Two years ago, North Dakota State University opened a beef cattle research facility unlike any other at a U.S. university.
The state-of-the-art feeding system at NDSU's Beef Cattle Research Complex allows researchers to feed different diets to cattle in the same pen at different times of the day and monitor each animal's intake.
Since then, NDSU's Beef Cattle Research Complex has helped raise awareness of beef cattle research and education in North Dakota to a national and international level.
"North Dakota beef producers are excited about the new Beef Cattle Research Complex," says Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association. "It features state-of-the-art equipment that gives researchers the ability to conduct very specialized feeding trials that will help the beef industry answer critical questions regarding feed efficiency and related topics."
The complex, dedicated in the summer of 2011, can accommodate up to 192 cattle. It consists of a feeding area, cattle handling system, calving pens, an office and laboratory area, and a facility for mixing and storing feed. Fewer than six facilities of this caliber exist in North America.
"We conduct a broad range of research that encompasses what happens in the beef industry in North Dakota," says Kendall Swanson, an associate professor in NDSU's Animal Sciences Department. He, along with associate professor Marc Bauer, oversees the complex. "Our goal was to have a facility that conducts research on growing cattle, finishing cattle and mature cows."
NDSU researchers have conducted 11 experiments at the complex, including three on growing cattle, three on pregnant cows and two on finishing cattle. They've studied alternative feed ingredients, feeding management, feeding behavior, carcass quality, reproduction, fetal development, hormones and environmental impacts.
In experiments with alternative feeds, for example, they found that feeding dried distillers grains plus solubles (DDGS) only on alternate days decreased forage intake but didn't negatively impact cow weight, or body condition or composition, and that supplementing medium-quality hay diets for growing cattle with DDGS increased the animals' growth performance and forage intake.
Work with pregnant cows indicates that nutrition can impact blood flow to the uterus, which affects fetal development and could result in differences in the calves' development after birth.