Johne’s Disease: Cheap to Buy, Costly to Live With

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

“Biosecurity” often conjures up images of poultry or hog operations with truckers-report-at-the-gate signs, shower-in-and-out rules, and workers dressed in hazmat suits. The point of biosecurity practices is obviously to reduce the risk that disease causing microbes will enter or spread within high-health status herds or flocks.

It is much harder to implement high levels of biosecurity in beef operations. I’ve heard a cynic say that biosecurity only prevents diseases that are too big to fit between two strands of barbed wire. I stopped saying that when someone pointed out that most diseases aren’t coming through the fence. Most diseases are bought and paid for and come straight through an open gate along with the newly purchased cattle that are carrying them.

Let’s use Johne’s disease as an example. It’s relatively uncommon in Canadian beef herds but well worth avoiding due to its significant economic costs, animal welfare concerns and impact on the operation’s reputation. Cows with active Johne’s disease can’t absorb nutrients well. This results in chronic diarrhea and loss of body weight and body condition score. As with underfed cows, Johne’s disease results in later rebreeding, lighter calf weaning weights, and losing or culling cows before they have recouped their production costs. Continue reading

Dr. John Campbell receives 2019 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation

Calgary, AB – A leader in beef animal health and welfare has been awarded the 2019 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation. Dr. John Campbell was honored tonight at the 2019 Canadian Beef Industry Conference, held in Calgary, Alberta.

L-R: Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director; Andrea Brocklebank, BCRC Executive Director; Dr. John Campbell, Award Recipient; Ryan Beierbach, BCRC Chair; Steve Hendrick, co-presenter and veterinarian at Coaldale Veterinary Clinic

Dr. Campbell is a professor and researcher at the University of Saskatchewan in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. His work focuses on clinical research in beef cattle health management and the epidemiology of infectious diseases. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1985 and his Doctor of Veterinary Science in 1991 from the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

Dr. Campbell has assisted producers, researchers, veterinarians, and policy makers across Canada with his numerous research projects on infectious diseases, such as respiratory disease and trichomoniasis, and industry-relevant issues, such as antimicrobial resistance and animal welfare. As the Head of the Disease Investigation Unit at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM), he has led an effort to keep local veterinarians, provincial officials, and beef producers updated with the information they need to keep their cattle healthy.

Dr. Campbell was responsible for establishing the Western Canadian Cow-Calf Surveillance Network and subsequently the national Canadian Cow-Calf Surveillance Network. Through this network, Dr. Campbell and his colleagues have been able to examine a variety of topics which help scientists from across Canada manage future research projects, identify emerging problems and evolving practices, and support beef producers as they manage production decisions in their herds.

“Dr. John Campbell embodies the spirit of cooperation and communication between academia and the cattle industry,” said Ryan Beierbach, Chair of the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and producer near Whitewood, SK. “He maintains impactful and relevant research by staying actively engaged with cattle producers and is not afraid to get his hands dirty as he digs into the details to solve complex herd health and nutrition problems.” Continue reading

Announcing the Beef Researcher Mentorship Program 2019-2020 Participants

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is pleased to announce the participants in the 2019-20 Beef Researcher Mentorship program. Following an open application process, four researchers from across Canada have been selected. Each has been paired with notable leaders in the Canadian beef industry and given a travel budget for the coming year, which will provide valuable opportunities for greater engagement with Canada’s beef industry.

Mentee: Dr. Aklilu Alemu
Mentors: Brenna Grant and the Fleming family

Dr. Aklilu Alemu is a scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre. He is developing a Canadian whole-farm model called Holos that helps to implement a holistic approach in evaluating changes in management practices and its impact on total farm greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Alemu aspires to play a role in the development of sustainable cattle production strategies through practical research and technology transfer. Dr. Alemu began his career in Ethiopia with a Diploma and a B.Sc. degree in Animal Production and Rangeland Management, followed by an M.Sc. in Ruminant Nutrition at the University of Alberta and a Ph.D. in Animal Science from the University of Manitoba. Last year, he completed a postdoc at Lethbridge Research and Development Centre.

