Protect Your Investments

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

beef cow cleaning newborn calf in winter snow
Producer surveys suggest that 5 to 8% of calves typically die before weaning. High winter feed costs mean you’ve already invested a lot in the 2022 calf crop. That investment is lost when calves die before weaning. Scours and respiratory disease are two leading causes of preventable disease and death in young calves.

Calves rely on antibodies from the cow’s colostrum to fight off common pathogens. If the cow herd is well-vaccinated and well-fed, and if calves consume adequate amounts of high-quality colostrum within the first few hours of life, maternal antibody levels can remain high for several months.

The downside is that maternal antibodies can interfere with injectable vaccines. Vaccines help the immune system practice, like a fire drill. The first attempt may be awkward, slow and uncoordinated, but repeated practice improves performance next time. Similarly, the immune system responds better each time it’s exposed to a pathogen. The second (booster) vaccination produces a stronger and longer-lasting response than the initial (priming) vaccination. If the calf is given a vaccine injection while high levels of maternal antibody are circulating in the calf’s blood, those antibodies will block the vaccine before the calf’s own immune system gets a chance to practice. That defeats the purpose.

“Mucosal” vaccines given in the nose (intranasal) or mouth (oral) avoid this problem. These vaccines work differently than injectable vaccines so maternal antibodies do not interfere with them. Nathan Erickson and colleagues at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine demonstrated this in a recent study funded by your Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off (Evaluation of bovine respiratory syncital virus (BRSV) and bovine herpesvirus (BHV) specific antibody responses between heterologous and homologous prime-boost vaccinated western Canadian beef calves; PMID: 33390597). Continue reading

What a Year — Top 10 Articles from the BCRC Blog in 2021


top 10 blog posts of 2021

This past year presented Canadian beef producers with a lot of different circumstances. Some challenges, such as a widespread drought, required responsive decision-making at times. Yet production cycles continue, and breeding, weaning and feeding activities need to be planned and prepared for. 

Throughout the year, the BCRC published blog posts once or twice a week. Articles provide science-based insight into issues impacting Canada’s beef sector. Some articles from the past year featured producers’ perspectives and tips on topics such as animal-handling or how to improve forages. Other articles featured calculators and tools designed to help beef producers make strategic decisions. Some featured new research, while others focus on a timely response to on-the-ground challenges. 

The BCRC strives to provide relevant science and economic-based information to producers throughout the year and we value the feedback of our audience. Which posts stood out for you? What are some topics you would like to see as we flip the calendar to a new year?

Below are the BCRC’s Top 10 blog posts of 2021.   
Canadian beef cattle during drought in pasture with dwindling water supply
10. Decision Making During Drought

Dealing with drought is hard, but there are some strategies producers can use to help them make the best of a tough situation. Marketing cull cows earlier than normal, drylotting cows or weaning calves earlier can reduce pressure on feed and pastures.  Continue reading

Basics of Backgrounding – Veterinary & Expert Insights Across Canada Webinar November 17th



Are you new to backgrounding? Join us as we discuss some common challenges that producers face when backgrounding calves. This presentation will be useful for those who have backgrounded calves, are currently backgrounding, are new to backgrounding weaned calves or are considering doing so in the future.

Register for our upcoming webinar to hear from three industry experts from across Canada as they provide insight and answer your questions about how to implement or improve your backgrounding operation.

This webinar also qualifies for 1 continuing education (CE) credit for registered veterinary technologists and technicians. A total of 3 CE credits will be available over the course of the BCRC 2021-22 webinar series. For more information on CE accreditation for RVT’s, please contact Dana Parker (parkerd@beefresearch.ca)

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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

Decision Making During Drought


Canadian beef cattle during drought in pasture with dwindling water supply
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:

Culling

  • 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.

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Top findings about adoption of beneficial practices on Canadian cow-calf operations



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;
  • Recognized and addressed barriers for adoption.

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Results of recent Cow-Calf Production Surveys across Canada



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.

Canadian Cow-Calf Surveys

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Producers with large herds are believers in low stress weaning

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

Low-stress weaning benefits on several levels

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.

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