This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2021 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine 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.
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 →
Forested rangelands and partially or completely forested areas are widespread in many areas of Canada. The benefits of using forested areas in grazing includes increased pasture acres, temporarily or permanently, while providing protection for livestock from the elements.
The integration of livestock into agroforestry systems has many benefits for both the livestock and the environment including fire suppression/prevention by reducing fuel load on the forest floor, shade and protection for livestock, protection from winter winds and other inclement weather patterns, provides wildlife habitat, diversification opportunities, carbon sequestration and opportunities to rest other pastures.
While forest grazing can offer many benefits to the land and the animals, some risks exist and must be managed for, such as impacts on forest regeneration, altered forest composition, water quality, compaction and erosion.
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.
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.
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:
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 Grazing Management webpage, 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.
Effective grazing management on pastures not only ensures high forage yield, sustainability, animal health and productivity, all of which impact cost of production, it also benefits the pasture ecosystem. Innovations in pasture management give producers greater control to support the environment (e.g. biodiversity) but also allow them to better use pasture resources for food production.
Pasture is a critical resource in the cattle industry. An effective management plan requires clear understanding of forage production, realistic production goals, effective grazing strategies and timely response to forage availability and environmental changes. Managing grazing lands so that they are productive and persist over time requires knowing when to graze certain species, if they can withstand multiple grazings/cuttings within a single year and how much recovery time is needed to prevent overgrazing. Continue reading →
Cattle that consume forages with higher sugar content have higher rates of gain, improved performance and better rumen health.
In a past BCRC webinar, Gilles Bélanger, PhD, a Research Scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Robert Berthiaume, PhD, a dairy production expert in forage systems at Valacta, offered the following tips for producers to increase the sugar content in their forages:
Cut forages in late afternoon
As the day progresses, the plant increases in sugar content and is at its highest levels between 11 and 13 hours after sunrise (late afternoon). This benefit is maintained after cutting. Although swathing reduces the sugar content, it will remain higher in forages that were cut in late afternoon as compared to those cut in the morning. Learn more from the webinar recording: 9:05 -19:56.)
Choose forage species with naturally higher sugar concentrations In addition to management Continue reading →
Rangeland, or range, can perform a number of valuable functions for both the livestock industry as well the general public. Rangeland is defined as land that supports indigenous or introduced vegetation that is either grazed or has the potential to be grazed and is managed as a natural ecosystem. By evaluating its health, cattle producers can manage their grazing lands for optimal, sustainable forage production.
The benefits of maintaining healthy rangeland for livestock producers include:
Lower feed costs
Renewable and reliable source of forage production
Stability of forage production during drought
Greater flexibility and efficiency for alternate grazing seasons (fall or winter)
Lower maintenance costs like weed control
Does not require the input of inorganic fertilizers and other soil amedments and additives
In the previous episode of the Beef Research School, Dr. Paul Jefferson explained how to maximize your forage acres, including when to rejuvenate and when to reseed. In this episode, we take a closer look at rejuvenation methods.
Dr. Bart Lardner with the Western Beef Development Centre discusses why producers should consider fertilizing hay and pasture land. In addition to chemical fertilizer or composted manure, in-field winter feeding systems are another strategy to consider. Continue reading →
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the March 2013 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted with permission.
Soil is like a bank account. If the nutrient withdrawals are always larger and more frequent than the deposits, the land bank will eventually go broke.
Plants use nutrients from the soil (and carbon dioxide from the air) to grow roots, stems and leaves. Some plant nutrients get returned to the soil through decomposition, manure and urine, but a lot of them don’t. Cows use the nutrients to produce milk and rebreed, and calves turn the nutrients into weaning weight. Over time, a lot of soil nutrients leave the pasture and go through the auction ring at fall feeder sales. If nutrients aren’t returned to the pasture through fertilizer, pasture productivity will eventually drop, and more forage acres are needed to raise the same number of cattle.
Alfalfa and other legumes help restore soil nitrogen, increase forage yields and extend pasture carrying capacity. The risk of bloat when grazing pure alfalfa stands can be reduced through Continue reading →