Drought-Related Resources for Cattle Producers

General

Experts Respond To Drought QuestionsBlog Post with Webinar Recording – August 10, 2021
Includes key points and the full recording of a webinar held on July 29, 2021 that answered producer questions about feeding cattle during a drought. https://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/expert-responses-to-drought-questions/

Decision Making During Drought – Blog Post – August 18, 2021
Considerations that may be helpful when making herd decisions such as culling, early weaning and winter feeding. https://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/decision-making-during-drought/

Drought Management Strategies – Topic Webpage
A complete overview that covers many producer considerations during and after a drought. Includes links to additional resources and calculators.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/droughtmanagement

Resources for Drought Management – Blog Post – April 29, 2021
Includes 8 tips for dealing with drought as well as links to BCRC and other resources that producers may find useful while in a drought.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/resources-for-drought-management/

Feed Value, Options and Quality

Salvaging a Crop? Here Are Some Things to Consider When Valuing a Crop for Feed – Blog Post and Calculator – July 23, 2021
Intended to aid producers when determining the value of salvaged crop for feed.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/salvaging-a-crop-here-are-some-things-to-consider-when-valuing-a-crop-for-feed/
* Note: Potential residue from chemical use should be a consideration. Download the VBP+ Salvaging Damaged Crops for Livestock Feed Fact Sheet.

Feed Testing & Analysis for Beef Cattle – Topic Webpage and Interactive Decision Tool
It is essential, especially in drought conditions, that producers test their feed and balance rations accordingly. This webpage includes information on how and why to test feed as well as an interactive calculator. Producers can input their feed test results to determine whether the feed should be supplemented based on the group of cattle they plan to feed it to. **It is important to note this tool does not take into account other antinutritional factors (e.g. nitrates and sulfates) that can be a more common problem with alternative feeds.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/research/feed-value-estimator.cfm

Alternative Feeds – Topic Webpage
With drought being so widespread, producers will be turning to different crops to help get them through the fall and winter. This webpage includes information on things to consider when feeding alternatives as well as specific information on many of the feed sources producers may be considering. http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/alternative-feeds-100

Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator – Excel Calculator
This Excel-based calculator allows producers to compare cattle diets on a low-cost basis. It is not designed for balancing rations. http://www.beefresearch.ca/files/xls/Winterfeed_Cost_Calc_Final_Locked.xlsx

Water

Test Stock Water to Reduce Worry Blog Post – May 19, 2021
http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/test-stock-water-reduce-worry/
What’s in Your Stock Water – Blog Post – August 27, 2019
https://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/whats-in-your-stock-water/
These two blog posts include information on why and how to test, where to send samples, and how to interpret results.

Water Systems for Beef Cattle Topic Webpage
Includes graphics on water quality and things to consider when setting up a new or temporary water source, as well as information on different types of watering systems.  http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/water-systems-for-beef-cattle-104

What’s in your Water? Water Quality and the Economics of Pump Systems WebinarWebinar Recorded March 2019
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRixe81liXU&t=328s

Feed and Water Testing DemonstrationVideo Recorded August 2020
2020 Canadian Beef Industry Conference Bov-Innovation Session
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kY9apaZs1rw

Additional Resources

Pregnancy Detection ­– Topic Webpage
With low feed supplies, producers may consider early culling of open animals. This webpage includes information on pregnancy detection as well as a calculator that allows producers to determine whether preg checking will pay off on their operation.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/pregnancy-detection-90

Mycotoxins ­– Topic Webpage
Many producers may be turning to feeds they aren’t used to feeding this fall. Mycotoxins are more of a risk in wet conditions but they still can be present when it is dry as well. This page includes information on mycotoxins, testing, and what producers can do about them:  http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/mycotoxins-94

Creep Feeding – Blog Post – August 20, 2015
Nutritionist John McKinnon explains how creep feeding can reduce stress on cows during a drought and what to consider when making the decision to creep feed.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/creep-feeding-mckinnon/

Body Condition – Topic Webpage
With short feed supplies it can be tempting to feed cows lower quality or less feed. Dropping body condition in cattle, especially those in later pregnancy in the fall and winter, can have negative effects on animal welfare, herd productivity, and long-term economics. This webpage includes information on how to accurately score body condition, the risks of low body condition scores, and a calculator producers can input numbers into to determine the economic effects of changing body condition scores in their herds.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/research/body-condition-scoring.cfm

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Plan to Adapt When Grazing



Adaptive grazing herd management applies to grazing practices that are developed with careful consideration to the specific conditions that exist on individual farms and ranches. When it comes to adaptive grazing management, it’s all about using the resources you have available and incorporating different techniques depending on where you live, says rancher and consultant Sean McGrath. McGrath spoke about the value of being flexible but also the importance of making a plan and measuring success, during a BCRC webinar last winter.

