Cover Crop Capabilities – Producer and Researcher Experiences


Cover crop in Saltcoats, SK. Photo courtesy of Kevin Elmy .

Forage cover crops are annual or biennial plants that farmers seed, often in mixes, in order to “cover” the soil. Also known as cocktail crops or polycrops, producers often seed these blends to accomplish goals like increasing production, reducing evaporation, improving soil biology, providing pollination opportunities, increasing natural nutrient cycling, and providing forage.

As with any practice that gains momentum quickly and offers so much promise, there are some risks and rewards. Read how three producers and one researcher have earned practical experience through trial and error, as well as applied and scientific research. At the end of each profile they share some pointers learned along the way.

Blair Williamson
Lambton Shores, Ontario

Blair Williamson is a purebred beef farmer who has been gaining experience with cover cropping the past few years by working with his uncle. He rents pasture and incorporates cover crops and crop residue before or after traditional cash crops are grown and harvested. Continue reading

Applications open for the Beef Researcher Mentorship Program

Applications for the 2020-21 term of the BCRC Beef Researcher Mentorship Program are now being accepted.  The deadline to apply is May 1, 2020.


2019 Mentees and BCRC staff met with Cherie Copithorne-Barnes to discuss some challenges and opportunities in Canadian beef production.

Four researchers were selected to participate in the program this past year. Each was paired with two mentors – an innovative producer and another industry expert – for a one year term (ending July 31, 2020). Each of the researchers have reported very successful and valuable experiences through the opportunities provided, including:

  • Establishing partnerships with industry and other researchers to further their research programs
  • Meeting several producers and industry leaders with whom they ask questions and have meaningful discussions about cattle production, beef quality and safety, and the Canadian beef value chain
  • Attending industry events and touring farms and ranches to better understand the impacts, practicalities and economics of adopting research results



The BCRC is excited to continue the program and invite applications from upcoming and new applied researchers in Canada whose studies are of value to the beef industry, such as cattle health and welfare, beef quality, food safety, genetics, feed efficiency, or forages. A new group of participants will begin their mentorships on August 1st.

The Beef Researcher Mentorship Program launched in August 2014 to facilitate greater engagement of upcoming and new applied researchers with Canada’s beef industry.

Learn more about the program and **download an application form at: http://www.beefresearch.ca/about/mentorship-program.cfm**

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Silage is top choice for these three beef producers



Editor’s note: The following is part two of a two-part series that will help you to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of silage production across Canada. Read part one on silage cost of production. 

Many Canadian beef producers have been harvesting and feeding silage for decades, while others are relatively new to the practice. There are upsides to silage, including the ability to harvest forage during variable weather, being able to produce more feed on fewer acres, and the potential for a more economical feed ration. There are also drawbacks to consider, including additional feeding infrastructure and equipment investment. Also, as with any new method or management practice, producers considering silage need to do their homework, develop a new skillset and be prepared to adapt and adjust as they learn.

Read about the experiences of three beef farmers from across Canada who have incorporated silage on their farms.

Kevin Duddridge
Pansy, Manitoba

Kevin Duddridge describes silage as the “future of beef production” and has been relying on silage to feed his cow herd for the past five years. Duddridge and his family run a 220 head cow-calf operation that they started in 2003 and they feed a total mixed ration based on corn silage. “We don’t use dry bales at all because it’s hit and miss from year to year,” says Duddridge, who added that their cost of production has reduced since shifting away from dry hay. “Corn is an amazing plant. It has a root that will find water in dry years, and in years where conventional hay fails, you will still get a crop of corn,” Duddridge explains. “It’s basically half the price per pound of dry matter for our production costs,” he adds. Continue reading

Silage Cost of Production

Editor’s note: The following is part one of a two-part series that will help you to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of silage production across Canada.

Hay is a major forage source over the winter-feeding season in the cow/calf sector, but an increasing number of producers are considering silage if they aren’t already using it.

According to the 2016/17 Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey, most respondents practiced some type of extensive feeding method, such as in-field feeding, for most of the winter. While all respondents used rolled bales (baled hay or straw) as part of their feeding program, about 30% also used other winter-feeding methods and materials including silage and chopped hay with a bale processor. In the east, the 2015/16 Ontario Cow-Calf Survey shows that 91% of producers winter their cattle using baled hay, while 45% reported feeding silage. According to the 2016/17 Atlantic Cow-Calf Survey, average days on feed by feed type (non-exclusive to one feed type) are 83 days on silage, 74 days on baled hay, and 52 days on crop residues.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Silage

A major benefit to putting up silage is that, provided the crop is at the right stage, it can be harvested in almost any weather condition. Lengthy dry down times can be avoided and harvest operations can continue even in cool or moist conditions. When harvesting silage, it is recommended that the crop be at 60-65% moisture level to maximize quality and packing effectiveness.

Compared to most other systems, such as baling dry hay, silage has fewer harvesting losses and more nutrients can be harvested per acre. Ensiling permits the use of a wider range of crops including grasses, legumes, grains, corn and salvage crops that have suffered weather damage or weed infestation. Also, silage harvest can typically be done in a much shorter timeframe compared to hay.

