Calf 911 – How to Manage Colostrum to Allow Newborn Calves to Thrive *New Video*

Ensuring newborn calves consume colostrum is one of the most important management strategies cow-calf operations can implement to promote healthy calves. Colostrum provides essential antibodies (like Immunoglobulin G or IgG) to a calf with virtually no immune system. Colostrum also contains fats, vitamins, proteins and other immune cells essential to provide the calf energy, warmth and the local immunity it requires to thrive in the first few days of life. This initial immunity will protect against calfhood diseases such as scours, navel abscesses, septic arthritis and pneumonia.

Calves that are born unassisted and uncompromised will typically stand and nurse from their mothers within one to two hours after birth. However, calves that experience a difficult or prolonged birth, have a swollen tongue, experience hypothermia or are a twin may be less vigorous and unable to stand and nurse during that critical period. A cow with a large udder, poor udder suspension and/or large teats may also limit a calf’s ability to receive adequate colostrum.

It is crucial for producers to observe newborn calves to make sure they have received colostrum and to intervene if necessary. Look closely to see if any of the cow’s teats have been suckled, feel if the calf’s belly is full and check the hooves to see if the rubbery capsule has been worn off to indicate standing. Checking a calf’s suckle reflex by sticking your fingers in the calf’s mouth is also a simple indicator to demonstrate whether the suckle reflex is weak and the calf needs to be supplemented with colostrum. 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

Be Mindful of Minerals

What mineral supplementation do I need and when do I need it?

Beef producers might know they should supplement their herds with mineral, but trying to wade through all the choices at the livestock supply store can be overwhelming. Commercial suppliers seem to make claims and offer something different, but with tubs and bags of every colour and price available, how to you know which one is right for your herd? What minerals do your cattle actually need and how is it best delivered?

total mixed feed ration for beef cattle


In general, beef cattle producers should be supplementing mineral to their herds whether they are grazing or being fed a winter ration.

Megan Van Schaik, a Beef Cattle Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) says there are some key things producers want to look at. In general, producers should be supplementing mineral to their herds whether they are grazing or being fed a winter ration.

Van Schaik says there are a host of variables that impact mineral nutrition and deficiencies in beef herds. “They present in many different ways and alarm bells usually go off when we see reproductive issues,” she says, but adds that mineral status can be linked to general health problems and even calf abnormalities. Mineral deficiencies can also cause less obvious production losses that can be easily avoided with proper supplementation. Continue reading

Bale Feeding Options: Pros and Cons of Common Strategies



Bale feeding is common across Canada for all classes of cattle especially during winter months. There are many different management strategies to deliver bales as feed. To help you determine the best option for you and your cattle, see below for pros and cons of three common bale feeding strategies:

  • Rolling out bales/using a bale processor and feeding on pasture
  • Bale grazing
  • Round feeder

When thinking about each strategy for your operation, consider the following: What are the nutritional requirements of your cattle? What is the nutritional quality of your forage? What equipment do you currently have? What equipment do you need? How much time do you have to dedicate to feed management?

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What’s the most profitable post-weaning choice for your calves? Try our updated calculator!


Backgrounding, preconditioning, calf, calculator
Drought conditions across the country this year remind us of the importance of a drought management plan. Diversifying a cow-calf operation with a backgrounding enterprise could be part of a drought mitigation strategy as backgrounded cattle can be sold or move to a feedlot to free up feed supplies or pasture for the cow herd. While backgrounding may not be an option of many producers this year due to tight feed supplies, now might be a good time to start thinking if this strategy fits your operation.

The Beef Cattle Research Council’s Preconditioning and Backgrounding Calculator (download the .xlxs file) is designed to identify economic opportunities and risks from preconditioning or backgrounding cattle. The calculator has recently been updated to allow more flexibility in price projections. The cattle price index database embedded in the calculator is updated with the latest five-year (2016-2020) provincial data from British Columbia to Quebec.

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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

Beef Cattle Nutrition: New Topic Page



Through the action of a diverse microbial community in the rumen, cattle have a digestive system that allows them to digest roughage, like hay and grass, and concentrates such as barley grain or dry distillers’ grains. Feed costs, including both grazed and conserved feed, are the greatest expense associated with beef cattle operations. Since nutrition is often the most important factor influencing reproductive performance, managing feed resources at a reasonable cost to consistently achieve high reproductive rates will help ensure profitability for beef cattle operations.

Key Nutrients Required by Cattle

Cattle require energy, protein, water, vitamins and minerals in suitable amounts to provide adequate nutrition. Young, actively growing forages and legume blends can often meet the nutritional requirements for normal growth and maintenance of cattle herds. Mature pastures, crop residues, or other low-quality forages may have reduced nutritive value, requiring supplementation of protein, energy or additional vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal health. Certain nutrients are required in the daily ration, while others can be manufactured and stored in the body. Continue reading

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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Time for a Back-Up Plan – Managing the Impacts of Drought in the Winter

(4 minute read)

In an ideal world, producers can plan ahead for their feed requirements in the spring and be prepared well before the first snowflake falls. Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t always comply. Dry conditions from the previous growing season or earlier can leave producers feeling worried about forage supplies. What if winter is longer than expected? What if next year is dry again? Coping with drought is a serious reality in many regions across Canada, however beef producers are inventive, resilient, and experienced. If the original plan isn’t working, they make adjustments.

