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Erin Brown / Grand Vale Creative

NDSU research improves beef cattle production

Making sure pregnant beef cows meet their nutrient needs this winter could be difficult because of the toll this year's drought took on hay production.

Supplementing the cows with feed such as corn dried distillers grains with solubles will provide the animals with the extra nutrients they require, according to research at North Dakota State University's Central Grasslands Research Extension Center, which is near Streeter, N.D.

The scientists involved in this research also studied the impact of supplementing pregnant cows with alfalfa hay and a liquid supplement.

"Cows supplemented with alfalfa or liquid supplement lost weight and body condition, which might indicate that these supplements did not supply adequate energy to meet animal demands," says Michael Undi, the animal scientist at the center.

This was one of several beef cattle topics NDSU animal scientists and Extension Service specialists studied in the past year.

In another supplement study, scientists in NDSU's Animal Sciences Department found that taking vitamin A out of growing and finishing diets for commercial Angus and purebred Simmental steers improved the meat quality of the Angus steers but not the Simmental steers. The Angus steers were an Angus-Simmental cross, with a minimum of 75 percent Angus genetics.

Marbling is the fat that appears as white flecks in beef. It improves the meat's tenderness, juiciness and flavor.

The Angus-cross steers without vitamin A in their diets had a 16 percent increase in marbling, the research showed. That resulted in 26.6 percent of these steers grading higher for their meat than the steers that were fed vitamin A.

"Increasing marbling has the potential to add significant value to a beef carcass," says Alison Ward, an assistant professor in the Animal Sciences Department and one of the researchers.

Another feed study found that a moderate restriction in the amount of nutrients pregnant beef cattle receive during the first 50 days of gestation can affect the development of their fetuses' liver, muscle and brain. This could result in poor growth and development in the calves, the scientists note.

"Additionally, dams that undergo stress (nutritional, environmental, etc.) during the beginning of gestation but not the end are likely to produce a normal birth weight offspring that still may suffer from poor growth and metabolic issues because of the stress early in pregnancy," says Joel Caton, a professor in the Animal Sciences Department and one of the scientists involved in this study.

Research at NDSU's Carrington Research Extension Center found that corn can be fed to beef cattle in the backgrounding and finishing phases without having to process the corn.

"Typically, when corn is included in cattle rations, particularly in backgrounding and finishing diets, it is processed by dry rolling, grinding or steam flaking," says Chanda Engel, research specialist at the center. "In North Dakota, the processing method is typically dry rolling or grinding.

"However, not everyone has the ability to process corn on the farm and it is an added cost," she adds. "Additionally, the body of research that has evaluated corn processing method and levels of processing has yielded mixed results."

Her study of 189 weaned crossbred steers indicated that in diets consisting of 15 percent or more forage, cattle can be fed whole corn without affecting their growth performance, feed efficiency and carcass traits.

For more information about these studies and other NDSU beef cattle research, see the "2017 North Dakota Beef Report" at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/cattledocs/research-reports.

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