Beef cattle can find something to eat 12 months out of the year in pastures across the Southeast. That advantage gives beef producers in the region a chance to take some of the market from cattle that are finished on grain in the Midwest.

That’s why Clemson University and Auburn University have joined the Pasture Based Beef Systems for Appalachia, a research program also involving the USDA/ARS, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and West Virginia University.

“There is a growing demand for forage-fed beef across the country,” said Steve Meadows, resident director at Edisto Research and Education Center. Over the next five years he will supervise development of a herd of 150 brood cows to help identify the genetics for herd improvement, develop suitable forage systems and produce a better steak.

“Grass-fed beef has certain nutritional advantages,” said Meadows. “Forage-fed beef is leaner than grain-fed beef and contains greater concentrations of desirable fatty acids and antioxidants. Pasture-raised animals contain less total fat and saturated fat per serving than those finished in a feedlot.”

He said research has shown that beef cattle naturally produce a potent anticarcinogen — conjugated linoleic acid. Forage fed beef contains twice the amount of this anticarcinogen than beef from a grain diet.

The search for the best cattle breeds for forage systems has already begun with 30 head of Angus and Hereford. The project will also look at which forage species are suitable for finishing cattle in this area and how they impact meat quality.

The proof will be on the plate. Within two years Edisto REC will have beef ready for tenderness and taste panel testing.

“More than ever consumers want their food to be produced in an environment that minimizes the use of pesticides and antibiotics,” said Meadows. “This project minimizes animal confinement, reduces the concentration of animal waste, and replaces cereal grains such as corn and oats with forages that grow readily here.”

A switch from feedlots to pastures would have the added benefit of reducing the nation’s biosecurity risks.

He said farms both small and large will be able to benefit from the project’s research, whether they run cow-calf operations or do custom grazing and finishing.

e-mail: tlollis@clemson.edu