Feed prices are driven by supply, demand and the price of alternatives. Winter feed presents the largest variable cost for producers. As producers look for ways to protect margins and minimize losses this fall, there are opportunities to be found in examining low-cost feed alternatives.
While the cost of some inputs cannot be controlled by any one operation, producers can control their budget for high-quality rations. Knowing where a crop may fall short on nutrition is a critical first step, and a feed test will point out where supplementary nutrients may be required for a herd. The next step is sourcing nutrients at the lowest price, choosing from a variety of feedstuff that offer nutrient balance. The Beef Cattle Research Council’s Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator is a decision-making tool that helps producers compare the cost of feed alternatives available in their area.
With cattle feed being swathed, harvested, or already in the silage bunk or bale now is the time to start thinking about testing feed. Although it is best to feed test as close as possible to the day the animal will be consuming it, testing now, as well as again closer to the time of feeding, can help you determine if supplemental feed will be needed and provide time to source it.
A common question from producers is, now that I have my feed test results, what do I do with it? What do all those numbers mean? And how do I make use of this information on my operation? Recognizing this need for some general information to help producers better utilize their feed tests, the Tool for Evaluating Feed Test Results was developed by the Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre. This tool allows you to input the results of your feed test along with the class of animal you intend to feed and it will give you a green light (OK to feed), yellow light (be cautious if feeding as a stand-alone feed source), or red light (don’t feed this as a stand-alone feed source).
Note that this tool is not intended for use in ration balancing, but rather to alert you to potential issues with individual feed ingredients. It is strongly recommended that producers seek advice from a qualified professional to develop a balanced ration or familiarize yourself with ration balancing software like CowBytes.Continue reading →
Feed grains, such as corn, barley, oats, and wheat, are important for Canadian beef production. Cereals are used as forage, including silage, swath grazing, or baled green feed, however cereal grains are a particularly attractive energy and protein source for the feedlot sector because of their high nutritional value, competitive pricing, and ready supply. Continue reading →
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2020 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Statistics Canada reports that Western Canada’s silage corn acreage has grown significantly in recent years. Nearly 30% of seeded corn silage acres aren’t harvested, suggesting it’s likely being used for grazing. The potential for a 50% higher yield compared to barley may offset corn’s 30% higher input costs, but only if growing conditions are right.
It is critically important to pick a hybrid that can grow under local conditions. A hybrid with a higher corn heat unit (CHU) rating than local conditions provide will not have time to reach optimal maturity before it is harvested or frozen, and will contain more fiber, more moisture, fewer cobs and less starch than ideal. It will also be less palatable and nutritious, whether it’s harvested for silage or left for grazing. On the other hand, a short season hybrid grown in a historically hot area would be ready to harvest before the growing season is over, sacrificing some potential yield. Corn silage that is harvested too late will be too dry, making it harder to pack and reducing silage palatability. Not every year is ‘average’, and year-to-year variations in growing conditions also need to be considered before deciding whether to try corn, or which hybrid to try. Continue reading →
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the February 2020 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Like cattle performance, crop yields reflect the interplay between genetics, management practices and environmental conditions. Statistics Canada reports show that barley yields weren’t keeping up with other feed crops for decades. Barley yields increased 0.39 bushels/acre/year between 1980 and 2009, slower than either wheat (0.44) or corn (1.66). But since 2010, Canada’s barley yields have improved faster (1.32) than both wheat (0.84) and corn (0.66). This apparent tripling of barley yield gains is remarkable, especially considering that canola, corn and wheat development receive tremendous research investment, and their expanding acreages have squeezed barley’s shrinking acres onto less productive farmland.
Canada’s beef industry can share some credit for barley’s improved performance. Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association and the Beef Cattle Research Council have supported Alberta Agriculture’s Field Crop Development Center, where Dr. Flavio Capettini leads Canada’s only dedicated feed and forage barley breeding program. This team’s work under the 2013-18 Beef Science Cluster illustrates how much effort it takes to breed a new, improved feed grain variety. Continue reading →
This past year we published 78 blog posts that offered production tips and decision tools, provided a science-based perspective on issues in the media, highlighted new beef, cattle and forage research projects and results, and announced other exciting initiatives. Of those, these were the top 10 most popular:
10) Three Producers Share Ideas That Improve Efficiency
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. This article highlights 3 producers and a recent change they have made to improve efficiency on their operations those changes include improved calf identification measures, installing remote cameras to monitor watering systems, and adopting quiet livestock handling practices in a flexible year-round grazing system.
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:
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the November 2019 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine 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.
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2019 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine 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.
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.