Drought Management Strategies

Editor’s note: Relevant and up-to-date information that had been available on Foragebeef.ca is gradually being added to BeefResearch.ca. (More information). The new Drought Management Strategies page, which is previewed below, is one example. Further webpages will be added or updated on BeefResearch.ca to include the valuable content from Foragebeef.ca, ensuring that information remains freely available online. Completion is expected by Spring 2020.

Recurring drought is a natural part of the climate in many areas of Canada and creates a challenge when managing grazing and forage resources. Although droughts are often unpredictable, they are inevitable in many regions, so long-term farm and ranch management must include planning for and consideration of how drought will affect the entire system – including plants, livestock and water sources.

Tips for drought management

  • The benefits of rotational grazing and litter (plant residue) are especially evident during drought
  • When managing through a drought consider combining groups of animals to encourage grazing of less desirable plants, and grazing pastures with species that are more tolerant of increased grazing pressure
  • Extended rest periods and increased recovery times are necessary to protect plants during dry periods
  • Feed testing and water testing are especially important during times of drought
  • Drought plans should identify the group or class of livestock to be de-stocked first if necessary and at what point each group will be removed if the drought persists
  • It is important to monitor for toxic or poisonous plants, which are more likely to be grazed during dry years
  • Drought management strategies should be a permanent part of every grazing plan

Continue reading

Canadian steer carcasses are 125 lbs heavier than previous audit: Video



The 2016/2017 National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) completed a carcass grade cooler audit to assess marbling and lean meat yield.

Since the previous audit in 2010/2011, the number of Canadian cattle grading AAA significantly increased which has supported the growth of branded beef programs in retail and the restaurant sector.

Table 1: Changes in percentage of A grades from 2010/2011 to 2016/2017. Data source Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA).

Yield grade performance has decreased over the same time period. Due to the increase in fat cover, fewer cattle are meeting the yield class 1 designation. In fed cattle, the cost to industry from discounts on yield grades has increased from $12.57/head or $32 million in 2010/11 to $12.81/head or $33 million in 2016/17.

The average steer carcass rate has increased from 857 lbs in 2010/2011 to 982 lbs in 2017. Larger carcass sizes present challenges because larger muscle sizes require steaks to be cut thinner to fit portion sizes on restaurant menus. Since 1975, carcasses have increased 7 lbs annually.

The ultimate goal is to continue to produce high marbling carcasses and maintain lean meat yield even at heavier carcasses. It is well known that marbling is the last fat to be deposited and has a positive effect on the eating quality of some cuts. However, there is a time-based relationship between muscle and fat deposition and fat will continue to accumulate without increases in muscle at higher live weights. The ideal carcass would be one that meets both a high quality and yield grade, for example Canada Prime or AAA and a Y1 yield grade.

Table 2: Carcasses meeting the AAA/Y1 grade in 2016/2017 compared to 2010/2011. Data source CBGA.

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Isn’t Beef Canada’s Ultimate Plant Based Protein?



The profile of plant-based proteins has grown exponentially over the past decade. Food companies are investing heavily in the development of new vegetarian and vegan products like new meatless burgers made from peas, which are quickly going mainstream. The spotlight is extra bright on Earth Day.

As plant-based protein options become more abundant, people can’t help but wonder how they compare to meat. Is producing plant-based proteins better for the environment than livestock? Are meatless options healthier? Should I replace beef burgers with plant-based patties?

Environmentally, agriculturally and nutritionally speaking, Canadians need legumes and meat. There’s no good reason to choose one over the other – it’s best to choose both. In fact, beef production provides unique environmental and human health benefits, so it’s important to keep beef in the mix. Continue reading

Reminder: Mentorship program applications due May 1st!

Applications for the 2019-20 term of the BCRC Beef Researcher Mentorship Program are now being accepted.  The deadline to apply is May 1, 2019.

Four researchers were selected to participate in the program this past year. Each was paired with two mentors – an innovative producer and another industry expert – for a one year term (ending July 31, 2019). Each of the researchers have reported very successful and valuable experiences through the opportunities provided, including:

    • Establishing partnerships with industry and other researchers to further their research programs
    • Meeting several producers and industry leaders with whom they ask questions and have meaningful discussions about cattle production, beef quality and safety, and the Canadian beef value chain
    • Attending industry events and touring farms and ranches to better understand the impacts, practicalities and economics of adopting research results

The BCRC is excited to continue the program and invite applications from upcoming and new applied researchers in Canada whose studies are of value to the beef industry, such as cattle health and welfare, beef quality, food safety, genetics, feed efficiency, or forages. A new group of participants will begin their mentorships on August 1st.

The Beef Researcher Mentorship Program launched in August 2014 to facilitate greater engagement of upcoming and new applied researchers with Canada’s beef industry.

Learn more about the program and **download an application form at: http://www.beefresearch.ca/about/mentorship-program.cfm**

Continue reading

Exceptional Forages for Marginal Lands

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


Side Oats Gramma photo courtesy of Agriculture Agri-Food Canada

Tame forages often outperform native species in head-to-head comparisons under optimal growing conditions. This may not be the case on “marginal land,” with its tougher environments, poorer soil, rougher topography, harsher climates, and precipitation extremes. Beef production is expected to rely more and more on marginal land, at least while returns from cash crops exceed those from cow-calf production.

