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

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

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

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).

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

Cover Crops Webinar March 26


Photo courtesy of Agriculture Agri-Food Canda

Cover crops can have many benefits including improving soil health and prolonging the grazing season. Join this webinar to learn about some of the best practices for growing cover crops.



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

When
Tuesday, March 26 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

Interested but aren’t available that evening?
Register anyway! This webinar will be recorded and posted online at a later date. All registrants will receive a link to the recording and additional learning resources. By attending the live broadcast, you’ll have the opportunity to interact and ask questions too.

Duration
Approximately 1 hour.

Jillian Bainard
, Ph.D., is a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at the Swift Current Research and Development Centre (SCRDC). As a Forage Ecophysiologist, Jillian’s research involves studying forage crops and the interface between plants and their environment. She works with forage breeders, ecologists, and animal scientists to develop forages that are beneficial nutritionally, environmentally, and economically. Jillian completed her PhD in Botany at the University of Guelph in 2011, followed by a postdoc at SCRDC where she studied the use of annual forage polycultures.

 

Cost
BCRC webinars are available and free of charge thanks to guest speakers who volunteer their time and expertise to support advancements in the Canadian beef industry, and through the Technology Transfer project funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster.

What is a webinar?

Webinars are just like attending a workshop or conference, but from the comfort of your own home or office. We bring the presentation right to you. They’re easy to join and participate in. A reliable, high-speed internet connection is required.

All you need to do is register beforehand, and about 5-10 minutes before the webinar is scheduled to begin, click the link you were provided when you registered. Then turn up your computer speakers or call the phone number provided. That’s it! Sit back and enjoy.

As a participant, you can anonymously answer polls and surveys, and will have the opportunity to ask questions near the end of the webinar.

You can find more beef research-related webinars hosted by other organizations on our events calendar.

Don’t have high-speed internet? Consider calling a neighbor that does and watch the webinar together, or call your regional ag office to ask whether arranging a group viewing is possible.

Visit our Webinars page to find other upcoming BCRC webinars and the recordings of our past sessions.



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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.

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What happens when the manure hits the field?



Nutrients from agriculture can be lost to the atmosphere as gaseous emissions such as ammonia, nitrous oxide, nitric oxide and dinitrogen.  Other forms of nutrients, such as nitrates, may also be lost by leaching down into soils and possibly entering aquifers, or as organic molecules and solutes that can runoff into surface waters. These nutrient losses can pose risks to the environment and public health, and to society in general and because of this, the livestock sector is often under public scrutiny for its role in nutrient management. Producers who improve their on-farm nutrient management methods stand to benefit by reducing fertilizer use through incorporating nitrogen-fixing legumes, or extending their grazing to minimize manure spreading costs and gaseous losses.
Continue reading

Grazing Management

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 Grazing Management webpage, 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.

Effective grazing management on pastures not only ensures high forage yield, sustainability, animal health and productivity, all of which impact cost of production, it also benefits the pasture ecosystem.  Innovations in pasture management give producers greater control to support the environment (e.g. biodiversity) but also allow them to better use pasture resources for food production.

Pasture is a critical resource in the cattle industry. An effective management plan requires clear understanding of forage production, realistic production goals, effective grazing strategies and timely response to forage availability and environmental changes. Managing grazing lands so that they are productive and persist over time requires knowing when to graze certain species, if they can withstand multiple grazings/cuttings within a single year and how much recovery time is needed to prevent overgrazing. Continue reading

Adaptive Grazing Management and How it Can Increase Your Pasture Productivity Webinar: February 12



Adaptive grazing is a flexible grazing system that increases the productivity and performance of pastures. This system can benefit all types of operations and management intensities by mimicking the disruptive manner of natural grazing patterns through the use of grazing and rest periods.



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