Grant Winner: South Dakota State University Discovering Climate Resilient Beef Cattle

January 29, 2024

Foundation of the Station

The Cottonwood Field Station (CFS) was founded by the Agricultural Experiment Station at South Dakota State University (SDSU) in 1907, initially covering 640 acres, and was established with the intent of studying the areas of crops and soils. Since then, the station has expanded to occupy 2,640 acres and has extended its interests to the rearing of 150 head of Angus-Simmental cows used for research programs that take place at SDSU CFS. These cows are rotated amongst the CFS rangeland headquarters and 1,100 acres of summer pasture in Fort Meade, South Dakota. In addition, the CFS purchases roughly 150 head of yearling steers annually to foster the diversity of beef cattle research that occurs at the station. Currently, CFS is undergoing considerable updates and expansions to its facilities to complement its existing feeder and extensive cattle management system research programs.

SDSU CFS Involvement Towards Advancements of Beef Cattle Production

The majority of beef cattle production originates in extensive systems on rangelands or pasturelands where cattle consume roughages during the cow-calf and background/stocker phases. Conventional beef cattle are subsequently finished on high-concentrate diets at feedyards, or they are retained on range and pasturelands to be finished as grass fed beef. Nonetheless, cattle raised in the Northern Great Plains are exposed to a wide range of environmental extremes such as climate (-40⁰ to 110⁰ F) and rough terrain, which poses challenges for optimizing livestock production. This creates the need to select cattle that are resilient to the wide range of conditions experienced in these regions while maintaining and improving animal performance.

South Dakota State University Cottonwood Field Station is committed to advancing precision livestock management and will conduct a series of research projects evaluating steers sourced from the CFS cow-calf herd from weaning through to rail to discover climate resilient beef cattle. These animals will be identified using data from feed intake (SmartFeed), animal growth (SmartScale), and enteric emission production (GreenFeed), in conjunction with mathematical animal models. Concurrently, genetic samples will be collected to correlate phenotypic expression of the climate resilient traits with genetic expression. These metrics will be combined to develop genetic selection tools such as Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) and genetic markers. Further, CSF will conduct an economic analysis to estimate the benefits of selecting climate resilient cattle.

Collaboration with C-Lock Inc.

The overarching goal of SDSU is to “develop the CFS into an internationally renowned research and extension site that is recognized for applying precision technology to ranching operations.” Through innovation and the grant awards of SmartFeed and SmartScale technologies from C-Lock Inc., SDSU CFS will be able to capture groundbreaking results from all phases of beef cattle production: cow-calf, stocker/background, and finishing. Their specific objectives tailored to accomplish this goal are:

  • Utilize SmartFeed and SmartScale technologies to evaluate the performance of beef steers from weaning to slaughter.
  • Use performance metrics and enviromics to identify phenotypic traits indicative of cattle that can be classified as “climate resilient.”
  • Correlate phenotypic variation of the climate resilient trait with underlying genetic variations.
  • Develop and implement precision system models that integrate animal nutrition models.
  • Develop and implement comprehensive precision livestock teaching and extension outreach programs for students, producers, and allied industry members.

As partners, CFS and C-Lock Inc. will demonstrate the value of utilizing precision technology and decision-making processes in beef cattle research and production to researchers and livestock producers. The discovery of climate resilient beef cattle has the potential to support producers in selecting cattle for traits that promote optimal performance in cattle in the Northern Great Plains; ultimately, reducing the cost of beef cattle production and promoting sustainability.

Final Remarks from SDSU CFS

“We are excited to continue working with C-Lock through synergistic research and education activities such as the Precision Livestock School and Greenfeed Schools to maximize the impacts of research, teaching, and extension efforts in South Dakota and around the world.” - Ira Parsons, Post-doctoral research associate in animal science and grazing ecology at South Dakota State University.

Written by Sharissa Anderson, a graduate student researcher in sustainable beef cattle production at UC Davis.