Managing the movement of cattle through pastures or paddocks will help producers achieve energy efficiency. “Plants are solar panels and to make them efficient, we need to make sure there are solar panels there to start with,” McGrath said. He pointed out that it is much cheaper for cattle to graze than it is to manually feed them and understanding the key principles of grazing management is vital for adaptive management (skip ahead to 15:05).

Producers should manage herd movement to prevent overgrazing, which is defined as a plant being grazed before it has recovered from the previous grazing event. “We would never cut a hay field on the first of June and come back and hay it on June 10. A pasture is no different,” McGrath reasoned.

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Three producers share ideas that improve efficiency

Editors note: This article is the third in a series featuring ideas from beef producers across the country. See the first: Eight beef producers share their recent changes and second: Five Producers Share Ideas That Have Made Their Farms And Ranches More Efficient

Beef producers across the country are always looking to improve management and production practices that not only benefit cattle, but also reduce their workload, and help to save time and money.

It may involve improved calf identification measures, installing remote cameras to monitor watering systems, or adopting quiet livestock handling practices in a flexible year-round grazing system. They all help to improve beef production efficiency.

Here are some measures three beef producers say has benefited their operations:

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Feed Efficiency and Beef Quality

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Cattle breeders are often cautioned to avoid selecting too heavily for a single trait. Avoiding extremes is the obvious reason; selecting for small frame size in the 1950’s accidentally resulted in a dwarfism problem in a few breeds. Another reason is that a lot of traits are genetically correlated, meaning that selecting for one trait can have effects on other seemingly unrelated traits, like how selecting for increased growth rate or leanness eventually results in later puberty in heifers and larger mature cows. No matter what trait you’re selecting for, there will always be unintended consequences on other genetic traits. Breeding your way into a corner can happen quite quickly, but breeding your way out can take a lot longer.

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Improve your profits by lowering open rates in first calf heifers

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

Young cows are investments. And like investments in a stock portfolio, they need to be monitored and their management needs to be periodically adjusted if they’re going provide you with your desired return.

While the average cost of raising a bred heifer in 2018 was $1,840, the most expensive (or valuable, depending on your perspective) cow in the herd is the one that has just had her first calf, because she hasn’t had a chance to recoup any of that investment through the sale of her calf yet. You’re hoping she has a second calf, and a third, and many more to pay for and profit from that investment, but first she has to breed back for the second time.

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Spinning Straw Into Gold

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

The rumen allows cattle to digest fiber that chickens, pigs and humans can’t, and produce high quality beef protein from feed and land that otherwise wouldn’t produce food. Understanding the rumen better is the key to improving feed efficiency and improving cattle’s ability to convert fiber to protein.

There’s as much energy in straw as grain – burning a ton of either straw or grain generates the same amount of heat. But cattle can’t access all the energy in straw.

Grain is mostly starch. Starch is a long chain of identical sugar (glucose) molecules connected by simple links that rumen microbes can easily break using a few enzymes. That’s why feedlot cattle digest and convert grain-based diets so rapidly and efficiently. In contrast, straw contains cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin and lignin fibers. These contain many different molecules (not just glucose) connected by complex links that are much tougher (and require many more enzymes) for microbes to break. That’s why cows can’t be wintered on straw alone.

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Winter Feeding Cost Comparison – Hay vs. Alternative Feeds



Fall has arrived and focus has shifted to winter feed supplies. Feed prices have dropped significantly from their June highs, but unfavorable weather conditions have left the question of available supplies. Hay prices vary significantly with prices in some areas with short supplies nearly double those in areas with adequate supplies. On the other hand, there could be numerous options for alternate winter feeds this year as some crops originally intended for grain are being harvested as livestock feed. Harvest delays and the likelihood of frost damage has led to quality downgrades. Alberta feed barley prices have dropped 13% from the June peak at $205/ton to $179/ton in September, and market analysts project that the feed grain markets have not hit bottom yet.

