Rebuild & Recover – Two Producers Share their Experiences with Fire and Drought

For many beef producers across Canada, the past year was challenging because of environmental conditions. Many producers experienced and continue to withstand extreme weather, which is testing their production and profit potentials, but also their mental resolve and financial resilience.

When things aren’t going well, farmers may feel like everything is out of their control. However, thinking strategically, reaching out and building a community of peers and professionals can help producers navigate through tough times and come out stronger in the end.

Finding silver linings in the ashes

For Andrea Haywood-Farmer and her husband Ted, last summer they were running from one fire to another — literally. “Our whole ranch burnt except our homeplace,” Andrea says, yet she remains optimistic. “It was really scary. But we’re going to be okay.”

Wildfire is a primary risk for their multi-generational ranch, located near Savona, BC. The Haywood-Farmers run about 1,200 cow-calf pairs (collectively with a cousin) on fire-prone timber mountain range. “Fire can start anywhere and it can go anywhere, depending on the wind and conditions,” explains Andrea. “Not knowing where it might start or where it’s going is a significant vulnerability for us.”

Beef producers moving cattle to safety away from wildfires


The Haywood-Farmer family spent much of the summer moving their herd out of the path of wildfires in British Columbia. Photo courtesy of the Haywood-Farmer family.

Where practical, they implement prevention practices. “There are things like your homeplace – you think about fire exposure and mitigating fire risk,” she says, and adds that they have hay fields strategically located around their yard for protection. When it comes to their range however, the uncertain nature of fire limits pre-planning. “You go and start opening gates and, to the best of your ability, if there are cattle in the pasture, you move them out of harm’s way,” explains Andrea. “And you keep doing it until you don’t have to do it anymore.” Continue reading

Feeding Decisions Are Important Breeding Decisions

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

When life gets really stressful it can be hard to remember what you already know. This column probably won’t tell you anything new, but it might remind you of some important principles that can get overlooked in the scramble to buy feed and make important financial decisions.
Black Angus cattle eating hay as winter feed
Winter feed costs are a key financial make-or-break factor for cow-calf producers, especially this winter. Weaned calf sales bear most of the responsibility for offsetting those winter feed costs, so reproductive performance is another financial make-or-break factor. The most profitable cows are those that wean a calf every year for the greatest number of years.

The big challenge is that feed costs and reproductive performance are inseparable. Drastic measures to minimize per head feed costs usually have a negative impact on reproductive performance. Maximizing reproductive performance can increase feed costs significantly. But there can be some room to move in the middle. Maintaining or even improving reproductive performance can often be achieved by carefully managing the feed you have to maintain optimal body condition scores. This may mean spending money differently, not necessarily more of it, and will help maintain or improve reproductive performance. Continue reading

What a Year — Top 10 Articles from the BCRC Blog in 2021


top 10 blog posts of 2021

This past year presented Canadian beef producers with a lot of different circumstances. Some challenges, such as a widespread drought, required responsive decision-making at times. Yet production cycles continue, and breeding, weaning and feeding activities need to be planned and prepared for. 

Throughout the year, the BCRC published blog posts once or twice a week. Articles provide science-based insight into issues impacting Canada’s beef sector. Some articles from the past year featured producers’ perspectives and tips on topics such as animal-handling or how to improve forages. Other articles featured calculators and tools designed to help beef producers make strategic decisions. Some featured new research, while others focus on a timely response to on-the-ground challenges. 

The BCRC strives to provide relevant science and economic-based information to producers throughout the year and we value the feedback of our audience. Which posts stood out for you? What are some topics you would like to see as we flip the calendar to a new year?

