Feeding Peas can Support Superior Performance in Beef Cattle while Enhancing the Eating Qualities of the Meat

Peas- a Nutrient Dense and Palatable Feed Ingredient

If you haven't finalized your cropping plans for 2013 to provide feed for your beef cattle, you may want to give peas some consideration. Peas are a versatile, palatable and nutrient dense feed ingredient that can be grown and harvested as forage or as a feed grain. Either way, they make an excellent feed ingredient for all livestock; however this article talks about the benefits of feeding peas to beef cattle.

Field peas harvested as grain have a starch content of typically around 50% resulting in energy levels comparable to grain corn. Crude protein levels typically are around 25% but can vary from 17% to 27% depending on variety, growing conditions and other factors. Because of their nutrient composition they can provide much of the needed energy and protein when included in beef cattle rations. The protein in peas is highly rumen degradable (ranges from 78 to 94% RDP) which can be beneficial for the growth of rumen microbes and will have a positive effect on forage digestion which should result in improved feed efficiency.

Versatile Feed Ingredient

Research has demonstrated that field peas can be effective in beef creep feeds, receiving or starter rations, growing and feedlot finishing rations, supporting similar or in many cases superior performance when compared to other ingredients.

Peas are very palatable, so they are particularly beneficial in starting calves on feed when included in creep and starter rations. Based on research data, Dr. Anderson suggests that dry matter intakes will be higher and feed efficiency will be improved when field peas are included in beef creep rations at inclusion rates of 33 to 50% of the total ration. This data also indicates that while dry rolling the field peas results in slightly higher average daily gains, the dry matter intakes are similar when fed as whole peas or dry rolled peas. For grain based beef finishing rations an inclusion rate of 18 to 25% field peas will satisfy the protein and other nutrient requirements in most cases.

When peas are grown as forage with cereals such as oats, barley, wheat or triticale and harvested as hay or silage can be a palatable, nutritious supplement for beef cattle at almost any stage of production but for the cow herd in particular. Some Ontario based cow calf producers, who grew and fed a pea/cereal mixture to substitute reduced forage supplies this past year, have found it to be a particularly effective and convenient way to supplement lower quality hay, straw or corn stalks that may also be fed to lower feed costs.

Improved Marbling

What makes peas even more exciting are the results of some interesting research conducted at North Dakota State University. Dr. Vern Anderson and his colleagues there have discovered that in addition to supporting superior animal performance, field peas can actually enhance the eating qualities of beef.

In one of the University's feedlot finishing trials that included peas, Dr. Anderson was very encouraged when the marbling scores of the beef improved significantly. The results demonstrated that 44% of the pea fed carcasses graded choice compared to 25% for the cattle not fed peas. In a subsequent feeding trial with 117 yearling heifers they fed rations containing 10%, 20% and 30% field peas in a corn-based finishing ration for 76 days. When the steaks from cattle fed in this trial were presented to an expert taste testing panel, the pea fed steaks ranked superior on juiciness and tenderness!

Dr. Anderson's enthusiasm and excitement about the potential for peas to create an improved beef product and superior eating experience is quite evident when speaking to him. He reports however, the pea effect may encounter some genetic limitations because the peas do not appear to create this same marbling effect with the beef from breeds presently known for their marbling and inherent juiciness. The research team at North Dakota State University are continuing their work with peas to more fully understand why peas have this beneficial effect on beef quality.

An article in the Northern Pulse Growers newsletter talks about Alvin and Juanita Braun from Bismarck, North Dakota who are now feeding peas to their cattle and in 2006 started marketing pea fed beef, called ND Branded Beef. The response to their branded product has been very good, with customers referring other people. They report that their customers "like the quality of the beef, its consistent marbling, its tenderness and the flavour". In their own cooking comparisons, the Brauns found that "the beef product fed a ration including peas was much more forgiving during the cooking process".

Field peas are a legume and as such have the ability to fixate nitrogen and have been reported to fixate as much as 45 kilograms of nitrogen per acre in the soil for use by following crops. This is an important further economic consideration that should not be overlooked.

Peas are being shown to be a very versatile and effective feed ingredient for beef cattle both in terms of animal performance and for potentially enhancing the eating qualities of the meat. As with any decision to grow a particular feed ingredient, it will largely depend upon the economics, but certainly growing peas for inclusion in beef cattle rations deserves some consideration.

A Succulent Mixture of Peas and Wheat

Figure 1: A Succulent Mixture of Peas and Wheat


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