This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Photo credit to Agriculture Agri-Food Canada
Forage legumes provide high yields, protein, and good animal performance while improving soil fertility by fixing nitrogen from the air. Alfalfa is the highest yielding and most widely-used legume but can cause bloat. Legumes like cicer milkvetch, sainfoin and birdsfoot trefoil do not cause bloat. As little as 25% sainfoin in a pasture can virtually eliminate the risk of bloat even if the other 75% is alfalfa.
The problem is that older sainfoin varieties don’t regrow as fast as alfalfa after grazing. Alfalfa’s aggressive nature allows it to outcompete sainfoin for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Without careful grazing management, sainfoin can disappear from a pasture in a few years. This might be because plant breeders have traditionally selected new varieties for clipped forage yield under monoculture conditions. This doesn’t reflect the challenges sainfoin faces when grown with alfalfa and grazed.
Surya Acharya at AAFC Lethbridge has been breeding sainfoin that regrows more rapidly after grazing and persists longer in mixtures with alfalfa. New varieties (e.g. Mountainview and Glenview) have already been released, but there are more in the pipeline. An update on these ongoing efforts was published in 2017 (Performance of Mixed Alfalfa-Sainfoin Pastures and Grazing Steers in Western Canada, Professional Animal Scientist 33:472). Continue reading
Sometimes it can be hard to know where you’re going if you don’t look at where you’ve been. For decades, research and extension organizations have promoted many practices to beef cattle operators with the goals of improving production, product safety, and ultimately profitability. Recently, the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and Canfax Research Services created a comprehensive report outlining the adoption of recommended beef management practices over time and across Canada.
The analysis used a broad lens to examine all cow-calf practices from feeding methods to manure management, calving cows to retaining heifers, pasture management to feed testing, and everything in between. Recent data from regional cow-calf surveys and research studies were compared to foundational producer survey and Statistics Canada information dating as far back as thirty-five years.
The first of its kind, this analysis:
- Consolidated benchmarks for parameters such as conception rates, weaning weights, death loss, and calving season length;
- Compared current practices and highlighted long-term trends across Canada where possible;
- Identified gaps in adoption and potential extension opportunities;
- Recognized and addressed barriers for adoption.
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