 Brenna Grant
is the manager of Canfax Research Services (CRS). She grew up in SW Saskatchewan on a cow/calf, yearling grasser operation where her family still operates. She received a B.A. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Saskatchewan and a Master’s in Applied Economics from Montana State University.  She has been with CRS since 2007. Canfax Research Services focuses on global and long-term outlooks; performance measurement for marketing and research; economic and market research. Canfax Research Services completed the first economic assessment of the Canadian beef industry for the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

The Fleming family own and operate Fleming Stock Farms located west of Granum in Southern Alberta. Duncan, Cecilie and their adult children Cooper and Ricki, along with her husband Justin Pittman, have a passion for Angus cattle. Duncan has worked in the purebred cattle sector for 45 years; as a breeder, a fitter and as a livestock judge. Cecilie is the founding Adult Liaison to the Alberta Junior Angus Association (AJAA) and was instrumental in empowering the youth to step up to the plate and take ownership of their area of the Angus industry. Cecilie has served the Alberta Angus Association for 6 years of which 3 years were as President. Currently Cecilie is a director of the Canadian Angus Foundation and the chair of the Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) program.

Mentee: Dr. Marianne Villettaz Robichaud
Mentors: Nathalie Côté and Giacomo Zoia

Dr. Marianne Villettaz Robichaud is an assistant professor in animal welfare in the department of Clinical Sciences of the Faculty de Veterinary Medicine of St-Hyacinthe at the University of Montreal. Her research interests are on-farm improvements of production animal welfare, early detection and prevention of diseases, and management of at-risks animals including veal calves and cull animals. She has a B.Sc. in Agronomy and M.Sc. in Animal Sciences from the University of Laval and Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Guelph. She recently completed a postdoc on the associations between cow welfare and economics with the University of Laval, University of British Columbia (UBC) and McGill University.

Nathalie Côté is the VBP+ Program Coordinator for the sustainable beef program for cow-calf and feeder production. She is also the coordinator of the Verified Veal Program, the On-Farm Food Safety Program for Milk Production and the Certified Quebec Grain Calf Program. Ms. Côté has a Bachelor’s degree in General Agronomy from MacDonald College, McGill University, and since 1993, has held various positions in the marketing and union life of the Federation of Quebec Cattle Producers (FPBQ). She has held the position of Quality and Environmental Management Advisor since 2001. Ms. Côté is regularly asked to take part in cattle production days and the training course for future agronomists at the University of Laval and McGill University.

Giacomo Zoia
has been working on the family farm since he was 10. After studying farm business management, he came on as a partner in the family business in 2016.  La Ferme Bœufs des Patriotes Inc. specializes in beef production and field crops. At full capacity, they produce 1000 head of beef per year. For the past two years, they have been specializing in beef heifer feeding. Animal welfare is a priority for them. They also produce corn, soybeans and wheat on 540 acres. On the farm, Giacomo is responsible for monitoring of the TMR, checking animal health and keeping records.

Mentee: Matthew Links
Mentors: Feedlot Health Management Services and Sean McGrath

Dr. Matthew Links is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan. Matthew’s research program is focused at the intersection of the computer and life sciences. During his university education Matthew pursued an interdisciplinary education that gave him a diverse background that runs from computer science through to veterinary microbiology. He has been involved in many genomics projects that touch on human, plant and animal health. The research program conducted in his lab is focused on both the wet-lab and computational methods required to understand the interactions between animals and the microbes that live in or on them. Matthew has a B.Sc. in Biochemistry and Computer Science from the University of Saskatchewan, an M.Sc. in Biological Sciences from the University of Windsor, and a Ph.D. in Microbial Profiling Using Metagenomic Assembly from the University of Saskatchewan.

Feedlot Health Management Services
is a feedlot consulting service based out of Okotoks, Alberta. Feedlot Health works with feedlots and calf grower operations to determine ways to optimize production efficiency and overall animal health. Their innovation and research is designed to support data-based decision making for feedlot and calf grower clients. They work closely with pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, feed companies and other beef industry organizations.

Sean McGrath 
is a 5th generation rancher who together with wife Tanya and their family manage a 112-year-old operation breeding roughly 300 females each year and custom grazing another 200 pairs in the summertime. The ranch markets purebred and commercial cattle as well as grass finished beef and is structured around grazing. In 2014 the ranch was awarded the provincial and national TESA award. Sean also provides consulting services to the beef industry, primarily focusing on livestock genetics and ranch/range management. Sean writes for several beef industry publications and through his company markets electric fencing supplies, forage seed and range monitoring education and tools.

