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Research update: SAREC director provides update on current agricultural research

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

During the Wyoming-Utah Ag Day, held on Jan. 26 in Evanston, University of Wyoming (UW) Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) Director Dr. Steve Paisley provided an update on three current UW agricultural research projects.

Cattle performance and grazing

            The first study brought up in Paisley’s discussion is a collaborative project led by Justin Derner, a rangeland scientist at the High Plains Research Station in Cheyenne and UW Graduate Student Averi Hales.

            Paisley explained the study consists of three different groups of cattle – a group of steers from a local grazing cooperative, a group from Colorado State University (CSU) and a group from the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC), headquartered in Clay Center, Neb. 

            “The research is layered on some existing studies, but Hales is looking at the difference in performance between the three groups and why those cattle seem to perform better than the others,” Paisley said. “Specifically, the study is looking at differences in grazing behavior, using collars to recognize when animals are actively grazing. They are actively bringing cattle in to take rumen samples and monitoring diet quality by taking fecal samples from the pasture, then using near-infrared spectroscopy analysis to determine forage digestibility and protein content of range forages.”

            “They also have pedometers on the cattle to look at how far cattle travel everyday,” Paisley added. “Additionally, the study has walk-across weigh units that animals have to cross to get to all of their water sources, so researchers in this study are getting daily weights on those cattle as well.”

            While the study encompasses a multitude of different research, Paisley noted Hales’ project mainly evolves around taking rumen samples and working with USMARC to study the difference in microbial populations in the rumen across the three groups of cattle.

            “Interestingly enough, they have found there is quite a bit of variation in performance between these three sets of cattle,” Paisley stated. “They believe the cattle from the grazing cooperative are performing better because they grew up in the area and are either adapted to the diet or their rumen is set up to utilize the native forage more efficiently.”

            Paisley noted Hales is in the first year of her research and will be finishing up her project this coming summer.

Sunn hemp 

            The second study currently taking place at UW-SAREC is looking at using sunn hemp as a cover crop or in a rotational planting system with winter wheat.

            “Sunn hemp is an annual, warm-season legume that can grow up to five feet tall in irrigated systems and grow well in dryland systems also,” Paisley explained. “Sunn hemp contains close to 20 percent protein and is similar in both protein and energy to a high-quality alfalfa hay.” 

            Paisley explained in the UW-SAREC study, researchers including UW Crop Scientist Carrie Eberle and Graduate Student Lauren Shortnancy are conducting a 50-day feeding study of 72 calves split between nine pens with a GrowSafe System.

            “They are comparing three different diets – a growing diet of three percent alfalfa, a diet of 20 percent alfalfa and 20 percent sunn hemp and a diet comprised of 40 percent alfalfa, 40 percent corn silage and 20 percent corn,” he said. “The GrowSafe System will measure both individual performance and diet preference.”

            Paisley continued, “Researchers took an interest in sunn hemp because it is an annual legume that can potentially fix nitrogen in the soil. The only other annual legumes available for producers to grow in this area are dry beans and soybeans, which require more water than sunn hemp.” 

            Although the study has seemed successful thus far, Paisley noted researchers have run into a few issues.

            “One of the challenges we’ve had with sunn hemp is when we sample it out in the field it is upwards of 25 percent protein, but when we sample it in the bale it is only about 17 to 18 percent protein,” he explained. “Sunn hemp has leaves that pulverize similar to dry beans and soybeans, so by the time we mow it, windrow it and bale it, we lose a lot of the leaf, which is where most of the nutrient value is.” 

            Therefore, Paisley noted researchers are currently busy figuring out how to retain nutrient value. Right now, they are looking at harvesting it as haylage or bale age instead. Paisley said concluding data should be available in coming months.

 Synovex implants

            The last project mentioned by Paisley looked at the difference in performance of cattle implanted with Synovex-C implants versus Synovex ONE GRASS implants.

            “Obviously, there are a lot of implants available for cattle these days, but we became interested in the new Synovex ONE GRASS, which is a 200-day, slow-release implant intended for grazing cattle,” said Paisley. “Theoretically, a producer could give this implant to a steer turned out in June and it would last the entire summer grazing season. Most implants only act for 80 to 90 days.” 

            In the study, Paisley said the research team, including UW Graduate Student Zach Pieper, implanted 600 calves – 300 steer calves and 300 heifer calves – prior to turning them out on summer grass in northeastern Wyoming.

            “The study was comprised of a non-implanted control group, a group implanted with Synovex-C, which is traditionally used in calves and a group implanted with Synovex ONE GRASS,” Paisley explained. “These calves were followed all the way through the feedlot, and carcass data was collected following slaughter.” 

            In the end, Paisley noted study data showed an 18-pound weight gain in heifers implanted with Synovex-C and a 24-pound weight gain in heifers implanted with Synovex ONE GRASS. Steers with the Synovex-C implant gained an additional 14 pounds, while steers implanted with Synovex ONE GRASS gained an additional 20 pounds.

“With implants, we are looking at a 15 to 20 pound weight gain across the board,” stated Paisley. “This increase in performance seems to follow them through the end of their life. In fact, the cattle were finished in a feedlot in Wheatland and they continued to have up to a 20 pound weight advantage through their life.” 

Hannah Bugas is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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