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MSU Extension Researchers In Lake City Release Five-Year Study On Cow Feed

Feeding cows corn or grass?

It’s been a question for farmers nationwide.

Now farmers in Michigan are helping find some answers.

Researchers from the Michigan State University Extension started looking into grass and corn-feeding cows five years ago.

Its results show benefits to cows in the pasture we didn’t know were there.

9&10’s Cody Boyer and photojournalist Derrick Larr spoke with farmers and researchers about the new findings.


When you’re a cow, you eat a lot.

Mostly, grains like corn silage or grass.

“We’re really, as much as anything, about trying to find alternate possibilities,” says Jason Rowntree, beef farmer and MSU Associate Professor of Animal Science. “Working to improve the profitability, improving the lives of people that we work with and, likewise, the environment, that’s kind of been the over-arching goal and the mission here at the center.”

MSU Extension researchers and farmers, like Rowntree, documented cows eating grass and corn for five years after concern grew for GMO’s in corn-based feed.

The results, Michigan fields aren’t half bad.

“Beef in the United States is 99-percent grain finished,” Rowntree says. “Northern Michigan has an awesome opportunity to grow very good, high-quality forages for about 150 to 180 days a year and what our data shows is that we can very efficiently grass-finish cattle in these systems."

Meaning Michigan has ideal conditions for pasture feeding to be a healthy choice, he says.

“This pocket in the Upper Midwest is one of the very few places in the world that had the ability to grow the amount of forage that we can and high-quality forage that will actually get cattle fat in a window that is still conducive to not using too much land or too many natural resources,” Rowntree says. “We can finish a steer on grass in this environment, we can take them from 800 pounds in May to 1,150 or 1,200 in December. We’ve been able to see that be profitable.”

“We can raise a lot of forage, a lot of pasture land in Northern Michigan that is very economical,” says Jerry Lynquist, MSU Extension Agriculture Educator in Reed City.

For the Extension, it’s market science.

The extension found grass-fed cows help bring in 25-percent higher revenues than corn-fed beef.

“Our research has discovered that grass-fed beef production is very practical and very economical here in Michigan,” Lynquist says. “We can produce a good eating, good-tasting grass-fed beef product across the us, but especially here in Michigan."

The bottom line, Northern Michigan cows and those who raise them can’t really go wrong.

“It really depends on the market and it depends on the grower’s preference on what they prefer to raise, as well, so there really isn’t one direction that everyone should go."