Cracking the Code on Grazing Management Terminology: Animal Units, AUMs, & How to Apply Them


mixed beef cattle grazing green grass
Does it feel like grazing management information is shrouded in acronyms and terms that boggle the mind on first glance? Do you struggle to decipher terms like animal unit equivalents? And how does one go about calculating AUMs and then applying those numbers? Be reassured, you’re not alone! There’s a lot going on when sorting through the finer points of grazing management and figuring out how to work through the many calculations.

A good starting point is defining a grazing animal in terms of how much forage it requires to meet its nutritional demands. We know that grazing animals’ forage needs differ depending on class, weight, age and stage of production. And in order to account for those differences, it’s helpful to create a baseline in order to quantify forage demand. Continue reading

Two Methods, Four Steps for Calculating Carrying Capacity



Carrying capacity, also known as grazing capacity, is the amount of forage available for grazing animals in a specific pasture or field. Calculating the correct carrying capacity will help you determine a proper stocking rate that maintains productivity of both your animals and forage while encouraging the sustained health of the grassland resources.

Stocking rate is the number of animals on a pasture for a specified time period and is usually expressed in Animal Unit Months (AUMs) per unit area.

One way to determine carrying capacity is to obtain past stocking rates and grazing management information and assess the condition of the pasture. But what if the historical stocking rate data is not available or you are unsure of its accuracy and reliability?

Carrying capacity can be calculated using several different techniques. All of them depend on some trial and error as they are monitored and adjusted over time. When calculating carrying capacity, it boils down to three questions:

  1. How much forage is available?
  2. How much of that forage can be used by grazing animals?
  3. How many animals can graze on that piece of land and for how long?


BCRC Carrying Capacity Calculator
The BCRC Carrying Capacity Calculator provides a road map for answering these questions using two separate methods: 1) forage estimates based on provincial guides and 2) field-based sampling, also known as the clip and weigh method. Each method contains four steps. 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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Call for Nominations- Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation

The Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation is presented by the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) each year to recognize a researcher or scientist whose work has contributed to advancements in the competitiveness and sustainability of the Canadian beef industry.

Nominations are welcome from all industry stakeholders. Download the nomination form here. Nominations must be submitted info@beefresearch.ca no later than May 1st with 3 or more letters of support that speak to the nominee’s influence on Canada’s beef industry.

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*Upcoming Webinar* Grazing Game Plan: How to Develop a Grazing Plan- February 9



Grazing is an essential part of raising cattle on the Canadian landscape. Whether you have been managing cattle on grass for years or are just starting, it is important to have a plan. A grazing plan matches animal numbers to predicted forage yields to help balance supply and demand. Ideally, a grazing plan is in place before cattle are turned out. An important first step in developing a plan includes defining goals and objectives for the entire grazing operation. This webinar will cover the basics of developing a grazing plan.

Register for our upcoming webinar on February 9th and hear from two industry experts from western and eastern regions of Canada as well as a producer who will be sharing their practical perspective. The speakers will provide insight and answer your questions about developing and executing a grazing plan that meets your short- and long-term goals.

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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

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

How Mother Nature Hedges Her Bets

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

Pasture plants are generally classified as decreasers, increasers and invaders. Decreaser species are the plants you want to see and your cattle prefer to eat, so they face the most grazing pressure. Increaser plants tend to thrive when the decreaser species are challenged by overgrazing, drought or other sub-optimal conditions. Invaders (weeds) proliferate when increasers and the remaining decreasers are so weakened by overgrazing or environmental extremes that they have a hard time competing for nutrients, water and sunlight. 
cattle grazing on healthy, green pastures
Healthy, productive pastures are dominated by decreasers. The composition of the decreaser community in healthy native rangelands was shaped by thousands of years of natural selection and environmental pressures. In tame pastures, humans take the wheel from Mother Nature as we seek to establish and maintain a stand of tame decreaser species that can be productive and long-lived in our particular soil and climate conditions. In both native and tame pastures, good grazing managers adjust stocking densities, grazing intensities, grazing and rest period length and frequency, etc. based on annual and seasonal variations in growing conditions to maintain pasture health and optimize long-term forage and animal productivity. Continue reading

Carrying or Grazing Capacity

Are you managing a new-to-you pasture and you need to determine how to stock it? Perhaps it has been recently purchased or rented, or you simply don’t trust the information provided on historical stocking rates.

The first principle of pasture management is to balance the available forage supply with livestock demand. Carrying capacity (also known as grazing capacity) is the amount of forage available for grazing animals in a specific pasture or field. A substantial amount of Canada’s rangeland is in some form of public ownership (e.g. grazing leases, forest grazing allotments) and has carrying capacity data available. With privately owned or recently acquired land however, there may not be any information on historical forage production and carrying capacity.

Carrying Capacity is defined as the average number of livestock and/or wildlife that may be sustained on a pasture that fits the management goals. Site characteristics, such as soil, water, plant, and topography of the pasture, can impact carrying capacity. Forage production and availability for grazing can also affect carrying capacity. Source: Society for Range Management, 1998.

Carrying capacity can be calculated using a variety of techniques. All of them depend more or less on trial and error as they are monitored and adjusted over time as the carrying capacity for an individual year varies from the long-term average for the pasture. The effectiveness of each method depends on the kind of grazing land, but a combination of methods is generally required. Continue reading

Assessing winter kill and what you can do about it: forage rejuvenation webinar February 13


Winter kill shown on the left. Photo submitted by Graeme Finn.

Several factors can influence the abundance of winter kill each year. This webinar will discuss how to assess winter kill in alfalfa and other species, and identify the next steps to rejuvenate the forage.

Registering on your smartphone? After you click ‘I am not a robot’, scroll up until you find the task to complete.

When
Thursday, February 13th 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

Continue reading