Healthy and productive pastures are the foundation of a successful and sustainable beef cattle operation. When weeds and brush spread into hay fields, rangelands and pastures, desirable forage species are replaced, reducing productivity and profitability.
Pastures can be impacted by annual, biennial and perennial weeds, and each region across Canada will have different weeds that are problematic.
Weeds can be introduced through many ways including:
purchasing feed such as baled hay, greenfeed, or straw that contains weed seeds
seed distribution by wind (e.g., kochia or baby’s breath)
flooding that carries seeds onto a pasture (e.g. red bartsia)
in contaminated soil or gravel
animals returning from weed-infested pastures that bring back weed seeds in their manure.
When stock water appears abundant and water quality has been consistent in previous years, it’s easy to focus on other things but don’t overlook water testing. Poor quality stock water can lead to reproductive inefficiency, poor gains, disease and in extreme circumstances, death. Even when water supplies appear abundant, stock water may contain high levels of sodium, sulphates or other compounds that lead to toxicity.
Photo credit, Tamara Carter
Water quality can be especially variable in surface water sources, such as dugouts, ponds or dams, and weather doesn’t necessarily need to be hot and dry to warrant regular testing. Precipitation levels in the previous years, groundwater recharge, runoff conditions, evaporation levels and adjacent land use can all impact water quality in both the short- and long-term.
It’s also important to monitor well water conditions. Quality in well water can change quickly, even if wells have had suitable water in the past.
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2021 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Pasture plants are generally classified as decreasers, increasers and invaders. Decreaser species are the plants you want to see and your cattle prefer to eat, so they face the most grazing pressure. Increaser plants tend to thrive when the decreaser species are challenged by overgrazing, drought or other sub-optimal conditions. Invaders (weeds) proliferate when increasers and the remaining decreasers are so weakened by overgrazing or environmental extremes that they have a hard time competing for nutrients, water and sunlight.
Healthy, productive pastures are dominated by decreasers. The composition of the decreaser community in healthy native rangelands was shaped by thousands of years of natural selection and environmental pressures. In tame pastures, humans take the wheel from Mother Nature as we seek to establish and maintain a stand of tame decreaser species that can be productive and long-lived in our particular soil and climate conditions. In both native and tame pastures, good grazing managers adjust stocking densities, grazing intensities, grazing and rest period length and frequency, etc. based on annual and seasonal variations in growing conditions to maintain pasture health and optimize long-term forage and animal productivity. Continue reading →
Forested rangelands and partially or completely forested areas are widespread in many areas of Canada. The benefits of using forested areas in grazing includes increased pasture acres, temporarily or permanently, while providing protection for livestock from the elements.
The integration of livestock into agroforestry systems has many benefits for both the livestock and the environment including fire suppression/prevention by reducing fuel load on the forest floor, shade and protection for livestock, protection from winter winds and other inclement weather patterns, provides wildlife habitat, diversification opportunities, carbon sequestration and opportunities to rest other pastures.
While forest grazing can offer many benefits to the land and the animals, some risks exist and must be managed for, such as impacts on forest regeneration, altered forest composition, water quality, compaction and erosion.
As the BCRC-Hays Chair in Beef Production Systems, Gleise M. Silva will play a key role in building a more sustainable and competitive industry.
Funded by the Beef Cattle Research Council, the Hays family and other partners, the University of Alberta has hired Gleise M. Silva as the new Chair in Beef Production Systems. Silva will collaborate with beef producers, translating research into practical solutions to create a more sustainable and competitive beef industry.
Gleise M. Silva grew up in Recife, Brazil—a city perched on the turquoise edge of the Atlantic, home to lush forests, stunning beaches and 17th-century architecture. And yet, while living and studying in the “Brazilian Venice,” Silva found herself overwhelmingly drawn towards a subject she would never encounter in her hometown.
“I was 100 per cent sure I wanted to work with beef cattle. I was amazed by the animals—by the physiology,” said Silva, who started working with cattle when she travelled to the University of Florida for an undergraduate internship.
She went on to complete her PhD at UF’s North Florida Research and Education Center, specializing in beef cattle nutrition. Now, Silva’s planning her move to the prairies, becoming the University of Alberta’s first BCRC – Hays Chair in Beef Production Systems.
In her role as chair, Silva will work with beef producers, translating her and her colleagues’ research on cow-calf production into practical advice. Her work will help producers save money, maintain forage lands and advance the Canadian beef industry’s leadership in sustainable production. The position, beginning July 1, is funded by the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and the Hays family, with additional support from McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada and Cargill. Continue reading →