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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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.

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

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.
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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

Mycotoxins

A new webpage on BeefResearch.ca provides an overview of what mycotoxins are, the threat they represent for Canadian beef production and how to implement best practices to protect beef cattle.

Mycotoxins are often hidden hazards – a group of harmful toxins produced by certain types of fungi including mould that are only detectable with lab testing. They can create a variety of problems for beef cattle including reduced health and productivity.

The source of mycotoxins are fungi, including mould, that can be present in green pastures, cereal swaths, standing corn for winter grazing, cured and ensiled grass, cereal forages, crop co-products (straw, distillers grains, grain screenings, oilseed meals) and commercial feeds. Continue reading

Five producers share ideas that have made their farms and ranches more efficient

Editors note: This article is the second in a series featuring ideas from beef producers across the country. See the first: Eight beef producers share their recent changes 

Fine-tuned management decisions with quick results and bigger management changes that may take a few years for benefits to materialize — these are ideas that Canadian beef producers are applying to their farming and ranching operations.

Good ideas can range from improving pasture watering systems and regularly testing winter feeds, to reducing costs during the fall/winter grazing period, to simple ideas that reduce the stress of calving out heifers, to more sweeping approaches on how to manage an intensive grazing system — all have a common objective to improve beef herd performance in sustainable farming systems.

Here are some ideas that Canadian beef producers have shared that help them produce more pounds of beef, reduce workload, improve overall efficiency and benefit cattle and the environment: Continue reading

5 tips for grazing corn this fall and winter



Corn grazing is becoming more popular across Canada because producers can grow more biomass on less land. If you are planning on grazing corn this winter, here are 5 tips to help you make the most of the corn grazing season:

Ease cattle into grazing corn
If this is the first time you are grazing corn, it may take some time for cattle to realize what they are supposed to do with the tall stalks. It is a good idea to slowly transition cattle from summer pasture to fall corn grazing. Regardless of how familiar they are with grazing, the rumen also takes some time to adapt to the new feed source. One way to do this is to provide access to only a couple days’ worth of feed and also supply cattle with an alternative feed source such as a bale of hay to help them through the transition period.

Limit cows to 3-4 days of feed
Inevitably when cattle are turned out, they will eat the best (more palatable) parts of the plant first, which is the cob. If cows Continue reading