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.
Many cow-calf producers from B.C. through Ontario are planning to wean and sell their calves earlier this year. Others are reluctant to sell lightweight calves into a flooded market so are thinking about retaining ownership, putting extra pounds onto lightweight calves, and selling into a more promising feeder market in early 2022.
Many factors need to be considered when preparing to feed lightweight calves
Calves face health and nutritional hurdles as they are weaned and transitioned to a backgrounding diet. Because of Mother Nature’s cruel summer, those hurdles may be
even higher for this year’s lightweight calves.
Despite producers’ diligence, calves from drought-stricken pastures will face unique challenges getting started on feed. The following tips and considerations can help calves be more resilient in the face of these added challenges.Continue reading →
The most important day of a calf’s life is the first one. There are some key factors that play a role in whether or not a baby calf gets off to a good start and research has demonstrated that the first 24 hours of life are critical in order for a calf to survive to weaning and beyond.
Interventions – follow-up care is important
Dystocia, or calving complications, pose a health risk for both the newborn calf and the cow. While dystocia can be partially managed with careful breeding choices and culling practices, proper nutrition, and managing for a body condition score of 3 (on a scale of 1-5) before calving, difficult deliveries can still occur.
Every scenario is different, however once a water bag appears, a calf should hit the ground within one hour for cows, or up to one and a half hours for a first-calf heifer. If this doesn’t happen, intervention may be needed, especially if no progress has occurred for thirty minutes, the cow stops pushing, or there are other signs of trouble. If there is a problem, a water bag may not always appear, so be observant of other behaviours that signal labour, such as tail switching, restlessness, the appearance of membranes or discharge, or a kink in the cow’s tail.
Lifelong health in a beef animal can start with early interventions to improve newborn calf health and prevent calf death. Ellen Crane, BCRC Extension Coordinator, will also demonstrate how to use the new BCRC website search tool, helping you find the information you’re looking for faster.
Registering on your smartphone? After you click ‘I am not a robot’, scroll up until you find the task to complete.
Beef producers across the country are always looking to improve management and production practices that not only benefit cattle, but also reduce their workload, and help to save time and money.
It may involve improved calf identification measures, installing remote cameras to monitor watering systems, or adopting quiet livestock handling practices in a flexible year-round grazing system. They all help to improve beef production efficiency.
Here are some measures three beef producers say has benefited their operations:
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2019 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
I once spent a summer working for canola breeders. Some used traditional selection, while others were experimenting with transgenics. One traditionalist was known to say “sticking a new gene into a plant and expecting it to grow better is like throwing a new gear into a watch and expecting it to keep better time. It’ll probably get worse”. This article isn’t about canola or genetics, but it is about time and unintended consequences. Specifically, it’s about the timing of the breeding and calving seasons.
Canada’s cow-calf sector has moved towards fewer, larger beef cow herds. Calving later, on pasture has been a widely adopted strategy allowing producers to expand their cow herds without a proportional increase in equipment, labor, and facilities. When John Basarab led Alberta’s Cow-Calf Audits in the late 1980’s and late 90’s, breeding often started in May and calving started in late February. In contrast, 70% of the producers responding to the 2017 Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey started breeding in June or July to calve in March or April.
Whether it is the Sandhills Calving System or a variation, the objective is the same.
Photo supplied by Dr. Claire Windeyer
Doug Wray believes in keeping newborn calves separated as much as possible from other two-week and older calves on his south-central Alberta farm to avoid livestock congestion and dramatically reduce the risk of congregated calves developing and spreading scours. And for the past several years the plan has worked.
Wray, who along with family members operates Wray Ranch near Irricana, north of Calgary, has developed this calving-on-pasture system over the past 10 years. In his year-round grazing system, his herd of about 300 bred cows moves onto grass about May 10. They actually begin calving May 1 on swath grazing and then by May 10 the pregnant cows move to grass and the first batch of cows-with-calves stay behind.
The first grass pasture is 160 acres in size, divided into eight 20-acre paddocks.
“The herd is managed in one group on pasture for about two weeks before we make the first split,” says Wray. At roughly the first two-week mark cows with calves (usually about 120 head) “are taken to fresh pasture in one direction, while the bred cows head to new grass in another direction,” he explains. Wray essentially runs two herds at Continue reading →
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the January 2017 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Marketing executives for grocery and restaurant chains track consumer perceptions and attitudes towards issues like livestock production practices, animal welfare and pain control. These surveys sometimes lead to initiatives that impose specific production standards on suppliers so the company can distinguish itself and showcase its products.
From the other side, animal welfare researchers study how beef cattle respond to painful procedures like castration, dehorning and branding, and the benefit of providing pain medication. This knowledge is central to updating the science-based Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle.
But what about the producer, who’s responsible for day to day animal care, and who pays for the added costs of any production requirement that is ultimately imposed by law, industry standard, or marketing programs? A better understanding of what motivates (or discourages) producers when it comes to animal care is critical, if new pain control practices are to be adopted.
We know that disease causing agents are present in beef cattle herds, even when the most careful biosecurity procedures are followed. In general, basic management of calves and calving groups will play a greater role in whether or not calves get sick than the presence or absence of most disease causing pathogens.
During a webinar hosted by the BCRC in 2015, Dr. Claire Windeyer, veterinarian, professor and researcher at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, discussed management during the calving season that can lead to healthier and more productive calves. During the webinar, she provided numerous tips on how to manage both cows and calves to reduce disease incidence and increase calf survival rate.
Here are three highlights from that webinar, followed by the full recording: Continue reading →
Calves are at a higher risk for sickness and disease in the first months of life. Join this webinar to hear this veterinarian’s tips on how to manage calves through this critical time for a healthier, more productive calf crop.
Thursday December 8, at 7:00 pm MT
6:00pm in BC
7:00pm in AB
8:00pm in SK and MB
9:00pm in ON and QC
10:00pm in NS, NB and PEI
Interested but aren’t available that evening? Register anyway! This webinar will be recorded and posted online at a later date. All registrants will receive a link to the recording and additional learning resources. By attending the live event, you’ll have the opportunity to interact and ask questions too.