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

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

Bull Power – How to Calculate the True Value of a Herd Sire *New Video*

Bull selection is a key decision for cow-calf producers that will have implications for both short- and long-term profitability. A bull represents half of your herd’s genetics and will sire calves to be marketed or represent the future of your breeding herd.

With bull prices trending higher year after year, producers want to ensure that their investment is adding value to their operation in the right places while still working within a budget. Many bull traits have different impacts on your bottom line.

Before buying a bull, it’s important for producers to identify their breeding management goals so they can select a bull that will help accomplish them. It is important to evaluate how much a bull is worth to your farm or ranch, and identify a price to pay in which you will ideally break even during the lifetime of that sire.

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

What’s the most profitable post-weaning choice for your calves? Try our updated calculator!


Backgrounding, preconditioning, calf, calculator
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.

Continue reading

Registration Now Open For 2021/2022 Webinar Series



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.)

See topics and descriptions below. Continue reading

How quickly do water systems pay for themselves? New calculator available



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

The economics of pregnancy testing: Webinar September 15th

Update: Missed the webinar? Find the recording and check for future webinars on our Webinars page: http://www.beefresearch.ca/resources/webinars.cfm

Join this free webinar to better understand the economics of choosing to pregnancy check and whether it is more profitable for your operation to cull cows in the fall or spring.

When

Pain control in beef calves. Photo supplied by Tamara Carter

Thursday, September 15 at 7:00 pm MT

  • 6:00pm in BC
  • 7:00pm in AB and SK
  • 8:00pm in MB
  • 9:00pm in ON and QC
  • 10:00pm in NS, NB and PEI 

Watching on a tablet or mobile device?

If you plan to join the webinar using  Continue reading

Try this new calculator to determine when it pays to preg-check

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

Calculator: What is the Value of Preconditioning Calves?

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