Supplementing your cow herd: Managing the pregnant cow for better calf performance. Webinar November 21



The pregnant cow herd is the most valuable part of any cow-calf operation. This webinar will discuss management tips to improve calf performance.



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When
Thursday, November 21st at 7:00 pm MT

  • 6:00pm in BC
  • 7:00pm in AB
  • 8:00pm in SK and MB
  • 9:00pm in ON and QC
  • 10:00pm in NS, NB and PEI

Continue reading

Time for a Back-Up Plan – Managing the Impacts of Drought in the Winter

(4 minute read)

In an ideal world, producers can plan ahead for their feed requirements in the spring and be prepared well before the first snowflake falls. Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t always comply. Dry conditions from the previous growing season or earlier can leave producers feeling worried about forage supplies. What if winter is longer than expected? What if next year is dry again? Coping with drought is a serious reality in many regions across Canada, however beef producers are inventive, resilient, and experienced. If the original plan isn’t working, they make adjustments.

When it comes to withstanding drought, the best defence is a good offence. Drought planning and preparation is best done in advance. While that may be little comfort to producers currently coping with dry conditions, there are many strategies that can help farmers prepare for the long-term or help them to recover their drought-ravaged resources in the coming seasons.

Plant material left ungrazed is not a waste, but rather becomes litter, a “rancher’s insurance policy.” Litter shades soil and roots, reduces soil temperatures, improves water retention and infiltration, provides nutrients to grazing plants, and minimizes moisture lost to evaporation.

  • Balance available forage supply with the number of cattle grazing.
  • Avoid overgrazing by providing effective rest for pasture plants during the growing season. This helps to maintain a resilient plant community, by allowing the canopy cover – the plant’s solar panels – to capture energy and store it in the root system.
  • Combine smaller herds into one or two larger herds that can rotationally graze. This allows more pastures the opportunity to rest.
  • Choose to graze pastures that may be better able to resist intense grazing, such as tame plant communities like crested wheat grass.
  • Manage grazing to allow for plant litter, or residue, to be left behind after grazing. Litter is sometimes referred to as a “rancher’s insurance policy” and is incredibly valuable particularly during dry conditions. Litter shades and insulates the soil surface, breaks down into valuable nutrients, reduces soil temperatures, increases water retention and infiltration, and minimizes moisture lost to evaporation.
  • Test dwindling stock water sources to ensure they are safe for cattle.

For farmers that were challenged with a dry growing season, their efforts are focused on getting the cow herd through the winter feeding period while maintaining the nutritional needs of their pregnant cows. Winter weather is unpredictable and these needs can change as cold weather fluctuates. Sometimes opportunity feed sources arise even as winter progresses and resourceful producers may seek alternative feeds and forages to fill the gaps.

  • Frozen or damaged crops, processing by-products, fruit or vegetable waste, and even weeds, can all be sources of feed for cattle in addition to more mainstream alternatives like annual cereals or cover crops.
  • Perform a feed test analysis on alternative feed ingredients to determine their nutritional value, and to rule out any potential anti-quality factors such as mycotoxins.
  • Work with a livestock extension specialist or nutritionist to balance rations and ensure non-conventional feeds are meeting the nutritional requirements of cattle particular to their age, stage, class, and condition.
  • Calculate the cost of incorporating alternative feeds using BCRC’s decision-making tool Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator.



Beef producers may consider an extended grazing season. While it may not be practical for all operations, some producers can reduce costs and labour and manage manure effectively by keeping cattle out of the corral and on the land for longer.

  • Cattle can graze crop residue, failed crops, forage on stockpiled grass, or eat bales placed out on fields. Providing conventional or alternative supplements such as pellets, grain, or by-products may be an economical way to meet nutritional demands.
  • Make sure cattle have access to fresh water and shelter. Consider infrastructure, such as fencing, windbreaks, or stock water, that needs to be developed to make extended grazing a reality. Can the infrastructure be used or re-purposed in the future?
  • Closely monitor the body condition of grazing cattle. Remember that a cow’s winter hair coat can mask her true state and a hands-on body condition score (BCS) is the best way to be sure.
  • Extended grazing can work well for mature, dry cows in good condition, but young cows, calves, pairs, or old, thin cows require careful supervision.
  • Winter grazing conditions can be highly variable. Too much snow, extremely cold temperatures, or hungry wildlife eating away at forage supplies, can throw a wrench in plans. Producers must have a back-up plan and be prepared to switch gears if necessary.

