C A L S & B u d g e t C u t s
by Bill Loftus
More than a decade in the making, the 1,044-acre Nancy M. Cummings Research, Extension and Education Center near Salmon ranks as a leader in the nation for range-based beef cattle studies. Established in 2000, it is poised for explosive growth in applied beef and forage research and integrated beef research thanks to its new Temple Grandin-designed cattle working facility, reproduction unit and laboratory, and variable frequency drive controllers for irrigation pumps.
New facilities. The addition of a state-of-the-art GrowSafe cattle feeding system funded largely by federal grant dollars in 2008 allows researchers to precisely monitor individual animals’ diet and feed-use efficiency. That sort of work is fundamental to ensuring Idaho's $1 billion beef industry can compete with those in other states and internationally.
Helping Idaho enter Kobe beef market
One such study this summer provided a practical exercise with a decidedly world-spanning flavor—American Kobe beef. Produced by Snake River Farms, the Wagyu cattle that originated in Japan are coveted worldwide for their tender, tasty meat.
AgriBeef, which operates Snake River Farms, sent 92 young Wagyu bulls to the Cummings Center to use the GrowSafe system for a study that finished in early October, said John B. Hall, Cummings Center superintendent.
The system, bought with a National Science Foundation grant to stimulate competitive research, uses radio transmitter ear tags to operate feed bunks. Individual animals go to any feed bunk. Data collected tell researchers how much time an individual animal spent eating and how much it consumed. When researchers calculate in the animal’s weight gain, the study yields the individual animal’s feed-use efficiency. And that determines which young bulls will produce future generations and which will produce the next round of tasty American Kobe beef.
Feed efficiency is particularly critical for Kobe beef production, noted Carl Hunt, University of Idaho animal and veterinary sciences department head. Wagyu eat feed grain for up to 500 days to develop the rich, marbled meat that diners prize, compared to beef cattle that are normally fed the grain for 150 to 250 days.
The GrowSafe system allows the center to conduct the large-scale studies that few other research locations can pursue with cow-calf beef operations typical of Idaho beef production. “What we're using the system for now will be adapted to conduct other important studies,” Hall said.
Land gift makes beef research center possible
The Cummings Center marked a new era in the UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences research system. Beginning in 2000 and completed in 2005, it took shape through wishes of the Auen Foundation of Palm Desert, Calif., to honor Nancy M. Cummings, a longtime Salmon Valley resident. Some 85 percent of operating dollars including funds for seasonal and part-time staff come from cattle sales (herd: 360 cows and 70 replacement heifers); the other 15 percent comes from the state.
Contact John B. Hall email@example.com.