Adapting to a Changing Climate

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
beef cattle grazing alfalfa in bloom
I had a National Geographic poster of “Ice Age Mammals of the Alaskan Tundra” on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. It showed herds of prehistoric muskoxen, horses, wolves, lemmings, bears, lions, mammoths, camels, saber-toothed tigers, mastodons and humans marauding across a vast, grassy expanse 12,000 years ago. The muskoxen, bears, wolves and lemmings still live in Alaska. The lions, camels and horses moved to other parts of the world where the climate suited them better. The saber-toothed tigers, mammoths and mastodons went extinct. When archaeologists found the frozen remains of these animals, they dug deeper and uncovered the fossils of duckbilled dinosaurs from millions of years earlier when conditions were hot and tropical.

Earth’s climate is always changing. Volcanoes, bogs, soil and animals exhale greenhouse gases, and plants and the oceans absorb them. Since industrialization, human burning of fossil fuels has emitted greenhouse gases faster than the natural environment can sequester them. Climate models predict how changing greenhouse gas levels will impact future global temperature and precipitation patterns.

Climate models resemble economic models – both are constantly being tweaked and improved as better data becomes available, and both are subject to “noise” that temporarily obscures long-term trends. Economic forecasters consider historical and current data about an industry and the larger economy to predict future trends. Unforeseen shocks like BSE or a pandemic cause significant short- to medium-term disruptions that might make people think the economic model is broken. But over time, long-term trends shine through (e.g., trends towards agricultural consolidation with fewer and larger pharmaceutical and equipment companies, farms, feedlots, packers and retailers). Similarly, volcanoes, solar dimming or cyclical El Nino or La Nina weather patterns can temporarily obscure long-term climate trends. Even if we don’t like where trends are pointing, understanding them can help us respond appropriately. Continue reading

Cracking the Code on Grazing Management Terminology: Animal Units, AUMs, & How to Apply Them


mixed beef cattle grazing green grass
Does it feel like grazing management information is shrouded in acronyms and terms that boggle the mind on first glance? Do you struggle to decipher terms like animal unit equivalents? And how does one go about calculating AUMs and then applying those numbers? Be reassured, you’re not alone! There’s a lot going on when sorting through the finer points of grazing management and figuring out how to work through the many calculations.

A good starting point is defining a grazing animal in terms of how much forage it requires to meet its nutritional demands. We know that grazing animals’ forage needs differ depending on class, weight, age and stage of production. And in order to account for those differences, it’s helpful to create a baseline in order to quantify forage demand. Continue reading

USask Announces New Beef Industry Integrated Forage Management and Utilization Chair

Bree Kelln, Beef Industry Integrated Forage Management and Utilization chair at University of Saskatchewan


Bree Kelln is the new Beef Industry Integrated Forage Management and Utilization Chair at the University of Saskatchewan.
(Photo:  Janelle Wilson)

Related: New Research Chair at USask will Help Maximize Environmental, Economic Benefits of Forage Crops

By Brett Makulowich, University of Saskatchewan

Bree Kelln has been selected as the new Beef Industry Integrated Forage Management and Utilization (IFMU) Chair for the University of Saskatchewan (USask).

Kelln will be the first person to hold the new research chair position that was created to address a gap in forage research. A 2012 assessment concluded lack of research and development investment in the Canadian forage industry meant advances in forage had not kept pace with developments in other crops. The beef and cattle industry are increasingly seeing forages as a high-value feed source that also provide significant environmental benefits.

“We’re delighted to welcome Bree Kelln into her new role at the University of Saskatchewan,” said Dr. Angela Bedard-Haughn (PhD), dean of the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources. “She brings a wealth of knowledge from her previous experience with industry that involved agronomy, livestock, and extension.” Continue reading

Two Methods, Four Steps for Calculating Carrying Capacity



Carrying capacity, also known as grazing capacity, is the amount of forage available for grazing animals in a specific pasture or field. Calculating the correct carrying capacity will help you determine a proper stocking rate that maintains productivity of both your animals and forage while encouraging the sustained health of the grassland resources.

Stocking rate is the number of animals on a pasture for a specified time period and is usually expressed in Animal Unit Months (AUMs) per unit area.

