Abnormal weather doesn’t grow average forage

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



Averages are useful statistics, but sometimes averages can be misleading. As the University of Saskatchewan’s late Iain Christison said, “the average human has one breast and one testicle”. Canada’s rainfall may be close to average this year – but much of the country is experiencing severe drought, and most of the rest is soaked. Either way, low yields, unharvestable or spoiled forage mean that winter feed supplies will be below average in many places, and nutritional value likely won’t be average, either.

For instance, drought-stricken pastures and forage crops have lower levels of carotene, which cattle need to produce vitamin A. A recent paper from Cheryl Waldner and Fabienne Uehlinger of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (Can. J. Anim. Sci. 97:65-82) looked at 150 beef cow-calf herds in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Calves born the spring following a drought had a much higher risk of vitamin A deficiency, and calves with severe vitamin A deficiency were nearly three times more likely to die than those with higher levels. Continue reading

Stretching Feed Supplies

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.


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Winter feed will be a scarce and costly resource in much of Western Canada this year. Use it carefully, because the management decisions you make now will impact reproductive and economic performance for at least two years.

Research conducted 25 years ago by P.L. Houghton and co-workers at Perdue University (J. An. Sci. 68:1438) demonstrated how energy intake by pregnant and lactating cows impacted their reproductive and calf performance. At the start of the last trimester (early January for cows calving in April), cows were fed in two groups. One group received a maintenance diet (ME) meeting recommended energy intake. The other was fed a low energy diet (LE) providing 70% of recommended energy intake. After calving, each group was split again, with cows receiving either the low energy diet or a high energy diet (HE; 130% of recommended energy intake). Skimping on nutrition in late pregnancy and after calving impacted both Continue reading

Ergot: Low Levels Cause Big Problems

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



Ergot develops when a fungus called Claviceps purpurea infects susceptible grass and grain plants during flowering. Rye is most susceptible annual crop, followed by triticale, then wheat. Barley and oats are less susceptible but not completely resistant. Ergot is not a concern in corn. Ergot can also infect a number of perennial grasses. Cool, damp weather conditions during the flowering period (like those in Western Canada over the last few years, and that appear to be shaping up again this summer) cause the flowers stay open longer. This allows more opportunities for ergot spores to spread and infect the seed head. Ergot spores can survive for a year on the soil surface. Less summer fallow, continuous grain-on-grain rotations and un-mowed grass in road allowances allow ergot spores to build up in the soil and help the disease cycle to continue and build.

Continue reading

The High Cost of Shortchanging Cows



This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Last month’s column talked about how cold, snowy winters increase the energy needs of cows, especially when wintered on pasture, and how cows will use their body fat reserves to maintain themselves if the feed doesn’t provide enough energy. Reproductive performance will drop if thin cows don’t recover their body condition.

A 2013 paper published by the Cheryl Waldner and Alvaro García Guerra of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon reported on a two-year study of over 30,000 beef cows from more than 200 herds across Western Canada (Theriogenology 79:1083-1094). Cows were Continue reading

Ergot spotted in Western Canada -keep an eye out

This is a guest post written by Karin Schmid, Beef Production Specialist with the Alberta Beef Producers.

The cool, wet conditions across parts of the country this spring, especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan, may have created the perfect environment for ergot.  While virtually unheard of a decade or two ago, veterinarians and researchers agree that problems with ergot are clearly on the rise in the prairies.

What is ergot?

Ergot is a plant disease caused by the Claviceps purpurea fungus.  Although traditionally associated with rye and triticale, ergot also affects wheat, barley, and a variety of grasses including bromegrass, quackgrass, wheatgrass, orchardgrass, wild rye, and bluegrasses. Continue reading

Managing winter nutrition: new Beef Research School episode

A new video is now available on www.BeefResearchSchool.com

Feeding beef cattle over the winter can be a challenging balance between ensuring the health and productivity of your animals, and keeping feed and yardage costs at a reasonable level.  We recently sat down with Dr. Kim Ominski, a researcher at the University of Manitoba focused on productivity and environmental sustainability of forage-based beef cattle production systems. Continue reading

Feed testing explained in Beef Research School video

A new video is now available on www.BeefResearchSchool.com

Feed testing is a fundamental tool to assist cow-calf producers, backgrounding operations and feedlots develop sound feeding programs. By knowing the nutritional qualities of feeds, producers are better able to achieve desired production targets and save on supplemental feed costs. Feed testing is especially important to accurately determine the feed quality of forages, because visual appraisal of colour, plant species and leaf content, and knowledge of cutting time, can be misleading and should not be relied upon to determine feed quality. Continue reading

Have You Had Your Feed Tested?

This is a guest post written by John McKinnon, Ph.D. at the University of Saskatchewan.

As a nutritionist, feed testing is a fundamental tool that I rely on to assist beef producers with their feeding programs. This is true whether I am dealing with feedlots or cow-calf operations.  Accurate knowledge of feed quality, particularly the operation’s forage base allows one to develop feeding strategies for specific production scenarios and minimize the over- or under-feeding of nutrients. By so doing, one is able to achieve desired production targets and save on supplemental feed costs.

While feed testing seems like a “no brainer”, it is surprising how many cattlemen skip this critical management tool. It seems many would rather rely on visual appraisal (i.e. colour, plant species, and leaf content) or knowledge of cutting time to judge quality. While these are all indicators of forage quality, they do not substitute for a feed test particularly when it comes to the energy and protein content of that forage. For example, the protein content of brome hay can range from as low as 5 to 6% up to 18% depending on stage of maturity at cutting. While visual appraisal may help separate the good from the poor quality hay, it is not going to help you decide how much protein supplement, if any, you need to background calves when feeding this hay. Only a feed test can accurately help you make this decision. Continue reading