Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo ND, 58105-5655, Tel: 701-231-7881, Fax: 701-231-7044
September 11, 2003
Flaxseed as Feed For Cattle Could Benefit North Dakota Flax Producers
Research on feeding flaxseed to cattle on their way to or in feedlots has shown a great deal of promise, according to Jack Carter, professor emeritus of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University and president of the Flax Institute of the United States. "If just half the feedlot operators in Kansas adopted the science, North Dakota flax producers would need to sell them 20,000,000 bushels of flax or about a million acres of production." Last year North Dakota growers planted 750,000 acres to flax.
Carter also works with the North Dakota Oilseed Council as a consultant on flax research. The council, through a voluntary 2-cent per bushel check-off program, supplies funds for research projects.
Carter has worked with Kansas State University researchers for four years on a project that adds flaxseed to cattle diets. Initial results show that cattle fed flaxseed strengthens their immune system, improves carcass value through enhanced marbling and enhances the fatty acid profile.
The initial studies centered on decreasing illness and the mortality rate of cattle shipped long distances, Carter says. Cattle shipped long distances can suffer from what is known as shipping fever or bovine respiratory disease which costs the beef industry millions of dollars a year. Feeding flaxseed for 35 days prior to the finishing period reduced the mortality rate by almost half, according to the research. Cattle that are infected with shipping fever usually have elevated body temperatures and inflamed lungs. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in flaxseed helped suppress the problem.
The feeding trials provided some unexpected results, Carter says. "Flax added to the diet, at a 8 to 10 percent ratio, 35 days after arriving at the feedlot improved marbling." Marbling, or intramuscular fat, is used to determine quality grades for meat such as prime and choice. Improved marbling increases the value of the carcass because it is linked to tenderness, juiciness and flavor.
A benefit to the consumer is the increased omega-3 or "good fats" in the cattle’s muscle tissue. Consumption of omega-3 fats may lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes in humans.
While the research is promising, Kansas feedlot operators have been slow to adopt it but that is changing, Carter says. "Beef cattle producers in Kansas and flax producers in North Dakota must adjust to ordering flaxseed soon after harvest and arrange a delivery system for steady year-around flaxseed delivery to Kansas. Most growers sell their flax right after harvest. Last May we had a significant offer to buy flaxseed from a fairly large feedlot operator in Kansas but there wasn’t enough flaxseed left on the market to meet his needs."
Kansas operators would like to see their feed supplements delivered on a daily basis. For example, the flaxseed supplement is fed at a rate of a pound of flaxseed per beef animal per day. If a feedlot operator has 20,000 head, he would need 20,000 pounds per day. Carter is working with the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association to find supplies and says he has had some responses. A list of flaxseed sellers in North Dakota will be made available to Kansas beef cattle feeders.
Carter believes feedlot operators will eventually adopt the science but he isn’t stopping there. He sees a bright future in flaxseed as feed. "I think research will show that the program will benefit other animals and is used in pet food. A lot of flaxseed is consumed as ‘people food’ already. A yellow seeded flax variety, Omega, developed by NDSU and USDA cooperatively, is a very popular variety for human consumption."
Carter is the former chair of the NDSU Department of Plant Sciences. Since his retirement in 1987, Carter has continued working to promote flax through his work with the North Dakota Oilseed Council. He still spends most days in his office at Loftsgard Hall. "If I wasn’t excited about flax I wouldn’t spend so much time in the office anymore," Carter says. "Especially at my age." Carter is 84. In 1995 Loftsgard Hall room 102 was dedicated as the J.F. Carter Lecture Room in his honor.
Flax varieties now in production and potential new improved varieties are tested each year at multiple Research Extension Centers throughout North Dakota. One plot in particular, Flax Plot No. 30, located in the northwest corner of the NDSU campus, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It’s probably the oldest in the world continuously used for a plant breeding effort," says Jim Hammond, NDSU’s flax breeder.