The Kerr Center’s beef cattle program has the goal of developing a sustainable production system that balances production level with production cost. The system must be forage-based and rely on grazing management practices to maintain soil fertility and promote plant diversity. The Kerr Center also uses this sustainable livestock operation as a training ground for the next generation of ranchers in the Oklahoma Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program.
This “grass farmer plan” focuses on high-density stock grazing to foster health literally from the ground up: from soils through forages to animals. Like all Kerr Center projects and activities, this plan demonstrates the ten principles of sustainability, but none more so than the first: to create and conserve healthy soils. It seeks to understand the connections between soil, forage, and animal, and use all three to benefit each other.
High-density rotational grazing is used throughout the 700 acres. Grazing many animals for a short period of time in a small area benefits the forage by keeping the plants in a vegetative and growing state. It improves soil health by concentrating animal manure and urine for use as fertilizer, and reducing compaction. Animals benefit from frequent moves in continued offerings of fresh and nutritious forages, and reduced parasite exposure.
As in the horticulture plots, good rotations address fertility, weed, insect and parasite pests, and disease management, as well as diversifying forages for nutrition and reducing costs to the operation.
One difference between the horticulture use and livestock is the frequency of rotation: crops every season, livestock as often as every day. The Kerr Center moves animals to balance the system as well as possible without the use of synthetic chemicals or fertilizers.
Soil fertility amendments – poultry litter and lime, as well as other macro- or micronutrients – are not applied on a regular basis, but rather only when soil tests indicate that more is needed than what the animals can provide.
Adapted to Place
The Kerr Center uses a combination of modern and heritage breeds of livestock, all selected based on their compatibility with the climate of southeastern Oklahoma.
A herd of heritage-breed Pineywoods cattle on the Cannon pastures accounts for about a third of the Center's beef cattle count, with the remainder made up of an Angus/Gelbvieh herd at the Headquarters Ranch. Current work focuses on an economic comparison between these two herds, tracking any differences between them with respect to net return, cost per calf weaned, and break-even cost per pound of calf weaned.
The Pineywoods breed, descended from the first Spanish cattle in the New World, is tough and hardy, able to tolerate heat and humidity and thrive on pasture. The Angus/Gelbvieh herd was developed over many years of careful selection and culling to produce an animal that would fit “the box” for the commercial industry.
All these animals have to be able to thrive in the hot, humid conditions of southeast Oklahoma and be able to deal with endophyte infected fescue. This decreases the level of production inputs (fertilizers, herbicides, feeds, and labor) and increases returns.
Management intensive grazing can also be a tool for maintaining native pollinator habitat.
Will Lathrop, Cattle Manager
Kerr Center livestock projects:
Kerr Center livestock resources:
General management, herd health, calving, heritage breeds
Buck test, brush control, herd health, kidding
Pastured poultry, chicken tractors, table-egg enterprise guide