WCC110: Improving Ruminant Use of Forages in Sustainable Production Systems for the Western U.S.
Statement of Issues and Justification"Animal agriculture in the western U.S. is dominated by cow-calf and ewe-lamb enterprises utilizing grazed or harvested forage resources. The landscape and climate of the West provides abundant rangelands and agricultural lands suited to forage production, but land suitable for production of other crops or feedstuffs is limited. The nutritional value of these forages, particularly those grazed from rangeland, is highly variable in space and time, with the nutrient content often below requirements of livestock. Despite significant accomplishments by animal and range scientists to understand these relationships and develop management strategies to overcome them, opportunities remain for improvement in the efficiency of conversion of grazed and harvested forages to animal products useful for human consumption. Increased knowledge in this field would contribute to improved nutritional status and productivity of livestock, improved economic efficiency in forage-based livestock production systems, and improved sustainability in ranching enterprises and rural communities that depend upon them. A multitude of issues challenge livestock producers throughout the West, but maintaining economic viability is the most important and most difficult to address because production costs often exceed market value of livestock and livestock products. Economic efficiency can be improved by increasing biological efficiency. Improving the proportion of forage nutrients converted to animal products based on sound, science-based management strategies is the most viable means of achieving improved biological efficiency. Efforts will be focused on improved biological efficiency, such as eliciting greater levels of targeted livestock response (i.e. growth, reproduction) per unit of forage consumed. In turn, effectiveness of these improvements in biological efficiency on economic efficiency, measured as change in returns per unit of additional input, will be monitored. Regional coordination will allow synergism in development of knowledge in each component area as well as integration into systems approaches.
Another major issue challenging producers is that forage-based production systems must enhance ecological sustainability of western rangelands. Production systems that optimize livestock efficiencies cannot do so at the expense of the environment. Systems that concomitantly improve livestock and landscape responses need to be used. For example, increased conversion of nutrients to productive purposes in the animal reduces nutrient loading in air, soil, and water through decreased animal excretion. Individual state efforts that contribute to this issue will be conducted collaboratively with range ecologists and watershed scientists within those institutions.
The focus of this WCC is to contribute to our basic understanding of processes in (1) the plant-animal-landscape interface, (2) nutrient digestion and utilization from forages, and (3) nutritional management strategies based on grazed or harvested forages. The intent is to improve livestock behavioral, digestive, metabolic, physiologic, production, and integrated system responses. Continuous communication and collaboration among scientists working in this discipline can lead to the most rapid development and transfer of new knowledge related to sustainable livestock production from forage-based systems. This effort will contribute to the ESCOP initiative ranked number 2 by AES directors in the western region: "develop integrated and sustainable animal production systems." It will indirectly contribute to other initiatives, such as strengthening rural economic development, converting processing by-products to beneficial uses (as feedstuffs), conserving and enhancing air, soil, and water resources (through reduced nutrient excretion and improved livestock grazing distribution), and enhancing the health and well-being of food animals (through improved nutritional status)."
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