If you're looking for the “center” of the U.S. beef stocker segment, it appears to be located five miles northwest of Manhattan, KS. It's comprised of a teaching and research facility called the Beef ID Center that is surrounded by 1,000 acres of rolling Flint Hills pastures. Together, they make up the Kansas State University (KSU) Beef Stocker Unit.
The facility will be dedicated Sept. 17, when it hosts the 2004 Beef Stocker Field Day (see www.beefstockerusa.org). But, BEEF got a sneak peek at the multi-use facility that director Dale Blasi says will follow the “traditional land-grant mission.”
“We'll address pertinent research questions, train graduate students and use it as a teaching facility for undergraduates, as well as informal educational opportunities for producers from Kansas and throughout the U.S.,” Blasi says.
The complex, which the stocker program took over this past April, is the former KSU Range Unit. The 60- by 90-ft., open-front building that served as the facility's headquarters is now called the Beef ID Center.
Since the stocker folks took over the building, they've poured a new concrete slab over half of the steel facility's crushed gravel floor. On that slab, state-of-the art working facilities have been mounted, some features of which aren't even commercially available yet.
Hanging from the building's center joist is a roller tarp that can be dropped to separate the working area from classroom lectures to be held in the other half. A climate-controlled office area and storage make up the rest of the building's features.
Immediately outside the facility are pens that can handle up to 600 calves for short-term sorts, and an outdoor cattle-working chute. Surrounding the working and teaching facility are 18 paddocks.
“This is a beef unit, but it's also a land-resource unit,” Blasi says. “And, we'll manage those pastures as a stocker producer would, trying to optimize the grass and the forage.”
To that end, Blasi says improvements such as clearing brush and updating fencing is underway. “We've strung about two miles of high-tensile fence,” he says.
That brush-clearing effort was due to get some help in late August when 100 nanny goats were to arrive at the facility to be turned into the worst brush areas. Another 200 are due to arrive in September. Blasi adds that controlled burns will also be conducted next spring.
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, Blasi points out the goats are there for more than their appetite.
“They're one of the natural biological tools that we'll look at to see how they help graziers clean up brushy or weedy pastures,” he says.
Plus, Blasi adds, the growing demand for goat meat, or “cabrito,” among the swelling Hispanic population of the area portends a healthy market for goat meat.
“We think there's potential for goats to not only help stocker operators better manage pastures but provide an alternate line of income in certain situations,” he says.
Other work underway includes an evaluation of fat-level content of grass on those pastures. Blasi wants to determine and measure the kind of fat available in the forage and how it changes over the season.
“With that data, we hope to build a model in order to research supplementation strategies down the road,” Blasi says.
For microchip and hydraulics freaks, the collection of equipment in the Beef ID Center's cattle working area is sure to please. First off, the squeeze tub features a unique crowding gate developed by Jon Mollhagen of Moly Manufacturing, Lorraine, KS, and is called a “Turret Gate.”
Rather than pushing the crowd gate back through to its starting position, the solid gate slides through its center pivot to its original starting position. The feature isn't commercially available yet, but would appear to make for easier and calmer cattle handling.
Once cattle move into the squeeze chute, weight is recorded via suspended load cells into the TruTest XR3000 weighing system. A 42-in. plasma screen, mounted on the wall above the chute, can be plugged into a notebook computer for easy, class-sized viewing of the information gathered at chuteside.
Blasi also acquired samples of virtually every radio-frequency ID (RFID) tag and reader available for livestock ID purposes in the U.S. With RFID appearing to be the technology most likely to serve as the basis of the coming national livestock ID program, the facility is well poised to continue its industry-leading ID research and education role, Blasi says.