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


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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

Ruminal acidosis: Beef Research School episode

Acidosis refers to a lower than normal pH in the rumen.  It is a growth performance, health and welfare concern caused by highly fermentable feed being digested too quickly, and typically seen when cattle are moved from a predominantly forage-based to grain-based diet.  Cattle that engorge on forages are also at risk.

Acidosis can cause diarrhea, reduced feed intake, and depressed behavior.  Once an animal recovers, it is likely to be feed deprived, leading it to overeat and be susceptible to more severe acidosis. Severe acidosis can lead to rumen ulcers, which allow bacteria into the blood stream causing further health problems, and death.

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Extended grazing systems covered in latest episode of Beef Research School

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

The practice of extending grazing into the winter months is quickly gaining popularity.  Extended grazing methods, including swath, stockpiled and bale grazing, have considerable economic benefits over traditional winter feeding systems. Well managed systems reduce or eliminate labour, feed and manure handling costs during the winter.  New research continually informs management practices that deliver optimum results. For example, Continue reading

Explaining Growth Promotants Used in Feedlot Cattle

Feed efficiency in cattle can make or break profitability in the feeding sector, and has environmental implications. The costs of buying a calf and the feed needed to finish it are the two largest variable expenses facing the beef cattle feeding sector. Feed costs are higher than ever because of poor growing conditions in major grain producing countries, because of the use of feed grains in ethanol production, and because of increasing competition of land for crop production versus urban development.



Growth promotants are among the many sophisticated tools used by feedlots and other producers to raise more beef, more rapidly, using less feed, while maintaining high standards of animal health, carcass quality and food safety. Growth promotants include ionophores, growth implants, and beta-agonists. A number of products within each category are approved for use by Health Canada’s Veterinary Drug Directorate. Continue reading