Drought is often a time to make strategic marketing decisions and free up much needed forage or pen space by deliberately moving some cattle down the trail.

  • Consider preg-checking early and selling open cows that will not provide you with a marketable calf. Producers can use our Economics of Pregnancy Testing decision support tool to determine the best option for managing open cows.
  • Cull older, thin cows while they still retain their value and well before they become a transport risk or a welfare concern.
  • If you typically retain ownership in calves, background feeders, or develop replacement heifers, look at your options and pencil out the cost of keeping the status quo.

Managing forage, water, cattle, and soils can be complicated even during good years. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst is perhaps the only practical approach producers can take when drought has limited resources and the impending winter is uncertain. However, beef producers have been rising to the challenge for generations, and their resourcefulness and adaptability will help them.

Learn More:

Body Condition Scoring (Calculator & Information) – BeefResearch.ca

Drought Management Strategies – BeefResearch.ca

Economics of Pregnancy Testing Beef Cattle Model (Calculator) – BeefResearch.ca

Extended Grazing – BeefResearch.ca

Feed testing and Analysis for Beef Cattle (Calculator & Information) – BeefResearch.ca

Mycotoxins – BeefResearch.ca

What’s in Your (Stock) Water? (Blog) – BeefResearch.ca

Winter Feeding Cost Comparison (Calculator & Blog) – BeefResearch.ca

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Beef Farmers of Ontario Call for Research Proposals



Beef Farmers of Ontario has announced a call for Letters of Intent (LOI) for research projects that will enhance the sustainability of the beef industry in Ontario. BFO is committing $200,000 per year for each of the next three years. Following review of LOIs, selected initiatives will be asked for a full proposal. Please note that projects must be completed by December 31, 2022.

The overarching goal of the BFO Beef Research Program is to increase the development, adaptation, assessment, and easy adoption of on-farm technologies that help beef producers respond to changing demands, and to quantify and investigate emerging issues of importance to the Ontario and broader Canadian beef industry.

The BFO Research Committee recently considered both opportunities and problems facing the industry as well as current BFO, OMAFRA and BCRC research priorities. While we are open to all ideas, and encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, the committee did identify the following topics, listed in no particular order, as being of particular interest: Continue reading

Spinning Straw Into Gold

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

The rumen allows cattle to digest fiber that chickens, pigs and humans can’t, and produce high quality beef protein from feed and land that otherwise wouldn’t produce food. Understanding the rumen better is the key to improving feed efficiency and improving cattle’s ability to convert fiber to protein.

There’s as much energy in straw as grain – burning a ton of either straw or grain generates the same amount of heat. But cattle can’t access all the energy in straw.

Grain is mostly starch. Starch is a long chain of identical sugar (glucose) molecules connected by simple links that rumen microbes can easily break using a few enzymes. That’s why feedlot cattle digest and convert grain-based diets so rapidly and efficiently. In contrast, straw contains cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin and lignin fibers. These contain many different molecules (not just glucose) connected by complex links that are much tougher (and require many more enzymes) for microbes to break. That’s why cows can’t be wintered on straw alone.

Continue reading

Winter Feeding Cost Comparison – Hay vs. Alternative Feeds



Fall has arrived and focus has shifted to winter feed supplies. Feed prices have dropped significantly from their June highs, but unfavorable weather conditions have left the question of available supplies. Hay prices vary significantly with prices in some areas with short supplies nearly double those in areas with adequate supplies. On the other hand, there could be numerous options for alternate winter feeds this year as some crops originally intended for grain are being harvested as livestock feed. Harvest delays and the likelihood of frost damage has led to quality downgrades. Alberta feed barley prices have dropped 13% from the June peak at $205/ton to $179/ton in September, and market analysts project that the feed grain markets have not hit bottom yet.

In eastern Canada, last year’s fall and winter conditions caused significant winter kill on the winter wheat and hay crops, while spring planting was delayed due to excessive moisture. According to local market reports, the fears of supply shortage have sent Ontario wheat straw prices to $0.06-0.10/lb in some areas compared to the historical range of $0.03-0.04/lb. Cool, wet weather in August and September are also causing harvest delays in the east, with the possibility of more cereal crops going to the feed market.

Continue reading

The cost-benefit of using vaccines: bovine respiratory disease



Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is one of the costliest health issues facing the beef industry today. While a lot of research on BRD has been focused at the feedlot stage, the disease is also the most common cause of death for nursing calves older than three weeks.  BRD can impact any producer, including those who retain ownership of their calves to background, feed, or finish cattle.

