Three producers share ideas that improve efficiency

Editors note: This article is the third in a series featuring ideas from beef producers across the country. See the first: Eight beef producers share their recent changes and second: Five Producers Share Ideas That Have Made Their Farms And Ranches More Efficient

Beef producers across the country are always looking to improve management and production practices that not only benefit cattle, but also reduce their workload, and help to save time and money.

It may involve improved calf identification measures, installing remote cameras to monitor watering systems, or adopting quiet livestock handling practices in a flexible year-round grazing system. They all help to improve beef production efficiency.

Here are some measures three beef producers say has benefited their operations:

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Time for a Back-Up Plan – Managing the Impacts of Drought in the Winter

(4 minute read)

In an ideal world, producers can plan ahead for their feed requirements in the spring and be prepared well before the first snowflake falls. Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t always comply. Dry conditions from the previous growing season or earlier can leave producers feeling worried about forage supplies. What if winter is longer than expected? What if next year is dry again? Coping with drought is a serious reality in many regions across Canada, however beef producers are inventive, resilient, and experienced. If the original plan isn’t working, they make adjustments.

When it comes to withstanding drought, the best defence is a good offence. Drought planning and preparation is best done in advance. While that may be little comfort to producers currently coping with dry conditions, there are many strategies that can help farmers prepare for the long-term or help them to recover their drought-ravaged resources in the coming seasons.

Plant material left ungrazed is not a waste, but rather becomes litter, a “rancher’s insurance policy.” Litter shades soil and roots, reduces soil temperatures, improves water retention and infiltration, provides nutrients to grazing plants, and minimizes moisture lost to evaporation.

  • Balance available forage supply with the number of cattle grazing.
  • Avoid overgrazing by providing effective rest for pasture plants during the growing season. This helps to maintain a resilient plant community, by allowing the canopy cover – the plant’s solar panels – to capture energy and store it in the root system.
  • Combine smaller herds into one or two larger herds that can rotationally graze. This allows more pastures the opportunity to rest.
  • Choose to graze pastures that may be better able to resist intense grazing, such as tame plant communities like crested wheat grass.
  • Manage grazing to allow for plant litter, or residue, to be left behind after grazing. Litter is sometimes referred to as a “rancher’s insurance policy” and is incredibly valuable particularly during dry conditions. Litter shades and insulates the soil surface, breaks down into valuable nutrients, reduces soil temperatures, increases water retention and infiltration, and minimizes moisture lost to evaporation.
  • Test dwindling stock water sources to ensure they are safe for cattle.

For farmers that were challenged with a dry growing season, their efforts are focused on getting the cow herd through the winter feeding period while maintaining the nutritional needs of their pregnant cows. Winter weather is unpredictable and these needs can change as cold weather fluctuates. Sometimes opportunity feed sources arise even as winter progresses and resourceful producers may seek alternative feeds and forages to fill the gaps.

  • Frozen or damaged crops, processing by-products, fruit or vegetable waste, and even weeds, can all be sources of feed for cattle in addition to more mainstream alternatives like annual cereals or cover crops.
  • Perform a feed test analysis on alternative feed ingredients to determine their nutritional value, and to rule out any potential anti-quality factors such as mycotoxins.
  • Work with a livestock extension specialist or nutritionist to balance rations and ensure non-conventional feeds are meeting the nutritional requirements of cattle particular to their age, stage, class, and condition.
  • Calculate the cost of incorporating alternative feeds using BCRC’s decision-making tool Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator.



Beef producers may consider an extended grazing season. While it may not be practical for all operations, some producers can reduce costs and labour and manage manure effectively by keeping cattle out of the corral and on the land for longer.

  • Cattle can graze crop residue, failed crops, forage on stockpiled grass, or eat bales placed out on fields. Providing conventional or alternative supplements such as pellets, grain, or by-products may be an economical way to meet nutritional demands.
  • Make sure cattle have access to fresh water and shelter. Consider infrastructure, such as fencing, windbreaks, or stock water, that needs to be developed to make extended grazing a reality. Can the infrastructure be used or re-purposed in the future?
  • Closely monitor the body condition of grazing cattle. Remember that a cow’s winter hair coat can mask her true state and a hands-on body condition score (BCS) is the best way to be sure.
  • Extended grazing can work well for mature, dry cows in good condition, but young cows, calves, pairs, or old, thin cows require careful supervision.
  • Winter grazing conditions can be highly variable. Too much snow, extremely cold temperatures, or hungry wildlife eating away at forage supplies, can throw a wrench in plans. Producers must have a back-up plan and be prepared to switch gears if necessary.

