The beef industry faces the challenge of producing enough affordable beef to meet the nutritional requirements of an ever-growing global population. This is being accomplished through best practices that positively impact both the environment and economics.
Jude Capper, Ph.D., Affiliate at Montana State University and Adjunct Professor at Washington State University, presented three posters highlighting best practices at the joint annual meeting of the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) and the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) earlier this month. The posters are based on three different studies and look at parasite control, calving rates and use of technologies. They highlighted key best practices within U.S. beef production that help farmers achieve optimum productivity to balance environmental responsibility and economic viability.
Dr. Capper's first poster focused on effective parasite control as a means of impacting reproductive efficiency. Parasite control enables an animal to perform more efficiently - expending energy on calf development and producing beef rather than immunological defense. Her study results show that pregnancy rates decreased by as much as 10 percent and growth weight from birth to slaughter decreased up to 16 percent when parasite control was not utilized. The data shows that the use of an effective parasite control program means that the extra boneless beef produced from the average U.S. 40-cow beef herd would supply 19 families with their annual beef demand.
Given the importance of reproduction in sustaining the industry, Dr. Capper's second poster addressed the calving rate within U.S. beef production to better determine its potential impact.
"The cow-calf industry is the foundation of the U.S. beef industry and improved reproductive performance has long been cited as a way to improve the economic viability of beef production," she said. "Even with the current decline in the national herd size, if we can maintain or increase our beef supply from a smaller herd, we improve both environmental and economic sustainability through more efficient use of resources."
Comparing the ideal calving rate of one live calf per cow per year (100 percent) to the calving rate in South America at 60 percent of the ideal, Dr. Capper noted that the number of animals needed to produce the same amount of beef goes up by 43.8 percent. At the same time, land use increases by 53.2 percent, water use by 34.1 percent and production costs and carbon emissions increase by 36.3 and 45.5 percent, respectively.
The third poster centered on technology - a critical factor helping farmers do more with less. According to Dr. Capper's study, the use of steroid implants and beta agonists mean that fewer cattle are needed to produce more high-quality beef for consumers, and there is a smaller carbon footprint.
According to Dr. Capper, "The research data demonstrates that parasite control, calving rate and the use of technologies (steroid implants and beta agonists) all play a role in the industry's ongoing efforts to find better ways to provide a consistent supply of quality beef while keeping it affordable for consumers."