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

How (and Why) These Eastern Canadian Cow-Calf Producers Changed and Defined Their Calving Periods

There are many interconnected variables that affect, or are affected by, calving season. Considerations such as infrastructure and facilities to remove and house bulls following a defined breeding season, herd size, regional market prices, targeted weaning time and labour availability are a few factors that impact a calving period.

These producers did their homework and planned ahead before shifting their calving seasons in order to meet the needs of their particular farms and families.

Spencer Yeo, Nova Scotia – Shorten Calving Period from Twelve to Six Weeks

Six years ago, Spencer Yeo who now farms in Nova Scotia had a large calving window, with the bull in year-round. About 60% of his herd calved during a 12-week timeframe but there were always stragglers which meant a lot of extra nights checking cows. Yeo had a small herd and was selling calves direct from the farmyard. With a mix of weights and smaller calves pulling the average price down, he saw an opportunity for change.

Spencer Yeo, Nova Scotia – Shorten Calving Period from Twelve to Six Weeks


“If you’re going to adjust your calving window, you need to make sure your cows are in good shape to do it successfully.” – Spencer Yeo, Nova Scotia

Yeo aimed to transition to a six-week calving period to help with time management as he also works off-farm full-time. He chose to aim for February calving because it is typically a little warmer then, in his region. It is also a time of year when he has the most free-time, and it was when the majority of his cows were already calving so he was working with the herd versus against them.

The transition occurred within a single year with the breeding season shortened to May 1 through mid-June. Preg checking occurred in August, and any open females were sold. This worked well as cull cow prices were seasonally higher in August versus later in the fall, which resulted in extra income. Bull management includes the option of leasing out for a few months or selling after the breeding season. Yeo replaces the bull every two years, so only has to deal with a bull in the off-season every other year. 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

7 Tips to Remember This Calving Season

Calving can be an exciting but challenging time. Luckily, there are some key actions you can take to set yourself — and your calves — up for success. Whether you are in the middle of calving season, or planning for the next, the BCRC has several helpful calving resources.

Here are seven tips to remember this calving season:

1. Do not hang calves upside down if they need help breathing.
Never hang calves upside down if they need help breathing
If a newborn calf requires resuscitation, put them in the calf recovery position, poke a clean straw in their nose, dribble a few drops of water in their ear or rub them vigorously. Hanging calves upside down actually makes it more difficult for the calf to start breathing. Fluid that drains from a calf that is hung upside down mostly comes from the stomach, not the lungs, and gravity will make it more difficult for the lungs to expand. See a demonstration in this short video: Continue reading

Applications Open- BCRC Researcher Mentorship Program 2022-23

Applications for the 2022-23 term of the BCRC Beef Researcher Mentorship Program are now being accepted.  The deadline to apply is May 1, 2022.

Four researchers were selected to participate in the program this past year. Each was paired with two mentors – an innovative producer and another industry expert. Each of the researchers have reported very successful and valuable experiences through the opportunities provided, including:

  • Meeting several producers and industry leaders with whom they ask questions and have meaningful discussions about cattle production, beef quality and safety, and the Canadian beef value chain
  • Establishing Partnerships with industry and other researcher to further their research programs
  • Attending industry events and touring farms and ranches to better understand the impacts, practicalities and economics of adopting research results
The BCRC is excited to continue to program and invite applications from upcoming and new applied researchers in Canada whose studies are of value to the beef industry. Such as, cattle health and welfare, beef quality, food safety, genetics, feed efficiency, or forages. A new group of participants will begin their mentorships on September 1st.The Beef Researcher Mentorship Program launched in August 2014 to facilitate greater engagement of upcoming and new applied researchers with Canada’s beef industry,Learn more about the program and download an application form HERE.

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Calf 911 – How to Manage Colostrum to Allow Newborn Calves to Thrive *New Video*

Ensuring newborn calves consume colostrum is one of the most important management strategies cow-calf operations can implement to promote healthy calves. Colostrum provides essential antibodies (like Immunoglobulin G or IgG) to a calf with virtually no immune system. Colostrum also contains fats, vitamins, proteins and other immune cells essential to provide the calf energy, warmth and the local immunity it requires to thrive in the first few days of life. This initial immunity will protect against calfhood diseases such as scours, navel abscesses, septic arthritis and pneumonia.

Calves that are born unassisted and uncompromised will typically stand and nurse from their mothers within one to two hours after birth. However, calves that experience a difficult or prolonged birth, have a swollen tongue, experience hypothermia or are a twin may be less vigorous and unable to stand and nurse during that critical period. A cow with a large udder, poor udder suspension and/or large teats may also limit a calf’s ability to receive adequate colostrum.

It is crucial for producers to observe newborn calves to make sure they have received colostrum and to intervene if necessary. Look closely to see if any of the cow’s teats have been suckled, feel if the calf’s belly is full and check the hooves to see if the rubbery capsule has been worn off to indicate standing. Checking a calf’s suckle reflex by sticking your fingers in the calf’s mouth is also a simple indicator to demonstrate whether the suckle reflex is weak and the calf needs to be supplemented with colostrum. Continue reading

A Guide to Keeping Records That Help Make Profitable Decisions

The start of a new season and year is the perfect time for beef producers to look back on what went well and think ahead to what can be improved.

Do you feel like you have a good understanding of your farm’s profit and production? Do you have goals for the upcoming season?

You can learn a lot about your farm when you make the effort to collect and take a look at your financial and production data. Perhaps you assumed an area of your operation was performing better than it truly was and records demonstrate improvement is needed. On the other hand, analyzing data may point to improvements that you didn’t realize occurred.

Good farm records are useful to provide the data needed to understand your farm performance and will help take the guesswork out of management decisions. Research shows that when producers set goals and keep records, they can achieve up to 60 more pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed. Benchmarking also helps producers be prepared for challenging times such as drought and other environmental disasters, and will maximize the benefits of your annual VCPR (Veterinary Client Patient Relationship) visit with your herd veterinarian. Continue reading

*UPCOMING WEBINAR* Setting Records- Calving Season Data Collection Jan 12th



While calving is one of the busiest times of the production cycle for cow-calf producers, there’s a lot of important information that can be collected. Which data is the most important to help you make critical decisions on your operation? This presentation will discuss the records that are worth spending valuable time collecting at calving.

Register for our upcoming webinar on January 12th and hear from a veterinarian from the University of Calgary as well as a producer sharing their practical perspective. The speakers will  share  insight and answer your questions about data collection at calving and how to make the best decisions for your operation!

This webinar also qualifies for 1 continuing education (CE) credit for registered veterinary technologists and technicians. A total of 3 CE credits will be available over the course of the BCRC 2021-22 webinar series. For more information on CE accreditation for RVT’s and veterinarians, please contact Dana Parker (parkerd@beefresearch.ca)

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

Optimum Condition = Maximum Production

When feed supplies are short, it may be tempting to feed less and allow cows to lose body condition, but this short-term solution can have a long-term impact on the performance and profitability of a cow herd. A herd of cows maintained in the right condition with an ideal layer of fat cover will have more (and heavier!) calves than a herd of thin or over-fat cows.

In a drought year, when feed access and quality is uncertain, hands on body condition scoring (BCS) is a simple and accurate method to assess the condition and productivity of your herd. Continue reading