Missouri State University
Ag Approaches
Exploring Research in Agricultural and Resource Management Strategies

MSU Student Nick Matheney Studies Sunn Hemp with MU

Missouri State University Student Nick Matheney spent the summer working at the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center in Linneus, Mo., looking at the other side of this project. Check out his summer wrap up!     

The warm season legume, sunn hemp, originated from India where it was used to feed cattle as a dry season crop. During this grazing study Josh Tooley, an MU graduate student, and I set out to see if we could sow it into Missouri’s tall fescue pastures. Not only did we anticipate that it could be used as a nitrogen fixation for the fall season on fescue, but also be used as a warm season forage during the time of summer months. To start the project out, we outlined four different replications with three separate groups of stocker cattle being rotated through a special treatment, which included a straight fescue pasture with nitrogen fertilizer added and sun hemp sown in the fields.

Throughout the weeks we observed the pastures, we would scan using a sonic sensor to receive the forage amount that was available within the different paddocks assigned. As the data was analyzed, we created grazing wedges to follow for the cattle rotations. After the cattle grazed the pastures to the desired heights, we would rotate them onto the next pasture. A vital part of the research was taking quality samples from each pasture to test the nutrition of the different forages that was available to the cattle. The sampling was done to calculate the nitrogen levels being out into the system by the sunn hemp in the pastures.

The study continues even though Nick is back in classes at Missouri State University for the fall. The initial results are looking good and will be passed along as soon as the study wraps up for year one!

Using the sonar to read the fields
Taking a closer look at the how the sunn hemp measures up.
The nodules on the sunn hemp show the potential for nitrogen fixation in the soil.


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Meet the Team: Instructor Edition 2.0

This week we will be featuring another one of the faculty with our research project. Our newest communication student, Macey Hurst, spoke with Dr. Philip Lancaster about his educational and research background. Continue reading to see what Macey learned about Dr. Lancaster!

Dr. Phillip Lancaster is an Assistant Professor in the Missouri State University Darr College of Agriculture where his focuses are animal nutrition, animal breeding, and beef cattle production.  He plays an important role in the success of the Beef and Forage Research project as he manages the cattle, among other responsibilities. I had the chance to speak with Dr. Lancaster earlier this week to find out more about his job and how he came to be such an integral part of the university and project.

Dr. Lancaster has been educated and employed around the country.  He received his B.S. in Agriculture Science from Western Illinois University, M.S. in Ruminant Nutrition from University of Missouri, and PhD in Ruminant Nutrition from Texas A&M University.  Following this, he held professional academic positions in the Department of Animal Science at both Oklahoma State University and University of Florida.  So how did he and his wife, also Dr. Lancaster, assistant professor of agronomy, soil, and environmental sciences at MSU, come to reside in Southwest Missouri?  “Sarah and I wanted to be closer to family, especially with two young boys. We started looking for faculty positions at universities in Missouri. We saw that Missouri State agriculture program was growing and had open positions in animal science and agronomy.”

This eventually led to both Lancasters accepting positions within the Missouri State University Darr School of Agriculture, now the Darr College of Agriculture.  When I asked about his duties as an assistant professor, he said, “My position, like most other faculty in [the College of Agriculture], includes teaching, research, and service responsibilities. I teach animal nutrition, animal breeding and beef cattle production classes, perform research in the area of beef cattle nutrition and management, and serve the Missouri beef industry by educating producers.”

The research portion of his duties and extensive experience in the field led him to be a part of the Beef and Forage Research and Outreach project with the primary task of managing the cattle.  I was curious as to how the idea came about.  “This project is an extension of two things – MSU beef program and a project that myself, Sarah and several other faculty performed at Oklahoma State University. The objective of the project is to estimate the fertilizer value of feed inputs in a grazing system. With grain on grass finishing systems similar to MSU beef program, a considerable amount of nutrients are added to the pasture through feed because cattle only retain 5 to 30% of nutrients they consume. Our goal is to quantify the amount of nutrients.”

Dr. Lancaster tells me that the current stage of the project includes changing the facilities of the cattle and that the collected data could benefit operations in the future.  “The grazing phase in year 1 is completed and cattle have been moved into 2 new finishing facilities – open dry lot pens and a covered finishing facility. Cattle will be fed until slaughter and carcass data will be collected. I expect to determine the fertilizer value of feed nutrients excreted in manure of grazing cattle, and in the future, be able to calculate a reduction in fertilizer application to pastures where cattle will be provided feed.”

Thank you to Dr. Lancaster for his involvement in research to make these practices more efficient and for taking his time to tell me more about it.

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Rotational Grazing: What You Need to Know

This week we will be giving you some general information on rotational grazing and how we are using it in our research project.

Rotational grazing can be a benefit to many farmers and ranchers. Proper rotational grazing results in improved and even forage production, especially during droughts. It can also create healthier livestock, decreased weed and erosion problems, and more uniform soil fertility levels.

From 1993 to 1999, the use of rotational grazing in dairy operations increased 21%, and those numbers have increased since then as well. Rotational grazing has become popular because of the economic and environmental benefits, as well as the time it saves to graze cattle. Rather than moving the herd from field to field, a grazer can rotate the livestock from paddock to paddock in one field.

In this project we used rotational grazing to benefit the calf production. We determined which paddock with proper forage growth the calves needed to be rotated into every three and a half days.  This gave enough time for the grass to grow back where they had been before. In each range we had four steers, with nine paddocks in each range. This was enough area for the steers to properly graze on in order to be on the right amount of forage at the correct maturity.

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Field Day Pictures

If you were able to attend our Shealy Farm Field Day you would have seen the photographers roaming around. Feel free to check out the pictures below to see if we snapped a shot of you or your friends!

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The Ultrasonic Sensor

During our Shealy Farm Field Day, two of our students discussed the rotational grazing aspect of our research project. They also showed everyone the ultrasonic sensor that is attached to a John Deere gator used to measure the height of the grass in each paddock. This determines where the cattle need to be moved to.

We are using what is called an ultrasonic sensor to measure the height of the grass in each paddock to determine where cattle need to be moved to. This is an instrument that was developed by Mizzou and attached to the front of a vehicle of some sort. (We use a John Deere gator, Mizzou uses a four-wheeler.)  The ultrasonic sensor uses sonar to measure the height 20 times a second. We take the average from each paddock and move the cattle to the highest average.

When looking at the average height measurements anything that reads below 75mm is considered to be undergrazed, 150mm-225mm is a good grazing height (when the cattle can be moved into the field), and anything above 225mm is considered overgrazed and immediate action would be needed whether it be moving cattle into that field, cutting the grass, etc. Farmers and ranchers usually use a grazing stick to achieve this same result, but the ultrasonic sensor is far more accurate.

The system also uses GPS to calculate the speed in which the vehicle is moving. This is important due to the fact that it needs to be moving at a speed of 5-15 kilometers/hr. The speed also needs to try to be as consistent as possible. When we drive it we try to maintain a speed of 9-10 kilometers/hr. The cost of this particular system, as of right now is $6800. Mizzou is working on a smart phone application that will drop the price of it significantly, but its still in the developing


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