Always Look a Gift Cow in the Mouth

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
beef cattle in sale barn
This year’s feed situation is forcing many cow-calf producers to make very difficult decisions. Those who are short of feed may cull their herds harder than usual or look for alternative feeding arrangements to winter some or all their cows. Others with feed carryover from previous years may be tempted to custom feed other people’s cows, or to expand their own herds. Those who are selling cows this year may rebuild their herds in a year or two when the weather is more promising. In short, there are potentially a lot of cows changing hands, either permanently or temporarily.

Regardless of whether you’re buying now, buying later or considering custom feeding, remember that there’s more to the decision than price alone. Some apparent opportunities can bring significant hidden costs. This lesson was illustrated recently in a project led by John Campbell and Cheryl Waldner, with co-workers from the Universities of Saskatchewan and Calgary (Biosecurity Practices in Western Canadian Cow-Calf Herds and Their Association with Animal Health; Canadian Veterinary Journal 62:712-718). Continue reading

Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator – Managing Variable Costs

Winter feed is the largest year-over-year variable cost faced by producers. A cow-calf operation feeding a predominantly purchased hay ration to 100 head for 180 days could pay $50,000 a year for winter feed. A 350-head herd fed for 150 days can cost over $150,000 a year for winter feed alone if good quality hay is priced conservatively at $143/tonne.

In October 2021, 80% of Canada’s agricultural land was considered to be in drought. Low soil moisture, crop yield losses, feed quality concerns and forage and grain deficits are a reality for many, and the cost of hay and other inputs have increased dramatically, putting the squeeze on many budgets.

In October 2021, extreme drought still covered 28% of Canada’s agricultural landscape. For those who are struggling, contact local and provincial farm organizations to learn about what may be available in your community. Scroll down for drought management strategies and resources.

While prices may be outside of one’s control, producers may be able to manage their budget by adjusting their rations and considering the use of more economical alternative feedstuffs. Stretching winter feeding budgets may present a challenge but one worth considering to help manage budgets not only for this winter season but in future years.

As winter rolls in, livestock feed supplies remain variable across Canada. Late summer rains have extended grazing in some regions. Other areas have or shared bumper supplies to carry through. Corn crops thrived under the hot summer days and nights leading to a record year for Canadian corn production.

Producers should discuss feed and water test results and ration formulation with a qualified nutritionist or ag extension staff. The examples used in the calculator are generic and may not work on individual farms.

Knowledge is power, so knowing your available feed supply and where it may fall short on nutrition is the first step to manage winter feeding for your herd. A feed test will point out where supplementary nutrients may be required. The next step is sourcing additional supplementary nutrients that are affordable and available to offer nutrient balance.

The Beef Cattle Research Council’s Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator (Click to download [.xlsx file | 107kb]) is a flexible decision-making tool that helps producers compare the cost-effectiveness of different, regionally available feed and alternatives. Two examples of how to use the calculator (one in the east the other in the west) are below and demonstrate the financial outcomes of switching between feed inputs this year. Continue reading

Every Farm Has Different Goalposts – Setting Goals and Defining Success

What does a “successful” Canadian beef farm look like? How do you define success on your farm?

Canfax and the Beef Cattle Research Council recently released the results from their Canadian Cow-calf Cost of Production Network. The project collected data from 115 beef producers across Canada and summarized production benchmarks such as cow size, weaning weight and calf mortality. The network also looked at profit and expense benchmarks like feed costs, cow depreciation, enterprise revenue and more. A detailed summary of these results can be found here.

Interested in the Canadian Cow-Calf Cost of Production Network?

Producers receive:

  • Opportunity to learn from and share experience with other similar producers
  • $500 honorarium
  • Farm summary of production system including physical performance indicators
  • Summary of the whole farm, cow-calf enterprise and retained ownership enterprise, with 2020 baseline and five years of historical indexing
  • Summary of future farm scenarios

Sign up at: https://www.canfax.ca/COPNetwork.aspx

While profit and production numbers are often touted as measures of success, participants in the Cost of Production Network pointed out that fiscal targets are not their only focus. Success looks different for every farm because individual goals and values vary. Some producers may put a spotlight on strategies to increase revenue and reduce costs while other farmers view success as working well with family members or having less overall stress. All definitions are important and worth striving for.

Andre and Katie Steppler were named Manitoba Region’s Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) in 2020. They manage the cattle division of Steppler Farms, where they run purebred and commercial Charolais herds as well as the recent addition of a registered Black Angus herd.

While winning the OYF award may be the very definition of success for most farmers, Steppler, who works alongside his three brothers, their families and his parents near Miami, Manitoba, is quick to point out that there is no single goal or target that makes their multigenerational farm work. “It’s about shared visions and goals and it’s a revolving thing,” he says. “You can’t stand still.” Continue reading

Bale Feeding Options: Pros and Cons of Common Strategies



Bale feeding is common across Canada for all classes of cattle especially during winter months. There are many different management strategies to deliver bales as feed. To help you determine the best option for you and your cattle, see below for pros and cons of three common bale feeding strategies:

  • Rolling out bales/using a bale processor and feeding on pasture
  • Bale grazing
  • Round feeder

When thinking about each strategy for your operation, consider the following: What are the nutritional requirements of your cattle? What is the nutritional quality of your forage? What equipment do you currently have? What equipment do you need? How much time do you have to dedicate to feed management?

