Annual Forages & Ultrasound for Forage Finishing Beef

There has been considerable interest in finishing animals off pasture in Manitoba. In the growing and finishing period in a beef animal, the growing period is when the animal develops its skeletal frame and muscle, the finishing period is when the animal is close or at maturity and develops the internal  fat deposit as marbling fat and on the surface of the carcass. If this is accomplished correctly, the animal will be able to meet the Canadian grades.

Forage-finished beef has gained interest due to the recognized health benefits of the meat, and has also developed a potential niche market in Manitoba.

In Manitoba we have the high quality of forages required for efficient and economic gain of the beef cow/calf on pasture and for the weaned calf during the winter months. When the beef animal is introduced back to the pasture in early spring to mid summer the quality of the forage is excellent to continue economic gain until mid summer. However at this time we often have high temperatures and low moisture levels that reduce the quality and digestibility of perennial forages.  The use of annual forages including warm season forages such as corn, soybeans or cool season forage such as Italian rye grass or spring/winter annual cereals, have the high energy values required to maintain the performance of the grazing animals during this finishing periods. In other areas, animals have been successfully finished off pasture using these annual forages as the finishing crop.

There has been minimal experience in Manitoba using these annual forages to finish beef animals off pasture. Most of the experience has been the use of these crops with the cow herd only.

The production of forage fed beef in Manitoba also involves the adoption of some new technology to insure the production of a quality meat product that will meet current grade standards and most important a very high standard in eating quality of the meat.
Several organizations in North America who are involved in the production of forage finished beef production and marketing, have developed protocols for producers involved in the Value Chain. In particular is the requirement to have the animals scanned with ultrasound technology to determine:
•    Steers and heifers: maximum of 30 months of age with carcass weight between 500-900 lbs.
•    Fat cover verified by ultrasound a minimum of 0.25 inches at a maximum of 50 days prior to harvest.
•    Actual rib eye area must be a minimum of 10.00 sq. inches.
•    Minimum % intramuscular fat must be 3.5%.
•    Rib eye shape score must equal or exceed 0.50.
•    Tenderness score of 25 or less.

This technology is not common in Western Canada and it would be useful to demonstrate this technology to those interested in the production of forage finished beef.

Project Objective:
•    To demonstrate and evaluate the potential of using annual forages to finish animals off pasture to an acceptable grade.
•    To evaluate annual forages such as: corn, soybeans, Italian rye grass and barley/fall rye.
•    To demonstrate the technology required to assess the correct degree of marbling, tenderness and fat finish for forage finished beef required for the niche market.

Annual forages:
•    Four demonstration sites to be selected in areas of the province where there is interest.
•    Four annual forage options to be available to cooperators
•    Corn (open pollinated varieties an option) to be seeded at three seeding dates (15 days apart) to insure high quality of the forage during the grazing period. Corn to be strip grazed at a green leaf stage prior to tasselling on a 2-3 day strip graze. Appropriate fertility and herbicide procedures to be used. Cow herd can be used to clean up residue. There will be not regrowth thus the need for the staggered planting.
•    Forage soybeans (more drought tolerant) to be seeded in early May. Seeding rate is 20-25% higher than for grain production. They are to be grazed when the plants are 20 to 40 inches tall. There could be some potential for regrowth after grazing (strip grazing) if heavy grazing is avoided.
•    Italian rye grass varieties to be seeded in early May using appropriate fertility and seeding techniques for grass seed. Grazing to begin when the plant growth is approximately six to eight inches tall. A suitable rest/recovery grazing system to be used to allow for recovery.
•    Barley or oats/fall rye to be seeded early spring using the appropriate fertility and herbicide practices. Grazing can begin when the growth is approximately six to eight inches tall. Proved heavy grazing is avoided, regrowth for the summer period is possible from the barley and then from the fall rye.
•    Obtain the services of a qualified technician with the necessary equipment to scan animals prior to slaughter to determine the degree of finish.
•    The number of sites could be approximately five (4 annual forage, 1 perennial forage) locations throughout Manitoba.
•    To use ultrasound technology to determine level of finish in the stockers twice during the season. The animals will be scanned in fall (Sept) when they are estimated to be finished.  Animals requiring more time to finish will be fed high quality forage for another 2-3 months after which they will be scanned a second time.

Project Contact: Glenn Friesen, Juanita Kopp, Larry Fischer, MAFRI
Ph: (204) 745-5672 / (204) 825-4302 / (204) 871-2109
Start Date: April 2008
Funding Partners: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Greencover Canada Program Technical Assistance Component, Co-operators, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, MFC.
Project Results: Annual Forages for Beef Finishing Report 08-09