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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Hot Air Doesn’t Just Come from Cattle

A week ago, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published “Land, irrigation, water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States”.

The authors, a physicist from Bard College in New York, a physicist and a graduate student from Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and a Yale graduate student with a master’s degree in political science, looked at lifecycle assessments (LCA’s) for livestock. An LCA tries to estimate environmental impacts by looking at the inputs used (e.g. energy, feed, fertilizer, water, etc.) and outputs generated (e.g. greenhouse gases, smog, manure, fertilizer runoff, etc.) when meat, milk or eggs are produced, processed, transported, distributed, consumed, and recycled.

The authors of this study noted that regional variations in production systems and environments are important: “the results of an LCA conducted in Iowa, for example, are unlikely to represent Vermont or Colorado”. A key challenge, they said, “is Continue reading

Understanding dark cutters to reduce prevalence

Dark cutting is a stress-associated condition that causes beef to have an unacceptable colour and shorter shelf life. Dark cutting, which is most common during the hottest months of the year, significantly reduces carcass value. It has become more prevalent in recent years.

Research currently underway, funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster, is working to determine whether dark-cutting carcasses are produced by animal management factors, and whether the ribeye muscle metabolism of dark-cutting carcasses is different than that of normal carcasses. This research builds on work funded under the first Cluster. Continue reading

Vaccination: Can you afford not to?

This is a guest post written by Karin Schmid, Beef Production Specialist with the Alberta Beef Producers.

Vaccinating your cattle is a lot like having car insurance – when you’ve been in an accident, you’re very glad you’ve got it. Similarly, if a vaccine-preventable disease shows up in your area, you will be very glad you vaccinated your herd.

No one vaccine program is perfect for all operations, but vaccination is a critical component of any herd health plan. Protocols must be matched to an operation’s specific needs. They are best developed in collaboration with your veterinarian, who will know which vaccines will provide the greatest benefit for your herd.

Sometimes you’ll hear Continue reading

Extending the shelf life of marinated steaks


igh Pressure Processing (HPP) can extend the shelf life of food by killing microorganisms that can cause spoilage. HPP has been approved for use in the United States. Canada’s Food and Drug regulations classify HPP-treated products as novel foods.

Research currently underway, funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster, is investigating the effects of HPP on Continue reading