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Growth Promotants and the Environment

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
growth promotants improve feed efficiency of beef cattle and also have environmental benefits
Growth promotants dramatically improve the growth rates and feed efficiency of beef cattle. Trenbolone acetate (TBA) behaves like testosterone and is used in several feedlot implants (Component, Revalor, and Synovex). Melengestrol acetate (MGA) behaves like progesterone, a pregnancy hormone. Some feedlots feed MGA to suppress estrous cycles and riding activity in heifers until a few days before slaughter. Ractopamine (Actogain, Optaflexx) is a feed additive that improves weight gain, feed efficiency and leanness in the last 28-42 days before slaughter.

Growth promotants also have environmental benefits; reducing the number of days (and amount of feed) needed to finish cattle means fewer days producing greenhouse gases and manure, and less water, feed and fossil fuel inputs per pound of beef.

Animals metabolize and excrete these growth promotants over time – that’s why growth promotant residues in beef are too low to pose any risk to consumers. But do these excreted residues and metabolites pose a risk to the environment? How long do they persist in soil and manure, and is there a risk they could enter surface or groundwater?

A Beef Cluster study led by Frank Larney and co-workers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research & Development Centre and the University of Saskatchewan’s Toxicology Centre is examining these questions. Their first study was published earlier this year (Ractopamine and Other Growth-Promoting Compounds in Beef Cattle Operations: Fate and Transport in Feedlot Pens and Adjacent Environments; Environmental Science & Technology. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c06450). Continue reading

Basics of Backgrounding – Veterinary & Expert Insights Across Canada Webinar November 17th



Are you new to backgrounding? Join us as we discuss some common challenges that producers face when backgrounding calves. This presentation will be useful for those who have backgrounded calves, are currently backgrounding, are new to backgrounding weaned calves or are considering doing so in the future.

Register for our upcoming webinar to hear from three industry experts from across Canada as they provide insight and answer your questions about how to implement or improve your backgrounding operation.

This webinar also qualifies for 1 continuing education (CE) credit for registered veterinary technologists and technicians. A total of 3 CE credits will be available over the course of the BCRC 2021-22 webinar series. For more information on CE accreditation for RVT’s, please contact Dana Parker (parkerd@beefresearch.ca)

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A Year in Review: Outcomes of Your Investments in Canadian Beef Research and Extension

 

Where exactly are my Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off funds allocated to research going? How have the circumstances of the past year impacted beef research and extension? What has the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) been up to lately? Answers to these questions and more can be found in the BCRC’s new report.  
BCRC 2020-2021 Year in Review Report
The 
2020-2021 Year in Review provides a visual representation of the BCRC Results Report, which is submitted annually to the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off Agency. The new report offers a reader-friendly snapshot of the fiscal year’s activities and results 

“So much has happened during the past year – from the COVID-19 pandemic to the drought that impacted cattle producers across much of the country,” said BCRC Executive Director Andrea Brocklebank.  “While there has been much uncertainty in the industry in 2020-2021, Canada’s beef producers remain tenacious, researchers have proven to be innovative and the Beef Cattle Research Council is resolute to move forward as a leader in beef research and extension.”  

The 2020-2021 Year in Review spotlights a few of the key research and extension projects that were funded during the past year. There were 23 research and extension projects reporting activities between April 2020 and March 2021 through the current Beef Cattle Industry Science Cluster, as well as 25 priority research projects. While most results will be presented upon completion, the new report features a few of the preliminary findings.  Continue reading

Optimum Condition = Maximum Production

When feed supplies are short, it may be tempting to feed less and allow cows to lose body condition, but this short-term solution can have a long-term impact on the performance and profitability of a cow herd. A herd of cows maintained in the right condition with an ideal layer of fat cover will have more (and heavier!) calves than a herd of thin or over-fat cows.

In a drought year, when feed access and quality is uncertain, hands on body condition scoring (BCS) is a simple and accurate method to assess the condition and productivity of your herd. Continue reading

Canadian Cow-calf Cost of Production Network – 2021 Results

 



You may know what you want out of your operation, but do you record what you put into it? Knowing the difference between what you get and what you give is essential for profitable decision-making. This is the purpose of calculating cost of production.



The Canadian Cow-calf Cost of Production Network launched in 2020 with the objective to benchmark different production systems across Canada. Baseline data was collected from 115 producers who attended virtual focus groups between January and March 2021. This created 25 cow-calf and 3 dairy-beef production systems. These benchmarks are the first set in a standardized pan-Canadian process looking at the many types of cow-calf production systems across the country. The network only requires data to be submitted every five years; and should reduce response burden for producers while allowing for improvements to be tracked into the future. Results from the 2020 reference year are now available online  Continue reading

Meet the Council: Flexibility and Creative Solutions Provide Opportunity for These Beef Stakeholders

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is made up of producer members from across Canada, appointed by each of the provincial beef organizations that allocate part of the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off to research. The number of members from each province is proportional to the amount of provincial check-off allocated to research.

The following is part five in a series to introduce you to this group of innovative thinkers that set BCRC’s direction by sharing practices, strategies, or technologies that they have integrated into their own operations. Read part onepart two, part three and part four of this series. 

Regardless of what Canadian region beef producers are from, creative marketing strategies can help farmers profit as much as possible when they sell their cattle.

Keeping Things Flexible
Beef Cattle Research Council member Lee Irvine and family at home on the farm
Lee Irvine – Alberta

Lee Irvine and his family raise cattle outside of Cochrane, Alberta. They purchased their new place just over a year ago and are still working on getting things transitioned from what was primarily a horse facility back to a working cattle operation. Their new place is 80 acres of pasture and they also have some lease land with Lee’s family that they run cattle on.

Lee works off the farm in the auction industry so having a production system that can accommodate his schedule is important. They choose the class of cattle that they run based on current markets and opportunities on their farm. This year they have been running grasser cattle.

Continue reading