Drought conditions across the country this year remind us of the importance of a drought management plan. Diversifying a cow-calf operation with a backgrounding enterprise could be part of a drought mitigation strategy as backgrounded cattle can be sold or move to a feedlot to free up feed supplies or pasture for the cow herd. While backgrounding may not be an option of many producers this year due to tight feed supplies, now might be a good time to start thinking if this strategy fits your operation.
The Beef Cattle Research Council’s Preconditioning and Backgrounding Calculator (download the .xlxs file) is designed to identify economic opportunities and risks from preconditioning or backgrounding cattle. The calculator has recently been updated to allow more flexibility in price projections. The cattle price index database embedded in the calculator is updated with the latest five-year (2016-2020) provincial data from British Columbia to Quebec.
This year’s Beef Cattle Research Council webinar series will cover a range of topics including backgrounding, record keeping and grazing plans, all focused on practical, science-based information for Canadian beef producers.
Register here.(This link will allow you to register for the entire webinar series.)
Allowing cattle access to clean water can improve herd health, as well as increase weight gain and backfat. A 2005 study reported that calves whose dams drank from water troughs gained on average 0.09 lbs per day more than calves whose dams had direct access to the dugout. Because water and forage intake are closely related, as cows drink more water they also spend more time eating and therefore produce more milk for their calves. Calves with access to clean pumped water were on average 18 lbs heavier at weaning time. A separate study in 2002 found that calves, with dams drinking clean water, gained 9% more weight than calves Continue reading →
According to the 2015 Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey, 60% of producers include pregnancy detection as part of their management strategy. That’s up from 49% nearly two decades ago, according to the 1997/98 Alberta Cow-Calf Survey results, and up from 34% reported by the 1987-89 Alberta survey.
But the question remains as to why 40% of producers in Western Canada choose not to preg-check their cows.
Assuming a spring calving schedule, generally producers have three options for
managing open Continue reading →
Preconditioning is a management method that prepares calves to enter the feedlot, reducing stress and disease susceptibility. Preconditioned calves are weaned at least 30-45 days prior to sale, put on a vaccination program, and introduced to processed feedstuffs, feedbunks and waterbowls. The intent is to spread out the stressors that calves experience: weaning, vaccination, transportation, unfamiliar animals and environment, dietary changes, etc., so that the immune system is not overwhelmed.
Many studies have shown that preconditioned calves have a lower cost of gain at the feedlot with improved rates of gain and feed efficiency, as well as lower treatment rates and death loss. These attributes contribute to higher profits in later phases of beef production and allows cattle buyers to pay a premium for preconditioned calves. Additional weight gain during the preconditioning phase as well as reduced shrinkage associated with stress during transportation and the marketing process also contributes to higher returns from preconditioned calves.
While there are clear benefits to the feedlot for purchasing preconditioned calves, is it worthwhile to the cow-calf producer to retain ownership? Continue reading →
Although artificial insemination (AI) of cattle has been possible for 60 years, this technology has not been used widely in the Canadian beef industry. Genetic evaluation of beef bulls has improved considerably in recent years, making bull selection more objective and reliable. Sexed semen, expected progeny differences (EPDs) and the ability to select for specific traits identified through DNA markers are now available. Recent scientific studies have also greatly increased our understanding of reproductive function in cattle and have improved our ability to regulate their reproductive cycles.
The true costs of natural service are often underestimated. Buying bulls rather than semen packages is less economical in some cases, even with commercial cattle. By evaluating the costs and benefits of natural service versus AI, producers can determine which program (or combination) will Continue reading →
Last month’s announcement of the Western Livestock Price Insurance Program (WLPIP) is welcome news. This spring, cow-calf producers will have the opportunity to lock in prices for their 2014 calves. When deciding which level of coverage to take, it would be useful to know what price a producer needs to break-even. The break-even price on weaned calves is also known as the cow-calf unit cost of production. Continue reading →