Plan to Adapt When Grazing



Adaptive grazing herd management applies to grazing practices that are developed with careful consideration to the specific conditions that exist on individual farms and ranches. When it comes to adaptive grazing management, it’s all about using the resources you have available and incorporating different techniques depending on where you live, says rancher and consultant Sean McGrath. McGrath spoke about the value of being flexible but also the importance of making a plan and measuring success, during a BCRC webinar last winter.

Managing the movement of cattle through pastures or paddocks will help producers achieve energy efficiency. “Plants are solar panels and to make them efficient, we need to make sure there are solar panels there to start with,” McGrath said. He pointed out that it is much cheaper for cattle to graze than it is to manually feed them and understanding the key principles of grazing management is vital for adaptive management (skip ahead to 15:05).

Producers should manage herd movement to prevent overgrazing, which is defined as a plant being grazed before it has recovered from the previous grazing event. “We would never cut a hay field on the first of June and come back and hay it on June 10. A pasture is no different,” McGrath reasoned.

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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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Forage Quality



Matching forage quality to animal needs is part of cattle management as nutrient requirements of cattle change throughout the year based on the stage of the production cycle.  When feed grain prices are high, a high-quality forage can provide a lower cost ration than a low quality forage supplemented with a concentrate.  Failing to provide all the nutrition a cow needs due to low quality forage can have animal health and performance consequences that directly impact cost of production (COP) (e.g. loss of body condition, dystocia, lower milk production, and delayed returning to estrous).  This can be largely avoided by feed testing, particularly when hay is of an unknown quality.

Stage cut, fertilization and grazing intensity determine forage quality, and it refers to the plant’s ability to provide digestible, absorbable, essential nutrients at levels that meet the animal’s physiologic needs. Forage quality is a function of voluntary intake and nutritive value (nutrient content and digestibility).1 It is typically assessed by measuring crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fibre (NDF), and acid detergent fibre (ADF) (Kerley 2004)2

Protein and Energy

Proteins and energy are the most essential nutrients in cattle diets. Crude protein (CP); calculated from total nitrogen content, is an important indicator of the total protein content in a forage crop…

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Managing a year-round mineral program that’s right for you: Webinar on Nov. 4

Updated November 6, 2014: Missed the webinar? Find the recording and check for future webinars on the Webinars page: http://www.beefresearch.ca/resources/webinars.cfm


Click to register

Some herds across Canada aren’t getting enough of some necessary minerals, and yours might be one of them.

If animals’ mineral needs are not met, the results are costly. Without adequate mineral intake, cow-calf producers will see poor performance, disease resistance and reproduction in their herds. Mineral requirements for cattle depend on their weight, age, and expected performance (maintenance vs. weight gain vs. pregnancy). Mineral supplementation needs also depend on the feed, water and soil chemistry around the herd.

Register for this free webinar to hear from experts on how to develop and manage a mineral program that works for your cows to improve your bottom line. You’ll learn:

  • why the cost of buying minerals is worth the expense
  • which minerals to feed, at what concentrations and when
  • how to better understand mineral tags to compare different mixtures
  • advice on getting your cows to consume the right amount
  • how to troubleshoot an existing mineral program

You’ll also hear about the latest research done on mineral supplementation strategies, and have the opportunity to ask questions. 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.

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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

Save costs by fine-tuning mineral supplementation: two new videos

If animals’ mineral needs are not met, the results are costly, including decreased performance, disease resistance and reproduction. Mineral requirements for cattle depend on their weight, age, and expected performance (maintenance vs. weight gain vs. pregnancy) and mineral supplementation needs also depend on the feed, water and soil chemistry around the herd.

The two latest episodes of the Beef Research School feature Dr. John McKinnon, Beef Industry Research Chair and professor and researcher of cattle nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan. In part one, Dr. McKinnon explains the symptoms of mineral deficiency, how to choose a mineral feeding program that suits your herd, the economic advantage of investing in supplements, and tips for preventing over or under-consumption. Continue reading

How does forage finishing affect product quality?

In Canada, most cattle are raised on forages then finished on a high grain diet at under 20 months of age. Grain-finishing is typical because grains like barley and corn generally contain more energy than forages, and Canada’s relatively short growing season means that forage-finished cattle require stored forage in addition to pasture.



Forage-finished beef contains more omega-3 fatty acids and may contain more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grain-finished beef, which has sparked interest among some health conscious consumers. However, current levels of omega-3 fatty acid and CLA in beef do not consistently meet Health Canada labeling requirements and research has found that increasing the levels of these unsaturated fats while maintaining meat quality is challenging.

Oxidation of unsaturated fats in forage-finished beef may negatively impact flavor and odor. This has led to concerns that some forage-finishing methods may yield a premium-priced product that does not deliver on the perceived quality or potential health benefits to the consumer. Continue reading

Optimizing protein levels in diets containing distillers’ grains



Optimizing protein formulation in the diet of growing beef cattle is one of the most effective and practical methods of improving feed conversion efficiency and growth performance. Many protein feeds are commercially available for cattle, including soybean meal, canola meal and distillers’ grains (DG). Canola meal is a common protein feed in western Canada and its production is expected to increase. However, canola meal protein is degraded more readily in the rumen. DG, a by-product from the process of grain-based ethanol production, is used in beef cattle diets depending on its availability and price relative to the cost of cereal grains. Chemical composition and feeding value of DG vary with grain source and milling process.

A recently-completed research project, funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster, worked to determine: Continue reading