One way to determine carrying capacity is to obtain past stocking rates and grazing management information and assess the condition of the pasture. But what if the historical stocking rate data is not available or you are unsure of its accuracy and reliability?

Carrying capacity can be calculated using several different techniques. All of them depend on some trial and error as they are monitored and adjusted over time. When calculating carrying capacity, it boils down to three questions:

  1. How much forage is available?
  2. How much of that forage can be used by grazing animals?
  3. How many animals can graze on that piece of land and for how long?


BCRC Carrying Capacity Calculator
The BCRC Carrying Capacity Calculator provides a road map for answering these questions using two separate methods: 1) forage estimates based on provincial guides and 2) field-based sampling, also known as the clip and weigh method. Each method contains four steps. Continue reading

Cut Costs Carefully

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Beef producers managing cows and calves in winter

Research that’s underway now won’t solve this year’s drought, but it should help us deal with the next one. By the same token, research done during the big drought of the early 2000s provides some valuable lessons about managing the cow herd in today’s drought.

Dr. Cheryl Waldner of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon led a large beef cow productivity study from the start of the 2001 breeding season through weaning in 2002. This corresponded to the widespread drought that impacted much of Western North America and inspired the original Hay West program.

What They Did:

They examined factors affecting the productivity of over 30,000 beef cows in more than 200 well-managed herds across Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Peace Region of British Columbia. Participating producers individually identified each cow and calf, recorded all calf births, maintained an active veterinary-client-patient relationship, had good animal handling facilities, pregnancy tested all breeding females, had a veterinarian evaluate all herd bulls, had an established spring or summer breeding season (i.e., not calve year-round), and worked with the research team to collect the needed samples and data.

What They Learned:

Drought had significant impacts, even in these well-managed herds. Continue reading

Rebuild & Recover – Two Producers Share their Experiences with Fire and Drought

For many beef producers across Canada, the past year was challenging because of environmental conditions. Many producers experienced and continue to withstand extreme weather, which is testing their production and profit potentials, but also their mental resolve and financial resilience.

When things aren’t going well, farmers may feel like everything is out of their control. However, thinking strategically, reaching out and building a community of peers and professionals can help producers navigate through tough times and come out stronger in the end.

Finding silver linings in the ashes

For Andrea Haywood-Farmer and her husband Ted, last summer they were running from one fire to another — literally. “Our whole ranch burnt except our homeplace,” Andrea says, yet she remains optimistic. “It was really scary. But we’re going to be okay.”

Wildfire is a primary risk for their multi-generational ranch, located near Savona, BC. The Haywood-Farmers run about 1,200 cow-calf pairs (collectively with a cousin) on fire-prone timber mountain range. “Fire can start anywhere and it can go anywhere, depending on the wind and conditions,” explains Andrea. “Not knowing where it might start or where it’s going is a significant vulnerability for us.”

Beef producers moving cattle to safety away from wildfires


The Haywood-Farmer family spent much of the summer moving their herd out of the path of wildfires in British Columbia. Photo courtesy of the Haywood-Farmer family.

Where practical, they implement prevention practices. “There are things like your homeplace – you think about fire exposure and mitigating fire risk,” she says, and adds that they have hay fields strategically located around their yard for protection. When it comes to their range however, the uncertain nature of fire limits pre-planning. “You go and start opening gates and, to the best of your ability, if there are cattle in the pasture, you move them out of harm’s way,” explains Andrea. “And you keep doing it until you don’t have to do it anymore.” Continue reading

What a Year — Top 10 Articles from the BCRC Blog in 2021


top 10 blog posts of 2021

This past year presented Canadian beef producers with a lot of different circumstances. Some challenges, such as a widespread drought, required responsive decision-making at times. Yet production cycles continue, and breeding, weaning and feeding activities need to be planned and prepared for. 

Throughout the year, the BCRC published blog posts once or twice a week. Articles provide science-based insight into issues impacting Canada’s beef sector. Some articles from the past year featured producers’ perspectives and tips on topics such as animal-handling or how to improve forages. Other articles featured calculators and tools designed to help beef producers make strategic decisions. Some featured new research, while others focus on a timely response to on-the-ground challenges. 

