Feeding Decisions Are Important Breeding Decisions

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

When life gets really stressful it can be hard to remember what you already know. This column probably won’t tell you anything new, but it might remind you of some important principles that can get overlooked in the scramble to buy feed and make important financial decisions.
Black Angus cattle eating hay as winter feed
Winter feed costs are a key financial make-or-break factor for cow-calf producers, especially this winter. Weaned calf sales bear most of the responsibility for offsetting those winter feed costs, so reproductive performance is another financial make-or-break factor. The most profitable cows are those that wean a calf every year for the greatest number of years.

The big challenge is that feed costs and reproductive performance are inseparable. Drastic measures to minimize per head feed costs usually have a negative impact on reproductive performance. Maximizing reproductive performance can increase feed costs significantly. But there can be some room to move in the middle. Maintaining or even improving reproductive performance can often be achieved by carefully managing the feed you have to maintain optimal body condition scores. This may mean spending money differently, not necessarily more of it, and will help maintain or improve reproductive performance. 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

Experts Respond to Drought Questions


Experiencing drought stress? Watch recording of webinar for beef producers.
On July 29, the Beef Cattle Research Council hosted a webinar that allowed beef producers to ask drought-related questions to a panel of nutrition and animal health experts. Producers asked for everything from recommendations for grazing canola, how to manage for antinutritional factors, tips on ammoniation and to how to manage grass into the fall. While questions were varied and diverse, a few main themes emerged.

Feed testing:

In a drought year, testing your feed sources is more important than ever. Especially when using alternative feed sources, a feed test allows you to understand what you have in terms of energy and protein and therefore what you will need to supplement to maintain the health and body condition of cows and other classes of cattle. A feed test will also identify some of the antinutritional factors and potential toxic levels of substances such as nitrates or sulfates that are more prevalent in drought years or unconventional feeds. Feed tests can be performed on standing or swathed crops, bales or silage. A feed test can be instrumental in determining how a particular feed will fit into your overall feeding strategy. Continue reading

Salvaging a crop? Here are some things to consider when valuing a crop for feed.



With moderate to severe drought in many areas of Canada and the northern United States, many beef producers are looking for alternative feed sources to get their cattle through the coming months. With drought causing lower crop yields, many beef producers are hoping to work with neighbouring farmers to graze, bale, or silage crops. The question is how to value that feed in a way that provides value to both the farmer and the cattle producer.

When considering salvaging crops for feed, beef producers need to consider accessibility, availability, yield, transport costs, potential anti-nutritional factors or other animal health impacts, and feed quality. On the other hand, farmers are thinking about residue management, long term land impacts, contracted crop acres, costs to harvest, etc. When establishing prices, it is important to be clear in your communications about what each party hopes to gain as well as each party’s responsibilities. While grazing cattle on crop land or residues isn’t new, the salvaging of crops may put some unique options on the table for 2021.

The value of crops for livestock feeds calculator was developed to help beef producers work with their neighbors to determine a value for salvaged crops. For example, a barley field with 14 bu/acre of grain at current prices of $7.95/bushel results in a grain value of $111.30/acre. When you subtract the costs of combining the field ($32.33/acre according to the Saskatchewan Custom and Rental Rates Guide from August 2020) the harvest value is $78.97/acre. This provides a starting price to be considered. If a crop is being sold to a livestock producer as greenfeed, there is also the value of the straw.  Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Stretching Feed Supplies

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.


ReynoldAug
Winter feed will be a scarce and costly resource in much of Western Canada this year. Use it carefully, because the management decisions you make now will impact reproductive and economic performance for at least two years.

Research conducted 25 years ago by P.L. Houghton and co-workers at Perdue University (J. An. Sci. 68:1438) demonstrated how energy intake by pregnant and lactating cows impacted their reproductive and calf performance. At the start of the last trimester (early January for cows calving in April), cows were fed in two groups. One group received a maintenance diet (ME) meeting recommended energy intake. The other was fed a low energy diet (LE) providing 70% of recommended energy intake. After calving, each group was split again, with cows receiving either the low energy diet or a high energy diet (HE; 130% of recommended energy intake). Skimping on nutrition in late pregnancy and after calving impacted both Continue reading

Feed testing explained in Beef Research School video

A new video is now available on www.BeefResearchSchool.com

Feed testing is a fundamental tool to assist cow-calf producers, backgrounding operations and feedlots develop sound feeding programs. By knowing the nutritional qualities of feeds, producers are better able to achieve desired production targets and save on supplemental feed costs. Feed testing is especially important to accurately determine the feed quality of forages, because visual appraisal of colour, plant species and leaf content, and knowledge of cutting time, can be misleading and should not be relied upon to determine feed quality. Continue reading

Alternative Feeds: Soybean Straw and Kochia

Alternative feeds can help reduce feed costs or stretch feed supplies, but it’s important to take the time to understand the nutritional quality of the feeds that are available, and become aware of any potential health risks to your cattle by including them in feed rations.

A producer from South-Central Manitoba who has had to pull his cows off dry pasture early recently asked us about feeding soybean straw and kochia. Continue reading