Five Things You Didn't Know about the Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center

Established in 1917, the Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Spring Hill is one of the oldest AgResearch and Education Centers in the UT system. Its staff of thirteen manages the versatile 1,200-acre facility to support UTIA faculty in research trials involving beef cattle, dairy cattle, and forages. Hereís a look at some interesting facts about the Center.

1) Itís the home of the University of Tennessee Bull Testing Program. Since 1980 researchers have worked to identify top-performing bulls that will make a positive economic impact on the regionís beef herd. More than 150 yearling bulls are evaluated annually. Those that pass the test are sold at public auctions in January and March. Since 2015, DNA testing for all animals has become a standard part of the evaluation, leading to improved accuracy of genetic predictions. According to David Kirkpatrick, professor with UTís Department of Animal Science, the program provides quality records for breeders, serves commercial producers as a place to purchase superior genetics, and has helped turn out bigger and better bulls. The average daily gain for the most recent class of bulls was 4.5 pounds Ė a 34 percent increase since the program began. Learn more.

2) Itís the site of popular classes. You wonít find it in UTís course catalog, but the Centerís Artificial Insemination Certification is a class in high demand. Led by Justin Rhinehart, an Extension Beef Specialist housed at Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center, this two-day training educates producers on AI equipment and procedures. The Center partners with UTís Department of Animal Science and Southeast Select Sires to present the course five times a year. Remaining 2016 classes are already full, but interested participants can register on the schoolís waiting list. The increased interest in AI from beef cattle producers is most likely based on economics. According to research, when managed properly, AI can be a cost-effective way to improve herd genetics as well as increase overall profitability.

3)Theyíre finding the real cost of heifer development. The costs associated with keeping and developing replacement heifers are a large percentage of cow-calf operation expenses. A strategy that would reduce feed costs while maintaining fertility levels is needed. A current research project led by Travis Mulliniks, assistant professor with UTís Department of Animal Science, is evaluating the reproductive efficiency of heifers grown to adequate body weight using stockpiled forages. The study could have implications for heifer retention and nutrition programs.

4) Focus on forages. An expanded summer grazing season would be helpful to cattle producers in the Southeast. Renata Oakes, assistant professor with UTís Department of Plant Sciences, is developing a forage research program at Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center with a focus on the integration of crop and livestock operations. Her current studies include evaluations of legumes, such as cowpea, as a supplement to fescue in Tennessee pastures as well as a companion crop for corn. The studies will determine the yield, nutrition, and economic differences created by adding legumes to the forage mix.

5) Theyíre evaluating the dairy diet. According to Kevin Thompson, Center Director, research involving 130-head of Holsteins has a renewed focus on nutrition. At least one study will evaluate conventional feed delivery systems total mixed rations (TMR) to a hybrid TMR/grazing system. Researchers and staff at the dairy are also focused on improving management protocols that will impact improved milk quality.

Whatís next at Spring Hill? The annual Fruits of the Backyard Field Day is scheduled for Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Visitors to this free event can attend three sessions on fruit and vegetable gardening; visit with area farmers; and have plant, insect, and soil issues diagnosed.