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

A Year in Review: Outcomes of Your Investments in Canadian Beef Research and Extension

 

Where exactly are my Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off funds allocated to research going? How have the circumstances of the past year impacted beef research and extension? What has the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) been up to lately? Answers to these questions and more can be found in the BCRC’s new report.  
BCRC 2020-2021 Year in Review Report
The 
2020-2021 Year in Review provides a visual representation of the BCRC Results Report, which is submitted annually to the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off Agency. The new report offers a reader-friendly snapshot of the fiscal year’s activities and results 

“So much has happened during the past year – from the COVID-19 pandemic to the drought that impacted cattle producers across much of the country,” said BCRC Executive Director Andrea Brocklebank.  “While there has been much uncertainty in the industry in 2020-2021, Canada’s beef producers remain tenacious, researchers have proven to be innovative and the Beef Cattle Research Council is resolute to move forward as a leader in beef research and extension.”  

The 2020-2021 Year in Review spotlights a few of the key research and extension projects that were funded during the past year. There were 23 research and extension projects reporting activities between April 2020 and March 2021 through the current Beef Cattle Industry Science Cluster, as well as 25 priority research projects. While most results will be presented upon completion, the new report features a few of the preliminary findings.  Continue reading

Meet the Council: Flexibility and Creative Solutions Provide Opportunity for These Beef Stakeholders

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is made up of producer members from across Canada, appointed by each of the provincial beef organizations that allocate part of the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off to research. The number of members from each province is proportional to the amount of provincial check-off allocated to research.

The following is part five in a series to introduce you to this group of innovative thinkers that set BCRC’s direction by sharing practices, strategies, or technologies that they have integrated into their own operations. Read part onepart two, part three and part four of this series. 

Regardless of what Canadian region beef producers are from, creative marketing strategies can help farmers profit as much as possible when they sell their cattle.

Keeping Things Flexible
Beef Cattle Research Council member Lee Irvine and family at home on the farm
Lee Irvine – Alberta

Lee Irvine and his family raise cattle outside of Cochrane, Alberta. They purchased their new place just over a year ago and are still working on getting things transitioned from what was primarily a horse facility back to a working cattle operation. Their new place is 80 acres of pasture and they also have some lease land with Lee’s family that they run cattle on.

Lee works off the farm in the auction industry so having a production system that can accommodate his schedule is important. They choose the class of cattle that they run based on current markets and opportunities on their farm. This year they have been running grasser cattle.

Continue reading

Is This a Good Investment?

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in a September 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) projects featured in this column are funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off. When the checkoff increased a few years ago, the BCRC’s budget rose from around 15 cents to 67 cents per head marketed. This allowed us to start some new research programs. Now that we’re a few years in I can update you on how they’re going.

One is our “Proof of Concept” program. Research is complicated and costly, so we have independent scientists review each research proposal to make sure it is scientifically sound and likely to achieve its goal before investing your dollars into it. Sometimes the reviewers say, “This is an interesting project, but it’s really costly, and it all hinges on an untested idea. It’d be better if they had some preliminary evidence that this new idea is worth pursuing, before funding a costly, full-scale project.”

In 2018 the BCRC started funding Proof of Concept projects to gather these preliminary results and help decide whether these new ideas are worth scaling up into full-scale research trials. Here’s what two of the first Proof of Concept projects told us.
intercropping corn and high-protein forages for better beef cattle nutrition
Exploring corn intercropping strategies to increase protein and profitability of beef cattle grazing:
Corn’s high yields and energy content make it a popular wintering grazing crop for some Western Canadian producers. However, it’s low protein content may make it unsuitable for younger, growing cattle. Seeding corn together with high protein forages may be a way around this challenge.

Continue reading

Today’s Research Provides Tomorrow’s Solutions

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Today’s research won’t help you weather this year’s drought, but the practical information and advice you’ll read elsewhere in this issue (and at www.beefresearch.ca) will. Those pasture management, early weaning, creep-feeding, feed and water testing, alternative feeds and ration balancing tips all originate from past research done by scientists and refined by producers. But producer-funded research underway today will help us cope with future droughts.
beef cattle kicking up dust in dry pasture
Crops, pastures and haylands throughout Western and Central Canada are parched. In a lot of places, the only green and thriving forage plants are forage legumes like alfalfa, vetches, trefoil, sweet clover and sainfoin. Legumes have specialized roots that allow them to capture nitrogen from the air and convert it into plant protein. This improves soil fertility and forage and animal productivity. Their root systems can also extend very deep into the soil and allow them to access subsoil moisture that shallow-rooted plants can’t reach during times of drought. Canada’s forage researchers are working hard today to develop tomorrow’s forage varieties and management practices that will improve productivity, nutritional quality and resilience under challenging environmental conditions. Continue reading

Announcing the Beef Researcher Mentorship Program Participants 2021-2022 *New Video*

Researchers are critical for our industry. Engaging researchers who study cattle, beef, genetics, feed or forage production with the Canadian beef cattle industry is mutually beneficial; it allows researchers to be better informed of what the industry needs are and more likely to share their findings with a practical, solution-based focus. The BCRC Beef Researcher Mentorship Program provides opportunity for new researchers to be paired with two mentors that are relevant to their career as well as a travel budget to attend industry events.

A new video has been released which provides more information about the researcher mentorship program. As past program mentee Robert Gruninger, a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, said, “For me, the knowledge that I gained from the mentorship program has been invaluable not only for me being able to get the job that I’m in, but also to be successful in securing funding that has relevance to producers.”

Watch the new video:

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is pleased to announce the participants in the 2021-22 Beef Researcher Mentorship program. Following an open application process, four researchers from across Canada have been selected. Each has been paired with notable leaders in the Canadian beef industry and given a travel budget for the next year, which will provide valuable opportunities for greater engagement with Canada’s beef industry. Continue reading