Research by USDA ARS Meat Animal Research Center that tracked the annual incidence of BRD in pre-weaned calves over a 20-year period found that the annual incidence varied from a low of 3% to a high of 24% with an overall annual average of 11%. On average, the mortality rate of calves suffering from pre-weaning BRD was 13%.

Several large studies have linked BRD to seasonal peaks. Nebraska researchers collected several years of data on 110,000 calves and found two seasonal peaks in the incidence of BRD. One peak occurs from birth through around 20 days of age, and another takes place when calves reach 70 to 100 days of age. Other studies have shown a similar pattern. The most common age group reported as having BRD were calves between one to 4 months of age.

Once calves are affected by BRD, there are both immediate and long-lasting effects on performance. Studies have shown that calves challenged by BRD could weigh up to 36 pounds less at weaning than their healthy herd mates (Wittum and Perino, 1995). Continue reading

Unintended Consequences

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

I once spent a summer working for canola breeders. Some used traditional selection, while others were experimenting with transgenics. One traditionalist was known to say “sticking a new gene into a plant and expecting it to grow better is like throwing a new gear into a watch and expecting it to keep better time. It’ll probably get worse”. This article isn’t about canola or genetics, but it is about time and unintended consequences. Specifically, it’s about the timing of the breeding and calving seasons.

Canada’s cow-calf sector has moved towards fewer, larger beef cow herds. Calving later, on pasture has been a widely adopted strategy allowing producers to expand their cow herds without a proportional increase in equipment, labor, and facilities. When John Basarab led Alberta’s Cow-Calf Audits in the late 1980’s and late 90’s, breeding often started in May and calving started in late February. In contrast, 70% of the producers responding to the 2017 Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey started breeding in June or July to calve in March or April.

Continue reading

Does your feed pass the test? Making sense of feed test results: Webinar October 30



Do you ever look at a feed analysis report and think “huh?” Unsure of how to collect and send away feed samples for testing? Want to be sure you’re using feed wisely so your cattle perform as expected without wasting valuable feed? This webinar is for you.



Registering on your smartphone? After you click ‘I am not a robot’, scroll up until you find the task to complete.

When
Wednesday, October 30th at 7:00 pm MT

  • 6:00pm in BC
  • 7:00pm in AB
  • 8:00pm in SK and MB
  • 9:00pm in ON and QC
  • 10:00pm in NS, NB and PEI

Continue reading

National Beef Strategy sees global opportunities ahead and meets industry challenges head on for 2020-24



News Release

Calgary, AB – The Canadian Beef Advisors are pleased to release the 2020-24 National Beef Strategy. The strategy is designed to take advantage of the opportunities facing the industry while simultaneously addressing the challenges.

The development of the 2020-24 National Strategy has been a dynamic collaborative process engaging all industry sectors and national and provincial organizations. The Canadian Beef Advisors and provincial cattle associations believe a united industry is a stronger industry, and that a stronger industry benefits all those working in it today and into the future.

Substantial progress was made under the 2015-19 strategy and the intention is to continue building on the strengths of existing industry organizations. “The National Beef Strategy has provided real value for Canadian beef producers; it acts as a roadmap for the groups as they work together. We have set our industry up for success, now we just need to follow through.” said David Haywood-Farmer, Past Chair of the Beef Advisors. Continue reading

The Cost Benefit of Using Vaccines: BVD



Vaccination is a proven tool for disease prevention. Vaccination recommendations vary by region and by farm as the environment, production, and management practices can increase or decrease the amount of risk cattle are exposed to. Disease exposure occurs in numerous places including community pastures, fenceline contact with neighbouring cattle, auction markets, and breeding cattle, such as bulls, purchased from other herds. However, vaccinating breeding females for reproductive disease and calves for respiratory disease are recommended practices across Canada. A vaccination program should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian who can determine which ones are necessary for your area.

In western Canada, one in ten producers surveyed are not vaccinating their cows for infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVD) (Waldner et al., 2019) and more than a quarter of producers do not vaccinate cows for other reproductive diseases (Beef Cattle Research Council, 2019). One third of Ontario producers do not vaccinate their cows for BVD and far fewer vaccinate for other reproductive diseases. In Atlantic Canada, 27% of producers reported not administering general vaccinations. This leaves herds vulnerable. Continue reading