assessment of Impacts of Cattle Grazing and Baling of Corn Residues on Soil Health Indicators. Agronomy Journal doi:10.2134/agronj2018.03.0224

Rakkar, M., M. E. Drewnoski, J. C. MacDonald, T. K. Klopfenstein, R. Driber, and H. Blanco. 2017. Impacts of Cattle Grazing of Corn Residues on Soil Properties after 16 years. Soil Sci. Soc. of America J. 81:414–424. doi:10.2136/sssaj2016.07.0227

Schwarte, A. J., L. R. Gibson, D. K. Karlen, M. Liebman, and J. Jannink. 2005. Planting date effects on winter triticale dry matter and nitrogen accumulation. Agron. J. 97:1333-1341.

Smart, A.J., J.D. Derner, J.R. Hendrickson, et. al. 2010. Effects of grazing pressure on efficiency of grazing on North American Great Plains rangelands. Rangeland Ecology and Management 63:397-406.

Smart, A. J., and Owens, V. N. 2008. Interseeding warm-season grasses followed by high intensity grazing enhances pasture productivity. Online. Forage and Grazinglands doi:10.1094/FG-2008-0815-01-RS.

Ulmer, K. M., M. Rakkar. H. Blanco, R. J. Rasby,  J. L. Cox-O’Neill, J. C. MacDonald  and  M. E.  Drewnoski. 2018. Impact of Baling or Grazing Corn Residue on Crop Production at Six Sites in Nebraska. Agronomy Journal. doi:10.2134/agronj2018.04.0226

Volesky, J. D., Schacht, W. H., Richardson, D. M., 2004. Stocking rate and grazing frequency effects on Nebraska Sandhills meadows. Journal of Range Management 57:553-560.

Warner, J.M., K. H. Jenkins, R. J. Rasby, M. K. Luebbe, G. E. Erickson, T. J. Klopfenstein. 2015. The effect of calf age at weaning on cow and calf performance and feed utilization by cow-calf pairs. Prof. Anim. Sci. 31:455-461; doi:10.15232/pas.2015-01393

Weil, R., and A. Kremen. 2006. Thinking across and beyond disciplines to make cover crops pay. J. Sci. Food Agric. 87(4): 551-557.

Wortman, S.E., C.A. Francis, and J.L. Lindquist. 2012. Cover crop mixtures for the western Corn Belt: Opportunities for increased productivity and stability. Agron. J. 104:699–705.


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