NCCC208: Nutrition and Management of Feedlot Cattle to Optimize Performance, Carcass Value and Environmental Compatibility (NCT192)
Statement of Issues and JustificationThe NCCC-206 committee was formed to address nutrition and management issues related to performance, carcass value and environmental sustainability. This committee, representing most of the cattle feeding states in the U.S., will focus on research and education efforts in support of the cattle feeding industry in the North Central Region and beyond.
Annually, over 27 million steers and heifers are finished in the U.S.; this number represents the majority source of beef consumed in the U.S. The U.S. feedlot industry is built around producing grain fed (almost entirely corn-fed) beef for domestic and foreign customers. Approximately 1,500 kg of corn are needed to finish a 340 kg steer. Yet, increasing amounts of corn are now being used in an effort to reduce dependence on foreign fossil fuels through the production of ethanol. In this environment, corn may become an alternative feed and not the main feed stock for finishing beef cattle. In addition, recent research evidence indicates that the feeding and management environment the feeder calf is exposed to prior to entering the feedlot dictate growth and carcass characteristics of the finished animal. In this regard, exposure of cattle to potential food borne pathogens prior to and after entering the feedlot are reflected on pathogen loads found on the carcass.
Concurrently, demand for beef, which had been stagnant through 1998, increased for the first time in 18 years in 1999. Although demand has fluctuated somewhat since 1999, the demand for beef remains strong today. A major component of the increased demand has been increased consumer expenditures. Thus, as economic conditions improved, consumers spent more money on beef. Therefore, beef demand is highly dependent on price and price relative to disposable consumer income. If the beef industry is to remain sustainable in the future, particularly if economic recessions occur, efforts to maintain demand via efficient production of a safe, wholesome product are necessary.
Large feedlot capacities (over 2 million head) concentrate in the states of Texas, Nebraska and Kansas while the states of Colorado, Iowa, California, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Minnesota have total capacities ranging from 300,000 to 1.5 million head. The majority of feedlots in states with large capacities hold several thousand head on dirt surface lots with mounds and run-off capture basins. Due primarily to climate and precipitation, feedlots in the northernmost states, feedlots designs vary but include and range from dirt surface lots, surfaced (e.g. concrete or pavement) lots, or 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 with regards to environmental sustainability.
States participating in the NCCC-206 project represent the top 10 states for feedlot capacity, and surrounding states with capacities up to 100,000 cattle on feed. Representatives to NCCC-206 are leaders in feedlot nutrition and management research and routinely interact with the largest feedlot consulting firms, which together represent over 50% of the cattle on feed in the U.S., feed manufacturing and processing companies, managers of ethanol companies, and directly with feedlot owners and managers in their areas of influence. This cadre 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-206 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 (environmental stewardship, beef quality and safety, and economic sustainability) 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 dairy production, utilization of animal manure and organic residues, grazing systems, cow-calf management, and molecular mechanisms regulating growth of muscle and adipose tissue. The research goals of this committee are supportive of all five research goals of CSREES.
Because of price pressure generated by the use of corn for ethanol production, a trend for relocating feedlots to areas where corn is grown (and prices are typically lower) has already begun. This may create an opportunity to site and manage feedlots in a manner more consistent with environmental protection than previously accomplished. Thus, the need exists to understand the impact of feedlot design on the environment and animal production. Also, as environmental protection regulations adapt to include phosphorus loading limits, managing phosphorus in a manner consistent with a new regulatory climate will become an issue, particularly because many ethanol co-products are high in phosphorus. These co-products are also high in sulfur. Dietary sulfur can be converted to hydrogen sulfide by ruminal bacteria and is released in the environment, and may contribute to atmospheric sulfur and greenhouse gases. Little is known about managing hydrogen sulfide production in the rumen. This has led to situations where feeding high-sulfur-containing co-products have caused a condition similar to thiamine-deficiency-caused polioencephalomalacia. Therefore, increased knowledge of reactions in the rumen leading to production of hydrogen sulfide, and methodology by which to abate it must be developed if the feedlot industry will continue to rely on co-products of corn milling for ethanol production.
As the areas of influence of the NCCC-206 committee encompass much of the 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. Areas for this effort will focus on by environmental impact assessment research.
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