A Prolonged Calving Season can be Costly: New Calculator Available

Calving distribution is the percentage of calves born in each 21-day cycle throughout the calving season.

As the calving season ends and producers switch gears toward breeding season, there is an opportunity for producers to evaluate their calving distribution and the impact it has on their bottom line. Now is the time for farmers and ranchers to incorporate any changes they want during breeding season, such as when to pull their bulls from pasture, that will affect next year’s calf crop.

Each time a cow is not bred during a 21-day heat cycle, it can cost up to 39 lbs of weaning weight (assuming an average daily gain on calves of 1.85 lbs/day). Having more calves born in the first 21 days of the calving season allows producers to market larger, more uniform groups of calves and increase their profit potential.

The standard industry target is to have at least 60% of females calving within the first cycle, followed by 25% calving between 21-42 days, 10% between 42-63 days and the remaining 5% calving in the fourth and final cycle. An ideal distribution could be 70-20-10 with a condensed breeding season of three cycles (63 days). Continue reading

ForageBeef.ca Gets a Facelift

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

Canada’s National Beef Strategy has four goals that our industry aims to achieve by 2020. For the past year this column has explained how research is contributing to a 15% increase in carcass cut-out value (the Beef Demand pillar), a 15% improvement in production efficiency (Productivity), and a 7% reduction in cost disadvantages compared to Canada’s main competitors (Competitiveness). The fourth goal (Connectivity) is about improving communication within industry and with consumers, the public, government and partner industries. Research contributes science-based information to underpin fact-based communication, policy and regulation, as well as extension (also known as technology transfer) activities to translate research results into improved on-farm production and management practices.

Extension used to be a core mandate for governments and universities; they all had extension staff, held field days and published producer-focused bulletins. Some researchers are still active in extension, but most institutions have shifted their focus to scientific research and technology development. The private sector has filled the extension gap in spots, especially where there is a clear profit motive for the company or individual doing the extension. This often works best when there is a product to sell, like a nutritional supplement, vaccine, or electric fencer. It is more challenging for the private sector to justify extension when the product is a management practice that is hard for a company to charge for, needs to be highly customized to suit individual operations, or primarily benefits the customer. Examples include low-cost winter feeding, crossbreeding, rotational grazing, and low-stress handling. Private sector extension can also be difficult with practices that benefit the overall industry but might not directly or immediately profit any specific individual (e.g. some animal welfare practices, antimicrobial and environmental stewardship). The BCRC tries to fill those gaps. Continue reading

Attn Researchers And Extension Agents: BCRC Opens Two Calls For Letters Of Intent



The Beef Cattle Research Council and Alberta Beef Producers invites letters of intent (LOIs) for research projects as well as LOIs for technology transfer and production economics projects. The application deadline for these separate but concurrent calls is August 9, 2019 at 11:59 PM MT.

The purpose of these two targeted calls is to achieve specific objectives in the Canadian Beef Research and Technology Transfer Strategy and the National Beef Strategy. These  calls for research and technology transfer LOIs, expected to occur annually for research and bi-annually for technology transfer and production economics, are made possible by the recent increase in the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off in most provinces.

Approved projects, funded by Canadian cattle producers through the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off, will be required to use the industry funding to leverage additional funds from government or other funding organizations to fulfill project budgets.

Through extensive consultation with research teams and industry stakeholders to identify critical needs and key areas where the BCRC and ABP can have the greatest impact, target outcomes have been clearly defined for both calls. Please refer to the target objectives listed within the documents linked below before deciding whether to submit a LOI. Continue reading

Cover crops are a balance between reward and risk

Cover crops, also referred to as polycrops or cocktail crops, are receiving a lot of media hype for their potential for grazing and claims related to reduced inputs and improved soil health. Jillian Bainard, PhD, has been studying cover crop parameters like productivity, soil health, grazing nutrition, and weed control, through her research at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Swift Current, SK. “A lot of people are trying cover crops so we want to understand from a research perspective what’s happening, and whether we can pinpoint some of these benefits that have been suggested,” Bainard explained during a recent webinar presentation.

Cover crops can address many problems, however they require thought and planning to optimize their potential.

