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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Narrowing in on Johne’s Disease

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

Johne’s disease is caused by a bacterium (Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis, or MAP) that was discovered in 1895 by a heavily bearded, bespectacled bacteriologist from Dresden named Henrich Albert Johne. When a cow develops persistent, watery, smelly hosepipe diarrhea, and progressively loses weight and body condition even though her appetite is normal and she isn’t running a temperature, she may have Johne’s disease. But it can be hard to know for sure.

Young calves, which are more susceptible to infection than older animals, are often infected with MAP through colostrum, milk or manure. The animal will look perfectly normal, while silently shedding MAP in its own colostrum, milk or manure for a few years before full-blown signs of disease appear. As a result, Johne’s disease is often compared to an iceberg – by the time you see an obviously sick animal, there will be a much larger hidden population of MAP-infected cattle that haven’t become sick yet. Continue reading

Does Antibiotic Resistance Move Through the Environment?

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.


Recent columns have talked about antibiotic use in Canadian cow-calf and feedlot operations. Contrary to common misconceptions, antibiotic resistant bacteria are very unlikely to transfer from cattle to beef, evade food safety interventions in the processing plant, survive cooking, and cause an antibiotic resistant infection in a person. But can antibiotic resistant bacteria be transmitted from cattle, through feedlot manure and runoff, across soil, through wetlands, streams and rivers, and reach humans through the environment?

A Beef Science Cluster study led by Dr. Rahat Zaheer and Tim McAllister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (with collaborators from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the University of Calgary’s faculties of medicine and veterinary medicine, University of Guelph, Alberta Agriculture and Feedlot Health Management Services) examined this question.

What they did: This research focused on bacteria called enterococci that can cause infections in humans (e.g. urinary tract, liver and bile duct, heart, surgery wound, and bloodstream infections). Most enterococcal infections can be effectively treated with macrolide antibiotics. This is important because macrolides (products like Draxxin, Zuprevo, Micotil, Tylan, Zactran, etc.) are commonly used in both beef production and human medicine.

Over a two-year period, this team collected samples from feedlots (pen floor fecal samples, collection ponds, stockpiled and composted manure), agricultural soils, wetlands, streams, municipal sewage, packing plants, retail meats and human patients. Advanced lab testing was used to identify the specific types of enterococci and antibiotic resistance patterns in the samples from each location.

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Antibiotic Use in Canadian Feedlots

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 22, 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



September’s column summarized a Beef Cluster project that evaluated antibiotic use in Western Canadian cow-calf operations. Nearly all cow-calf farms used antibiotics, but very few animals were treated, and most of the antibiotics used were not related to the antibiotics most commonly used in humans. But when it comes to antibiotic use in the beef industry, most of the attention is focused on the feedlot sector.

Until recently, the best Canadian feedlot antibiotic use information came from a small 2006 project (Antimicrobial Resistance in Escherichia coli Recovered from Feedlot Cattle and Associations with Antimicrobial Use, PLoS ONE 10: e0143995). Antibiotic use practices change over time, so a Beef Science Cluster 2 project updated and expanded this knowledge. Continue reading

Developing Faster, Less Expensive Diagnostic Tests

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 1, 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



Last month’s column discussed how antibiotics are used in Western Canadian cow-calf operations. Respiratory diseases are a common reason for antibiotic treatment in cows, bulls, and calves and diarrhea is a common reason for antibiotic treatment in young calves. Because both respiratory and intestinal infections can involve many different microbes, having a better understanding of what microbes may be causing a particular animal to be sick could allow more appropriate treatment decisions. For example, antibiotics don’t kill viruses, so using antibiotics won’t help an outbreak of scours that is primarily viral in nature. Similarly, some antibiotics are more effective against some bacteria than others, so being able to select the antibiotic that is most appropriate for the bacteria that are involved would be helpful.

