Always Look a Gift Cow in the Mouth

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
beef cattle in sale barn
This year’s feed situation is forcing many cow-calf producers to make very difficult decisions. Those who are short of feed may cull their herds harder than usual or look for alternative feeding arrangements to winter some or all their cows. Others with feed carryover from previous years may be tempted to custom feed other people’s cows, or to expand their own herds. Those who are selling cows this year may rebuild their herds in a year or two when the weather is more promising. In short, there are potentially a lot of cows changing hands, either permanently or temporarily.

Regardless of whether you’re buying now, buying later or considering custom feeding, remember that there’s more to the decision than price alone. Some apparent opportunities can bring significant hidden costs. This lesson was illustrated recently in a project led by John Campbell and Cheryl Waldner, with co-workers from the Universities of Saskatchewan and Calgary (Biosecurity Practices in Western Canadian Cow-Calf Herds and Their Association with Animal Health; Canadian Veterinary Journal 62:712-718). Continue reading

Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator – Managing Variable Costs

Winter feed is the largest year-over-year variable cost faced by producers. A cow-calf operation feeding a predominantly purchased hay ration to 100 head for 180 days could pay $50,000 a year for winter feed. A 350-head herd fed for 150 days can cost over $150,000 a year for winter feed alone if good quality hay is priced conservatively at $143/tonne.

In October 2021, 80% of Canada’s agricultural land was considered to be in drought. Low soil moisture, crop yield losses, feed quality concerns and forage and grain deficits are a reality for many, and the cost of hay and other inputs have increased dramatically, putting the squeeze on many budgets.

In October 2021, extreme drought still covered 28% of Canada’s agricultural landscape. For those who are struggling, contact local and provincial farm organizations to learn about what may be available in your community. Scroll down for drought management strategies and resources.

While prices may be outside of one’s control, producers may be able to manage their budget by adjusting their rations and considering the use of more economical alternative feedstuffs. Stretching winter feeding budgets may present a challenge but one worth considering to help manage budgets not only for this winter season but in future years.

As winter rolls in, livestock feed supplies remain variable across Canada. Late summer rains have extended grazing in some regions. Other areas have or shared bumper supplies to carry through. Corn crops thrived under the hot summer days and nights leading to a record year for Canadian corn production.

Producers should discuss feed and water test results and ration formulation with a qualified nutritionist or ag extension staff. The examples used in the calculator are generic and may not work on individual farms.

Knowledge is power, so knowing your available feed supply and where it may fall short on nutrition is the first step to manage winter feeding for your herd. A feed test will point out where supplementary nutrients may be required. The next step is sourcing additional supplementary nutrients that are affordable and available to offer nutrient balance.

The Beef Cattle Research Council’s Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator (Click to download [.xlsx file | 107kb]) is a flexible decision-making tool that helps producers compare the cost-effectiveness of different, regionally available feed and alternatives. Two examples of how to use the calculator (one in the east the other in the west) are below and demonstrate the financial outcomes of switching between feed inputs this year. 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?

Continue reading