Producers often look to cover crops to improve productivity. Bainard’s research demonstrated that some cover crop mixes had greater production compared to single-species crops (ie. monocultures) even under stressful conditions. Different functional groups, such as cool-season grasses, warm-season grasses, legumes, or brassicas, also had a positive effect on production; as the number of groups in a mix increased, production did as well. Bainard did caution that extreme moisture fluctuations will impact plant growth accordingly and that real-world field variables may reduce productivity. For example, a cover crop mix may yield well on lowland areas yet perform poorly on uplands within the same field. “Not all mixtures will perform the same, and success will depend a lot on how well each crop does in a specific soil and environment,” Bainard added.

Lowland and upland performance of same cover crop mixture. Photo credit Charlotte Ward, Saskatchewan Agriculture
Continue reading

New Feed Testing Tools



When you don’t know the quality of feed on an operation, maintaining animal health and welfare can become significantly more difficult. Visual assessment of feedstuffs is not accurate enough to access quality and may lead to cows being underfed and losing body condition or wasting money on expensive supplements that aren’t necessary.  Two new decision-making tools on this page, developed by the Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre, will help you use feed test results to flag potential nutritional problems, and identify the comparative economic value of different feeds based on their quality.

Why feed test?

  • Avoid sneaky production problems, such as poor gains or reduced conception caused by mineral or nutrient deficiencies or excesses;
  • Prevent or identify potentially devastating problems due to toxicity from mycotoxins, nitrates, sulfates, or other minerals or nutrients;
  • Develop appropriate rations that meet the nutritional needs of their beef cattle;
  • Identify nutritional gaps that may require supplementation;
  • Economize feeding, and possibly make use of opportunities to include diverse ingredients;
  • Accurately price feed for buying or selling.

Collecting feed samples

It’s critical to collect a feed sample that is representative of the feed ingredients that you are testing. Any feed type that will be used to feed beef cattle can and should be analysed, including baled forages and straw, by-products, silage, baleage, grain, swath grazing, cover crops, and corn.

Feed quality will change as the feeding season progresses. Samples should be taken as close to feeding or selling as possible, while leaving enough time for the results to come back from the lab.

*New* A Tool for Evaluating Feed Test Results

This tool evaluates the ability of a single feed to meet basic nutritional requirements of different classes of cattle in different stages of production under normal circumstances. It is not intended for use in ration balancing, but rather to alert you to potential issues with individual feed ingredients. Suitability of the feed is indicated by a color-coded response. Green indicates that the nutrient is adequate to meet nutritional requirements. Yellow is within +/- 2.5% of TDN requirements, +/- 5% of CP requirements and 0.05% below mineral requirements. Red indicates the feed does not meet animal requirements.

One of the major benefits of feed testing is preventing costly and devastating problems before they start. Every season is different and some years there is an abundance of high-quality forage. Other years, there is a lack of available feed, or perhaps there is an abundance of low-quality forage, grain, or grain by-products available that may look economical but can potentially pose significant risks if a feed analysis has not been performed or understood.

Feed is often bought on weight (e.g. by the ton or by the bale) with little consideration of the economic value of feed quality.  Especially when feed supplies are tight, comparing the economic value of different feed sources on a quality basis will help you stretch your feed dollars further while ensuring animal requirements are met.  Another new tool on this page will help you do just that.  Enter your feed test results to get the estimated “economic” value of the feed compared to your choice of reference feeds. The higher the value, the higher the cumulative content of TDN and CP of the targeted feed, and thus the higher the feed value.  The results will tell you which feeds have the best potential from an economic perspective to be used in the final formulation of a ration.

Learn more about feed testing and test drive the new calculators

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The sharing or reprinting of BCRC Blog articles is welcome and encouraged. Please provide acknowledgement to the Beef Cattle Research Council, list the website address, www.BeefResearch.ca, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at info@beefresearch.ca.

We welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. Contact us directly or generate public discussion by posting your thoughts below.

Bov-Innovation is happening in Calgary, AB on August 14



The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is pleased to announce their Bov-Innovation 2019 series which will take place on August 14, 2019 as part of the Canadian Beef Industry Conference . The conference is a collaborative effort, co-hosted by the BCRC, Canada Beef, the Canadian Beef Breeds Council (CBBC), the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), and the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA). This year the event takes place on August 13-15, 2019 at the BMO Centre on Stampede Park in Calgary, Alberta.

Bov-Innovation features producer-focused sessions designed to highlight practical ideas that are rooted in research. Speakers will share their perspectives along with tried-and-true tips that beef farmers can implement immediately. This year the two sessions, Alternatives to Antimicrobials and Dealing with Drought, fit well with the overall conference theme of “Securing our Future.”

  • Since 2018, beef producers in Canada require a veterinary prescription to treat cattle with medically important antibiotics. Bov-Innovation 1.0 Alternatives to Antibiotics is a timely take on practices producers can adopt that may prevent the need for antimicrobials. While not every illness or infection can be avoided, Steve Hendrick, DVM, a Coaldale, AB veterinarian, will explain some preventative methods farmers can adopt. Producer Stephen Hughes will share some of the benefits he has found with reduced antibiotic use. He will also describe strategies he uses on his Longview, AB ranch to minimize his use for veterinary drugs.
  • Drought has affected many regions of Canada in recent years. Finding enough forage to meet the nutritional needs of a beef herd can be challenging and expensive in dry times. In Bov-Innovation 2.0 Dealing with Drought, John McKinnon, PhD, and Alberta producer Graeme Finn will provide their insight on making things work in less than ideal conditions. McKinnon, an Emeritus Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, will highlight balancing rations, using creative feed sources, and preventing nutritional nightmares that can happen in drought. Finn, who operates Southern Cross Livestock, has firsthand experience dealing with severe drought. He will offer practical suggestions for planning ahead for grazing and forage management, including maintaining healthy pastures better able to withstand low precipitation.

“Bov-Innovation has proven popular with conference attendees because it combines a research perspective with real life situations that producers are challenged with,” says Ryan Beierbach, Chair of the BCRC. “I really encourage producers and audience members to join Bov-Innovation, to ask questions, and really consider new strategies that will help them proactively manage their farms in the future,” said Beierbach.

Conference goers will have two opportunities to participate in the Bov-Innovation sessions at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference on Wednesday, August 14. Both topics will be covered from 10:15am to 12:00pm, and again later that day from 2:45pm-5:30pm.

Information and resources from previous Bov-Innovation sessions held in 2016, 2017, and 2018 can be found online at http://www.beefresearch.ca/resources/bovinnovation.cfm .

Beef industry stakeholders and producers are also invited to attend the BCRC Open House on Thursday, August 15 starting at 1:15pm. Examples of research, innovations, and science-based tools will be featured as well as objectives for current and future research priorities. Conference registration is not necessary to attend the open house.

Registration for the Canadian Beef Industry Conference is now open. Producers are encouraged to register before June 15 to take advantage of a reduced rate and secure their spot at the beef event of the year. Full conference information, including registration details, accommodations, speakers, and agenda, can be found at www.canadianbeefindustryconference.com .

Bov-Innovation is possible because of funding through the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off and the Beef Science Cluster, and partnerships with other stakeholders dedicated to advancing the goals in the National Beef Strategy.

Click here to subscribe to the BCRC Blog and receive email notifications when new content is posted.

The sharing or reprinting of BCRC Blog articles is welcome and encouraged. Please provide acknowledgement to the Beef Cattle Research Council, list the website address, www.BeefResearch.ca, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at info@beefresearch.ca.

We welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. Contact us directly or generate public discussion by posting your thoughts below.

Rangeland and Riparian Health: New web page!

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 Rangeland and Riparian Health 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.

Rangeland, or range, is land supporting native or introduced vegetation that can be grazed and is managed as a natural ecosystem. Rangeland includes grassland, grazeable forestland, shrubland, pastureland and riparian areas.

Healthy rangelands:

  • produce forage for livestock and wildlife
  • maintain and protect soil from erosion
  • capture and release water
  • cycle nutrients and energy, and
  • maintain biological diversity.

Learning to recognize range plants and their role in the ecosystem is key to good range management. Continue reading

Persistence Pays

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

Top findings about adoption of beneficial practices on Canadian cow-calf operations



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.

Continue reading

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