Vaccination of the Beef Herd: New Topic Page

Vaccines stimulate the immune system of the animal to produce antibodies.  Antibodies (or immunoglobulins) are proteins created by cells in the blood or in various lymphoid tissues that can be found in the intestine or upper respiratory tract. These specific proteins help to destroy various infectious organisms that can cause disease. Cattle also produce antibodies when they are naturally exposed to infectious organisms.

Vaccines are certainly a primary component of our modern herd health programs, but it is important to remember that they rarely provide absolute protection and other management components such as biosecurity, nutrition and environmental management also play important roles in protecting the herd from infectious diseases.

When cattle are exposed to infectious pathogens, the immune system is stimulated to respond to these infections. It takes time for this complex machinery to respond to a pathogen when it is initially exposed to the antigen (either through vaccination or natural infection). As a result, antibodies aren’t created in time to prevent disease from occurring on initial exposure. However, the immune system is able to “learn” and develop a specific response to a pathogen (a disease-causing agent) such as a particular bacteria or virus or parasite. This is important because when an animal is exposed to the disease for a second time, the immune system has memory cells that are programmed to respond to antigens they have previously encountered. Continue reading

Calculating Net Returns from Preconditioning Programs

Low calf prices, low feed costs and good grass conditions make hardy arguments for retained ownership. Depending on the market in your area, it could make economic sense to hold on to calves a bit longer this year. The Beef Cattle Research Council’s Preconditioning Calculator is a decision-making tool designed to identify economic opportunities and risks from adding a preconditioning program to traditional management.

The BCRC preconditioning topic page provides an overview on the advantages of preconditioning for animal health. Preconditioned calves may return higher gross revenues because they sell at higher weights. They often have lower cost of gain at the feedlot, improved feed efficiency, require fewer treatments and have lower death loss; for these reasons, preconditioned calves may be sold with an added premium. These higher revenues may however come with added costs.

The disadvantages of preconditioning? It costs more to retain ownership, through added feed and labour. Greater input costs don’t necessarily mean margins will shrink though. The balance of net returns will depend on both the cost of retained ownership as well as the projected price at a later sale date. These are unique to each operation.

Deciding if preconditioning makes economic sense? That’s where the decision-making tool can help. The calculator provides a summary of estimated net returns and projected breakeven price premiums based on your costs for up to three different preconditioning programs. While the length of preconditioning programs can be adjusted in the calculator, typical time periods are 30, 45 or 60 days. The tool has a built-in database going back 10 years for price projection comparisons. Continue reading

Networks Make The Dream Work

This is Part Two of a three-part series (see Part One and Part Three in the coming weeks).

Editor’s note: this article is also available in French. Download the translated version here. 

As the industry has been rocked by COVID-19, volatile market prices and uncertainty have occurred. There is an opportunity for producers to examine what they can control – their cost of production. During the boom years when prices are high it is easy for costs to get out of hand. You may be considering changes to your operation but are not sure where you will get the biggest bang for your buck.

The Canadian Cow-Calf Cost of Production Network (CDN COP Network) will develop benchmarks for specific production systems and ecoregions across the country. Scenarios will be developed for what future farms could look like utilizing the 5% Rule to identify where incremental improvements could be made around productivity, input costs, and output prices. Each production system will have its own set of opportunities, limitations, and areas where greater focus may be beneficial. Consider cattle operations with different production systems:

  • A beef operation in the east is considering raising dairy-beef but is uncertain about the costs and management changes needed to succeed.
  • A small, land-locked operation may be utilizing multiple income streams from multiple different commodities to manage risk. The focus is on using each acre in different ways throughout the year to generate revenue.
  • A large, specialized operation may be focused on economies of scale in purchases and sales and efficiencies in labour productivity.

When looking at competitiveness and profitability, each region needs to evaluate the limitations and opportunities unique to them. Is land, labour, or capital the limitation? Will the biggest impact for the operation come from reducing input costs, or improving productivity, or increasing price? Continue reading

Meet the Council: Implementing Management Practices that Pay Off

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is made up of producer members from across Canada, representing and 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 allocation to research.

The following is part two 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.

Conditions and circumstances across the country may vary but these three beef producers have found value in adjusting common management practices to work successfully on their operation.

Utilizing Different Calving Seasons

Fred Lozeman – Alberta

Fred and his family own and operate a mixed farm near Claresholm, Alberta at the base of the Porcupine Hills. Along with a spring and fall calving herd they operate a feedlot, finishing their own calves, as well as around 1,500 head of purchased cattle. They also grow most of the feed required for the feedlot and cow-calf operation. Continue reading

Research Chair Proposal & Proof of Concept Proposal deadlines 2 Weeks Away

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) invites proposals related to the establishment of research chairs and proof of concept research and clinical trials. The application deadline for both calls is October 1, 2020 at 11:59 PM MT.

Currently, a shortage of scientific experts and research capacity in some areas of beef, cattle and forage research are hindering the ability to conduct priority research that supports improvements in productivity and demand and responds to emerging issues. To fill these gaps, the BCRC is exploring options to establish Research Chairs in key areas with investment of Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off funding in partnership with other funders.

