Test Stock Water & Reduce Worry

When stock water appears abundant and water quality has been consistent in previous years, it’s easy to focus on other things but don’t overlook water testing. Poor quality stock water can lead to reproductive inefficiency, poor gains, disease and in extreme circumstances, death. Even when water supplies appear abundant, stock water may contain high levels of sodium, sulphates or other compounds that lead to toxicity.

cattle grazing near water


Photo credit, Tamara Carter

Water quality can be especially variable in surface water sources, such as dugouts, ponds or dams, and weather doesn’t necessarily need to be hot and dry to warrant regular testing. Precipitation levels in the previous years, groundwater recharge, runoff conditions, evaporation levels and adjacent land use can all impact water quality in both the short- and long-term.

It’s also important to monitor well water conditions. Quality in well water can change quickly, even if wells have had suitable water in the past.

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Resources for Drought Management


dry dugout in Canadian pasture
Recurring drought is 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.
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Water Systems: 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 Water Systems for Beef Cattle 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.

Water is an essential nutrient for cattle, accounting for between 50 and 80 percent of an animal’s live weight. For livestock to maximize feed intake and production, they require access to palatable water of adequate quality and quantity. Factors that determine water consumption include water quality, air and water temperature, humidity, moisture content of feed/forage, cattle type (calf, yearling, bull, cow) and the physiological state of the animal (gestation, maintenance, growing, lactating). Producers must consider individual grazing management strategies, site characteristics and economics when designing water systems.

For optimum health, cattle need a consistent source and adequate supply of water on a daily basis. Water quality and intake will affect cattle growth and performance. Access to fresh, clean water increases animals’ water intake, which in turn, increases their dry matter intake. This improves animal performance. Continue reading

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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What’s in your (stock) water?



Beef producers often worry about having too much water or not enough on their farms. However water quality, particularly in fluctuating stock water sources, may go unnoticed. As the summer wears on, evaporation, low rainfall, and consumption can cause the quantity and quality of surface water to dwindle. Meanwhile, hot and dry conditions cause cattle to be at their peak water demand.

“Poor quality drinking water is often a factor that limits intake,” said Leah Clark, livestock specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. “When we limit intake we limit production,” she explained in a recent webinar, adding that poor stock water quality can impact animal performance through reduced gains and decreased reproductive success. In severe cases, water quality issues can lead to disease and death. Testing stock water may be particularly important during a drought, when minerals and nutrients can become concentrated as water tables drop in surface or ground water.

Recent producer surveys indicate most Canadian farmers need to test water more often. In western Canada, 59% of producers reported they don’t test their water, and only 17-41% of Quebec and Ontario producers reported testing water once every five years.

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How much water is used to make a pound of beef?

Facts about water use and other environmental impacts of beef production in Canada

Yes, it takes water to produce beef, but in the 2.5 million years since our ancestors started eating meat, we haven’t lost a drop yet.

Based on the most recent science and extensive calculations of a wide range of factors, it is estimated that the pasture-to-plate journey of this important protein source requires about 1,910 US gallons per pound (or 15,944 litres per kilogram) of water to get Canadian beef to the dinner table. That’s what is known as the “water footprint” of beef production.

That may sound like a lot, but the fact is it doesn’t matter what crop or animal is being produced; food production takes water. Sometimes it sounds like a lot of water, but water that is used to produce a feed crop or cattle is not lost. Water is recycled – sometimes in a very complex biological process— and it all comes back to be used again. Continue reading

Five producers share ideas that have made their farms and ranches more efficient

Editors note: This article is the second in a series featuring ideas from beef producers across the country. See the first: Eight beef producers share their recent changes 

Fine-tuned management decisions with quick results and bigger management changes that may take a few years for benefits to materialize — these are ideas that Canadian beef producers are applying to their farming and ranching operations.

Good ideas can range from improving pasture watering systems and regularly testing winter feeds, to reducing costs during the fall/winter grazing period, to simple ideas that reduce the stress of calving out heifers, to more sweeping approaches on how to manage an intensive grazing system — all have a common objective to improve beef herd performance in sustainable farming systems.

Here are some ideas that Canadian beef producers have shared that help them produce more pounds of beef, reduce workload, improve overall efficiency and benefit cattle and the environment: Continue reading

Eight beef producers share their recent changes



Canadian beef producers appear to be keeping up with the often heard axiom “the only constant in life is change”. With that in mind, these eight beef producers from across the country talk about recent changes they’ve made or are making in their farming operations.

Some of the changes are management related, others are operational, some involve getting a broader perspective of expert advice, and another was about how to make a job simpler when you’re wearing your mitts.

They are fairly easy to moderate, sometimes major changes – even a series of relatively small tweaks — these producers are making in management and production practices that either improve their management skills, increase forage or beef production efficiency, or just increase their knowledge to ultimately help them achieve the bottom line goals — save time or money, reduce costs, increase returns, improve profitability.

TREVOR WELCH
GLASSVILLE, NB
Rotational grazing and forage stand improvements


Photo submitted by Trevor Welch

Trevor Welch has been developing a rotational grazing system on his western New Brunswick family farm over the past three years. Season long grazing was fairly successful with a small herd of beef cattle, but as he plans to expand the herd, he’s looking to increase the carrying capacity on a limited land base.

“We own most of our pasture land, and also rent some land as well,” says Welch, who is the fourth generation on the five generation farm — his son Taylor is interested in farming and his dad, Fred, is also still involved. As with most parts of Atlantic Canada a 40-acre pasture can produce enough forage to support a 30-cow beef herd for the season. “But with season-long grazing there were always some areas that would be underutilized and other areas that were overgrazed,” he says. The Welch’s run a herd of purebred and commercial Black Angus cattle. Continue reading

Are Cattle Drinking Canada Dry?



We often see headlines about how human lifestyle and dietary choices (particularly beef consumption) can impact environmental sustainability. These headlines are often about greenhouse gases, but water use has become a part of this conversation as well. Vilifying headlines and simple, partial arguments are interesting and emotional; that sells papers and gets clicks. Complex, science-based facts about the positive impacts cattle have on the environment and the need for both crops and cattle across the country’s diverse landscape are less exciting, but here they are:

Beef cattle use water

Make no mistake – it does take more water to produce a pound of uncooked, boneless beef (over 1,800 gallons/6814 liters) than to produce a pound of dry peas (178 gallons/674 liters), dry beans (488 gallons/1847 liters) or dry lentils (577 gallons/2184 liters), or any other protein crop, but this is only one of many pieces of information to consider. The pastures and feed crops that beef cattle eat account for nearly all (99%) of the water used in beef production.

Does that mean that the land used to raise cattle should be converted to crop production? Not necessarily. There are many reasons why not all land is suitable for cultivated agriculture and why raising beef plays an important role in sustainably feeding the population. Continue reading

How quickly do water systems pay for themselves? New calculator available



Allowing cattle access to clean water can improve herd health, as well as  increase weight gain and backfat. A 2005 study reported that calves whose dams drank from water troughs gained on average 0.09 lbs per day more than calves whose dams had direct access to the dugout. Because water and forage intake are closely related, as cows drink more water they also spend more time eating and therefore produce more milk for their calves. Calves with access to clean pumped water were on average 18 lbs heavier at weaning time. A separate study in 2002 found that calves, with dams drinking clean water, gained 9% more weight than calves Continue reading