An update from the NDSU Beef Cattle Research Complex

Farm Forum

The NDSU Beef Cattle Research Complex has been in operation for a little more than two years, and I thought I would provide a brief update for producers about the of research and Extension activities that have taken place at the complex.

Marc Bauer and I have the privilege of providing oversight for the facility, and Trent Gilbery, with the help of an assistant manager and several students, oversees the day-to-day and minute-to-minute operation of the facility. Other faculty members in and outside of the Animal Sciences Department have been involved with research at the facility.

We are fortunate to have these facilities, and they are providing us with great opportunities to conduct research, train students and provide outreach activities for the industry. Overall, we have had a successful and productive two years. We have been busy conducting research, training and teaching students, hosting industry meetings and providing facility tours.

We have conducted nine experiments at the facility. Although we still are learning how to utilize the facilities most effectively to maximize our productivity, we have made great progress and have been successful in operating a unique and functional research facility.

The most unique aspect of the facility is the computerized feeding system. This equipment is state-of-the art, with only a handful of facilities across North America having similar equipment.

The system allows us to record every feeding event for individual animals throughout the day. It also allows us to feed specific amounts of different diets or feeds within a pen-fed situation. In addition, it allows us to provide feeds at different times of the day.

This provides us great opportunities to develop experiments on several subjects related to feeding and beef cattle production, but it also provides challenges in data handling and analysis because we are collecting very large amounts of data every day. This probably has been the area in which we have grown the most during the first two years in the facility, and great potential exists to further improve this aspect of our research programs to be able to gain the most information from the data we collect.

Our goal was to have a facility that conducts research on growing cattle, finishing cattle and mature cows. Of the nine experiments we have conducted at the facility, three have been on growing cattle, two on finishing cattle, three on pregnant cows and one on impacts on the environment.

Within these experiments, specific topics studied have included alternative feed ingredients, feeding management, behavior, carcass quality, reproduction, fetal development, endocrinology and environment. For more specific information on some of these experiments, please refer to the 2012 North Dakota Beef Report (

Vern Anderson and I have assembled the 2013 North Dakota Beef Report, which will be available this fall. It will have more of the current research results reported. We also have presented results at scientific meetings across North America, and we are preparing manuscripts that will be published in scientific journals.

The good facilities at the Beef Cattle Research Complex and elsewhere across the NDSU system, and the results we are getting from our research, are increasing the national and international visibility of beef cattle research and education in North Dakota. This will continue to allow us to recruit the best students from the North Dakota region and abroad. We are planning experiments for the coming years and have been in discussions with several groups on opportunities for collaboration on research projects.

While the primary function of this facility is to conduct beef cattle research for the producers and industry in North Dakota and the region, many other activities are occurring at the facility. Approximately six to eight part-time undergraduate students work at the facility during the school year, and one full-time undergraduate student works at the facility in the summer.

The student workers gain experience in operating equipment, feeding, cleaning, facilities and grounds maintenance, and animal handling and care, as well as being exposed to and assisting with research projects. Approximately five to 10 graduate students also are involved with the research projects at the facility at any given time. These research projects are a component of some students’ theses and dissertations, and others gain experience in sample collection and animal handling.

Also during the school year, we hold tours and activities related to teaching in Animal Science and Veterinary Technology courses. Students have the opportunity to be exposed to cattle feeding and management, animal handling and beef cattle research.

One of the features of many of these activities is the cattle-handling area where students can observe proper cattle handling through a modern and functional cattle-handling system. Students are provided with a hands-on opportunity to work cattle and operate the handling system.

Because of the interest in the facility, we have given approximately 150 tours to local, state, regional, national and international groups. Those who have toured the facility include beef industry groups, other agricultural groups and groups not directly associated with the agricultural industry. We also have hosted several producer and industry meetings.

If you would like to see the facility or if you are a member of a group that would like a tour of the facility, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (701) 231-7691 or (701) 231-6502.