Going Global: Rhame, North Dakota, student earns trip to International Science Fair with research on nutrition quality and cost of varying feedstuffs
April 25, 2018
Livestock interest and experience helped Abbigale Steeke, a sixth-generation rancher from Rhame, North Dakota, earn her way to the International Science and Engineering Fair in 2018.
This year's science project, "Feed Efficiency in Cattle," took her to the North Dakota State Science Fair in Grand Forks. Her placing qualifed her as an alternate exhibitor for international fair.
She collected fecal samples from cows grazing corn, sunflowers, alfalfa, native grass and rations of hay as a control. The aim was to figure out which food source contained the most nutrition for long-term fall grazing at the most reasonable cost before supplementation was needed. In her purpose statement, Abbi indicated that she assumed ranchers could save money by grazing crop residue rather than buying hay, particularly before the cows' third trimester.
The project was borne out of necessity. Last year's drought forced the Steeke family to send fecal samples to the Natural Resource Conservation Service, to make sure the animals were getting the required nutrition out of their forage.
Abbi learned that grazing cornstalks provides ample energy and even protein – but can actually be wasteful when every penny – and bite – counts.
Abbi's hypothesis was: "If beef cows consume corn residue out of the field, then the amount of protein will be utilized properly to gain weight because corn is used commonly as feed in the form of silage, corn distillers, and regular corn."
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She explained in her supporting presentation, "As of August 2017, to date, hay was the most expensive at $1.87 per day per cow; therefore, in a month, one cow will eat $56.10 worth of hay. Corn at $1.50 per cow per day and $45.00 per cow in a month. Sunflower field with residue left after harvest and native grass pastures are both $1.00 per day and $30 in a month for one cow. The point was to see which grain field can be grazed in the fall for the longest before feeding hay in the winter before calving to keep the cows healthy while carrying a calf before birth."
"We found out that the cows that were on corn stalks day after day consumed more protein than necessary. Next year I think we will rotate the cattle from corn stalks to pasture and back again on a regular basis, so we can utilize the corn for a longer period of time," she explained.
"A lot of people think that foraging corn stalks is the best way to feed cows in the fall. It's true the cows will gain quickly, but sunflowers actually have a better long-term effect on weight gain and actually maintaining the weight. Corn is high energy, but it burns off very quickly and tends to be more expensive," Steeke said.
Manure from cows grazing sorghum, wheat, flax and oat residue could also be studied, Abbi mentions, and maybe she will look into it someday.
While she hasn't made a definite career choice yet, she's thinking of nutrition or animal research.
She is the 2017 FFA vice president and currently serves as chapter president, as well as president of her 4-H chapter, board member for the sheep committee of North Dakota Junior Point Show Association. She also enjoys showing livestock, particularly Simmental heifers, market lambs, breeding and market sheep, as well as Boer goats.
She also plays sports and helps on the family ranch where they raise cattle, sheep and she runs a small flock of Boer goats.
"I would like to run for State FFA office after I graduate high school. The term for that office is June-June, and go to college too," she said when asked what her future looks like.
2018 will be her second year attending the International Science and Engineering Fair, being held this year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In 2017, Abbigale showcased her project focused on the effect of hormone dosage on ewe fertility, and lamb birth weights.