Drought is often a time to make strategic marketing decisions and free up much needed forage or pen space by deliberately moving some cattle down the trail.

  • Consider preg-checking early and selling open cows that will not provide you with a marketable calf. Producers can use our Economics of Pregnancy Testing decision support tool to determine the best option for managing open cows.
  • Cull older, thin cows while they still retain their value and well before they become a transport risk or a welfare concern.
  • If you typically retain ownership in calves, background feeders, or develop replacement heifers, look at your options and pencil out the cost of keeping the status quo.

Managing forage, water, cattle, and soils can be complicated even during good years. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst is perhaps the only practical approach producers can take when drought has limited resources and the impending winter is uncertain. However, beef producers have been rising to the challenge for generations, and their resourcefulness and adaptability will help them.

Learn More:

Body Condition Scoring (Calculator & Information) – BeefResearch.ca

Drought Management Strategies – BeefResearch.ca

Economics of Pregnancy Testing Beef Cattle Model (Calculator) – BeefResearch.ca

Extended Grazing – BeefResearch.ca

Feed testing and Analysis for Beef Cattle (Calculator & Information) – BeefResearch.ca

Mycotoxins – BeefResearch.ca

What’s in Your (Stock) Water? (Blog) – BeefResearch.ca

Winter Feeding Cost Comparison (Calculator & Blog) – BeefResearch.ca

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Winter Feeding Cost Comparison – Hay vs. Alternative Feeds



Fall has arrived and focus has shifted to winter feed supplies. Feed prices have dropped significantly from their June highs, but unfavorable weather conditions have left the question of available supplies. Hay prices vary significantly with prices in some areas with short supplies nearly double those in areas with adequate supplies. On the other hand, there could be numerous options for alternate winter feeds this year as some crops originally intended for grain are being harvested as livestock feed. Harvest delays and the likelihood of frost damage has led to quality downgrades. Alberta feed barley prices have dropped 13% from the June peak at $205/ton to $179/ton in September, and market analysts project that the feed grain markets have not hit bottom yet.

In eastern Canada, last year’s fall and winter conditions caused significant winter kill on the winter wheat and hay crops, while spring planting was delayed due to excessive moisture. According to local market reports, the fears of supply shortage have sent Ontario wheat straw prices to $0.06-0.10/lb in some areas compared to the historical range of $0.03-0.04/lb. Cool, wet weather in August and September are also causing harvest delays in the east, with the possibility of more cereal crops going to the feed market.

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New Web Page: Extended Grazing

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 Extended Grazing page, 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.

Methods to extend the grazing season, including stockpiled perennial forages, use of annual forages, crop residues, and bales left in the field, have considerable economic and environmental benefits over traditional winter-feeding systems. Well managed systems reduce or eliminate labour, feed harvesting, transport and delivery, and manure handling. These systems also allow for flexibility in returning nutrients back to the land instead of concentrating animals in pens. However, the ability to implement a winter grazing system is dependent on a number of variables including water availability, snow conditions, provision of shelter, and forage use by wildlife.

As with all winter management scenarios, caution is required when managing calves, young cows, thin cows and cows with calves, as they require higher levels of energy and management than mature dry cows.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the economic and environmental benefits of extended grazing systems. Costs of production are reduced compared to more traditional winter feeding in confinement, along with benefits to the environment and agronomic performance due to improved soil fertility and forage yields. Barriers for adoption expressed by producers include too much snow, lack of a winter water source, cold weather, feed waste, animal welfare and animal performance, all potential risks which must be carefully monitored and managed. 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

Eight beef producers share their recent changes



Canadian beef producers appear to be keeping up with the often heard axiom “the only constant in life is change”. With that in mind, these eight beef producers from across the country talk about recent changes they’ve made or are making in their farming operations.