To procure the strongest opportunities for capacity development and encourage matching investments, Research Chair concepts will be considered through an open call for proposals.  The BCRC welcomes proposals that work towards the achievement of its three core research objectives:

  • To enhance industry competitiveness and reduce production costs, priority outcomes are to enhance feed and forage production, increase feed efficiency, and decrease the impact of animal health issues and production limiting diseases.
  • To improve beef demand and quality, priority outcomes are to reduce food safety incidences, define quality and yield benchmarks supporting the Canadian Beef Advantage, and improve beef quality through primary production improvements and the development and application of technologies to optimize cut-out values and beef demand.
  • To improve public confidence in Canadian beef, outcomes are to improve food safety, strengthen the surveillance of antimicrobial use and resistance, develop effective antimicrobial alternatives, ensure animal care, demonstrate the safety and efficacy of new production technologies, improve environmental sustainability and measure the beef industry’s environmental benefits.

The intended start date for a Research Chair funded through this call will be July 2022, unless clear justification for an alternate date is provided and accepted by the BCRC. The interval between BCRC funding decisions and Research Chair start date is intended to allow time for necessary matching funds to be procured.

The BCRC intends to commit funding to support one Research Chair through this call with additional calls in subsequent years subject to annual BCRC funding allocations.

This research capacity development initiative, in support of the National Beef Strategy, is made possible by the increase in the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off in most provinces.

With increased investment in research through the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off, the BCRC has committed to provide research funding in two key areas that have previously had limited funding:

  1. Proof of Concept – proposals to help inform whether a concept is worth pursuing as a larger, more defined funding request
  2. Clinical Trials – proposals to validate practices or technologies that have been discovered through research projects and/or to facilitate the adaptation of technologies utilized in other sectors, commodities, or countries

The BCRC has committed funding to short-term projects in these two areas, with a maximum of $50,000 per project regardless of duration. Project duration should not exceed six months to one year unless a clear rationale can be provided demonstrating the need for a longer time frame.

The purpose of this call is to fund proof of concept research and clinical trials that will lead to the achievement of objectives in the Canadian Beef Research and Technology Transfer Strategy and the National Beef Strategy. Leveraging producer check-off funds allocated to approved projects with other industry or government cash contributions is encouraged but not required for this call.

All call-related information can also be found at www.beefresearch.ca on the Forms and Downloads page.

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The sharing or reprinting of BCRC Blog articles is welcome and encouraged. Please provide acknowledgement to the Beef Cattle Research Council, list the website address, www.BeefResearch.ca, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at info@beefresearch.ca.

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An(other) Ounce of Prevention

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

My first fire drill in grade one was absolute chaos, screaming and panic as we all circled the teacher, who was likely wondering how our parents had managed to keep us alive this long. By grade three, we yawned and strolled to the nearest door. Fire drills teach kids what to do when there’s no real threat, so that they react calmly and automatically if a real fire happens. Fire drills save lives. Vaccines are for disease what fire drills are for kids.

When an animal is exposed to a disease-causing microbe, the immune system activates a variety of self-defence weapons to combat it. The immune system often responds a bit slowly the first time the microbe is encountered, because it’s starting from scratch. But the immune system has a “memory” that allows it to respond much more quickly and automatically the next time that microbe re-appears.

Like a fire drill, a vaccine mimics exposure to disease-causing microbes without causing the disease. Nearly all vaccines recommend two doses, given a few weeks apart. The initial vaccination is like the fire drill in grade one. It teaches the animal’s immune system to recognize particular features of a microbe that causes a specific disease. The second “booster” dose given a few weeks later is like the fire drill in grade three. It stimulates the immune system’s memory and generates a much stronger and long-lasting immune response and enables the immune system to spring into action if the microbe itself appears. Reproductive diseases also require an annual booster for the breeding herd. Proper vaccination allows the animal’s immune system to respond much more quickly, automatically and effectively when a real disease challenge occurs. Continue reading

Registration now open for 2020/2021 Webinar Series



This year’s webinar series will cover a range of topics including record keeping, invasive weed species, and reproductive failure in the cow herd, all focused on practical, science-based information for Canadian beef producers.

Register here.
 You can register for as many (or all!) of the webinars you’re interested in at once. After you click the link above, be sure to scroll down to see and select for all six (6) dates.

See topics and descriptions below. Continue reading

Why a Cost of Production Network?

This is Part One of a three-part series (watch for Part Two and Part Three in the coming weeks).

Editor’s note: this article is also available in French. Download the translated version here. 

Canada is the sixth largest beef exporter in the world. Live cattle to the United States are also a substantial business. Cost of production and price competitiveness are key aspects to any major exporting commodity, along with regulatory environment and available resources. The beef industry must be profitable and competitive to secure land, labour, and capital otherwise those investments will go into other commodities that provide a greater return on investment.

The Canadian Cow-Calf Cost of Production Network (CDN COP Network) has been developed collaboratively with provincial coordinators and funded by the Beef Cattle Research Council. Industry has taken a lead role in coordinating the Network working with local expertise in each province. This information will support cow-calf producers as they evaluate how to evolve with new technologies and enhance competitiveness in an international marketplace. Continue reading

New Resource: Record Keeping and Benchmarking Level 3



The final level of Record Keeping and Benchmarking resources for beef producers is now available.

Level 1 was previously launched for farm managers who are new to record keeping or who may already keep records but are unsure what information is worth keeping or how these records can be used.

The Level 2 resource was developed to build upon the themes covered in Level 1 but also goes more in depth on some of the analysis that can be accomplished once you have established a set of records. The purpose of Level 3 is to dig deeper into analysis and application of collected farm data.

The Level 3 resources include the following topics: Continue reading