Below are the BCRC’s Top 10 blog posts of 2021.   
Canadian beef cattle during drought in pasture with dwindling water supply
10. Decision Making During Drought

Dealing with drought is hard, but there are some strategies producers can use to help them make the best of a tough situation. Marketing cull cows earlier than normal, drylotting cows or weaning calves earlier can reduce pressure on feed and pastures.  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

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

Today’s Research Provides Tomorrow’s Solutions

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Today’s research won’t help you weather this year’s drought, but the practical information and advice you’ll read elsewhere in this issue (and at www.beefresearch.ca) will. Those pasture management, early weaning, creep-feeding, feed and water testing, alternative feeds and ration balancing tips all originate from past research done by scientists and refined by producers. But producer-funded research underway today will help us cope with future droughts.
beef cattle kicking up dust in dry pasture
Crops, pastures and haylands throughout Western and Central Canada are parched. In a lot of places, the only green and thriving forage plants are forage legumes like alfalfa, vetches, trefoil, sweet clover and sainfoin. Legumes have specialized roots that allow them to capture nitrogen from the air and convert it into plant protein. This improves soil fertility and forage and animal productivity. Their root systems can also extend very deep into the soil and allow them to access subsoil moisture that shallow-rooted plants can’t reach during times of drought. Canada’s forage researchers are working hard today to develop tomorrow’s forage varieties and management practices that will improve productivity, nutritional quality and resilience under challenging environmental conditions. Continue reading

Tips for Starting Lightweight Calves on Feed



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

Decision Making During Drought


Canadian beef cattle during drought in pasture with dwindling water supply
Producers coping with severe drought and feed shortages have tough decisions to make about culling, weaning and cow management. The following considerations may be helpful when making herd decisions in the coming weeks and into the fall:

Culling

  • Know what feed sources you have available and the true nutritional quality of them so you can make the best decisions for your herd. Sending representative feed samples to a lab for analysis and working with a nutritionist or livestock specialist who can interpret the results and help develop balanced rations is crucially important.
  • Prevent cows you plan to keep in the herd from losing too much condition. Cows with an ideal amount of fat cover (a body condition score of 3.0) eat less and are easier to maintain through the winter and get rebred. Cull early to help keep the remainder of the herd in good condition.
  • Now is a good time to let go of any cattle you have let slide through in previous culls. Check your records. Cull anything that has a bad temperament, that has been treated repeatedly for health issues or that weans calves that perform below your herd benchmarks.
  • The value of the investment in pregnancy checking your herd is even more evident in dry years as it allows you to cull any open or late-calving cows.
  • Consider culling any bulls that are older or that are producing less desirable progeny based on your records.

Continue reading

Experts Respond to Drought Questions


Experiencing drought stress? Watch recording of webinar for beef producers.
On July 29, the Beef Cattle Research Council hosted a webinar that allowed beef producers to ask drought-related questions to a panel of nutrition and animal health experts. Producers asked for everything from recommendations for grazing canola, how to manage for antinutritional factors, tips on ammoniation and to how to manage grass into the fall. While questions were varied and diverse, a few main themes emerged.

Feed testing:

In a drought year, testing your feed sources is more important than ever. Especially when using alternative feed sources, a feed test allows you to understand what you have in terms of energy and protein and therefore what you will need to supplement to maintain the health and body condition of cows and other classes of cattle. A feed test will also identify some of the antinutritional factors and potential toxic levels of substances such as nitrates or sulfates that are more prevalent in drought years or unconventional feeds. Feed tests can be performed on standing or swathed crops, bales or silage. A feed test can be instrumental in determining how a particular feed will fit into your overall feeding strategy. Continue reading

Drought-Related Resources for Cattle Producers

General

Experts Respond To Drought QuestionsBlog Post with Webinar Recording – August 10, 2021
Includes key points and the full recording of a webinar held on July 29, 2021 that answered producer questions about feeding cattle during a drought. https://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/expert-responses-to-drought-questions/

Decision Making During Drought – Blog Post – August 18, 2021
Considerations that may be helpful when making herd decisions such as culling, early weaning and winter feeding. https://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/decision-making-during-drought/

Drought Management Strategies – Topic Webpage
A complete overview that covers many producer considerations during and after a drought. Includes links to additional resources and calculators.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/droughtmanagement

