NCCC308: Nutrition and Management of Feedlot Cattle to Optimize Performance, Carcass Value and Environmental Compatibility

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCCC308: Nutrition and Management of Feedlot Cattle to Optimize Performance, Carcass Value and Environmental Compatibility

Duration: 10/01/2023 to 09/30/2028

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

The NCCC-308 committee was formed to address nutrition and management issues related to performance, carcass value, and environmental sustainability of feedlot cattle operations. This committee, representing most of the cattle feeding states in the U.S., will focus on research, education, and stakeholder outreach efforts in support of the cattle feeding industry in the North Central Region and beyond.

Placements in feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 or more head during 2021 was 21.25 million head, below the 21.6 million head placed in 2018 (NASS, 2022). Feedlots with less than 1,000 head of capacity compose the majority of U.S. feedlots but they market a small portion of total fed cattle. Lots with 1,000 head or more capacity compose less than 5% of total feedlots, but market 80-90% of fed cattle. Feedlots with 32,000 head or more of capacity marketed around 40% of fed cattle (USDA, 2017). The largest percent of the United States value of production from agricultural commodities came from cattle and calves. In 2015 the top 5 United States agricultural commodities in order from largest to smallest were cattle and calves, corn from grain, milk from cows, soybeans, and broilers (NASS, 2016). The average price in the United States for calves in 2021 equaled $168.67 per cwt, up 7.26% from 2020 (NASS, 2021). Corn grain increased to its greatest value since 2013. In 2021 the price of corn was $5.40/bu, up 54% from 2020. Cattle slaughtered in 2015 averaged 829 lbs for HCW, up 21 lbs from 2014. United States live cattle averaged 1,364 lbs with a 61% dress in 2015. The total number of cattle slaughtered in the United States in 2015 was 28.8 million head, down 5% from 2014 (NASS, 2016). By July 1, 2017, the U.S. cattle herd had expanded to 102.6 million head, the largest since 2008. 

Feedlot inventories over 2 million head are common in Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas while Colorado, Iowa, California, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Minnesota have inventories ranging from 300,000 to 1.5 million head. Most large feedlots hold several thousand head in pens with unsurfaced lots and mounds with run-off capture basins. Due primarily to climate and precipitation, feedlots in the northern states vary by design but include unsurfaced lots, surfaced (e.g., concrete or pavement) lots, and confinement buildings. This variation in design results in variable environmental impact. However, little is known about the differences among these designs and possible advantages and disadvantages regarding animal performance and environmental sustainability.

States participating in the NCCC-308 project represent the top 10 states for feedlot capacity and surrounding states with inventories up to 100,000 cattle on feed, as well as states involved in stocking and backgrounding of cattle destined to be finished in feedlot operations. Representatives to NCCC-308 are leaders in feedlot nutrition and management research and routinely interact with the largest feedlot consulting firms, feed manufacturing and processing companies, managers of bio-processing companies and directly with feedlot owners and managers in their specific areas of influence. This team of professionals is well known and respected by their clientele base and their peers. They represent the focal efforts of their land-grant universities on feedlot nutrition and management.

The NCCC-308 committee is the only committee equipped with a group of scientists already well-known in the industry and supporting infrastructure to focus research programs in feedlot cattle nutrition and management issues facing the U.S. cattle feeding industry. This committee will employ a three-tier approach (improve national food security and safety, enhance environmental sustainability and enhance production efficiency) in developing nutritional and management strategies. This focus clearly distinguishes the research efforts of this group from other NC or NCR committees in which scientists are focused on swine production, utilization of animal manure and organic residues, and molecular mechanisms regulating growth of muscle and adipose tissue. The research goals of this committee are supportive of all four research goals of REE Action Plan.

