Everything Old is New Again – Treating Chronic Mycoplasma

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

Cattle were ideally created (or evolved) to consume and digest high fiber diets. Whoever (or whatever) was responsible for designing the rumen so elegantly probably should have paid more attention to the respiratory tract.

The design of the bovine respiratory tract makes it easy for BRD bacteria like Mannheimia, Pasteurella, Histophilus and Mycoplasma to move deep into the lung and find places to hide and makes it hard for the animal’s immune system to counterattack them. The bovine lung is so susceptible to infection and damage that it has been used as an “animal model” of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in humans.

This is a problem because cattle need a lot of oxygen. Cattle need nearly three times as much oxygen as a similar-sized horse just to stay awake and lie around. But the horse has nearly three times more lung capacity than the steer. Lung damage is one of the reasons that BRD hits cattle so hard, so fast. Continue reading

Will the Real Superfood Please Stand Up?

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

“Superfood” is a marketing (not medical or scientific) term used to describe foods with perceived health benefits because of exceptional nutritional properties. Google “superfood” and you’ll see numerous lists claiming health benefits for foods like broccoli, legumes, nuts, salmon, eggs, kale, beans, spinach, and trendy new things like acai or goji berries that marketers are launching. Animal proteins are rarely included, with the occasional exception of eggs or fish.

Meat, and particularly red meat, is often portrayed as nutritionally optional. As one example, Canada’s new Food Guide suggested that plant- and animal-based proteins are nutritionally equivalent, but recommended eating plant-based proteins more often. Like similar reports linking red meat consumption to heart disease and cancer, the new Food Guide has been heavily criticized for selective using evidence to support their recommendations. Continue reading

Corn Silage in Backgrounding Diets

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.

Recent columns indicated that corn’s potential to produce 50% higher silage (and starch) yields than barley may offset its 30% higher growing costs, provided the right corn hybrid is selected for the local growing conditions, and provided growing conditions cooperate. The higher starch content of corn silage also means that feedlot diets may need to be re-examined. If corn silage is supplying more starch to the diet, perhaps backgrounding diets can feed less barley grain, or maybe cattle can be backgrounded to heavier weights with a shorter grain finishing period, provided growth rates, feed conversion and carcass grade aren’t adversely affected.

Karen Beauchemin of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Lethbridge) recently published a Beef Cluster study examining whether replacing barley grain with corn silage in backgrounding diets impacted animal performance and carcass characteristics (Effects of feeding corn silage from short-season hybrids and extending the backgrounding period on production performance and carcass traits of beef cattle, doi:10.1093/jas/sky099). Continue reading

Where Does Short-Season Corn Fit?

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

Statistics Canada reports that Western Canada’s silage corn acreage has grown significantly in recent years. Nearly 30% of seeded corn silage acres aren’t harvested, suggesting it’s likely being used for grazing. The potential for a 50% higher yield compared to barley may offset corn’s 30% higher input costs, but only if growing conditions are right.

It is critically important to pick a hybrid that can grow under local conditions. A hybrid with a higher corn heat unit (CHU) rating than local conditions provide will not have time to reach optimal maturity before it is harvested or frozen, and will contain more fiber, more moisture, fewer cobs and less starch than ideal. It will also be less palatable and nutritious, whether it’s harvested for silage or left for grazing. On the other hand, a short season hybrid grown in a historically hot area would be ready to harvest before the growing season is over, sacrificing some potential yield. Corn silage that is harvested too late will be too dry, making it harder to pack and reducing silage palatability. Not every year is ‘average’, and year-to-year variations in growing conditions also need to be considered before deciding whether to try corn, or which hybrid to try. Continue reading

Warm Season Crops and Cool Climates

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

According to Statistics Canada, silage corn acreage was 26% higher in 2015-19 than in 2010-14. Most of this increase occurred in the Prairies. Achieving corn’s potential will depend on whether plant breeders can successfully adapt this warm season plant to Canada’s cooler climate.

Plants contain two kinds of carbohydrates. Non-structural carbohydrates are starches and sugars that help the plant store energy and are easily digested by livestock. Structural carbohydrates include the cellulose and hemicellulose fibers found in cell walls. Cellulose and hemicellulose, along with lignin, hold the leaves and stems together and help the plant stand up. Rumen microbes digest hemicellulose more easily than cellulose, but lignin is virtually indigestible. In a feed test, neutral detergent fiber (NDF) measures the amount of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. An indicator of “bulk”, high NDF levels limit animal intake. Acid detergent fiber (ADF) is the amount of less digestible cellulose and lignin (but not hemicellulose). Digestibility declines as NDF and ADF increase.