Resources for Drought Management – Blog Post – April 29, 2021
Includes 8 tips for dealing with drought as well as links to BCRC and other resources that producers may find useful while in a drought.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/resources-for-drought-management/

Feed Value, Options and Quality

Salvaging a Crop? Here Are Some Things to Consider When Valuing a Crop for Feed – Blog Post and Calculator – July 23, 2021
Intended to aid producers when determining the value of salvaged crop for feed.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/salvaging-a-crop-here-are-some-things-to-consider-when-valuing-a-crop-for-feed/
* Note: Potential residue from chemical use should be a consideration. Download the VBP+ Salvaging Damaged Crops for Livestock Feed Fact Sheet.

Feed Testing & Analysis for Beef Cattle – Topic Webpage and Interactive Decision Tool
It is essential, especially in drought conditions, that producers test their feed and balance rations accordingly. This webpage includes information on how and why to test feed as well as an interactive calculator. Producers can input their feed test results to determine whether the feed should be supplemented based on the group of cattle they plan to feed it to. **It is important to note this tool does not take into account other antinutritional factors (e.g. nitrates and sulfates) that can be a more common problem with alternative feeds.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/research/feed-value-estimator.cfm

Alternative Feeds – Topic Webpage
With drought being so widespread, producers will be turning to different crops to help get them through the fall and winter. This webpage includes information on things to consider when feeding alternatives as well as specific information on many of the feed sources producers may be considering. http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/alternative-feeds-100

Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator – Excel Calculator
This Excel-based calculator allows producers to compare cattle diets on a low-cost basis. It is not designed for balancing rations. https://www.beefresearch.ca/files/xls/Winterfeed_Cost_Calc_Final_Locked.xlsx

Water

Test Stock Water to Reduce Worry Blog Post – May 19, 2021
http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/test-stock-water-reduce-worry/
What’s in Your Stock Water – Blog Post – August 27, 2019
https://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/whats-in-your-stock-water/
These two blog posts include information on why and how to test, where to send samples, and how to interpret results.

Water Systems for Beef Cattle Topic Webpage
Includes graphics on water quality and things to consider when setting up a new or temporary water source, as well as information on different types of watering systems.  http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/water-systems-for-beef-cattle-104

What’s in your Water? Water Quality and the Economics of Pump Systems WebinarWebinar Recorded March 2019
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRixe81liXU&t=328s

Feed and Water Testing DemonstrationVideo Recorded August 2020
2020 Canadian Beef Industry Conference Bov-Innovation Session
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kY9apaZs1rw

Additional Resources

Pregnancy Detection ­– Topic Webpage
With low feed supplies, producers may consider early culling of open animals. This webpage includes information on pregnancy detection as well as a calculator that allows producers to determine whether preg checking will pay off on their operation.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/pregnancy-detection-90

Mycotoxins ­– Topic Webpage
Many producers may be turning to feeds they aren’t used to feeding this fall. Mycotoxins are more of a risk in wet conditions but they still can be present when it is dry as well. This page includes information on mycotoxins, testing, and what producers can do about them:  http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/mycotoxins-94

Creep Feeding – Blog Post – August 20, 2015
Nutritionist John McKinnon explains how creep feeding can reduce stress on cows during a drought and what to consider when making the decision to creep feed.
http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/creep-feeding-mckinnon/

Body Condition Topic Webpage and Blog Post – October 19, 2021 
With short feed supplies it can be tempting to feed cows lower quality or less feed. Dropping body condition in cattle, especially those in later pregnancy in the fall and winter, can have negative effects on animal welfare, herd productivity, and long-term economics. This webpage includes information on how to accurately score body condition, the risks of low body condition scores, and a calculator producers can input numbers into to determine the economic effects of changing body condition scores in their herds. https://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/optimum-condition-maximum-production/
http://www.beefresearch.ca/research/body-condition-scoring.cfm

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