North Carolina’s beef cattle research herd is growing as part of a plan to create a centralized herd to accommodate research efforts across the state. Eight state-operated research stations and one field lab conduct beef cattle research, with projects focused on feed conversion and feed alternatives, fescue toxicity, fertility, nutrition and more.
“We know agricultural research has been, and will continue to be, important as we seek to meet the food demands of a growing world population,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “We want to help our producers be competitive and produce high quality beef. We can do that by attracting the best and brightest researchers to this state, and by continuing to invest in research projects focused on improving production.”
The goal is to produce a 600- to 700-head herd from registered Angus at the Upper Piedmont Research Station in Reidsville, said Dr. Sandy Stewart, director of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Research Stations Division. In reviewing all the existing cattle in the research program, that herd had known and established genetics, which is beneficial for researchers, Stewart said. “One of the keys for beef research is you need common genetics,” he said. But the plan is not to just focus on one beef breed, he said, adding that there will also be cross breeding studies.
To increase the herd size, the staff is using embryo transfer technology to speed the process along and reduce the cost. By flushing and implanting embryos from super-ovulating beef cattle into cross-bred beef cattle, the herd can grow much quicker than through traditional cycles, Stewart said. The beef cattle can produce up to 15 embryos, though typically six to seven viable embryos are harvested and transplanted. Essentially the cross-bred cattle serve as surrogate mothers, increasing the number of potential offspring.
The transition to the centralized herd is expected to take five or six years, and Stewart said the program is about halfway through that process.
“This effort is taking place at a time when we are seeing other states pull back on their investment in beef research,” Stewart said “Having a centralized herd helps researchers be more competitive when applying for research grants, and helps make the state and its research programs more attractive to faculty.”
Joe Hampton, who is the superintendent of the Piedmont Research Station and serves on the committee involved in moving this project forward, has worked with the research stations for 34 years. Hampton said it is the most inclusive project he has ever been involved with, and that inclusiveness is what makes him excited about this new direction. Representatives from beef cattle and farm advocacy groups, industry products, services and equipment suppliers, and university and government officials are all involved in the transition.
“Through this effort, we have found many new partners,” Hampton said. “This partnership gives them ownership and makes them more involved. The more open we have made this, the more ideas we have received.”
While growing the herd to a suitable size is still about two years away, Hampton said the bigger work begins at that point.
“This will be an ongoing, dynamic effort. If it is done properly, it will lead us into the next transition,” Hampton said. “If you look at the demands of feeding 9 billion people, it’s a long process; not a situation where you accomplish one goal and then we are through.”
The morning program will feature a forage management station focused on extending the grazing season, an animal reproductive station focusing on bull nutrition and management and how to do a pregnancy check, and an animal feeding station highlighting how to feed wet brewers grains. N.C. State University scientists will talk about the ongoing research at each station.
The afternoon program features a panel discussion covering the difference between natural, grain-fed and pasture-raised beef.
A roast beef lunch will be served from cattle raised on the research stations. The event is free and sponsored by N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the N.C. Cattlemen’s Association and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
For more information on the field day, contact Dr. Philipe Moriel, 828-456-3943, ext. 229, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.