In perennial grasses, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin levels increase steadily as the plant grows and matures. This makes sense; as the plant gets taller, it requires more structural integrity to keep standing. This is why ADF and NDF increase and digestibility decreases as grasses mature. Non-structural carbohydrates and protein levels rise initially, peak, and decline after grass has headed out. The amount of structural carbohydrate continues to increase as the plant matures and sets seed. That’s why the nutritional value of pasture generally declines as grass matures, and why rotational grazing practices that keep grass vegetative by ‘clipping’ and preventing it from heading out helps maintain the nutritional quality of the pasture later into the growing season. Continue reading

Can we Reduce Castration Pain in Week-Old Calves?

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

Calving season is upon some of you and just around the corner for many more. Half of those calves will be castrated. Research has shown that it’s best to castrate calves at the youngest practical age to minimize pain and speed recovery. The 2019 “Adoption Rates of Recommended Practices by Cow-Calf Operators in Canada” study indicated that over half of cow-calf producers in Ontario, nearly 70% in Atlantic Canada, and over 90% in Western Canada reported castrating calves before 3 months of age. Within the last decade, practical, affordable, effective pain control products like meloxicam have become available (i.e. Metacam, Rheumocam, Oral Meloxicam, Meloxidyl). These can help reduce the pain of knife and band castration in calves as young as 2 months of age. Up to a quarter of cow-calf producers in Western Canada and Ontario report using pain control, depending on when and how they castrate calves.

But research shows that week-old calves show fewer physiological or behavioural signs of castration pain than older calves. I used to think that very young calves were simply more pain tolerant. It’s probably more complicated than that. For one thing, a newborn calf has just spent 9 months connected to their mother’s life support system. Like a cold tractor, it can take some time for the newborn’s systems to “boot up,” stabilize, and become fully operational. The pain response may be part of that – the calf may feel pain, but not fully able to respond to it, sort of like a human patient with “locked-in” syndrome who’s paralyzed and unable to speak but still fully conscious. On top of that, birth is a physically taxing experience for both the cow and calf. The newborn calf may simply be unable to respond to the additional stress or pain of castration. Continue reading

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

Transportation Regulations are Changing

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


Photo Credit to Agriculture Agri-Food Canada

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will start phasing in its enforcement of Canada’s revised livestock transportation regulations on February 20. One of the most significant changes for cattle transporters is a reduction in the maximum time in transit before cattle must be off-loaded for feed, water and rest. Currently, cattle can be transported for 48 hours before a mandatory five-hour feed, water and rest stop. There is one exception; if a truck is less than four hours from its final destination when it reaches the 48-hour mark, it can continue to its destination without a rest stop. On February 20, this changes to a maximum of 36 hours before an eight-hour feed, water and rest stop, with no four-hour grace period. This change will likely have the greatest impact on feeder cattle and truckers travelling from Western to Central Canada, and cattle travelling from Central to Western Canada for slaughter.

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Nature vs. Nurture

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

Nothing is ever as simple as we think it is or wish it was.

We’ve known for centuries that an animal’s performance, health, behavior and other traits depend on a combination of their genetics and their environment. The genetics are inherited from their parents. Environmental influences are not inherited. Environments might be similar across generations but they’re rarely identical. Even on the same operation, older cows may have spent their early winters eating stored forage in corrals or barns, while younger cows may have been wintered on swaths with less shelter. Weather, growing conditions, nutritional quality of pasture, harvested feeds and supplements and many other factors also vary from year to year, so offspring don’t inherit their parent’s environment.

But it might not be that simple. Researchers are finding evidence that the environment can physically impact genes in ways that can be passed to second, third or even later generations. This is one example of a larger phenomenon called epigenetics. A 2002 study that looked at diet, diabetes and cardiovascular (heart) disease in northern Sweden over 105 years (doi:10.1038/sj.ejhg.5200859) found that when men were raised during periods of famine (due to war or crop failures), their offspring and grandchildren were more likely to die of heart disease. When crops were good, armies weren’t marauding and food was abundant, their grandchildren were more likely to develop diabetes. Continue reading

Feed Efficiency and Beef Quality

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

Cattle breeders are often cautioned to avoid selecting too heavily for a single trait. Avoiding extremes is the obvious reason; selecting for small frame size in the 1950’s accidentally resulted in a dwarfism problem in a few breeds. Another reason is that a lot of traits are genetically correlated, meaning that selecting for one trait can have effects on other seemingly unrelated traits, like how selecting for increased growth rate or leanness eventually results in later puberty in heifers and larger mature cows. No matter what trait you’re selecting for, there will always be unintended consequences on other genetic traits. Breeding your way into a corner can happen quite quickly, but breeding your way out can take a lot longer.

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