Vaccines Are Cheap Insurance – Don’t Let Your Premiums Lapse

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.


black and white faced calf and cow on green grass
After last summer’s pasture conditions and last winter’s feed costs, it’s safe to say that many cow-calf producers are facing the upcoming grazing season with some anxiety. Some are looking for new grazing arrangements, opportunities to trim input costs, or both. No single solution can solve every challenge for every operation, but nearly all decisions have trade-offs. Using a community pasture or other shared grazing arrangement may reduce pasture costs but mixing different herds can spread reproductive (and other) diseases. This risk is magnified if you’re tempted to save costs this year by skimping on your vaccination program.

The February and March editions of this column drew from a large beef cow productivity study that happened to coincide with the 2001-02 drought in Western Canada. That study also revealed how important vaccination programs are to maintaining reproductive performance. These results were published in Livestock Science 163:126-139 and Theriogenology 79:1083-1094; 81:840-848.

What They Did:

To recap, Dr. Cheryl Waldner and her colleagues from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine studied the productivity of over 30,000 beef cows in over 200 well-managed herds in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. Participating producers individually identified each cow and calf, recorded all calf births (including abortions), maintained an active veterinary-client-patient relationship, had good animal handling facilities, pregnancy tested all breeding females, had a veterinarian evaluate all herd bulls, had an established spring or summer breeding season (i.e., didn’t calve year-round), and worked with the researchers to collect the needed samples and data.

As part of the study, they compared the pregnancy and abortion rates in these herds, based on whether they used community pastures and whether they vaccinated their cows against BVD and IBR before the breeding season. These two diseases don’t just affect calves; they can also reduce reproductive success in cows. Continue reading

Calving Records Will Be Especially Valuable This Year

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
red newborn cow calf on straw
Last month’s column profiled a beef cow productivity study that coincided with the massive 2001-02 drought that impacted most of Western Canada. That study got less attention than it deserved, because Canada’s entire beef industry became preoccupied with BSE in 2003. But research is an investment, and the lessons learned from research done two decades ago are still paying dividends today. This month’s column focuses on what that study learned about reproductive performance.

What They Did:

Dr. Cheryl Waldner and her colleagues from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine examined factors affecting the productivity of over 30,000 beef cows in more than 200 well-managed herds across Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Peace Region of B.C. Participating producers individually identified each cow and calf, recorded all calf births, maintained an active veterinary-client-patient relationship, had good animal handling facilities, pregnancy tested all breeding females, had a veterinarian evaluate all herd bulls, had an established spring or summer breeding season (i.e., didn’t calve year-round), and worked with the researchers to collect the needed samples and data. These results have been published in Theriogenology 79:1083-1094, Theriogenology 81:840-848 and Livestock Science 163:126-139.

What They Learned:

This spring’s calving records can help identify cows that are less likely to rebreed successfully or more likely to have problems next spring. Continue reading

Cut Costs Carefully

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Beef producers managing cows and calves in winter

Research that’s underway now won’t solve this year’s drought, but it should help us deal with the next one. By the same token, research done during the big drought of the early 2000s provides some valuable lessons about managing the cow herd in today’s drought.

Dr. Cheryl Waldner of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon led a large beef cow productivity study from the start of the 2001 breeding season through weaning in 2002. This corresponded to the widespread drought that impacted much of Western North America and inspired the original Hay West program.

What They Did:

They examined factors affecting the productivity of over 30,000 beef cows in more than 200 well-managed herds across Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Peace Region of British Columbia. Participating producers individually identified each cow and calf, recorded all calf births, maintained an active veterinary-client-patient relationship, had good animal handling facilities, pregnancy tested all breeding females, had a veterinarian evaluate all herd bulls, had an established spring or summer breeding season (i.e., not calve year-round), and worked with the research team to collect the needed samples and data.

What They Learned:

Drought had significant impacts, even in these well-managed herds. Continue reading

Always Look a Gift Cow in the Mouth

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
beef cattle in sale barn
This year’s feed situation is forcing many cow-calf producers to make very difficult decisions. Those who are short of feed may cull their herds harder than usual or look for alternative feeding arrangements to winter some or all their cows. Others with feed carryover from previous years may be tempted to custom feed other people’s cows, or to expand their own herds. Those who are selling cows this year may rebuild their herds in a year or two when the weather is more promising. In short, there are potentially a lot of cows changing hands, either permanently or temporarily.

