Montana cattle give peas a chance

US - You’ve heard of corn-fed beef. How about pea-fed beef?
calendar icon 13 February 2007
clock icon 2 minute read

Sixteen tons of field peas recently arrived at Montana State University, signaling the beginning of a 90-day experiment to see how beef cattle do when their rations contain field peas, barley malt sprouts and barley instead of corn.

The demand for corn to produce ethanol and high fructose sugar for soda pop has caused a dramatic increase in the price of corn. So have rising freight rates, according to agricultural experts at MSU and elsewhere.

Looking for another and hopefully less expensive substitute, MSU Extension Beef Specialist John Paterson is mixing peas and barley malt sprouts instead of corn into a ration fed to MSU steers in Bozeman. The idea came from Steve McDonnell, manager of Circle S Seeds in Three Forks, Paterson said. The experiment began Jan. 22 and will end in early May.

McDonnell said Montanans grow lots of corn silage, but they can’t feed silage-only to their cattle. The animals have needed grain corn, too. As a result, Montanans buy most of their grain corn from South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. It doesn’t help, McDonnell said, that the price of moving a railroad car filled with corn has doubled since fall.

The field peas for MSU’s experiment came from Chester, Mont., so freight costs are less than if they’d come from out of state, McDonnell said. The barley came from Moore, Mont., and the barley malt sprouts from Great Falls. Paterson said the peas are run through a hammer mill and cracked into two to 10 pieces for easier digestion. Then they’re added to a mixture of barley grain and barley sprouts and fed to steers that live on the MSU farm in Bozeman. Out of 80 steers, 20 are fed four pounds of peas a day. Twenty are fed six pounds a day, and 20 others eat eight pounds. The fourth group are fed no peas.

Paterson said he expects to see a change in the color and smell of the manure because the experimental diet is so high in protein. Think dirty diapers. But what else will happen? Will the animals perform as well with peas as they do with corn?


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