By Jennifer Whitlock
Texas A&M University researchers received a $ 500,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to study density of stocking of butcher’s heifers reared in dry pens.
While drylands are not a common feature of the Texas landscape, they likely will be in the future as Texas urbanization continues to accelerate. And you better be prepared, said Texas A&M Beef Cattle Production Associate Professor Dr Reinaldo Cooke.
“Houston, Navasota and College Station will soon become a large metropolitan area. We’re going to have fewer grass resources for livestock, competing with urban development and agricultural production, ”Cooke said. AgriLife today. “I don’t think the whole industry will move to contained operations, but we need to find management systems to make sure we maintain or promote production efficiency and promote animal welfare. “
Replacement heifers from spring calving herds are usually weaned in the fall and bred the following spring when they are about 15 months old. In the western part of the United States, Cooke noted that heifers are frequently moved to dry land in winter around the age of seven to nine months to ensure they are fed appropriately for optimal growth.
Previous studies by Cooke found that butcher’s heifers moved to dry pens had lower reproductive efficiency than expected, however.
There are no clear guidelines on this, as current recommendations on contained farming are generally aimed at feedlots or dairy cattle and not cow-calf operations. And density guidelines for feedlots haven’t been updated since the 1980s, he added.
Cooke, with Drs. Rodolfo Cardoso, Courtney Daigle, Cliff Lamb and Ky Pohler will study how stocking density can affect reproductive health and development in heifers.
“Whenever we have heifers locked in a confined environment, their reproductive efficiency is lower than that of open pasture heifers which have poorer quality feed,” he said. “Dry heifers gained more weight with better feed, but no reproductive efficiency. “
The researchers’ working theory is that heifers raised in dry pens don’t have as much space or ability to move around, which somehow affects hormone production. The study will determine whether providing voluntary exercise areas and more roosting space negates the effects of dryland housing on reproductive efficiency.
The team bases their theory on studies on dairy farms showing that cows with opportunities for voluntary exercise had positive outcomes in terms of welfare and productivity. Cooke said he expects to see similar results in reproductive responses in dry-pen heifers.
In addition to providing exercise space, Cooke and his colleagues will compare different stocking densities. Hosting larger groups with more space can alleviate social stressors among herds and promote physical activity, he noted.
“We will have 30 minutes of exercise per day and heifers without exercise to determine if their reproductive inefficiency is due to being confined or lack of exercise,” he said. “Our second and third goals will look at stocking densities – how many animals in the pens.”
the Federation of Animal Science Societies recommends approximately 15 square yards per heifer in dry, unpaved terrain. Cooke said they will start with the suggested minimum space and work until they achieve the same levels of reproductive efficiency as pasture-raised heifers.