Livestock production has long been the biggest sector of the agricultural economy in the Panhandle. Research conducted at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center is aimed at addressing the challenges facing producers, answering their questions, and improving their net return.

As the livestock industry has changed, so has our program emphasis. In times past, livestock production was a sidelight common to the many smaller family farms, in which many farmers kept several types of livestock. It has evolved into a specialized sector of Panhandle agriculture, encompassing a number of even more specialized types of operations.

In past decades, UNL conducted research in the Panhandle on lamb feeding, dairy, swine production, and cattle. Today we concentrate on cattle feeding and nutrition, cow-calf production, range and forage management, and rangeland ecology.

Panhandle Research Feedlot

Following a series of expansions and improvements, the Panhandle Research Feedlot north of Scottsbluff is able to conduct precision, bias-free research in topics vital to the industry, in the same climactic conditions that producers face in the real world.

A $1-million-plus expansion, funded mainly by private donations, was dedicated in 2007 that added 61 new feedlot pens to enlarge the total facility to 105 pens. The project represents the fruits of a vital partnership between the University and the cattle feeding industry, including feeders and animal health and nutrition companies. The feedlot has the capacity to conduct precision research into the most important questions facing the industry.

New pens and other facilities allow UNL specialists to carry out research that is as precise and accurate as possible, free from factors that could bias results, and always on the cutting edge of the cattle-feeding industry. The expansion allows us to conduct research that will yield results applicable to the High Plains and Intermountain area. The new pens are of uniform size, shape and slope. Feed bunk space and availability are uniform, to improve the consistency from pen to pen. In addition, improvements were made to the cattle handling facilities, including a pen scale, micro-nutrient machine, additional grain storage and cattle handling facility.

A unique feature of the Panhandle Research Feedlot is that water intake to each pen can be measured independently. UNL's Panhandle Research Feedlot may be the nation's largest research feedlot with capabilities for individual pen water intake measurements.

In addition to a feedlot nutrition and management specialist, the staff includes three research technicians.

Examples of Research

  • Cost of gain
  • Use of locally produced feeds (sugarbeet pulp, ethanol coproducts)
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Herd health products
  • Forage production
  • Stocking rate
  • Weaning date
  • Implant trials

Cow-Calf and Range Management Studies

Profitability and sustainability of the range beef cattle industry have benefitted from research conducted at the Panhandle Center. Grazing studies look at the effects of different stocking rates on rangeland, response to drought, and pasture evaluation.

High Plains Ag Lab

Pasture accounts for two-thirds of the 2,400 acres that make up the High Plains Ag Lab near Sidney. Cattle graze crested wheatgrass pastures to assess using alternative crops for supplementation, feed additives or health measurements on performance, as well as forage cocktail trials.

Experimental Range

The 800-acre Experimental Range tract in southern Sioux County, about 10 miles north of Scottsbluff, has contributed to the body of knowledge about rangeland ecology, grazing systems, animal nutrition, weed science, and hydrology. Current research focuses mostly on grazing distribution and changes in how cattle select which plants to eat as a growing season progresses, as well as targeted grazing to control cheatgrass.

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