Mentee: Dr. Peipei Zhang
Mentors: Scott Entz and Cathy Sharp

Dr. Peipei Zhang is a research scientist under the postdoctoral research program with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Lacombe Research and Development Centre. Her expertise is using next-generation sequencing technique to solve meat microbiology related issues. Peipei’s current research is mainly focused on the improvement of meat shelf-life using biopreservative strategies, understanding of the persistence mechanisms of pathogenic bacteria, for example, E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, in meat production chain and development of potential interventions to control pathogenic bacteria on meat. Peipei has a B.Sc. in Animal Science from Qingdao Agricultural University, an M.Sc. in Preventative Veterinary Medicine from Zhengjiang University, and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Science from the University of Tasmania.

Scott Entz
has spent his entire career, over 30 years, with Cargill and in various roles within the meat industry. He has held the leadership role for Cargill Meat’s North American Engineering team, Information Technology, and led Cargill Further Processing Meats business. During 2007-2008, he worked out of Cargill Corporate in Minneapolis as one of 24 Cargill leaders from 82 different businesses around the world that evaluated the viability and developed a strategy to leverage common processes and systems across Cargill Inc., resulting in the launch of what is the largest project in Cargill’s history, spanning over 10 years. In 2008, he moved back to Alberta and into the role of Vice-President and General Manager in High River.  Other roles in industry currently include Executive Board member of CMC and past president, participating in Beef Industry’s Strategy advisor board, and various role supporting ALMA.

Cathy Sharp
has been involved with beef organizations for the past 14 years. Sitting as a delegate on the Alberta Beef Producer Organization she was involved with the marketing and promotion committee, zone coordinator and board member. Cathy is not only involved provincially but nationally as well. She is a board member and executive board member on the Canadian Cattleman’s Association and has chaired the Audit Committee and Value Creation Committee in recent years.  Currently she co-chairs the newly created Food Policy Committee and sits on the Foreign Trade Committee.  During her tenure on Beef Cattle Research Council the Growing Forward 2 Science Cluster Research projects were finalized. In 2015 Cathy had the opportunity to be a mentor for the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders Program.  Cathy really values what she has learned and the many friendships she has made throughout Canada.  Helping to make the beef industry stronger in Canada is challenging but so rewarding.

The Beef Researcher Mentorship Program provides upcoming and new applied researchers with the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the needs of the beef industry in practical and meaningful ways. Participants are paired with innovative cattle producers and other industry professionals for a one year mentorship along with a travel budget to attend industry meetings, producer workshops, and farm tours. The program complements similar programs in existence but for which some researchers may not be eligible. Funding is made available in part through the technology transfer initiative within the Beef Science Cluster.

Learn more about the Beef Researcher Mentorship program, including highlights from past participants, at

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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,, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at

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


Attn Researchers And Extension Agents: Deadline For BCRC LOIs Is 2 Weeks Away

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) announced in June that we invite 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 objectives in the Canadian Beef Research and Technology Transfer Strategy and the National Beef Strategy. These new calls for research and technology transfer LOIs are made possible by the recent increase in the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off in most provinces. Continue reading

VBP+ welcomes $602,250 CAP funding to support program advancement


For Immediate Release
July 12, 2019

The Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) program, under the umbrella of the Beef Cattle Research Council, a division of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), welcomes the investment of $602,250 from the Canadian Agriculture Partnership (CAP) Agri-Assurance program, announced Wednesday by Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Marie-Claude Bibeau.

These funds will be directed to multiple VBP+ activities, including

  • training platform modifications to meet educational demands by producers for continuous improvement in sustainability,
  • increased database capacity and functionality by automating processes where practical and ensuring growing demand is met while adding value and minimizing the cost of the verification process for producers,
  • advancing assessments of equivalency with existing industry programs to provide more value to producers who move through the verification process, and
  • developing a system to determine the impact of training on changes in sustainable production practices.

Continue reading 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

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,, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at

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 .

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 .

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,, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at

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 is gradually being added to (More information). The new Rangeland and Riparian Health page, which is previewed below, is one example. Further webpages will be added or updated on to include the valuable content from, 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

Drought Management Strategies

Editor’s note: Relevant and up-to-date information that had been available on is gradually being added to (More information). The new Drought Management Strategies page, which is previewed below, is one example. Further webpages will be added or updated on to include the valuable content from, 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