Five producers share ideas that have made their farms and ranches more efficient

Editors note: This article is the second in a series featuring ideas from beef producers across the country. See the first: Eight beef producers share their recent changes 

Fine-tuned management decisions with quick results and bigger management changes that may take a few years for benefits to materialize — these are ideas that Canadian beef producers are applying to their farming and ranching operations.

Good ideas can range from improving pasture watering systems and regularly testing winter feeds, to reducing costs during the fall/winter grazing period, to simple ideas that reduce the stress of calving out heifers, to more sweeping approaches on how to manage an intensive grazing system — all have a common objective to improve beef herd performance in sustainable farming systems.

Here are some ideas that Canadian beef producers have shared that help them produce more pounds of beef, reduce workload, improve overall efficiency and benefit cattle and the environment: 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

Are Cattle Drinking Canada Dry?



We often see headlines about how human lifestyle and dietary choices (particularly beef consumption) can impact environmental sustainability. These headlines are often about greenhouse gases, but water use has become a part of this conversation as well. Vilifying headlines and simple, partial arguments are interesting and emotional; that sells papers and gets clicks. Complex, science-based facts about the positive impacts cattle have on the environment and the need for both crops and cattle across the country’s diverse landscape are less exciting, but here they are:

Beef cattle use water

Make no mistake – it does take more water to produce a pound of uncooked, boneless beef (over 1,800 gallons/6814 liters) than to produce a pound of dry peas (178 gallons/674 liters), dry beans (488 gallons/1847 liters) or dry lentils (577 gallons/2184 liters), or any other protein crop, but this is only one of many pieces of information to consider. The pastures and feed crops that beef cattle eat account for nearly all (99%) of the water used in beef production.

Does that mean that the land used to raise cattle should be converted to crop production? Not necessarily. There are many reasons why not all land is suitable for cultivated agriculture and why raising beef plays an important role in sustainably feeding the population. Continue reading

How quickly do water systems pay for themselves? New calculator available



Allowing cattle access to clean water can improve herd health, as well as  increase weight gain and backfat. A 2005 study reported that calves whose dams drank from water troughs gained on average 0.09 lbs per day more than calves whose dams had direct access to the dugout. Because water and forage intake are closely related, as cows drink more water they also spend more time eating and therefore produce more milk for their calves. Calves with access to clean pumped water were on average 18 lbs heavier at weaning time. A separate study in 2002 found that calves, with dams drinking clean water, gained 9% more weight than calves Continue reading

The Canadian beef industry’s water footprint is shrinking

In 2016, the Beef Cattle Research Council’s (BCRC’s) Science Director received 10 letters like this:

“Dear Dr. Bergen…. My name is Emma. I am in 6th grade at Rime Street Elementary. My class found out on vegsource.com that it takes 2,500 liters of water to produce one kilogram of beef. Another site said 25,000 liters…. all these different answers are confusing. My social teacher also showed us a video named Cowspiracy, but it didn’t help. Do you have a dependable answer?”



Eleven-year-olds aren’t the only ones asking these questions. So are consumers, retailers, and others. When the facts aren’t available, exaggerated opinions often fill the gap. A quick google search provides more answers with less consistency. Numbers vary from 100,000 liters/kg (BioScience 47:97-106), 43,000 liters/kg (BioScience 54:909-918); 25,000 liters/kg (Cowspiracy), 16,975 liters/kg (waterfootprint.org) to 15,000 litres/kg (The Economist). A Canadian research team is providing the facts to help us answer these questions, and to help us know how to do better. Continue reading

Copper deficiency takes heavy toll

Water testing can help prevent a wreck in reproductive performance

GarretHill


Garret Hill, Duval, SK. Photo courtesy of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association.

Garret Hill couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  Cattle had plenty of grass, clean water, a standard mineral mix in front of them, they appeared to be in good condition, yet conception rates among cows and heifers on his family’s central Saskatchewan ranch were declining.

This problem came to a head about six years ago. Their area around Duval, about an hour north of Regina, had experienced a succession of particularly wet growing seasons. There was plenty of grass and a relatively deep (150 foot) well on the farm supplied water to the herd as needed during the year.

“We didn’t know what was wrong,” says Hill, who along with brother Greg and other family members today run about a 1,000 head cow-calf operation. “But at that time we had about one-third of the cow herd open and it seemed to be increasing by about five per cent per year.  The problem was getting worse.” Continue reading

Better water = bigger calves: Raise your beef IQ


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A water source that is safe, palatable, and readily available is essential for animal survival, but there is also clear evidence that the accessibility of water impacts the productivity of cattle.

Dugouts are a common water source for range cattle in western Canada. When dugout water is pumped into troughs, pre-weaned calves gain more weight.

In a study done at the Western Beef Development Centre, cow-calf pairs were provided either direct access to a dugout or access to troughs of untreated water pumped from the same dugout.  Calves with cows that drank from the troughs gained on average 0.09 lbs per day more than calves with cows that only had direct access to the dugout. Pumping water resulted in an extra 18 lbs of weaning weight per calf during the trial. Continue reading

Questioning the beef industry’s water use

April 22nd is Earth Day. Earth Day is recognized globally by people from all walks of life as a way to foster environmental respect and celebrate conservation.


cattle beef water use
Cattle producers across Canada chose to make their living as stewards of the land and certainly appreciate and depend on a healthy environment.  Earth Day is an excellent time for all of us in the industry to celebrate environmental achievements, and cultivate discussion about further advancement.

Let’s ask questions, seek answers and talk about how we can make continual improvements related to greenhouse gas and manure management, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, nutrient cycling and more.

Water conservation is a hot topic. As concerns rise about depletion of water resources both locally and globally, livestock production and other agriculture sectors are often criticized for water use.

What can the Canadian beef industry do to conserve water?

First we need to Continue reading

Water Fight

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


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Imagine a scene from an old spaghetti western, where two ranches are battling for control over the only waterhole around. The hired guns squint at each other from behind the sagebrush, waiting for the chance to unleash a hail of bullets at their foe, until the Texas Rangers ride in to restore peace.

Just replace ranches with “delegates”, hired guns with “scientists”, sagebrush with “laptops”, bullets with “research papers”, and Texas Ranger with “Canadians”, and a very similar scenario recently took place at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Livestock Environment Assessment and Performance (LEAP) partnership meetings in Rome. But the dispute was over water, and the stakes are very high for the beef industry. Continue reading