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NDSU Research Extension Center Director Kris Ringwald gives a lecture to a backdrop of Aberdeen cows, an example of cattle efficiency in breeding, just one of the many topics presented at Saturday' World Cattleman's Cow Efficiency Congress. (Iain Woessner/Forum News Service)

NDSU research reveals ways to make a better, cheaper cow

MANNING, N.D. —Raising a cost-efficient cow is a science.

Every element is of the utmost importance; and at the World Cattlemen's Cow Efficiency Congress at North Dakota State University Research Extension Center's Manning Ranch Saturday those elements of efficiency were presented to ranchers and cattle producers in an outdoor classroom environment.

"Efficiency is biological and economical," Dr. Kris Ringwall, director of the extension center, said at the event. "We study cells to get biological efficiency and we have systems to study economic efficiency. We want to be in the middle, we want the land to be sustainable, we want this balance of ecology because we want things to be better for the next generation. But we also know that that farmer/rancher has to make a living today, because they won't be here if they don't. That's that balance."

The fruits of the center's research were compiled into a thick booklet of presentations that detailed all manner of methods and means discovered and tested to improve the efficiency of raising cattle. These techniques are myriad; all quite complex and all worthy of attention.

Just some of the efficiency systems were explored in the morning's lecture period, which saw horse-drawn carriages converted into mobile classrooms, trundling through pasture land to pay a visit to a group of Aberdeen cattle and calves, the latter of which were born just this past May.

"At field days when possible we'll use horse and wagons," Ringwall said. "It's a nice way to get out onto the fields and brings people, it sets the mood a little bit. It's very hands-on."

The Aberdeen cows weren't the best audience for a lecture; Ringwall and other NDSU speakers had to make themselves heard over the herd, particularly the bellowing of bulls having a row. A bull fight even broke out, lending a bit of unscheduled excitement as two studs butted heads through a fence.

"We're so used to classrooms today where you push all the buttons and everything just works," Ringwall said. "Out here in the country...there's an element of unpredictability. That's what farmers and ranchers do every day, they are hands-on."

Some of the efficiency systems described to make for a better cow had little to do with the cow itself, but with its diet. According to research done by Dr. Llewellyn Manske, grass plants live for two growing seasons, first as vegetative tiller and then as reproductive lead tiller. Vegetative secondary tillers are the biological source of late season crude protein, a lack of which can lead to problems for livestock weight gain.

Traditional grazing practices, the center's research found, provide forage below the nutritional requirements of lactating cows after the end of July. By employing a technique called "twice-over rotation" one not only maximizes the amount of weight gain per acre, it boosts it well over 100 percent. The numbers given were 31 to 77 pounds-per-acre in a traditional grazing season and 100 to 178 pounds-per-acre when using twice-over rotation.

This rotation basically boils down to grazing cattle during the grass plant's vegetative stage, between its third leaf stage and the flower stage, or between the start of June to mid-July. By doing this, more energy is provided to soil microbes, which mineralize organic soil matter into available mineral nitrogen at quantities greater than 100 pounds per acre.

In other words, when you feed your cows is as important as what you feed them.

Warren Woroniecki, a cattle producer from Hebron, has been employing a number of the efficiency techniques showcased by the extension center for years now.

"So it's nice to know that somebody thinks how I think," he said. "What they're talking here, about pounds of beef per acre, more efficient gain per acre, I do back those statements. I'm proving it on our own ranch."

Another cattle producer, Joe Frenzel of the Dickinson area, also attested to the efficacy of these systems, but noted that many of his neighbors are wary about adopting them.

"Most of the people in here are not from here," Frenzel said. "There are not very many local ranchers that are represented here, because they read it and it makes no sense to them. They're going to have to hear about it from myself or from somebody...somebody's going to have to talk about it for quite some time before it generates interest and they show up."

Other research systems presented at the congress included findings regarding soil health. In short, rotating a sampling of five crops, sunflowers, spring wheat, cover crop for grazing, corn for grazing and field pea-barley for grazing, rather than keeping a single crop in a plot season after season, produces soil so rich in nutrients that after two of the five year study period, that soil had enough mineral nitrogen to no longer require fertilizer, which would be a substantial cost benefit.

According to numbers provided by the extension center, based on the research conducted by Drs. Songul Senturklu and Douglas Landblom, using crop rotation would result in a 34 percent increase in revenue streams.

Much if not all of the presentation data is available online at this address: