Department of Animal Science


Date of this Version



Journal of Animal Science, 2023, 101, 1–10


Used by permission.


An experiment was conducted over 2 yr to measure performance and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of weaned calves from two cow-calf production systems. Crossbred steers and heifers (n = 270, initial body weight (BW) = 207 kg, SD = 35) were used in a randomized complete block design, with treatments applied to the cow-calf system. Treatments were: 1) a traditional system consisting of April to June calving with smooth bromegrass pasture and grazed corn residue as forage resources (TRAD); 2) an alternative system consisting of July to September calving utilizing partial-drylot feeding, summer-planted oats, and corn residue grazing (ALT). Calves from both production systems were weaned at the same age and grown (diet NEg = 1.05 Mcal kg–1) for approximately 117 d. The calves then transitioned to a high-grain finishing diet (year 1: NEg = 1.32 Mcal kg–1; year 2: NEg = 1.39 Mcal kg–1) and fed to a targeted 1.52 cm backfat. Growth performance in the grower phase resulted in greater (P < 0.01) average daily gain (1.39 vs. 1.22 ± 0.02 kg), greater gain:feed (P < 0.01; 0.157 vs. 0.137 ± 0.003) for ALT calves compared to TRAD calves, However, a lower initial BW (P < 0.01; 185 vs. 229 ± 4.9 kg) resulted in a lower ending BW (P < 0.01; 347 vs. 371 ± 2.9 kg) for ALT calves compared to TRAD calves in spite of improved growth performance. In the finisher phase, ALT calves gained less (1.52 vs. 1.81 ± 0.218 kg; P = 0.02), were less efficient (0.139 vs. 173 ± 0.0151; P = 0.01) but exhibited similar hot carcass weights (HCW) (388 vs. 381 ± 3.8 kg; P = 0.14) compared to TRAD calves. Each pen of calves was put into a large pen-scale chamber that continuously measured carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and methane (CH4 ) for 5 d during the grower and finisher phases. The average CH4 and CO2 production per unit of feed intake was used to calculate total GHG emissions over the entire grower and finisher phase. Overall, there were no differences (P ≥ 0.17) between treatments for CH4 per day and per kilogram dry matter intake (DMI). However, ALT calves tended to produce less (P ≤ 0.10) CO2 per day and per kilogram DMI than TRAD calves. Overall, methane emissions were greater in ALT calves (110.7 vs. 92.2 ± 8.3 g CH4 kg–1 HCW; P = 0.04) than TRAD calves. The ALT calves required 27 additional days on feed to market, which resulted in more total CH4 per animal across the entire feeding period (P = 0.02) than TRAD calves. Production systems that reduce days to market to achieve similar HCW may reduce GHG emissions.