The major disadvantage of silage compared to hay is that it requires more capital investment or cash costs. Due to the high costs of planting and harvesting equipment, many livestock producers choose to not own the equipment, but rather hire custom operators. As custom operators are usually booked well in advance, producers need to plan seeding and harvest well ahead of time and make sure they have custom operators lined up. Also, silage has limited market potential, because trucking costs restrict the distance hauled, so it must be produced near the location where it will be fed. Continue reading

Proper management key to minimize risk of calf scours

Get cow-calf pairs out onto clean ground, such as fresh pasture, and give them as much space as possible. That’s how Ryan McCarron sidestepped a calf scours outbreak on his eastern Nova Scotia farm in 2019.

 McCarron, who farms with family members at Antigonish, about 160 km northeast of Halifax, became alarmed when a few calves became sick and died early in the 2019 spring calving season.

“It was a frustrating situation,” says McCarron. “Calves were getting sick, we treated them but several still died. Something had to change.”

Necropsy examinations showed the dead calves had picked up a harmful strain of E. coli bacteria, likely from fecal contamination of the soil in the yard next to the barn, which led to the serious and fatal cases of scours. Continue reading

Cost of Manure Management



Manure, when used properly, is a valuable resource for the cropping or forage sectors, but handling it comes with a cost. While many producers extensively winter feed their cattle which reduces or eliminates the cost and time associated with manure removal, hauling and application, this article discusses traditional management of livestock manure.

The traditional management of livestock manure involves removal from drylot pens each spring to be utilized as fertilizer on crop or pasture, in either raw or composted form. The application of manure has short-term and long-term effects on crop yields. In the short term, the addition of nutrients (such as nitrogen) in manure may immediately increase yields. In the long-term, increases in yields may be due to delayed nutrient release or improvements in soil quality as the result of a series of complex interactions between the nutrients, organic matter and organisms in the manure and the existing conditions of the soil. Continue reading

Prevent external parasites from bugging your cattle Webinar March 12, 2020



External parasites can reduce weight gains, cause losses in milk and meat production, produce general weakness, cause mange and severe dermatitis, and create sites for secondary invasion of disease organisms. This webinar will discuss methods on how to prevent and treat external parasites on cattle.



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

When
Thursday, March 12th 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

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Barley Comes up the Backstretch

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

Like cattle performance, crop yields reflect the interplay between genetics, management practices and environmental conditions. Statistics Canada reports show that barley yields weren’t keeping up with other feed crops for decades. Barley yields increased 0.39 bushels/acre/year between 1980 and 2009, slower than either wheat (0.44) or corn (1.66). But since 2010, Canada’s barley yields have improved faster (1.32) than both wheat (0.84) and corn (0.66). This apparent tripling of barley yield gains is remarkable, especially considering that canola, corn and wheat development receive tremendous research investment, and their expanding acreages have squeezed barley’s shrinking acres onto less productive farmland.

Canada’s beef industry can share some credit for barley’s improved performance. Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association and the Beef Cattle Research Council have supported Alberta Agriculture’s Field Crop Development Center, where Dr. Flavio Capettini leads Canada’s only dedicated feed and forage barley breeding program. This team’s work under the 2013-18 Beef Science Cluster illustrates how much effort it takes to breed a new, improved feed grain variety. Continue reading

Putting Your Check-off Dollars to Work through Research

This article was written jointly by the Canadian Beef Check-Off Agency and the Beef Cattle Research Council. 

The Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off

If you sell cattle in Canada, you pay check-off.  Your beef check-off funds beef market development, promotion and research.

The Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off is deducted on every head of beef cattle marketed in Canada. While the provincial check-off or service fee can vary by province, the national portion of the check-off, most commonly referred to as the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off or national check-off, is $2.50 per head in all provinces with the exception of Ontario, currently at $1.00 per head.

The Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off is allocated to marketing, research, and public and stakeholder engagement by the provincial cattle associations that remit the check-off. Since each province has unique needs and priorities, each province designates a chosen percentage of the national portion of the check-off from their province that they wish to allocate to each of the three functions (marketing, research, and public and stakeholder engagement). Continue reading

Top tips for a smooth calving season



The most important day of a calf’s life is the first one. There are some key factors that play a role in whether or not a baby calf gets off to a good start and research has demonstrated that the first 24 hours of life are critical in order for a calf to survive to weaning and beyond.

Interventions – follow-up care is important

Dystocia, or calving complications, pose a health risk for both the newborn calf and the cow. While dystocia can be partially managed with careful breeding choices and culling practices, proper nutrition, and managing for a body condition score of 3 (on a scale of 1-5) before calving, difficult deliveries can still occur.

Every scenario is different, however once a water bag appears, a calf should hit the ground within one hour for cows, or up to one and a half hours for a first-calf heifer. If this doesn’t happen, intervention may be needed, especially if no progress has occurred for thirty minutes, the cow stops pushing, or there are other signs of trouble. If there is a problem, a water bag may not always appear, so be observant of other behaviours that signal labour, such as tail switching, restlessness, the appearance of membranes or discharge, or a kink in the cow’s tail.

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