State-of-the-art beef facility among upgrades at Va. Tech
BLACKSBURG, Va. — With grain prices so high, Virginia beef producers will have to look at alternative sources of feed such as distillery grains sourced from the region to stay profitable.
Virginia Tech should soon be in an ideal place to assist that endeavor.
The university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is in the process of building a new $4.4 million beef nutrition and physiology facility and feed storage facility at Kentland Farm — part of a series of state-of-the-art building projects aimed at helping the state’s livestock industry.
“We have an industry that needs to know how to feed livestock,” said David Gerrard, director of the college’s newly formed School of Animal Sciences, a fusion of the college’s former dairy, animal and poultry departments. “And to utilize this is even more important now because the price of corn is so high. … If (farmers) are getting it for $5 in the Midwest, it probably costs us two more (dollars) to get it here, and maybe 3 with inflation.”
Its 33,000-square-foot beef facility will include a 20-stall cattle housing area for feed studies, loading chutes, a feed mixing room, laboratory space, four grain bins, four covered bulk commodity bins, and a three-sided hay shed, according to the university. The upgrades should help the university better assist the state’s cattle industry which creates about $327 million in cash receipts each year. The reliability of that production has only become more important since the COVID-19 pandemic stunned the country’s food system in 2020, pushing many consumers to venture beyond supermarkets in search of locally produced food.
“I think there’s been a kind of movement to embrace agriculture,” Gerrard said. “If all the cattle that are being fed in the middle of country aren’t able to get here, how are you going to feed yourself? … If there isn’t a cow in sight that you can eat, you can’t have a hamburger.”
Some of the facility’s highlights include an electronic, data-driven feeding system that will tell researchers what an animal is eating, allowing them to adjust feeding to that data, he said. Up to now, the university simply hadn’t done a great deal of research into cattle feeding. The facility will also have space for behavioral specialists who can observe cattle on various diets and make recommendations that improve health and wellbeing, he said.
The new facility allows the university to reach multiple segments of the beef farming community, including operations with just 100-200 cattle but also smaller farms retailing the products and looking for cheap feed that also satisfies their quality standards. It will also be used as a teaching facility for the college’s 700 undergraduate students. The building could open by next spring, Gerrard said.
Other facilities the college is constructing include a 24,000-square-foot, $5.6 million Swine Center that contains a small-scale production and research facility, classrooms, boar housing and gestation facilities and rooms for farrowing, nursery and finishing; broiler and turkey facilities totaling more than 22,700 square feet; and an equine barn and equipment storage facility including a 29-stall horse barn with tack rooms, wash stalls, groom stalls, manure storage, locker rooms and both heated and unheated storage rooms.