The Arlington Agricultural Research Station Beef Grazing Farm started in 1968 with a twinning study followed by some other research projects.
Then Dr. Mike Siemens established purebred Angus and Hereford herds on the farm and, 10 years later, Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler began research on grazing beef cattle.
In 1998-2000, Drs. Dan Schaefer and Ken Albrecht worked on a project feeding Holstein steers on various mixtures of Kura clover and cool season grasses. Earlier work had been done on the Lancaster research farm and this study looked at whether grasses could economically compete with row crops on good productive land.
"At that time we found they could compete, but it's pretty hard to do with today's high commodity prices," Schaefer said.
The farm recently hosted a pasture walk sponsored by the Dodge-Columbia county grazing group.
Steve Arp is the manager for the beef facilities at Arlington. The Missouri native started at Arlington in 1984 when research focused mostly on feedlot topics.
PADDOCKS follow CONTOUR OF LAND
Arp explained the design of the pastures at the Arlington beef grazing farm. Fencing runs along the long, narrow terraces to make long and narrow paddocks.
A coral and squeeze chute is located on top of the hill for summer treatments in order to avoid running the cattle the long distance to the buildings for processing in the yard.
Water lines are above ground and have an auxiliary pressure pump on the hill to assist in getting the water over the hill.
Arp cut 55-gallon plastic barrels in half and installed floats. These barrels can be easily attached to the hose and moved with a four-wheeler from paddock to paddock.
They installed water meters to get an idea of just how much water is needed for the cattle and to monitor whether they are getting water.
He said the cattle consume 13-18 gallons a day. As they gain weight, they logically require more water.
Full size 55-gallon barrels with a side opening are used to provide mineral in the pasture.
"Every paddock is 5.6 acres," Arp said. "We rotate every other day in the early spring and then three or four days as the pastures get dry and less productive."
The farm does not have any shade sources in the paddocks for the beef cattle, except for the cow-calf herd.
Schaefer says future research may look into shading options and benefits. He points out that if there are trees in the pasture, cattle congregate in one area. This often results in mud around that area and fertility is concentrated in one place rather than spread out evenly throughout the pasture.
One option would be to fence the cattle into an area where there are trees for a part of the day and then move them out into another area during the cooler part of the day.
Another option is to place water on the opposite side of the paddock from the shade tree to force them to move around.
"If cattle hang around under trees, they just trample and kill the vegetation." Schaefer said.
The tour featured information about some of the research projects at the farm involving 250 head of cattle. The fall-born animals come in at 550 pounds and immediately go out on pasture.
"I think it's best to try to get the animals set up to finish on early spring pasture," Schaefer said. "It's hard to finish on hay. We need to get a little fat on the animals."
"Animals only produce fat when they have energy in excess of what's needed for bone and muscle growth," he said.
Animals are weighed every six weeks to monitor their condition. Weighing is done early in the morning to avoid stressing the cattle.
Asked about feed that possibly is high in nitrates, Schaefer said animals can take more nitrates than humans because the nitrate is reduced down to rumen bacteria which becomes ammonia.
He said it is important, however, that the animal adapts slowly to the feed.
"It would kill an unadapted animal," he warned. "You must either allow the feed to ferment or blend it out in the diet, gradually increasing the quantity."
"Adaptation is the secret to getting new feed into any ruminants," he said. "They must get accustomed to it gradually."