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Cattle Country: Research Round-up for 2023 – U of M Research Addressing Current Beef Industry Priorities

February 1, 2024 — 

By the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment (NCLE), University of Manitoba.It was originally published in Cattle Country in February 2024.

Over the last year, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS) scientists have been hard at work to address current beef research priorities identified by the Manitoba Beef Producers and the Beef Cattle Research Council. Below is a snapshot of some of this research which includes feed security, environmental sustainability and biodiversity, precision technologies, animal and farmer health/welfare and food safety.

Exploring alternative feeding and grazing strategies

Maintaining feed quality of standing forage into the late fall/early winter remains a significant challenge for producers. and UM scientists are addressing the challenge by utilizing intercropping to enhance the value of corn grazing for growing cattle. Corn is high yielding and high in energy but lacks the required protein for optimal growth of growing cattle. Intercropping is a potential way to tackle this problem, however much is unknown about the agronomic, animal and economic implications of intercropping corn for fall/winter grazing. Through a range of Prairie wide small plot trials, researchers at the UofM are evaluating the potential of this practice and the impact of intercrop forage species, timing and method of seeding of intercrop and fertility. Additionally, a large-scale pasture trial in the fall/winter of 2023 saw the grazing of replacement heifers on intercropped corn where forage quality/yield, animal performance, feed intake and enteric methane emissions were measured. Key to the potential of any novel grazing strategy is its cost and in collaboration with the U of A, the team will assess the economic implications of intercropped corn for beef cattle on the Prairies.

Intercropping is not restricted to corn and in a new, Canada wide project, the team is investigating annual forages including cereals, legumes, grasses and brassica for spring and fall season grazing of growing cattle. To date, annual crops for fall grazing have been mostly utilized for swath grazing but there is also increased interest in spring grazing of annuals, however, little data exists in this area. More information is needed on spring/fall grazing of standing annual forage crops and suitable mixtures to maximize forage quality and yield. A team of animal, plant, soil and economic researchers will evaluate the impact of a variety of forage mixtures (simple and complex) not only on forage yield and nutritional value but also on animal performance, greenhouse gas emissions, soil health, subsequent crop yields and economic sustainability. In Canada, research suggests that food waste from production/processing and retail equates to 35.5 MMT, of which 11.2 MMT (32%) is avoidable, valued at $49.5 billion dollars annually. It is well-known that cattle have the capacity to upcycle food waste and other processing byproducts, and that they are an important alternative feed source, particularly during periods of drought. Scientists in the FAFS are working on several fronts to improve delivery of low-cost supplements on pasture in both spring and fall grazing scenarios. Researchers are identifying the environmental benefits of using these by-products on greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions as well as land and water use. This work is timely as the Federal and Provincial governments and commodity groups, including the Canadian Round Table for Sustainable Beef, have set ambitious goals to reduce GHG emissions.

UM scientists have also teamed up with researchers in Saskatchewan and Alberta to investigate the environmental impacts of the productivity enhancing technologies used in backgrounded and feedlot cattle. Their work has demonstrated that implants not only improve average daily gain and feed efficiency but also reduce GHG and ammonia emissions, as well as land and water use. Their work will now be expanded to include the environmental impacts of implanting suckling calves. Currently the use of implants in the cow-calf sector is relatively low, and therefore, this is an area which can offer significant opportunity to improve both economic and environmental sustainability for Manitoba producers.

Using precession technology to ensure feed security and assess biodiversity in grasslands

Prairie grasslands are an important source of feed for cattle. However, climate change and land use practices may serve as a barrier to fully utilizing grasslands. By using field and computer modelling approaches, a FAFS research team is generating land cover and productivity datasets that can be used to understand the interactions among environment, climate, land use, and management practices. The outcomes of this project will advance knowledge on the productivity of grassland systems and their vulnerability to climate and land use change. At the end of the project, researchers hope to propose strategies to improve feed availability for beef production in the prairies. In addition to measuring grassland productivity, researchers at FAFS are using precision technology to assess biodiversity in these landscapes. High-resolution mapping can be used to evaluate land cover change and its impact on ecosystem health. By mapping grassland distribution, researchers can study bird species that depend on grasslands for their survival including Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-Collared Longspur and Baird’s Sparrow. The outcomes of this project will assist larger scale decision-making for conservation programs like those of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). This project will also provide science-based evidence that could encourage the development of new government policies regarding ecosystem management that protect grasslands and, consequently, species at risk that nest in those areas.

