Forage & Grasslands

The health and profitability of the cow-calf sector depend on forage and grassland productivity.  Research is focused on the development of strategies that will improve grassland management to increase productivity and sustainability.  Research also works to develop annual and perennial forage varieties with increased biomass yield per acre, maintained or improved nutritional value, improved water efficiency, and appropriate economic characteristics.

With improved research and training capacity, further research in this area can quantify the environmental footprint and socio-economic impact of the forage-beef sector in Canada.  Further research can also improve yields and nutritional quality of tame, native and annual species.

Breeding Forage Varieties

Pasture and hay/silage of perennial and annual forage crops provide the majority of feed for Canadian beef cattle. It is important that cattle producers have access to high yielding, high quality, and well adapted varieties to improve the economics of production. Canadian plant breeding programs have developed many improved varieties of a number of grass and legume species. Read More...

Cover Crops

Cover crops are typically diverse, annual crop mixtures planted with the intent to build and improve the soil. Cover crops may also include biennial or perennial species, depending on the end-use and goals of the producer. Cover crops may be grazed, baled, or used for silage, depending on the species that are seeded. Cover crops may also be used as a green manure or plough-down crop.

Cover crops, often called “cocktails,” consist of plants that will benefit the soil ecosystem and support a variety of soil microbes, fungi, and other biodiversity, such as earth worms. Cover crops can enable soils to have improved water infiltration, increased organic matter, and more efficient nutrient recycling. Some cocktail crop species may be useful in utilizing excess water in a field that would otherwise be water logged, while other species may be selected for their drought-tolerant qualities and their ability to make the most efficient use of existing moisture. 

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Cow Efficiency
Establishment

Forage crop establishment is the most important step in pasture and hay production because pasture or hay stands are typically kept for a long time. When surveyed, producers indicate that they keep their pastures in anywhere from five years to ‘forever’. 

While we dream of permanent tame grass that produces good yields indefinitely, the reality is that forage stands decline in productivity over time and periodically need rejuvenation to be productive.  Therefore, forage establishment needs to be a regular tool used on the farm or ranch.  It is important to plan ahead and not let costs alone drive forage establishment decisions without considering the consequences.

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Extended Grazing

The practice of extended winter grazing is quickly gaining popularity in Western Canada as new research informs management practices with optimum results. 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. The ability to implement a winter grazing system will depend on snow conditions and competition with ungulates in the area. Read More...

Forage Finishing
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. Read More...

Grazing Management

Effective grazing management on pastures not only ensures high forage yield, sustainability, animal health and productivity, all of which impact cost of production, it also benefits the pasture ecosystem.  Innovations in pasture management give producers greater control to support the environment (e.g. biodiversity) but also allow them to better use pasture resources for food production. 

Pasture is a critical resource in the cattle industry. An effective management plan requires good understanding of pasture production, realistic production goals, effective grazing strategies and timely response to forage availability and environmental changes. Managing grazing lands so that they are productive and persist over time requires knowing when to graze certain species, if they can withstand multiple grazings/cuttings within a single year and how much recovery time is needed to prevent overgrazing (which is a matter of time not intensity).

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Improving Forage Yields

Although excellent forage varieties are available in Canada, they may not be performing to their maximum ability. The high cost of fertilizer is one of the greatest limitations to higher forage yields in Canada. While grain farmers use fertilizer for increased yields and profit, very few forage producers across Canada fertilize pastures. Instead, farmers often rent or buy additional pasture. As the value of land increases, the productivity of that land becomes even more critical. Read More...

Rangeland and Riparian Health

Rangeland, or range, can perform a number of valuable functions for both the livestock industry as well the general public. Rangeland is defined as land that supports indigenous or introduced vegetation that is either grazed or has the potential to be grazed and is managed as a natural ecosystem. By evaluating its health, cattle producers can manage their grazing lands for optimal, sustainable forage production. Read More...

Stand Mixtures

Establishing new pastures can be expensive and producers often prioritize stand life over yield. Seeding complex mixtures of grasses and legumes that maintain highly diverse botanical composition in pastures can contribute to increased persistence, yield stability and improved productivity. Yields benefit from including highly productive as well as drought-tolerant species. While some species will not persist beyond the first three or four years, other species in the mix can fill in the gap to maintain overall yields, to a degree. Read More...

Storing Forages

It is essential to harvest forage at the best time, from the point of view of nutritional quality, quantity available and climatic conditions, and then to store it properly to reduce losses. The objective of harvesting forage for storage is to preserve forage produced in the summer months in order to ensure winter feed for livestock when grazing is not feasible or accessible. Read More...

Weed Control

Weed control is an important aspect in forage and cattle production as it affects forage yield and quality. Weed management can be accomplished through cultural, mechanical, chemical and biological controls. A more effective and sustainable weed management program should integrate two or more of these methods and consider long-term impacts. Over 95% of the weed control in a healthy forage crop comes from the competition provided by the existing forage stand. Read More...

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