Beef Cluster research led by Mike Schellenberg (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Swift Current), Eric Lamb (University of Saskatchewan) and a team of graduate students has been examining Western Canadian native plants since 2009. Some results from this study were published in 2018 (“Mixtures of native perennial forage species produce higher yields than monocultures in a long-term study”; Canadian Journal of Plant Science 98:633-647).

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Reminder: Nominations for Outstanding Researcher due May 1st



The Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation is presented by the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) each year to recognize a researcher or scientist whose work has contributed to advancements in the competitiveness and sustainability of the Canadian beef industry.

Nominations are welcome from all stakeholders of the Canadian beef industry and will be reviewed by a selection committee comprised of beef producers, industry experts and retired beef-related researchers located across the country.

Nominations will be kept on file and re-considered for up to two additional years. In such cases, the nominator will be contacted each year and given the opportunity to revise the nomination.

To be eligible, nominees must be Canadian citizens or landed immigrants actively involved in research of benefit to the Canadian beef industry within the past 5 years. Benefit to the industry must be evident in a strong research program aligned with industry priorities, a demonstrated passion and long-term commitment through leadership, teamwork, and mentorship, involvement in ongoing education and training (where applicable), and active engagement with industry stakeholders.

Nominations for the 2019 award will be accepted until May 1, 2019.

The 2019 award will be presented at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference in August.

Past recipients of the Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation are:

Learn more and find the nomination form at http://www.beefresearch.ca/about/award.cfm

Continue reading

Stored Forages: Hay, Greenfeed and Silage

Editor’s note: Relevant and up-to-date information that had been available on Foragebeef.ca is gradually being added to BeefResearch.ca. (More information). The new Stored Forages page, which is previewed below, is one example. Further webpages will be added or updated on BeefResearch.ca to include the valuable content from Foragebeef.ca, ensuring that information remains freely available online. Completion is expected by Spring 2020.

Feed is the major input cost in cattle production, therefore producers must evaluate the cost of production for all stored forage systems.

The objective of harvesting any type of forage for storage is to preserve resources produced in the summer months in order to provide winter feed for livestock when grazing is not feasible or accessible. It is essential to harvest forage at the appropriate time, based upon nutritional quality, forage yield and climatic conditions, and then to store it properly to reduce losses.

Stage of plant maturity at cutting is the most important factor influencing hay quality. Young, vegetative forage is higher in protein and energy than older, flowering material. As forages mature, stem is increased in the total forage mass and the leaf-to-stem ratio is reduced. As a result, fibre increases while protein and digestibility decreases. Continue reading

Alfalfa is nothing to fear with simple, proper management

Editor’s note: The following is part 2 of two-part series. See part 1.


Photo supplied by Ryan Boyd

The secret — if it is a secret — to pasturing cattle on alfalfa is to follow a few simple management steps to reduce the risk of bloat, say producers from across the country, who for years claim good success by including the forage legume in pasture mixes.

Straight alfalfa stands can be managed quite well, but most producers today are favouring alfalfa/grass forage blends. They are very productive, produce excellent rates of gain on cattle, help to reduce the bloat risk, and also provide important biodiversity. Biodiversity benefits the cattle in providing a range of crops that mature at different times and can handle varying growing conditions, as well as biodiversity to benefit soil health.

The main “not to do” message is don’t turn somewhat hungry cattle into a pre-bloom high percentage stand of alfalfa and leave them to selectively graze the lush leaves. If there is a heavy dew or rain as well, it creates a perfect storm for bloat.

The key “to do” messages include making sure cattle move onto alfalfa pastures with a full gut and the forage stand is dry. Introduce them to lusher forage gradually by limiting the amount of area they have access to in a day, and force them to eat the whole plant including stems and not just leaves. Other “to do” strategies that some producers use — supply a bloat-control agent in cattle drinking water, make some dry hay available as well, as the fibre in hay reduces the risk of gas build up in the rumen, and include low-bloat forage legumes such as sainfoin in the pasture mix.

It is important to apply some basic management principles to capitalize on the benefits of having alfalfa in a grazing program. As grazing research summarized in Part 1 has confirmed over the years, not including alfalfa in pasture mixes can be like leaving money on the table.

Here is what producers from across the country had to say about how alfalfa is managed in their grazing programs: Continue reading

Fear of bloat costs more money than actual cases of bloat do

High protein forage can increase rates of gain, benefit soil

Editor’s note: The following is part 1 of a two-part series. Stay tuned for alfalfa grazing tips from cattle producers from across the country in part 2.

Respect it, but don’t fear it. That’s the message from cattle producers and beef specialists alike who through years of experience and research appreciate the value of grazing cattle on pure or percentage stands of alfalfa.

Properly managed alfalfa makes good pasture with several added benefits, including:

  • Improved weight gains on all classes of cattle (gains of 1.5 to 2 or more pounds per day can be expected);
  • adding fertility to the soil with a nitrogen-fixing crop;
  • creating a hedge against poor forage production during dryer growing seasons; and
  • increasing plant biodiversity to benefit soil health.

Yes, there are circumstances when turning cattle into a lush stand of alfalfa at the wrong time and perhaps with the wrong class of cattle can result in bloat. But paying attention to a few production and management principles can greatly reduce the risk of bloat and provide producers the opportunity to capture the benefits. Continue reading