Regardless of whether you’re buying now, buying later or considering custom feeding, remember that there’s more to the decision than price alone. Some apparent opportunities can bring significant hidden costs. This lesson was illustrated recently in a project led by John Campbell and Cheryl Waldner, with co-workers from the Universities of Saskatchewan and Calgary (Biosecurity Practices in Western Canadian Cow-Calf Herds and Their Association with Animal Health; Canadian Veterinary Journal 62:712-718). 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

New $2.35-M USask research chair targets improved health and productivity in beef herds



Saskatoon, SK – With $2.35 million from the federal government and the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), University of Saskatchewan (USask) veterinary researcher Dr. Cheryl Waldner will undertake a major five-year research program to advance beef cattle health and productivity, helping to sustain the profitability and competitiveness of Canada’s $17-billion-a-year beef industry.


USask veterinary researcher Dr. Cheryl Waldner is the new NSERC/BCRC Industrial Research Chair in One Health and Production-Limiting Diseases. Photo: Amanda Waldner

“This timely and cutting-edge research builds on our university’s strengths in agriculture and ‘One Health’ to help advance the livestock industry’s economic contributions to the country and ensure continued consumer confidence in the safety and quality of Canadian beef,” said USask President Peter Stoicheff in announcing the new chair Jan. 30.

The $750,000 award from the federal Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) is matched by $750,000 in producer check-off funding from the BCRC. USask is contributing $850,000. Continue reading

Unintended Consequences

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine 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.

Continue reading

Antibiotic Use on Canadian Cow-Calf Operations



This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Antibiotic use records are important for producers who want to track the effectiveness of the antibiotics they use. Industry groups need antibiotic use data to refute misleading claims about our production practices. Even restaurant chains and meat companies marketing “antibiotic-free” beef need records to keep treated animals out of their “never-ever” supply stream. When it comes to antibiotic use in the beef industry, most of the attention is focused on the feedlot sector. That’s because most of the antibiotic use occurs there, and because large feedlots work closely with specialized veterinarians and have developed sophisticated software to support animal health protocols and recording of animal health treatments. But antibiotic use at the cow-calf level is also important. For example, calves may not respond as well to antibiotics at the feedlot if they have been exposed to a related antibiotic before leaving home.

The most recent reports on antibiotic use in cow-calf operations in Eastern Canada (Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research 72:109) and Western Canada (Preventive Veterinary Medicine 90:55) are nearly 10 years old. The Western Canadian Cow-Calf Surveillance Network (WCCCSN) initiative supported under the 2013-18 Beef Science Cluster provided an opportunity to gather updated information regarding antibiotic use on cow-calf operations.

What they did: Dr. Cheryl Waldner and co-workers at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine surveyed 100 cow-calf operations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba about Continue reading

Copper deficiency takes heavy toll

Water testing can help prevent a wreck in reproductive performance

GarretHill


Garret Hill, Duval, SK. Photo courtesy of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association.

Garret Hill couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  Cattle had plenty of grass, clean water, a standard mineral mix in front of them, they appeared to be in good condition, yet conception rates among cows and heifers on his family’s central Saskatchewan ranch were declining.

This problem came to a head about six years ago. Their area around Duval, about an hour north of Regina, had experienced a succession of particularly wet growing seasons. There was plenty of grass and a relatively deep (150 foot) well on the farm supplied water to the herd as needed during the year.

“We didn’t know what was wrong,” says Hill, who along with brother Greg and other family members today run about a 1,000 head cow-calf operation. “But at that time we had about one-third of the cow herd open and it seemed to be increasing by about five per cent per year.  The problem was getting worse.” Continue reading

Better Tests for Trich and Vibrio



This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Trichomoniasis (trich, or “trick”) and bovine genital campylobacteriosis (vibrio) are venereal diseases that cause early embryonic death, repeat breeding, large numbers of open cows at the end of the breeding season, an extended calving season, and enormous economic losses. The microbes that cause trich and vibrio live in the reproductive tracts of infected cattle, but don’t enter the tissues or the bloodstream. Cows and heifers can clear these infections but bulls generally can’t, because the microbes live in the folds of the foreskin. These diseases are difficult to treat, because Continue reading