Some of the changes are management related, others are operational, some involve getting a broader perspective of expert advice, and another was about how to make a job simpler when you’re wearing your mitts.

They are fairly easy to moderate, sometimes major changes – even a series of relatively small tweaks — these producers are making in management and production practices that either improve their management skills, increase forage or beef production efficiency, or just increase their knowledge to ultimately help them achieve the bottom line goals — save time or money, reduce costs, increase returns, improve profitability.

TREVOR WELCH
GLASSVILLE, NB
Rotational grazing and forage stand improvements


Photo submitted by Trevor Welch

Trevor Welch has been developing a rotational grazing system on his western New Brunswick family farm over the past three years. Season long grazing was fairly successful with a small herd of beef cattle, but as he plans to expand the herd, he’s looking to increase the carrying capacity on a limited land base.

“We own most of our pasture land, and also rent some land as well,” says Welch, who is the fourth generation on the five generation farm — his son Taylor is interested in farming and his dad, Fred, is also still involved. As with most parts of Atlantic Canada a 40-acre pasture can produce enough forage to support a 30-cow beef herd for the season. “But with season-long grazing there were always some areas that would be underutilized and other areas that were overgrazed,” he says. The Welch’s run a herd of purebred and commercial Black Angus cattle. Continue reading

Planting corn this spring for your cattle to graze later? Here are 10 corn planting tips



It will soon be time to start thinking about next year’s winter feed. If you plan to graze your cows on corn next fall or winter, consider these recommendations on planting corn for grazing purposes from Breeanna Kelln, a PhD student at the Western Beef Development Centre (WBDC) who also ranches near Duval, SK, and Dr. Bart Lardner, Senior Research Scientist at the WBDC:

1. First time? Start small
Corn is a high input crop. It requires more time and inputs at the beginning of the growing season than cereals used for grazing. Kelln says there is a learning curve for both the producer and the cattle, especially for cattle who have never been exposed to extended grazing. Lardner recommends Continue reading

Different approaches/same goal for winter management of heifers

Recognizing replacement and first calf heifers need extra management, producers take different paths to get to the same destination.



Beef producers like Darren Bevans in Alberta, Tyler Fulton in Manitoba and Murray Shaw in southwest Ontario know that replacement and first calf heifers need some extra attention, especially heading into and over winter — the heifers are not only pregnant and about to produce calves, but these young females are still growing themselves.

The “extra attention” doesn’t require over the top management, but just paying attention to feed and weather conditions to ensure heifers maintain a proper body condition to meet the nutritional requirements of the unborn calf as well as to support their own body growth.

In their respective operations, with extended fall and winter grazing programs, Bevans and Fulton manage heifers separate from their main cowherds so that Continue reading

3 Tips for Swath and Bale Grazing



We’ll soon see cattle out in fields cleaning up swaths or feeding on bales. If you’re planning to feed your cattle this way into the winter months, here are a few recommendations to consider from a recent BCRC webinar.

Extended grazing methods, including swath, stockpiled and bale grazing, have considerable economic benefits over traditional winter feeding systems, such as reduced labour, equipment, feed and manure handling costs.

The related webinar, held last fall, featured Vern Baron, PhD, a Research Scientist for Agriculture Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Lacombe, Alberta, and John Duynisveld, a Research Biologist for AAFC in Nappan, Nova Scotia.

They discussed both swath and bale grazing and offered tips for producers across the country, including: Continue reading

Another Look at the Costs and Benefits of Swath Grazing

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.


06_fdg_IMG_4292
Well-managed swath grazing has well-known economic benefits for producers. But research results from a study funded by the Beef Science Cluster showed that it can have environmental benefits as well. Dr. Vern Baron and coworkers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lacombe Research Station recently published Swath grazing triticale and corn compared to barley and a traditional winter feeding method in central Alberta (Canadian Journal of Plant Science 94:1125-1137) and Effect of winter feeding systems on farm greenhouse gas emissions (Agricultural Systems 148:28-37).

What they did: A five-year winter feeding study was conducted in central Alberta (2008-09 through 2012-13). Angus x Hereford and Red Angus x Charolais cows were fed barley silage, barley grain, barley straw and hay in confinement, or swath-grazed on triticale or corn for 120 days. Confined cows were Continue reading