In 2022, the State of California elected to ban the use of internal combustion engines by the year 2035 for all newly produced personal vehicles with plans to only allow electrified personal vehicles to be sold. Whether this is feasible or not remains to be determined. Hence, the impacts of this on the domestic demand for ethanol are presently unknown. As such, the possibility of ethanol coproducts being available for cattle producers could dwindle in future years. As such, many ethanol plants have re-branded as corn bio-processors, as a means to diversify their product streams to remain viable in this ever-changing landscape of the “Green Revolution”. The likelihood of air transportation for goods and people being electrified is not currently deemed feasible. As such, there has been a new interest in using fat (i.e., vegetable oil, yellow grease, lard, and tallow) as a substrate for the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and renewable diesel for long-haul transportation has placed a tremendous strain on the domestic fat supply which was impacted the use of fat in diets fed to feedlot cattle. The result of this strain on the domestic fat supply has resulted in lower-fat corn bio-processing coproducts impacting fat inclusion levels in diets due to removal during the ethanol production process (namely impacting levels of dietary fat inclusion in the Midwest and Northern Plains), and certain situations where fat has become unavailable for use in diets in the Southern Plains and Desert Southwest. There has been and will be a large investment in infrastructure related to the U.S. oilseed crush industry. Mainly, as a means to produce the increased fat supplies that are currently demanded domestically. There are plans (ongoing or in development) to construct at least sixteen oilseed crush plants across the Midwest and Northern Plains from Illinois to North Dakota to help aid in meeting the demand for domestic fat supplies. As such, the future of feeding coproducts of the oilseed crushing industry such as soybean or sunflower meal, soybean or sunflower hulls will become ever increasing in the very near future. 

Another area of concern and needed research is guidance issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration related to repeated implantation of animals during the same production phase with steroidal implants that do not specifically have a label stating they are approved for repeated use. Much of the work conducted in the past 15 years related to steroidal implant has been related to optimal use in a re-implanting situation. Pharmaceutical companies have introduced a variety of new products in recent years to allow for the need to no re-implant cattle on feed for ~ 200 days.

Dairy cross beef (Beef sires bred to Dairy cows) are a new class of feeder cattle that has entered into the U.S. beef production channels. Optimal management from the day of birth to finish has been an active area of research for this committee and will continue to be investigated moving forward. Problems encountered with dairy-cross beef include: 1) they are typically not administered the appropriate amount or quality of colostrum, 2) they are on feed in excess of 300 d and implant strategies for these cattle have not been clearly defined, 3) they appear to be more susceptible to liver abscesses than their native beef or dairy beef counterparts, and 4) knowing the purchase cost for this animal as a feeder is still largely unknown.

Additionally, recent updates to many grid formulas have allowed for greater carcass weights in cattle harvested prior to discounts being applied. As such, cattle have been and will continue to be pushed to a larger final body weight prior to shipping, highlighting an additional area of needed research as things related to digestive function, carcass transfer, and health and morbidity of cattle fed to advanced out body weight remain unknown.

As much as ever, research is needed to better manage commodity resources and technologies available for feedlot cattle. Cattle are being fed to larger weights much more efficiently. However, due to changing consumer perception, the cattle feeding industry is under scrutiny for its use of growth promotants. Antibiotics are no longer labeled for growth promotion and each antibiotic added to the feed must have veterinary oversight. Researchers are now challenged with formulating management strategies without feed additives that have been available for years. Liver abscesses continue to be an issue for cattle producers and these are namely controlled by the feeding of antibiotics. The use of antibiotics in agricultural production, antibiotic resistance, natural/organic production, and defining animal behavior and well-being has been a growing focus for AFRI programs along with environmental outputs and sustainable solutions for the beef industry. These changes have presented new challenges to the feedlot industry, and therefore warrant further research by the NCCC-308 committee. The objectives of the committee continue to be focused on providing sustainable management programs for the beef cattle industry. Recently, efforts have been directed at assessing the carbon footprint of beef production systems in the U.S., while searching for alternatives to maintain the sustainability and competitiveness of feedlot and backgrounding operations. The impact of enteric methane emissions from beef cattle, both from an energy use efficiency as well as from an environmental standpoint, is being addressed by members of this committee.  

As the areas of influence of the NCCC-308 committee encompass much of the corn-producing and ethanol-processing regions of the country, this committee is poised to generate informational resources, grounded in the scientific method, for a smooth transition as the feedlot industry restructures to transition into an era which will likely be less dependent on corn and more dependent on corn coproducts and forage.


