Great Then, Still Great Now

Great Then, Still Great Now

The high-points:

  • Common sustainability practices at use in feedlots, decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Some of these practices use technology like hormonal feed additives, implants, and β-agonists.
  • Still today, growth-enhancing technologies have a vital role in the efficiency of beef production.

What you need to know: As discussed in a previous R2R edition (read it here), sustainability is a growing conversation that the beef industry is at the forefront of. The world's attention is on us as they wait to see how we respond to concerns and questions. This platform gives us a unique opportunity to share cattle agriculture's sustainability practices, which have existed for many years now.

Some of these practices include using growth-enhancing technology like hormonal feed additives, implants, and β-agonists. These are standard practices in the feedlots of North America, used to improve animal performance. They are also responsible for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 Equivalent) by an estimated 14.0% per kg of live weight from the years 1981 to 2011 (Legesse et al. 2016).  

The research discussed today was conducted over four years to re-establish the efficacy of these technologies, compared to their outset 20+ years ago. These researchers note that with improvements in feeding practices, genetic selection, as well as animal management and health have all improved feedlot performance over the past few decades – meaning the benefit of using growth-enhancing technologies could be negated by improvements elsewhere.  

However, the researchers found that was not the case – observing marked differences between the treatment groups and control groups for each technology. In separate trials, the hormonal feed additives and implant technologies significantly improved feed efficiency compared to control animals only receiving feed. Additionally, all three technologies increased average daily gain across the entire feeding period, decreasing animal days on feed. However, steers had a more significant average daily gain from implants than heifers – a common finding in previous research.

The researchers concluded, stating, "It is clear that these growth-enhancing technologies play a central role in increasing the efficiency of beef cattle production, which logically will result in less manure production and greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of beef produced."

Important to note:

  • All three of these technologies decrease the quality grades of the carcasses, which reduces the value per pound of meat produced. However, this does not affect the growth efficiency, and sustainability, of these animals.

Industry application: Cattle agriculture has a unique opportunity to demonstrate this increase in sustainability that we have realized in the previous decades by way of technology. This paper is a great example of how beef production continues to improve and become more sustainable through the years.  

Read more about it:

Effect of trenbolone acetate, melengestrol acetate, and ractopamine hydrochloride on the growth performance of beef cattle | Canadian Journal of Animal Science
The effect of trenbolone acetate + estradiol (TBA) implants, melengestrol acetate (MGA), and ractopamine hydrochloride + TBA (RAC + TBA) on growth performance and carcass characteristics in beef cattle (n = 680; 279 ± 10.1 kg) fed barley grain/corn silage was examined in a 4 yr study (four pens per…