Ecologically and Economically Sustainable Strategies for Beef Cattle Production in the Southern Great Plains Grant uri icon


  • The beef cattle industry of the Southern Great Plains is intimately intertwined with the verticality of cow-calf through meat packing segments located within the region. Long-term economic and ecological sustainability the industry will depend on each component of the industry and the natural resources it depends on to adapt to the complex socio-economic and climate changes predicted over the next 25 years. Increasing demands for ecosystems goods and services from an ever-growing human population, necessitate focusing on improving the efficiency which goods and services are produced from ecosystem resources and the sustainability of ecosystems capacity provide both at a local, regional, and global level. Beef industry awareness of complex challenges facing sustainable beef production was captured in the formation of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef in 2010 and subsequent establishment of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef in 2015.Overall, beef sustainability depends on determining the overall efficiency of a given animal or genotype within a production environment. The cow-calf and stocker cattle segments depend on developing a balance between spatial-temporal variability nutrient supplies, nutrient demands, and nutrient conversion efficiency to support economical beef cattle performance with the need of soils and forage plants to recover from prolonged drought, increased woody plant competition and severe overgrazing. The three dominant grazed ecosystems are native rangeland, introduced pasture and cropland annual forages. These contrasting ecosystems are utilized to provide year-round grazable forage. Each of these ecosystems has been and will continue to be impacted by climate and socio-economic changes. Continued sustainable production of goods and services from these three grazed ecosystems requires a renewed focus on balancing cattle physiologic and nutritional requirements with plant and soil requirements considering changing climatic conditions.Moving forward, a primary beef cattle centric concern of sustainable productivity from these grazed ecosystems is selection of adapted animals based on determining the overall phenotypic efficiency of a given animal or genotype within a production environment. Phenotypic traits are the result of complex interactions among the animal genome, diet, gut microbiome, and environment. It could be argued that residual feed intake (RFI), is an important economic phenotype relevant to sustainability of the beef industry in all environments. Approximately two-thirds of the cost of producing beef is directly related to the expense of feed inputs, so strategies that improve efficiency of feed utilization will substantially improve the economic viability and environmental footprint of beef production systems. Weaber (2012) estimated that the US beef industry could save $1 billion annually by reducing RFI by 10% (equivalent to reducing daily intake by 0.9 kg per animal).

date/time interval

  • 2018 - 2023