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Antibiotic Use on Canadian Cow-Calf Operations



This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Antibiotic use records are important for producers who want to track the effectiveness of the antibiotics they use. Industry groups need antibiotic use data to refute misleading claims about our production practices. Even restaurant chains and meat companies marketing “antibiotic-free” beef need records to keep treated animals out of their “never-ever” supply stream. When it comes to antibiotic use in the beef industry, most of the attention is focused on the feedlot sector. That’s because most of the antibiotic use occurs there, and because large feedlots work closely with specialized veterinarians and have developed sophisticated software to support animal health protocols and recording of animal health treatments. But antibiotic use at the cow-calf level is also important. For example, calves may not respond as well to antibiotics at the feedlot if they have been exposed to a related antibiotic before leaving home.

The most recent reports on antibiotic use in cow-calf operations in Eastern Canada (Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research 72:109) and Western Canada (Preventive Veterinary Medicine 90:55) are nearly 10 years old. The Western Canadian Cow-Calf Surveillance Network (WCCCSN) initiative supported under the 2013-18 Beef Science Cluster provided an opportunity to gather updated information regarding antibiotic use on cow-calf operations.

What they did: Dr. Cheryl Waldner and co-workers at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine surveyed 100 cow-calf operations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba about Continue reading

Beef Quality Audit

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



Canada’s fourth Beef Quality Audit was completed in March 2018, following previous audits in 1995, 1998 and 2010/11. The carcass audit measured the incidence and economic costs of avoidable defects in Canadian slaughter cattle and beef and identified opportunities to avoid these losses.

What they did: Mark Klassen, Joyce van Donkersgoed and a team of technicians visited slaughter plants across Canada in the fall of 2016 and winter and spring of 2017. Thousands of cattle and carcasses were examined for a wide variety of possible defects. This column focuses on the most common and costly defects, specifically tag, carcass weight, excess fat and liver abscesses. Continue reading

This Column is Brought to you by Your National Check-Off

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



The third annual Canadian Beef Industry Conference (CBIC) takes place in London, Ontario on August 14-16. The CBIC is co-hosted by the BCRC, Canada Beef, Canadian Beef Breeds Council, and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA). The CBIC’s Bov-Innovation session is a popular, interactive, fast-paced, workshop full of tips, ideas, and concepts that cow-calf and feedlot producers can take home and adopt on their farms. Bov-Innovation pairs an expert explaining the science behind best practices with a leading producer explaining how they have adopted these practices to benefit their cattle and their profitability. This year’s topics were carefully chosen based on producer suggestions: Continue reading

Have You Rotated Your Breeds Lately?

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



Before becoming a politician and long before becoming a noted Western Canadian historian, Grant McEwan was an animal science professor at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1938, he and A.M. Shaw published “An Experiment in Beef Production in Western Canada” (Scientific Agriculture XIX:177-198), summarizing one of Canada’s first crossbreeding projects. Straightbred 2-year old Angus, Shorthorn, Galloway and Hereford cows (40 each) were pastured year-round on the Matador community pasture in southwestern Saskatchewan and bred to Angus (1930), Hereford (1931), Shorthorn (1932) and Galloway bulls (1933). As a result, each calf crop had 25% straightbred and 75% F1 crossbred calves. The calves were finished for slaughter at the university feedlot in Saskatoon. Crossbred calves averaged 3% higher Continue reading

This Will Make Your Skin Crawl

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



Cattle won’t be the only creatures enjoying fresh pasture this spring; so will the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick, which can transmit anaplasmosis and other bloodborne diseases. Anaplasmosis was removed from the Federally Reportable Disease list in 2014, so the government is no longer responsible for dealing with anaplasmosis outbreaks or compensating producers with affected herds. Understanding where these ticks are and what influences their population will help develop proactive strategies to avoid the spread of tickborne disease.

Ticks have a three-stage life cycle. Tick larvae emerge from the egg and feed once on blood from small mammals (mice, voles, squirrels, etc.). The engorged larvae then molt into nymphs that also feed once on small mammals. The engorged nymphs molt into adults that feed on larger animals, including dogs, sheep, deer, and cattle. If the adult ticks cannot find a host, they may overwinter under plant material on the ground and re-emerge in spring. Adult ticks begin Continue reading