Clemson experts look to offset corn costs for cattlemen

By Peter Kent

CowWhen you want to get to the bottom of something, you go straight to the horse's mouth.  

So it makes sense that in the cattle business, you go straight to the cow's mouth.  

That's precisely how John Andrae, forage and pasture expert for Clemson Extension, believes cattle producers can save money in cost-conscious times -- and ultimately protect consumers from higher prices for beef.  

In a pair of studies in the past five years, Andrae and his colleagues have shown that certain diets of grasses -- instead of expensive feedlot corn -- can enable cattle to reach market weight, called “finishing.”  

“High corn prices certainly drive up feedlot costs and may decrease prices for animals headed to the Midwest for finishing,” said Andrae, a member of Clemson’s Center for Nutritional Physiology and Metabolism, which seeks to improve livestock genetics, health, nutrition and dinner-plate appeal.  

As drought in the nation’s corn belt caused corn prices to skyrocket in 2012, the researchers, including director Susan Duckett, Tom Jenkins, Scott Pratt and Andrae, took this message to cattle producers in a workshop at the Simpson Station, Clemson’s beef research farm in Pendleton.  

One of their studies focused on five forage species -- bermudagrass, pearl millet, chicory, alfalfa and cowpea -- for finishing beef cattle in the summer.  

“This study presents alternatives for growing and finishing cattle in hot months,” Duckett said. “These forages can be used as options to grow cattle to heavier weights for finishing on grass/forage alone or cattle could be placed in a feedlot and finished for a shorter period of time on corn grain after grazing on these forages.”  

The second study is ongoing, comparing grasses and legumes, such as soybeans and alfalfa, Duckett said. “We are in the middle of a study examining grazing an all-grass forage chain and comparing it to an all-legume forage chain,” she said. “Within each chain half of the animals are receiving a moderate amount of corn to improve weight gain and reduce the stress on pastures.”  

The South Carolina cattle industry in 2010 had a total of 385,000 cattle and calves and 16,000 milk cows, with a market value of approximately $157 million, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.  

Learn more about the Center for Nutritional Physiology and Metabolism: