Meet the Council: Willingness to Adapt is Key for Managing Canadian Beef Operations

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is made up of producer members from across Canada, representing and appointed by each of the provincial beef organizations that allocate part of the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off to research. The number of members from each province is proportional to the amount of provincial allocation to research.

The following is part one in a series to introduce you to this group of innovative thinkers that set BCRC’s direction by sharing practices, strategies, or technologies that they have integrated into their own operations.

Although located in different regions across the country, the following three producers all agree that being able to change and adapt is key when implementing new practices on their operation.

Rotating Wintering Sites in Treed Landscapes

Dean Manning – Nova Scotia

Dean and his family have a mixed farm in the Annapolis Valley near Falmouth, Nova Scotia. There they raise vegetables to sell at farmers’ markets and have a herd of 80 Angus crossbred cattle. Farming in this unique area, alongside all forms of agriculture from greenhouses and wineries to dairy and hogs, has provided the Mannings with opportunities and challenges. With a limited land base that is surrounded primarily by housing developments, the Mannings realized that to produce more they had to become more efficient as expansion is not an option. The advantage is that land is very productive, and the moisture received makes for favourable growing conditions for forages and other crops. Continue reading

Corn Silage in Backgrounding Diets

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.

Recent columns indicated that corn’s potential to produce 50% higher silage (and starch) yields than barley may offset its 30% higher growing costs, provided the right corn hybrid is selected for the local growing conditions, and provided growing conditions cooperate. The higher starch content of corn silage also means that feedlot diets may need to be re-examined. If corn silage is supplying more starch to the diet, perhaps backgrounding diets can feed less barley grain, or maybe cattle can be backgrounded to heavier weights with a shorter grain finishing period, provided growth rates, feed conversion and carcass grade aren’t adversely affected.

Karen Beauchemin of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Lethbridge) recently published a Beef Cluster study examining whether replacing barley grain with corn silage in backgrounding diets impacted animal performance and carcass characteristics (Effects of feeding corn silage from short-season hybrids and extending the backgrounding period on production performance and carcass traits of beef cattle, doi:10.1093/jas/sky099). Continue reading

New Webpage: Forage Species



Forages are a major feed component for the cow-calf and backgrounding sectors of the beef industry, and are made up of grasses, legumes, forbs and shrubs. Eighty percent of a beef animal’s diet over its lifetime comes from forages.

Climate, local soil conditions and management objectives determine the best forage species and variety for each planting area and application. Forage crops add to the diversity and beauty of landscapes, provide habitat for wildlife, can play a role in soil improvement and water conservation, reduce erosion, and contribute to the carbon cycle as a carbon sink.

Most cultivated grasses grown in Canada, referred to as tame species, are introduced species from Europe or Asia that have been bred and adapted to perform in Canadian conditions. The unique characteristics that various species have will provide an advantage over other species under different growing conditions. Some grasses have superior adaptation to soil and climate conditions such as heat, drought, flooding, cold, salinity and acidity. The fibrous root systems of grasses stabilize soil and reduce erosion. Continue reading

Hooves not Harrows – Harnessing Cow Power to Rejuvenate Forages

As forage stands age, plant species composition shifts and production declines over time. There are many different methods of rejuvenating or renovating forage stands and strategies vary in intensity, effectiveness, and cost. Breaking old stands and re-seeding forages, while effective, is among the most expensive rejuvenation methods. More producers are opting to improve their older tame pastures and re-seed legumes using a key resource they already have on hand – their cattle herd.


Nerbas Brothers Angus use rotational and stockpiled grazing on their Manitoba farm. Photo courtesy of Twitter.com/NerbasBrosAngus

Arron Nerbas with Nerbas Brothers Angus explains how they take a “hooves not harrows” approach to improving older pastures. “We just try and use grazing as much as possible to take the mechanical component out of it,” explains Nerbas, who operates on his family’s multigenerational farm near Russell, Manitoba.

On Nerbas’ purebred and commercial Angus cow-calf operation, they have no cover crops or annual species and rely solely on perennial forages. Their goal is to try and graze as long as they can each season, and minimize the number of months they have cattle on winter feed, which is typically provided through bale grazing. Continue reading

Forage U-Pick: A new interactive forage species selection tool for Western Canada

The Forage U-Pick project was supported by over 13 different organizations through contributions of time and expertise. Funding was provided by the Beef Cattle Research Council, Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre, Saskatchewan Forage Council, and the Government of British Columbia and Government of Canada through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

Forages for hay and pasture are essential for beef production. Ensuring forage species are well-matched to growing conditions improves establishment rates, yield, vigour and quality. This can reduce costs, improve utilization and number of grazing days, and increase profitability.  Using accurate production information can produce positive impacts on beef and forage productivity, sustainability, and competitiveness.

Forage U-Pick is a tool designed to provide users with information for forage selection, forage seeding rates, and weed management. Continue reading

This Grazing Season, Remember the Four Principles of Pasture Management



Pasture is a key component of beef cattle operations and one definitely worth managing. At first glance, grazing a pasture may appear as simple as placing cattle in a fenced area with a water source. However, practising effective grazing management is an art and a science.

Pasture conditions and types vary widely from native grassland to tame forage, with stands comprised of many diverse plants or perhaps just a simple mixture of a few grass or legume species. Regardless of the pasture type, focusing on a few key principles can help maintain forage productivity, ensure stand longevity, sustain a healthy plant community, conserve water, and protect soils. Here are four main factors to remember: Continue reading

Water Systems: 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 Water Systems for Beef Cattle 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.

Water is an essential nutrient for cattle, accounting for between 50 and 80 percent of an animal’s live weight. For livestock to maximize feed intake and production, they require access to palatable water of adequate quality and quantity. Factors that determine water consumption include water quality, air and water temperature, humidity, moisture content of feed/forage, cattle type (calf, yearling, bull, cow) and the physiological state of the animal (gestation, maintenance, growing, lactating). Producers must consider individual grazing management strategies, site characteristics and economics when designing water systems.

For optimum health, cattle need a consistent source and adequate supply of water on a daily basis. Water quality and intake will affect cattle growth and performance. Access to fresh, clean water increases animals’ water intake, which in turn, increases their dry matter intake. This improves animal performance. Continue reading

Warm Season Crops and Cool Climates

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

According to Statistics Canada, silage corn acreage was 26% higher in 2015-19 than in 2010-14. Most of this increase occurred in the Prairies. Achieving corn’s potential will depend on whether plant breeders can successfully adapt this warm season plant to Canada’s cooler climate.

Plants contain two kinds of carbohydrates. Non-structural carbohydrates are starches and sugars that help the plant store energy and are easily digested by livestock. Structural carbohydrates include the cellulose and hemicellulose fibers found in cell walls. Cellulose and hemicellulose, along with lignin, hold the leaves and stems together and help the plant stand up. Rumen microbes digest hemicellulose more easily than cellulose, but lignin is virtually indigestible. In a feed test, neutral detergent fiber (NDF) measures the amount of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. An indicator of “bulk”, high NDF levels limit animal intake. Acid detergent fiber (ADF) is the amount of less digestible cellulose and lignin (but not hemicellulose). Digestibility declines as NDF and ADF increase.

In perennial grasses, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin levels increase steadily as the plant grows and matures. This makes sense; as the plant gets taller, it requires more structural integrity to keep standing. This is why ADF and NDF increase and digestibility decreases as grasses mature. Non-structural carbohydrates and protein levels rise initially, peak, and decline after grass has headed out. The amount of structural carbohydrate continues to increase as the plant matures and sets seed. That’s why the nutritional value of pasture generally declines as grass matures, and why rotational grazing practices that keep grass vegetative by ‘clipping’ and preventing it from heading out helps maintain the nutritional quality of the pasture later into the growing season. Continue reading

Carrying or Grazing Capacity

Are you managing a new-to-you pasture and you need to determine how to stock it? Perhaps it has been recently purchased or rented, or you simply don’t trust the information provided on historical stocking rates.

The first principle of pasture management is to balance the available forage supply with livestock demand. Carrying capacity (also known as grazing capacity) is the amount of forage available for grazing animals in a specific pasture or field. A substantial amount of Canada’s rangeland is in some form of public ownership (e.g. grazing leases, forest grazing allotments) and has carrying capacity data available. With privately owned or recently acquired land however, there may not be any information on historical forage production and carrying capacity.

Carrying Capacity is defined as the average number of livestock and/or wildlife that may be sustained on a pasture that fits the management goals. Site characteristics, such as soil, water, plant, and topography of the pasture, can impact carrying capacity. Forage production and availability for grazing can also affect carrying capacity. Source: Society for Range Management, 1998.

Carrying capacity can be calculated using a variety of techniques. All of them depend more or less on trial and error as they are monitored and adjusted over time as the carrying capacity for an individual year varies from the long-term average for the pasture. The effectiveness of each method depends on the kind of grazing land, but a combination of methods is generally required. Continue reading

Sprouting Technology Webinar March 25th



This webinar will present new tools available to producers to assist with making decisions around forage production on your operation including the Forage U-Pick tool and Carrying Capacity calculators.



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

When
Wednesday, March 25th at 7:00 pm MT

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

Continue reading