Recurring droughtis a natural part of the climate in many areas of Canada and creates a challenge when managing grazing and forage resources. Although droughts are often unpredictable, they are inevitable, meaning they are often at the back of every producer’s mind. Long-term farm and ranch management must include planning for and consideration of how drought will affect the entire system – including plants, livestock and water sources.
Eight tips for drought management
When managing through a drought, consider combining groups of animals to encourage grazing of less desirable plants and grazing pastures with species that are more tolerant of increased grazing pressure. It is important to monitor for toxic or poisonous plants, which are more likely to be grazed during dry years.
Sources of water for grazing animals can quickly become limited or unavailable during drought periods. It is recommended that any pastures that could possibly run out of water be grazed first. In some cases, it may become necessary to use a portable stock water supply in order to continue grazing a forage source where water has become limited.
Top layer spoiled silage in a bunk. Photo credit: Les Halliday
Harvesting, storing and delivering a beef herd’s winter rations are the largest expense for most operations. Even small improvements in a winter feed system can result in significant feed cost savings.
Whether a winter feed system uses a silage bunk or pit, baled forage, or swath grazing, significant feed waste losses can happen. Spoilage, mould, trampling, and weather are just a few examples of how losses can occur.
In addition to the expense of the feed lost, cow-calf operations can experience significant reproductive losses from spoiled or low-quality feed such as cows failing to rebreed the following breeding season and poor calf performance. Continue reading →
Feed prices are driven by supply, demand and the price of alternatives. Winter feed presents the largest variable cost for producers. As producers look for ways to protect margins and minimize losses this fall, there are opportunities to be found in examining low-cost feed alternatives.
While the cost of some inputs cannot be controlled by any one operation, producers can control their budget for high-quality rations. Knowing where a crop may fall short on nutrition is a critical first step, and a feed test will point out where supplementary nutrients may be required for a herd. The next step is sourcing nutrients at the lowest price, choosing from a variety of feedstuff that offer nutrient balance. The Beef Cattle Research Council’s Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator is a decision-making tool that helps producers compare the cost of feed alternatives available in their area.
With cattle feed being swathed, harvested, or already in the silage bunk or bale now is the time to start thinking about testing feed. Although it is best to feed test as close as possible to the day the animal will be consuming it, testing now, as well as again closer to the time of feeding, can help you determine if supplemental feed will be needed and provide time to source it.
A common question from producers is, now that I have my feed test results, what do I do with it? What do all those numbers mean? And how do I make use of this information on my operation? Recognizing this need for some general information to help producers better utilize their feed tests, the Tool for Evaluating Feed Test Results was developed by the Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre. This tool allows you to input the results of your feed test along with the class of animal you intend to feed and it will give you a green light (OK to feed), yellow light (be cautious if feeding as a stand-alone feed source), or red light (don’t feed this as a stand-alone feed source).
Note that this tool is not intended for use in ration balancing, but rather to alert you to potential issues with individual feed ingredients. It is strongly recommended that producers seek advice from a qualified professional to develop a balanced ration or familiarize yourself with ration balancing software like CowBytes.Continue reading →
Fall has arrived and focus has shifted to winter feed supplies. Feed prices have dropped significantly from their June highs, but unfavorable weather conditions have left the question of available supplies. Hay prices vary significantly with prices in some areas with short supplies nearly double those in areas with adequate supplies. On the other hand, there could be numerous options for alternate winter feeds this year as some crops originally intended for grain are being harvested as livestock feed. Harvest delays and the likelihood of frost damage has led to quality downgrades. Alberta feed barley prices have dropped 13% from the June peak at $205/ton to $179/ton in September, and market analysts project that the feed grain markets have not hit bottom yet.
In eastern Canada, last year’s fall and winter conditions caused significant winter kill on the winter wheat and hay crops, while spring planting was delayed due to excessive moisture. According to local market reports, the fears of supply shortage have sent Ontario wheat straw prices to $0.06-0.10/lb in some areas compared to the historical range of $0.03-0.04/lb. Cool, wet weather in August and September are also causing harvest delays in the east, with the possibility of more cereal crops going to the feed market.
Do you ever look at a feed analysis report and think “huh?” Unsure of how to collect and send away feed samples for testing? Want to be sure you’re using feed wisely so your cattle perform as expected without wasting valuable feed? This webinar is for you.
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This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2017 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Averages are useful statistics, but sometimes averages can be misleading. As the University of Saskatchewan’s late Iain Christison said, “the average human has one breast and one testicle”. Canada’s rainfall may be close to average this year – but much of the country is experiencing severe drought, and most of the rest is soaked. Either way, low yields, unharvestable or spoiled forage mean that winter feed supplies will be below average in many places, and nutritional value likely won’t be average, either.
For instance, drought-stricken pastures and forage crops have lower levels of carotene, which cattle need to produce vitamin A. A recent paper from Cheryl Waldner and Fabienne Uehlinger of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (Can. J. Anim. Sci. 97:65-82) looked at 150 beef cow-calf herds in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Calves born the spring following a drought had a much higher risk of vitamin A deficiency, and calves with severe vitamin A deficiency were nearly three times more likely to die than those with higher levels. Continue reading →
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the August 2015 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Winter feed will be a scarce and costly resource in much of Western Canada this year. Use it carefully, because the management decisions you make now will impact reproductive and economic performance for at least two years.
Research conducted 25 years ago by P.L. Houghton and co-workers at Perdue University (J. An. Sci. 68:1438) demonstrated how energy intake by pregnant and lactating cows impacted their reproductive and calf performance. At the start of the last trimester (early January for cows calving in April), cows were fed in two groups. One group received a maintenance diet (ME) meeting recommended energy intake. The other was fed a low energy diet (LE) providing 70% of recommended energy intake. After calving, each group was split again, with cows receiving either the low energy diet or a high energy diet (HE; 130% of recommended energy intake). Skimping on nutrition in late pregnancy and after calving impacted both Continue reading →
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the July 2014 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Ergot develops when a fungus called Claviceps purpurea infects susceptible grass and grain plants during flowering. Rye is most susceptible annual crop, followed by triticale, then wheat. Barley and oats are less susceptible but not completely resistant. Ergot is not a concern in corn. Ergot can also infect a number of perennial grasses. Cool, damp weather conditions during the flowering period (like those in Western Canada over the last few years, and that appear to be shaping up again this summer) cause the flowers stay open longer. This allows more opportunities for ergot spores to spread and infect the seed head. Ergot spores can survive for a year on the soil surface. Less summer fallow, continuous grain-on-grain rotations and un-mowed grass in road allowances allow ergot spores to build up in the soil and help the disease cycle to continue and build.
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the April 2014 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Last month’s column talked about how cold, snowy winters increase the energy needs of cows, especially when wintered on pasture, and how cows will use their body fat reserves to maintain themselves if the feed doesn’t provide enough energy. Reproductive performance will drop if thin cows don’t recover their body condition.
A 2013 paper published by the Cheryl Waldner and Alvaro García Guerra of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon reported on a two-year study of over 30,000 beef cows from more than 200 herds across Western Canada (Theriogenology 79:1083-1094). Cows were Continue reading →