In eastern Canada, last year’s fall and winter conditions caused significant winter kill on the winter wheat and hay crops, while spring planting was delayed due to excessive moisture. According to local market reports, the fears of supply shortage have sent Ontario wheat straw prices to $0.06-0.10/lb in some areas compared to the historical range of $0.03-0.04/lb. Cool, wet weather in August and September are also causing harvest delays in the east, with the possibility of more cereal crops going to the feed market.

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Unintended Consequences

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

I once spent a summer working for canola breeders. Some used traditional selection, while others were experimenting with transgenics. One traditionalist was known to say “sticking a new gene into a plant and expecting it to grow better is like throwing a new gear into a watch and expecting it to keep better time. It’ll probably get worse”. This article isn’t about canola or genetics, but it is about time and unintended consequences. Specifically, it’s about the timing of the breeding and calving seasons.

Canada’s cow-calf sector has moved towards fewer, larger beef cow herds. Calving later, on pasture has been a widely adopted strategy allowing producers to expand their cow herds without a proportional increase in equipment, labor, and facilities. When John Basarab led Alberta’s Cow-Calf Audits in the late 1980’s and late 90’s, breeding often started in May and calving started in late February. In contrast, 70% of the producers responding to the 2017 Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey started breeding in June or July to calve in March or April.

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Dr. John Campbell receives 2019 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation

Calgary, AB – A leader in beef animal health and welfare has been awarded the 2019 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation. Dr. John Campbell was honored tonight at the 2019 Canadian Beef Industry Conference, held in Calgary, Alberta.


L-R: Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director; Andrea Brocklebank, BCRC Executive Director; Dr. John Campbell, Award Recipient; Ryan Beierbach, BCRC Chair; Steve Hendrick, co-presenter and veterinarian at Coaldale Veterinary Clinic

Dr. Campbell is a professor and researcher at the University of Saskatchewan in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. His work focuses on clinical research in beef cattle health management and the epidemiology of infectious diseases. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1985 and his Doctor of Veterinary Science in 1991 from the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

Dr. Campbell has assisted producers, researchers, veterinarians, and policy makers across Canada with his numerous research projects on infectious diseases, such as respiratory disease and trichomoniasis, and industry-relevant issues, such as antimicrobial resistance and animal welfare. As the Head of the Disease Investigation Unit at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM), he has led an effort to keep local veterinarians, provincial officials, and beef producers updated with the information they need to keep their cattle healthy.

Dr. Campbell was responsible for establishing the Western Canadian Cow-Calf Surveillance Network and subsequently the national Canadian Cow-Calf Surveillance Network. Through this network, Dr. Campbell and his colleagues have been able to examine a variety of topics which help scientists from across Canada manage future research projects, identify emerging problems and evolving practices, and support beef producers as they manage production decisions in their herds.

“Dr. John Campbell embodies the spirit of cooperation and communication between academia and the cattle industry,” said Ryan Beierbach, Chair of the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and producer near Whitewood, SK. “He maintains impactful and relevant research by staying actively engaged with cattle producers and is not afraid to get his hands dirty as he digs into the details to solve complex herd health and nutrition problems.” Continue reading

Beef’s Place in a Healthy Environment: Infographic

Cutting back on the amount of beef Canadians consume has been suggested in the media and public conversations online as a strategy to help save the planet. This recommendation may be based on the erroneous belief that Canadian land is inappropriately or inefficiently used in order to produce beef, but it certainly overlooks the positive impacts that a healthy beef sector has on the environment.

In fact, as you’ll read in the accompanying infographic,:

  • much of the land that cattle graze in Canada cannot be used for other purposes
  • sensitive grasslands, like the endangered Northern Great Plains, and endangered plants, animals and birds can be protected when managed by cattle producers
  • well managed grazing can also restore unproductive soils that have been degraded through improper management
  • most of the plants cattle eat and convert into nutrient-dense meat aren’t edible by humans; they are low quality forage and grains that aren’t high enough quality for human consumption and would otherwise go to waste
  • beef production in Canada provides a unique set of positive environmental and human health impacts that few other food products are capable of

Through the use of technology, innovation and sustainable management practices, Canadian beef producers continue to produce more with less. Research shows that the environmental footprint of Canadian beef production has decreased by more than 15% over the past three decades.

Download our infographic, ‘Beef’s Place in a Healthy Environment’ (PDF, 1396 KB)

Download the French version (PDF, 2480 KB)

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