The BCRC strives to provide relevant science and economic-based information to producers throughout the year and we value the feedback of our audience. Which posts stood out for you? What are some topics you would like to see as we flip the calendar to a new year?

Below are the BCRC’s Top 10 blog posts of 2021.   
Canadian beef cattle during drought in pasture with dwindling water supply
10. Decision Making During Drought

Dealing with drought is hard, but there are some strategies producers can use to help them make the best of a tough situation. Marketing cull cows earlier than normal, drylotting cows or weaning calves earlier can reduce pressure on feed and pastures.  Continue reading

Be Mindful of Minerals

What mineral supplementation do I need and when do I need it?

Beef producers might know they should supplement their herds with mineral, but trying to wade through all the choices at the livestock supply store can be overwhelming. Commercial suppliers seem to make claims and offer something different, but with tubs and bags of every colour and price available, how to you know which one is right for your herd? What minerals do your cattle actually need and how is it best delivered?

total mixed feed ration for beef cattle


In general, beef cattle producers should be supplementing mineral to their herds whether they are grazing or being fed a winter ration.

Megan Van Schaik, a Beef Cattle Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) says there are some key things producers want to look at. In general, producers should be supplementing mineral to their herds whether they are grazing or being fed a winter ration.

Van Schaik says there are a host of variables that impact mineral nutrition and deficiencies in beef herds. “They present in many different ways and alarm bells usually go off when we see reproductive issues,” she says, but adds that mineral status can be linked to general health problems and even calf abnormalities. Mineral deficiencies can also cause less obvious production losses that can be easily avoided with proper supplementation. Continue reading

Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator – Managing Variable Costs

Winter feed is the largest year-over-year variable cost faced by producers. A cow-calf operation feeding a predominantly purchased hay ration to 100 head for 180 days could pay $50,000 a year for winter feed. A 350-head herd fed for 150 days can cost over $150,000 a year for winter feed alone if good quality hay is priced conservatively at $143/tonne.

In October 2021, 80% of Canada’s agricultural land was considered to be in drought. Low soil moisture, crop yield losses, feed quality concerns and forage and grain deficits are a reality for many, and the cost of hay and other inputs have increased dramatically, putting the squeeze on many budgets.

In October 2021, extreme drought still covered 28% of Canada’s agricultural landscape. For those who are struggling, contact local and provincial farm organizations to learn about what may be available in your community. Scroll down for drought management strategies and resources.

While prices may be outside of one’s control, producers may be able to manage their budget by adjusting their rations and considering the use of more economical alternative feedstuffs. Stretching winter feeding budgets may present a challenge but one worth considering to help manage budgets not only for this winter season but in future years.

As winter rolls in, livestock feed supplies remain variable across Canada. Late summer rains have extended grazing in some regions. Other areas have or shared bumper supplies to carry through. Corn crops thrived under the hot summer days and nights leading to a record year for Canadian corn production.

Producers should discuss feed and water test results and ration formulation with a qualified nutritionist or ag extension staff. The examples used in the calculator are generic and may not work on individual farms.

Knowledge is power, so knowing your available feed supply and where it may fall short on nutrition is the first step to manage winter feeding for your herd. A feed test will point out where supplementary nutrients may be required. The next step is sourcing additional supplementary nutrients that are affordable and available to offer nutrient balance.

The Beef Cattle Research Council’s Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator (Click to download [.xlsx file | 107kb]) is a flexible decision-making tool that helps producers compare the cost-effectiveness of different, regionally available feed and alternatives. Two examples of how to use the calculator (one in the east the other in the west) are below and demonstrate the financial outcomes of switching between feed inputs this year. Continue reading

Bale Feeding Options: Pros and Cons of Common Strategies



Bale feeding is common across Canada for all classes of cattle especially during winter months. There are many different management strategies to deliver bales as feed. To help you determine the best option for you and your cattle, see below for pros and cons of three common bale feeding strategies:

  • Rolling out bales/using a bale processor and feeding on pasture
  • Bale grazing
  • Round feeder

When thinking about each strategy for your operation, consider the following: What are the nutritional requirements of your cattle? What is the nutritional quality of your forage? What equipment do you currently have? What equipment do you need? How much time do you have to dedicate to feed management?

Continue reading