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The Results Are In on 2018-2023 Beef Cluster Projects

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) funds a variety of research projects on animal health and welfare, environmental sustainability, forage and grasslands, feed efficiency, food safety, beef quality and more. This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting recent research results. Find the BCRC’s entire catalog of research summaries under “For Producers” in the navigation.

The following research projects were supported through the 2018-23 Beef Science Cluster and funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, with additional contributions from provincial beef industry groups and governments.

Animal Health, Welfare and Antimicrobial Resistance

Until we have an effective vaccine, what can we do about Mycoplasma?

In healthy calves, Mycoplasma bovis does not appear to cause severe disease on its own, but inflammation and respiratory tract damage due to other Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) pathogens and dust will worsen the outcome of a subsequent Mycoplasma bovis infection. Controlling stress, dust and other respiratory diseases are important to reduce the risk of Mycoplasma.

Are there better ways to control internal parasites?

red beef cows grazing on fall pasture

“Blanket” internal parasite control and treatment guidelines are inappropriate because their production impacts vary greatly between herds and are affected by climatic conditions, particularly precipitation.

Learn more about project ANH.04.17.

View More Animal Health Research Projects

Do harmless bacteria influence the risk of BRD? Relationships between commensal and pathogenic bacteria in the upper respiratory tract of feedlot calves suggest that probiotics may help manage BRD in the future. Learn more about project AMR.10.17.

Do weaned calves benefit from rest stops during long distance transport? Rest stops did not provide any clear welfare benefits for weaned calves during long distance transport. Learn more about project ANH.06.17.

What does surveillance of cow-calf operations across Canada tell us? The Canadian Cow-Calf Surveillance Network (C3SN) provides a broader understanding of normal productivity and disease levels in Canadian beef herds. This is valuable for prioritizing checkoff research investments, extension efforts, manage animal health and welfare risks and support public and consumer confidence as well as international trade of Canadian cattle and beef products. Learn more about project ANH.21.17.

Why is Mycoplasma such a challenge in feedlots? Mycoplasma bovis isolated from the lung and joint are genetically similar to each other than to the M. bovis isolated from the upper respiratory tract. This knowledge will be useful in ongoing efforts to develop an effective M. bovis vaccine. Learn more about project ANH.30.17.

Can we predict when lameness will happen? Factors such as cattle source, feedlot size, and age influence the risk of hoof-related lameness. Improved clarity on which bacteria are active in the microbiome of infected hooves will contribute to diagnostic, preventative, and treatment strategies to mitigate hoof-related lameness on-farm. Learn more about project ANH.05.17.

Environmental Sustainability

How do grasslands benefit the environment?

Keeping grasslands in grasslands, rather than converting to other uses such as annual crops, industrial development or urban expansion, preserves wildlife habitat and corridors.

Learn more about project ENV.07.17.

songbird on fencepost with beef cattle in the background

Can Canadian cattle curb food waste?

cull potatoes fed to cattle

Cull potatoes can be fed to cattle safely while still maintaining productivity. Repurposing the “waste” of other agricultural industries as feed for beef cattle is a huge opportunity to reduce the inputs that are required to produce local food in Canada.

Learn more about project ENV.15.17.

View More Environmental Sustainability Projects

Do residues from growth promotants used in feedlot production linger in the environment? Hormones used in the feedlot break down quickly and don’t enter downstream waterways. Ractopamine breaks down more slowly, but common manure composting strategies speed this process. Learn more about project ENV.09.17.

Why don’t we stop using growth promotants? Removing productivity enhancing technologies (e.g., feed additives and synthetic hormones) would increase the environmental footprint of Canada’s beef industry. Learn more about project ENV.15.17.

Forage and Grassland Management

Are cows and trees natural partners?

Cows and forestry make good partners. Thinning forests increases diversity and abundance of plant species and improves forage yields, with the widest strips showing the greatest improvements for grassland and forest management.

Learn more about project FRG.20.17.

black cow and calf in forest

Can sainfoin compete with grass or alfalfa?


Sainfoin can be compatible with both grass and alfalfa, but the level of compatibility depends on the varieties chosen.

Learn more about project FRG.02.17.

View More Forage and Grassland Management Projects

Is there a benefit to seeding complex grass mixtures? Multispecies mixtures did not establish well under drought conditions and ultimately persisted as tame or native grasses monocultures. Introducing forbs into existing stands did not improve yields and most died out in 2-3 years. Mixed sainfoin/grass pastures yielded equally well at either low or high rates of sainfoin inclusion. Learn more about project FRG.01.17.

Can we improve alfalfa’s drought- and flood-resistance? This team found genes involved in resistance to both waterlogging and drought. This will help to breed future alfalfa varieties with these traits. Learn more about project FRG.06.17

Can we improve alfalfa establishment in Eastern Canada? Frost seeding was better than sod seeding with respect to legume content of the sward. Choice of legume species cultivar and fertility will significantly impact the effectiveness of no-till seeding. Learn more about project FRG.09.17.

Can we improve winter hardiness in alfalfa? This project has succeeded in advancing forage breeding for improved winter survivability. More research is needed before these varieties will be released to producers. Learn more about project FRG.11.17.

Feed Efficiency and Utilization

Can wheat be fed safely?

Tempering wheat helps reduce acidosis risk. High-protein, low-starch wheat varieties work better for backgrounding. Low-protein, high-starch wheat varieties work better for finishing.

Learn more about project FDE.09.17.

feedlot cattle at bunk
View More Feed Efficiency and Utilization Projects

Is there more to silage than just fibre? When formulating feedlot diets, considering the digestibility and other characteristics of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) can help improve rumen pH and help avoid rumen acidosis regardless of grain processing. Learn more about project FDE.01.17.

Can we do a better job of identifying replacement heifers? This team found several factors that influence cow performance and developed a heifer selection index. Feed intake, feed efficiency and pre-breeding backfat were the most economically significant traits when selecting replacement heifers. Learn more about project FDE.06.17.

Are pre- and probiotics effective? Most pre/pro/symbiotics had negligible or highly variable effects, although one class of bacteria (Bifidobacterium) may warrant additional study. Learn more about project FDE.14.17.

Do genes linked to early embryonic death influence fertility? These researchers gained a better understanding of inheritance factors that may have an effect on fertility, but more research is needed before genetic tests can be created. Learn more about project FDE.13.17.

Beef Quality and Food Safety

Is E. coli becoming resistant to food safety interventions?

E. coli shows no sign of becoming resistant to the sanitizers or heat-based interventions used in Canadian beef processing facilities.

Learn more about project FOS.01.17.

Canadian beef processing plant
View More Food Safety and Beef Quality Projects

Can we do a better job of predicting carcass yield grades? This project developed the new carcass ruler and camera grading equations necessary when Canada moved from three to five yield grades to harmonize with the U.S. Learn more about project BQU.08.17.

Why do some cattle become E. coli super-shedders? Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) may promote colonization through suppression of the host immune system, or cattle with compromised intestinal immunity may be more susceptible to STEC colonization. Learn more about project FOS.07.17.

Can technology help improve beef carcass quality? Electrically stimulating carcasses using a constant current was more effective than traditional high voltage electrical stimulation in lowering pH, improving colour and reducing purge and drip losses in heavy, fat carcasses. Preliminary results indicated that grading cameras have potential to sort carcasses based on tenderness, lean and fat color. Learn more about project BQU.10.17.

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