UI center adds pasture research facility
By John O’Connell
SALMON, Idaho — University of Idaho’s newest research center has completed construction of a facility to study nutrition intake of groups of livestock in pastures and plans to begin using it this fall.
The pasture research facility is the latest in a series of center improvements, with a combined investment of nearly $700,000.
Center superintendent John Hall explained the facility encompasses roughly 100 acres of a 220-acre pivot, divided into four 25-acre pastures that each contain six smaller paddocks. The paddocks all have a GrowSafe trough, which tracks how often individual animals in a group setting feed, and how much they eat. Hall explained it’s more natural for cattle to feed in a group setting.
Hall said UI operates one of the few pasture-based facilities in the U.S. where such research can be conducted. While other GrowSafe facilities in the U.S. are modeled after feedlots, Hall said a pasture-based facility will enable UI to study variation in consumption of nutrition supplements, as cattle will graze for their feed and leave troughs free. Industry partners make use the data to tweak rations to be tastier or slightly less appealing so animals will eat the proper quantities.
“We’ve already received some inquiries from industry in designing and doing some experiments with us in this facility,” Hall said, adding he hopes industry support will make the facility self-sufficient and potentially support other work at the center. “We envision this facility is going to be fairly busy, especially during grazing season.”
Hall said the first study will focus on weened cattle, monitoring the loose mineral the center has been giving to its own animals to iron out any bugs before work commences with an industry partner.
Other recent improvements at the center include a low-stress livestock handling area and a beef nutrition unit.
Hall said the handling facility was designed by Temple Grandin’s organization. He explained Grandin, a Colorado State University professor known for her accomplishments in designing livestock handling facilities, utilized curved alleyways that direct cattle in a circular path, which tends to relax them.
In the facility — where vaccinations, animal weighing, veterinary treatments, pregnancy testing and other health functions are conducted — electric prods are never used and conditions are kept as quiet as possible, Hall said. The center placed a structure over the handling facility in 2011.
Also in 2009, a facility for beef nutrition research opened at the center, including an indoor GrowSafe system where feed efficiency is evaluated. Hall said the center hopes the data will be useful in identifying genes, other biological markers or hormones associated with animal growth.
The Auen Foundation donated land for the 1,100-acre center.
Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of Idaho Cattle Association, attended an Aug. 8 tour of the facility. He said ICA helped recruit donations from the industry to bolster the facility’s initial cattle herd, and he believes the nutrition research is especially valuable to Idaho’s high-elevation ranches with conditions similar to Salmon.
Prescott said the facility’s research on cattle reproduction and identifying positive traits in cattle through genomics and DNA testing also has a significant industrywide benefit.