  1. Enhance the utilization of C capture from energy feeds and waste products from bio-processing industries to compete in an energy economy and improve national food security.
    Comments: Collaborating states include (CO, GA, FL, IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, NE, ND, OH, OK, PA, SD, TX, UT, WI)
  2. To enhance the environmental sustainability of the feedlot industry through conservation and nutrient management.
    Comments: Collaborating states include (CO, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, NE, ND, OK, PA, SD, UT, WI)
  3. To enhance the production efficiency and quality of feedlot (beef and dairy-type) cattle through management strategies and technologies.
    Comments: Collaborating states include (CO, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, OH, OK, MI, MN, NE, ND, PA, SD, TX, WI)
  4. To enhance management strategies that improve animal health and well-being.
    Comments: Collaborating states include (FL, GA, TX, IA, IN, SD)

Procedures and Activities

The NCCC-308 committee is poised to address research issues arising from decreased availability of C from energy feeds, concentrated nutrient output and application of pre-harvest nutrition and management strategies on production efficiency and beef quality of feedlot cattle. Committee members represent Agricultural Experiment Stations known across the nation for studying utilization of C from alternative energy feeds long before grains and oilseeds were used for biofuel production (NCR, 1984). Agricultural Experiment Stations represented by NCCC-308 membership have the infrastructure and resources available to represent the continuum between cattle procurement, pre-feedlot entry feeding and management, feedlot nutrition and management and access to Experiment Station-based or commercial cattle harvest facilities. The committee will address its objectives on a three-way collaborative approach: members focused on pre-feedlot nutrition by management interactions (enhancing the use of energy feeds through pre-feedlot nutrition and management on production efficiency, sustainability and food security), members focused on feedlot nutrition and management (impacts of enhancing the use of energy feeds in the feedlot on production efficiency, animal health, beef quality and food security) and members focused on post-harvest evaluation of nutrition and management interventions (beef quality).

Studies designed to evaluate alternative energy feeds (from oilseeds and grain), pre-harvest beef quality and safety, growth technologies, and environmental impacts of nutrient management strategies will be standardized according to basic protocols that may, depending on study objectives, include the following: steers or heifers will be purchased according to specifications of the protocol (sex, frame size, maturity, etc.). Cattle will be vaccinated against respiratory and stress-related diseases, dewormed, and ear-tagged. Implant or additive feeding programs will be included according to protocols for specific studies. New technologies available will be utilized to monitor animal health and activity in a pen setting. Cattle will be assigned randomly to dietary and, where appropriate, interactive treatments. Weights will be collected at least every 28 d before feeding in the morning, unless a specific requirement for shrunk weights is needed because of the nature of diets. Dry matter intakes will be measured from feed offered and refused by pens or by individual animal intake through the use of EID or individual bunks. Standard measurements of carcass characteristics such as dressing percentage, fat depth, ribeye area, marbling score, proportion of kidney, pelvic and heart fat, and USDA quality and yield grade will be routinely collected. In some cases, additional carcass and beef quality and sensory characteristics may also be collected, depending on the specific protocol of each study.

Regularly, data from feedlot studies will be pooled and summarized by standardized statistical procedures. Mixed models will be applied to analyze for effects of weight, breed type, animal health and activity, energy source and concentration and/or protein source and concentration on performance, carcass characteristics and beef quality attributes of feedlot cattle. Based on these analyses, the committee will develop feeding standards for enhancing the use of C from energy feeds, with particular attention to interactions between common feeding and management strategies such as use of implants, beta-agonists, and ionophores. Management strategies also may be implemented to mitigate the use of antibiotics through natural feed additives.

The cadre of professionals represented by NCCC-308 has a significant extension appointment. They regularly conduct cooperative extension programs to disseminate results of research as components of their yearly programs (e.g., cattle feeder days, nutrition roundtables, nutrition conferences, etc.). As leaders in their fields, they are often asked to represent their universities at regional, national, and international conferences (e.g., American Society of Animal Science Symposia, Plains Nutrition Council Spring Conference, NCBA Convention, International Livestock Congress, Distillers Association Conventions, Southwest Nutrition Conference, etc.). The committee members plan to seek collaboration within the group to gain preliminary data that could lead to multi-institutional grants seeking extramural funding.   

Because of the specificity of requirements to conduct studies to determine effects of alternative energy feeds on greenhouse gas production, only a few of the members of NCCC-308 have the resources and infrastructure to conduct these studies. However, collaborative studies to determine effects of enhancing the utilization of C from alternative energy feeds on rumen fermentation and performance of feedlot cattle will be conducted by several NCCC-308 members.

Some committee members have added new technologies to their research capabilities including (but not limited to); portable systems measuring greenhouse gases, individual animal feeding and watering equipment, ear tags measuring temperature, activity, and rumination, boluses measuring ruminal pH and temperature, pedometers, and collars measuring rumination. Most of the technologies are designed for early detection of sick animals, and to improve our measurement capabilities in a non-invasive way. These technologies also need extensive validation studies completed before commercial implementation occurs (if applicable). Once validated, the committee members plan to engage in multi-institutional collaborative studies to build data sets for statistical modeling.   

