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.

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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

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Plan to Adapt When Grazing



Adaptive grazing herd management applies to grazing practices that are developed with careful consideration to the specific conditions that exist on individual farms and ranches. When it comes to adaptive grazing management, it’s all about using the resources you have available and incorporating different techniques depending on where you live, says rancher and consultant Sean McGrath. McGrath spoke about the value of being flexible but also the importance of making a plan and measuring success, during a BCRC webinar last winter.

Managing the movement of cattle through pastures or paddocks will help producers achieve energy efficiency. “Plants are solar panels and to make them efficient, we need to make sure there are solar panels there to start with,” McGrath said. He pointed out that it is much cheaper for cattle to graze than it is to manually feed them and understanding the key principles of grazing management is vital for adaptive management (skip ahead to 15:05).

Producers should manage herd movement to prevent overgrazing, which is defined as a plant being grazed before it has recovered from the previous grazing event. “We would never cut a hay field on the first of June and come back and hay it on June 10. A pasture is no different,” McGrath reasoned.

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Three producers share ideas that improve efficiency

Editors note: This article is the third in a series featuring ideas from beef producers across the country. See the first: Eight beef producers share their recent changes and second: Five Producers Share Ideas That Have Made Their Farms And Ranches More Efficient

Beef producers across the country are always looking to improve management and production practices that not only benefit cattle, but also reduce their workload, and help to save time and money.

It may involve improved calf identification measures, installing remote cameras to monitor watering systems, or adopting quiet livestock handling practices in a flexible year-round grazing system. They all help to improve beef production efficiency.

Here are some measures three beef producers say has benefited their operations:

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Forage Establishment: New web page

Editor’s note: Relevant and up-to-date information that had been available on Foragebeef.ca is gradually being added to BeefResearch.ca. (More information). The  New Forage Establishment page, which is previewed below, is one example. Further webpages will be added or updated on BeefResearch.ca to include the valuable content from Foragebeef.ca, ensuring that information remains freely available online. Completion is expected by Spring 2020.

Begin planning at least 18 months prior to seeding forages to effectively control weeds and manage fertility

Forage establishment is a long-term investment requiring careful planning, preparation, species selection and management to ensure success. Proper establishment of the forage stand plays a vital role in stand productivity and longevity. Begin planning at least 18 months prior to seeding forages to effectively control weeds and manage fertility.

Selecting the Right Forage

Land managers must carefully consider the long-term needs and goals for the forage stand and how it will function within their operation to select the appropriate species. Planning is key. Start at least 18 months prior to seeding to allow time for proper species selection, weed control, seedbed preparation, soil tests and pre-seeding fertilization. Perennial stands will usually be in production for many years, so treat it like a long-term investment. Environmental factors, intended use and stand life will impact forage species selection. Consider the land type, forage needs and utilization for the stand. Continue reading

New Web Page: Extended Grazing

Editor’s note: Relevant and up-to-date information that had been available on Foragebeef.ca is gradually being added to BeefResearch.ca. (More information). The new Extended Grazing page, which is previewed below, is one example. Further webpages will be added or updated on BeefResearch.ca to include the valuable content from Foragebeef.ca, ensuring that information remains freely available online. Completion is expected by Spring 2020.

Methods to extend the grazing season, including stockpiled perennial forages, use of annual forages, crop residues, and bales left in the field, have considerable economic and environmental benefits over traditional winter-feeding systems. Well managed systems reduce or eliminate labour, feed harvesting, transport and delivery, and manure handling. These systems also allow for flexibility in returning nutrients back to the land instead of concentrating animals in pens. However, the ability to implement a winter grazing system is dependent on a number of variables including water availability, snow conditions, provision of shelter, and forage use by wildlife.

As with all winter management scenarios, caution is required when managing calves, young cows, thin cows and cows with calves, as they require higher levels of energy and management than mature dry cows.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the economic and environmental benefits of extended grazing systems. Costs of production are reduced compared to more traditional winter feeding in confinement, along with benefits to the environment and agronomic performance due to improved soil fertility and forage yields. Barriers for adoption expressed by producers include too much snow, lack of a winter water source, cold weather, feed waste, animal welfare and animal performance, all potential risks which must be carefully monitored and managed. Continue reading

Rejuvenation of Hay and Pasture: New Web Page

Editor’s note: Relevant and up-to-date information that had been available on Foragebeef.ca is gradually being added to BeefResearch.ca. (More information). The new Rejuvenation of Hay and Pasture page, which is previewed below, is one example. Further webpages will be added or updated on BeefResearch.ca to include the valuable content from Foragebeef.ca, ensuring that information remains freely available online. Completion is expected by Spring 2020. 

Rejuvenation of a forage stand, whether hay or pasture, involves using one or a combination of methods to increase productivity with a shift towards higher yielding forage species that provide improved nutritive value for livestock.

The first step in deciding whether to rejuvenate a forage stand is comparing the potential productivity with the current status of the pasture or hayfield. This will help determine if, and what, improvements or management changes are needed.

A stand assessment starts with evaluation of the current plant population. What desirable plant species are present as compared to undesirable plants? Are there invasive species? Poisonous plants? Are there large areas of bare ground and evidence of erosion? Conducting a pasture or range health assessment is an important first step to identify best options for rejuvenation.

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ForageBeef.ca Gets a Facelift

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Canada’s National Beef Strategy has four goals that our industry aims to achieve by 2020. For the past year this column has explained how research is contributing to a 15% increase in carcass cut-out value (the Beef Demand pillar), a 15% improvement in production efficiency (Productivity), and a 7% reduction in cost disadvantages compared to Canada’s main competitors (Competitiveness). The fourth goal (Connectivity) is about improving communication within industry and with consumers, the public, government and partner industries. Research contributes science-based information to underpin fact-based communication, policy and regulation, as well as extension (also known as technology transfer) activities to translate research results into improved on-farm production and management practices.

Extension used to be a core mandate for governments and universities; they all had extension staff, held field days and published producer-focused bulletins. Some researchers are still active in extension, but most institutions have shifted their focus to scientific research and technology development. The private sector has filled the extension gap in spots, especially where there is a clear profit motive for the company or individual doing the extension. This often works best when there is a product to sell, like a nutritional supplement, vaccine, or electric fencer. It is more challenging for the private sector to justify extension when the product is a management practice that is hard for a company to charge for, needs to be highly customized to suit individual operations, or primarily benefits the customer. Examples include low-cost winter feeding, crossbreeding, rotational grazing, and low-stress handling. Private sector extension can also be difficult with practices that benefit the overall industry but might not directly or immediately profit any specific individual (e.g. some animal welfare practices, antimicrobial and environmental stewardship). The BCRC tries to fill those gaps. Continue reading