Tackling antimicrobial resistance

It is surprising to many people to learn that microorganism in the gut of cattle can not only digest feed, but also produce natural product compounds that are key to maintaining a healthy digestive system and have health-promoting functions such as improving the immune system of animals and humans. Researchers at the UM are studying the potential use of these compounds as an alternative to conventional antimicrobials currently used in the industry. This work contributes to the ongoing battle against antimicrobial resistance (AMR), a pressing concern that can result in the emergence of drug-resistant pathogens posing threats to the health of both animals and farm staff. Identifying and extracting these compounds will lead to a more fulsome understanding of their function in the body, with the ultimate goal of developing environmentally friendly and sustainable microbial therapeutics to prevent infectious disease.

Improving farmer and animal health/welfare

Are producer mental health and animal mental health linked? This is one of the many questions FAFS researchers are working to answer as part of a project that explores the connection between farmer well-being, animal health and wellbeing and environmental health. Using an online anonymous survey, the researchers will assess current farmer stress, anxiety and resilience through questions focused on current practices, occupational and mental health, health of farm animals as well as perceptions and practices related to wildlife. The data gathered from this research can be used to ensure we fully understand the range of stresses that farmers are facing and further the support and resources that are needed to alleviate this stress. Addressing farmer stress and providing resources may lead to greater impacts to on farm productivity, sustainability, and even the profitability of livestock operations. For more information on this project and how to participate, please contact

UM researchers are collaborating with scientists in Alberta to tackle bovine anaplasmosis, an emerging disease caused by the bacterium Anaplasma marginale. The project investigates the establishment of bovine anaplasmosis in western Canada by testing beef cattle herds from Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia to estimate and compare the prevalence of this organism in herds. Using a survey, producers will identify herd and grazing management factors that may be related to anaplasmosis risk. The team will sample ticks and horse flies to detect potential vectors in regions where anaplasmosis has been detected. The team will also use blood samples from cattle to develop a rapid point-of-care diagnostic test that is sensitive enough to detect chronic infections and specific enough to distinguish Anaplasma marginale from other genetically similar bacteria. Rapid, accurate, user-friendly, and cost-effective diagnostic tests will help producers and veterinarians better manage bovine anaplasmosis. To participate in this project, please contact Dr. Shaun Dergousoff or Dr. Kateryn Rochon.

Exploring new frontiers in food safety Food safety is of paramount importance to the public and the food industry. Sanitation programs in meat plants are integral to ensure the safety of food products. When animals enter a meat plant, they bring with them naturally-occurring bacteria. The bacteria get transferred to equipment through contact and some of the bacteria may form biofilms which are clusters of bacteria that are attached to a surface and to each other. They stick to surfaces of equipment making it hard to clean. The standard sanitation process requires a large amount of hot water which may result in the formation of small droplets of water that spread bacteria. The goal of this project is to investigate effective ways of minimizing the spread of bacteria during sanitation and to control biofilm formation in areas that are difficult to clean. Information generated in this work will lead to improved effectiveness of cleaning procedures that will further ensure the safety and quality of Canadian beef.

Save the Date – Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture Conference 2024

Please join us at the FREE virtual Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture Conference, March 12-14, 2024. The conference is a virtual opportunity for researchers, students, producers, government, commodity organizations and industry representatives to collectively share ideas and experiences about how to improve agricultural sustainability in Canada. Registration will be opening soon!

Please visit the NCLE website for additional information on livestock research, student experiences and other informative resources.

Visit the FAFS outreach website – Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange (MAKE)  – for select project highlights on beef production and additional topics in agriculture.

University of Manitoba Beef Research Team featured in this article:

  • Animal Science – Kim Ominski, Emma McGeough, Marcus Cordeiro, Meagan King, Hooman Derakhshani, and Gabriel Dallago
  • Plant Science – Yvonne Lawley Entomology – Kateryn Rochon
  • Food and Human Nutritional Sciences – Claudia Narvaez

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