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.
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 →
Producers coping with severe drought and feed shortages have tough decisions to make about culling, weaning and cow management. The following considerations may be helpful when making herd decisions in the coming weeks and into the fall:
Know what feed sources you have available and the true nutritional quality of them so you can make the best decisions for your herd. Sending representative feed samples to a lab for analysis and working with a nutritionist or livestock specialist who can interpret the results and help develop balanced rations is crucially important.
Prevent cows you plan to keep in the herd from losing too much condition. Cows with an ideal amount of fat cover (a body condition score of 3.0) eat less and are easier to maintain through the winter and get rebred. Cull early to help keep the remainder of the herd in good condition.
Now is a good time to let go of any cattle you have let slide through in previous culls. Check your records. Cull anything that has a bad temperament, that has been treated repeatedly for health issues or that weans calves that perform below your herd benchmarks.
The value of the investment in pregnancy checking your herd is even more evident in dry years as it allows you to cull any open or late-calving cows.
Consider culling any bulls that are older or that are producing less desirable progeny based on your records.
Sometimes it can be hard to know where you’re going if you don’t look at where you’ve been. For decades, research and extension organizations have promoted many practices to beef cattle operators with the goals of improving production, product safety, and ultimately profitability. Recently, the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and Canfax Research Services created a comprehensive report outlining the adoption of recommended beef management practices over time and across Canada.
The analysis used a broad lens to examine all cow-calf practices from feeding methods to manure management, calving cows to retaining heifers, pasture management to feed testing, and everything in between. Recent data from regional cow-calf surveys and research studies were compared to foundational producer survey and Statistics Canada information dating as far back as thirty-five years.
The first of its kind, this analysis:
Consolidated benchmarks for parameters such as conception rates, weaning weights, death loss, and calving season length;
Compared current practices and highlighted long-term trends across Canada where possible;
Identified gaps in adoption and potential extension opportunities;
Industry data provided by production surveys can serve as a benchmark for production performance across the country. Historical production surveys include the Alberta Cow-Calf Audit (1986-88, 1997-1998) and “Reproductive Efficiency and Calf survival in Ontario Beef Cow-calf Herds” (1983). Sixteen years later, the survey was revived, revised and expanded into the Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey (WCCCS, 2014). In the last two production years, additional surveys have occurred across Canada (Western Canada, Ontario, Northern Quebec, Atlantic). These have provided an overall picture of current production and management practices on beef cow-calf operations in each region of the country for the first time. The objective of these surveys were multi-faceted.
Editor’s note: The following is the second in a two part series. See part one about the research behind two-stage weaning.
Producers who have tried it, say they are sold on reduced-stress weaning techniques. Of four beef producers across Canada contacted who have used low stress weaning measures for several years, one favoured the fence line low stress weaning system, while the others all preferred the two-stage weaning system, commercially known as QuietWean.
Fence-line weaning, which has been used by some producers for generations, is a low-stress one-stage weaning system that involves sorting cows and calves on weaning day and then dividing the two groups with some type of fencing. Cows and calves can still see each other, and often can still have nose-to-nose contact, but the fencing prevents calves from nursing. In most set ups cows and calves can wander away from the fence line to continue feeding or grazing. After about three or four days the two groups appear to lose interest in each other — weaning is complete. Continue reading →
Editor’s note: The following is the first in a two-part series on low stress weaning. In part two, you’ll hear directly from producers with large herds that use these methods.
There is way more to it than just going to bed with a yard full of quiet cattle, but that’s one of the notable spinoff benefits cow-calf producers from across Canada attribute to low-stress weaning systems they’ve used for several years.
Producers say calves that are eased into weaning perform better immediately after weaning, they observe considerably fewer cases of stress-related diseases, the anxiety and stress demonstrated by both cows and calves during the more traditional abrupt or cold weaning is virtually eliminated, and yes the farm yard is much quieter, too.
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the September 2017 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Weed seeds and invasive species may be present even in well-managed pastures and rangelands, but it is hard for them to germinate, establish and spread in healthy, competitive forage stands. Stresses like severe drought, overgrazing, heavy traffic or excavation can weaken forage stands and create opportunities for unwanted plants to take root.
Researchers are now studying whether similar principles may apply to animal health and disease processes. For example, calves that were perfectly healthy on the farm can face a serious risk of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in the feedlot after experiencing the stresses of weaning, commingling, transportation and ration changes. Dr. Trevor Alexander of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research Station and collaborators from the University of Calgary are studying bacterial populations (the microbiota) in the respiratory tract of feedlot cattle. They published the results of a small study supported by the Beef Research Cluster earlier this year (The nasopharyngeal microbiota of beef cattle before and after transport to a feedlot; BMC Microbiology 17:70).
What they did: Little is known about what the “normal” respiratory microbiota looks like in cattle, let alone how it changes in response to any given stress. Because exposing calves to multiple stresses at the same time may have produced large, complex, difficult to interpret changes in the microbiota, this team focused on the effects of simply moving cattle from the home farm into the feedlot. They used 14 Angus x Hereford heifer calves (640 lbs) from Continue reading →
Calves that are fence-line weaned vocalize 50% less, walk less, and have higher weight gains in the first 10 weeks post weaning compared to conventionally weaned calves1. A practicing veterinarian from southeastern Saskatchewan that uses fence-line weaning with his own cattle reports that calves weaned using low-stress practices have a treatment rate of only 5-10%, instead of the 25-30% he sees in abruptly weaned calves.
Fence-line weaning requires a strong enough fence to keep calves and cows apart so page wire, 4-6 strands of barbed wire, or 2-3 strands of electric fencing (if calves are familiar with electric fence) is recommended. Another option is to use a set of corals on pasture, locking cows in and leaving the calves in the familiar environment. Fence-line weaning should last a minimum of 3-4 days.
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the August 2015 issue ofCanadian Cattlemenmagazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Winter feed will be a scarce and costly resource in much of Western Canada this year. Use it carefully, because the management decisions you make now will impact reproductive and economic performance for at least two years.
Research conducted 25 years ago by P.L. Houghton and co-workers at Perdue University (J. An. Sci. 68:1438) demonstrated how energy intake by pregnant and lactating cows impacted their reproductive and calf performance. At the start of the last trimester (early January for cows calving in April), cows were fed in two groups. One group received a maintenance diet (ME) meeting recommended energy intake. The other was fed a low energy diet (LE) providing 70% of recommended energy intake. After calving, each group was split again, with cows receiving either the low energy diet or a high energy diet (HE; 130% of recommended energy intake). Skimping on nutrition in late pregnancy and after calving impacted both Continue reading →