NCCC-308 will convene annually in the summer at locations that will permit focusing on annual review and interpretive summarization of results of research efforts by each committee member and their home institution. Each year, during the Midwest Animal Science Meetings, the committee will hold an informal meeting to plan the summer meeting and to call for written research reports to be submitted before the annual meeting for compilation. During the annual committee meeting, administrative reporting will occur to highlight budgetary issues and ensuing research funding direction. In addition, during the meeting, each Experiment Station represented by committee members will present results of research and discuss outcomes and impacts. By the fall of the year, summary of research reports will be uploaded to the NCCC-308 website maintained by the kind contributions of Dr. Dan Loy of Iowa State University. Collaborative efforts resulting from these meetings will be discussed and pursued according to pressing issues.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Enhanced cooperation and collaboration between Experiment Station members of NCCC-308 both within and across Stations.
  • Yearly collaborative summarization and interpretation of reports of progress by NCCC-308 members.
  • Standardization of research protocols to evaluate enhanced C utilization from energy feeds, feedlot nutrient balance, and potential beef quality enhancement techniques used in the pre-feedlot and receiving periods.
  • Studies resulting from these collaborations will be pooled across participating experiment stations and years to generate robust datasets for meta-analyses designed to provide conclusive implications and further research direction.
  • Studies resulting from these collaborations will be used as preliminary data to pursue extramural funding in multi-institutional grants.
  • Development of feeding standards for current and new generation alternative feeds derived from crop residues and/or processing of oilseeds and grains into biofuels as components of growing and finishing cattle diets.
  • Development of feeding strategies for current and new generation alternative feed additives to improve cattle health and performance.
  • Development of nutrient management standards that consider environmental protection and U.S. beef feedlot sector sustainability.
  • Evaluation of salient technologies and interventions designed to: enhance energy utilization and increase production efficiency, manage nutrient output by feedlots, and improve beef quality.
  • Development of symposiums at relevant scientific meetings (e.g., Midwest American Society of Animal Science) which detail the findings of the studies conducted by the members of the committee and disseminate the knowledge developed by the collective work being conducted by the committee.
  • Strategic utilization by the U.S. beef feedlot sector of alternative energy feedstuffs derived from crop residues and/or biofuel processing of oilseeds and grains.
  • Reduced reliance on grain feeding (and more reliant on crop residues, forages, and grain and oilseed coproducts) by the U.S. beef feedlot sector.
  • Enhanced visibility of participating Experiment Stations.
  • A U.S. beef feedlot sector that can offer environmental assurance and be economically sustainable.
  • Healthier feedlot cattle that produce higher quality beef.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Publications by NCCC-308 members consist of journal articles in scientific journals and Beef Research Reports generated by participating institutions. Committee members generate more than 75 of these publications of original research annually. Most of these publications are also available on-line. For example, in 2021 to 2022, researchers in this group published 96 peer-reviewed journal articles (many available as open-access publications) and 78 refereed abstracts. These publications represent the leading sources of information for cattle feeders and allied industry, including feedlot consultants and feed dealers. Most NCCC-308 members conduct a series of annual meetings to highlight findings of research and expose cattle producers to the latest information derived from their research and extension efforts. Results and implications of this coordinated research committee will be highlighted through these events. The combined audience of these programs is approximately 5,000 feedlots, and nearly100% of the feedlot consultants and feed dealers involved in the feedlot industry in the U.S. The discoveries made by the coordinated efforts of members of this committee conservatively impact over 80% of the feedlot operations in the country). Other efforts to communicate results of this research are concurrent with research reporting at Regional and National American Society of Animal Science meetings, meetings of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, the American Meat Institute, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, the Plains Nutrition Conference in San Antonio, TX (a venue reaching almost 80% of the feedlot consultants in the country/world). The NCCC-308 committee has and will continue to coordinate and sponsor meetings and symposia which highlight discoveries under the stated objectives of the committee.


The recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect and Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a NIFA Representative.

Literature Cited

NASS, 2022. Overview of the United States Cattle Industry. Released May 19, 2022, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

USDA, 2017. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Updated January 23, 2017.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

West Texas A&M University
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