When it comes to withstanding drought, the best defence is a good offence. Drought planning and preparation is best done in advance. While that may be little comfort to producers currently coping with dry conditions, there are many strategies that can help farmers prepare for the long-term or help them to recover their drought-ravaged resources in the coming seasons.

Plant material left ungrazed is not a waste, but rather becomes litter, a “rancher’s insurance policy.” Litter shades soil and roots, reduces soil temperatures, improves water retention and infiltration, provides nutrients to grazing plants, and minimizes moisture lost to evaporation.

  • Balance available forage supply with the number of cattle grazing.
  • Avoid overgrazing by providing effective rest for pasture plants during the growing season. This helps to maintain a resilient plant community, by allowing the canopy cover – the plant’s solar panels – to capture energy and store it in the root system.
  • Combine smaller herds into one or two larger herds that can rotationally graze. This allows more pastures the opportunity to rest.
  • Choose to graze pastures that may be better able to resist intense grazing, such as tame plant communities like crested wheat grass.
  • Manage grazing to allow for plant litter, or residue, to be left behind after grazing. Litter is sometimes referred to as a “rancher’s insurance policy” and is incredibly valuable particularly during dry conditions. Litter shades and insulates the soil surface, breaks down into valuable nutrients, reduces soil temperatures, increases water retention and infiltration, and minimizes moisture lost to evaporation.
  • Test dwindling stock water sources to ensure they are safe for cattle.

For farmers that were challenged with a dry growing season, their efforts are focused on getting the cow herd through the winter feeding period while maintaining the nutritional needs of their pregnant cows. Winter weather is unpredictable and these needs can change as cold weather fluctuates. Sometimes opportunity feed sources arise even as winter progresses and resourceful producers may seek alternative feeds and forages to fill the gaps.

  • Frozen or damaged crops, processing by-products, fruit or vegetable waste, and even weeds, can all be sources of feed for cattle in addition to more mainstream alternatives like annual cereals or cover crops.
  • Perform a feed test analysis on alternative feed ingredients to determine their nutritional value, and to rule out any potential anti-quality factors such as mycotoxins.
  • Work with a livestock extension specialist or nutritionist to balance rations and ensure non-conventional feeds are meeting the nutritional requirements of cattle particular to their age, stage, class, and condition.
  • Calculate the cost of incorporating alternative feeds using BCRC’s decision-making tool Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator.



Beef producers may consider an extended grazing season. While it may not be practical for all operations, some producers can reduce costs and labour and manage manure effectively by keeping cattle out of the corral and on the land for longer.

  • Cattle can graze crop residue, failed crops, forage on stockpiled grass, or eat bales placed out on fields. Providing conventional or alternative supplements such as pellets, grain, or by-products may be an economical way to meet nutritional demands.
  • Make sure cattle have access to fresh water and shelter. Consider infrastructure, such as fencing, windbreaks, or stock water, that needs to be developed to make extended grazing a reality. Can the infrastructure be used or re-purposed in the future?
  • Closely monitor the body condition of grazing cattle. Remember that a cow’s winter hair coat can mask her true state and a hands-on body condition score (BCS) is the best way to be sure.
  • Extended grazing can work well for mature, dry cows in good condition, but young cows, calves, pairs, or old, thin cows require careful supervision.
  • Winter grazing conditions can be highly variable. Too much snow, extremely cold temperatures, or hungry wildlife eating away at forage supplies, can throw a wrench in plans. Producers must have a back-up plan and be prepared to switch gears if necessary.

Drought is often a time to make strategic marketing decisions and free up much needed forage or pen space by deliberately moving some cattle down the trail.

  • Consider preg-checking early and selling open cows that will not provide you with a marketable calf. Producers can use our Economics of Pregnancy Testing decision support tool to determine the best option for managing open cows.
  • Cull older, thin cows while they still retain their value and well before they become a transport risk or a welfare concern.
  • If you typically retain ownership in calves, background feeders, or develop replacement heifers, look at your options and pencil out the cost of keeping the status quo.

Managing forage, water, cattle, and soils can be complicated even during good years. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst is perhaps the only practical approach producers can take when drought has limited resources and the impending winter is uncertain. However, beef producers have been rising to the challenge for generations, and their resourcefulness and adaptability will help them.

Learn More:

Body Condition Scoring (Calculator & Information) – BeefResearch.ca

Drought Management Strategies – BeefResearch.ca

Economics of Pregnancy Testing Beef Cattle Model (Calculator) – BeefResearch.ca

Extended Grazing – BeefResearch.ca

Feed testing and Analysis for Beef Cattle (Calculator & Information) – BeefResearch.ca

Mycotoxins – BeefResearch.ca

What’s in Your (Stock) Water? (Blog) – BeefResearch.ca

Winter Feeding Cost Comparison (Calculator & Blog) – BeefResearch.ca

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Winter Feeding Cost Comparison – Hay vs. Alternative Feeds



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.

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