Cattle Country: University of Manitoba research aims to increase production, profitability and enhance environmental sustainability
The following article was written by Peter Frohlich, National Centre for Livestock and the Environment (NCLE), University of Manitoba. It was originally published in Cattle Country in February 2022.
As the new year begins, the National Center for Livestock and the Environment (NCLE) and University of Manitoba (UM) researchers are continuing to support research priorities laid out by the Canadian beef industry. Research teams have hit the ground running with a palette of projects that address both Beef Cattle Research Council and the Manitoba Beef Producers research priorities. Ongoing projects address competitiveness and cost reduction, improve beef demand and quality and enhance public confidence by focusing on environmentally sustainable production methods within the beef value chain and beyond. Several projects have received seed funding dollars from beef producer groups. This funding is then stretched further by matching dollars provided by collaborations and funding programs at federal, provincial and industry levels.
Researchers with the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences are spending grower dollars effectively by practicing systems-based research. With this approach, several research questions are answered in a single project through collaboration with scientists from different disciplines within the university, as well as external partners including universities, government, industry and conservation groups.
Nutrition, feed efficiency and forage utilization
Challenges associated with drought including feed availability and rising feed costs, as well as climate change and public trust are ever-present for cattle producers. University of Manitoba researchers, collaborators and producers are working together to buffer change and create new feed management strategies that will enable livestock production to prosper. Effective use of forages and extending the grazing season can translate to increased profitability. Intercropping corn with high protein forages can equal higher yielding pastures and precision feeding can improve cattle performance.
Researchers with the departments of Animal and Plant Science are evaluating the benefits of intermediate wheatgrass as a dual-purpose crop that can function as a cash food grain crop and as a high-quality forage for grazing beef cattle in late fall/early winter. In this integrated crop-livestock research project, the team is measuring soil productivity, cattle performance, environmental footprint and economic potential of same season food and feed crop. In addition, the group is assessing the suitability of this system to serve as a habitat for songbirds and nesting waterfowl.
A project on corn intercropping strategies for extended winter grazing is in the works for 2022. Animal and Plant Science researchers are planning to use prairie-wide small plot and large pasture studies, coupled with economic analysis, to evaluate the effectiveness of intercropping corn with high-protein forages. The purpose of this practice will be to increase the yield and nutritive value of the pastures for beef cattle grazing in late fall/early winter.
To round up the feed priority, researchers with NCLE have been exploring the use of precision feeding systems to improve performance on pasture through supplementation. An early outcome of this study has shown that precision feeders can be used to supplement cattle on pasture to improve performance without compromising forage utilization.
Addressing our natural environment and its sustainability through research not only ensures we can continue to farm effectively for decades to come but also enhance on-farm profitability. With public and industry interests focused on greenhouse gas emissions, preserving biodiversity, carbon footprinting and overall environmental stewardship in agriculture, the solutions are based in sound research.
Animal Science researchers together with teams from Agriculture and Agri Food Canada (AAFC) and the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institutes (ABMI) are assessing the effects of beef production on biodiversity in Alberta. This project investigates the effects of beef production on many plant and animal species including vascular plants, mosses, lichens, birds, mammals and mites. ABMI holds one of the world’s most comprehensive databases on biodiversity and habitats and when linked with detailed information on Alberta’s beef production practices the pair can provide a powerful tool in understanding the effects of beef production on biodiversity. Approaches developed in Alberta will then be applied to other regions in Canada.
Should productivity-enhancing technologies be limited in cattle production systems? A research team from Animal Science together with AAFC are examining the impact of productivity enhancing technologies (PET) such as implants and natural feed additives on cattle productivity, GHG’s, ammonia, and water use. Results indicate that removal of PET’s would increase the environmental footprint including GHG’s, ammonia, as well as land and water use associated with beef production.
Researchers with the departments of Animal and Soil Science are investigating the impact of feeding and manure management practices on GHG emissions. Together with a team at Virginia Tech University the researchers are reinforcing the importance of beef production by studying the impact of removing livestock from the landscape with a focus on GHG emissions and on the nutritional adequacy in Canadian populations.
Another study looks at the impact of cattle grazing on water dynamics and nutrient cycling in prairie pasture landscapes. Researchers have collected data on the weather, soils, land use, topography, and land management practices in several watersheds in the western provinces. As a result, the team can define grazing management scenarios and simulate pasture productivity, quality as well as examine nitrogen and phosphorus excretion estimates.
Scientist with Animal Science and AAFC are testing a feed additive to see is if influences methane production. Biochar, a charcoal known for its carbon sequestration capacity was tested to see if its addition to cattle diet would decrease methane production. Results show that addition of Biochar to rations and hay-based diets did not mitigate methane production in cattle.
UM researchers use a holistic approach to address environmental sustainability. Scientists at the University of Manitoba are partnering with conservation groups to better understand the interaction between beef production and our ecosystem to preserve natural environments that are vital to the health of our planet.
Scientists with Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research at Ducks Unlimited Canada are working with AAFC and Universities of Manitoba and British Columbia to quantify ecosystem services such as carbon stocks, water quality and biodiversity associated with wetlands in beef production landscapes. The teams have completed the first year of mapping wetlands including 48 sites in the prairie provinces.
The World Health Organization has a priority to recycle food resources and reduce food waste. In one year alone Canadian’s waste over 35 million metric tons of food. Researchers at the Universities of Manitoba and Lethbridge along with AAFC and Manitoba Agriculture are conducting life cycle assessments that calculate environmental impact to determine the land sparing effect and reduction in GHG emissions associated with substitution of cereal grain-based animal feeds with by-products and surplus foods.
Economics and profitability
Working towards a better understanding of on farm management practices will result in increased profitability and a stronger bottom line.
Research teams from Animal Science and AAFC have partnered with Canfax to assess on farm management practices of cow-calf operations with a focus on cost of production, as well as GHG emissions. Canfax, a division of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is a group that provides information on market analysis and industry trends to farmers to maximize profits. The research team is using bench marking data gathered from 24 producer groups across Canada to examine on-farm practices effecting cost of production as well as GHG emissions. This research will identify best management practices that can be targeted for policy development and program delivery to improve economic and environmental sustainability of the Canadian cattle industry.
Eliminating incidences of food borne illness due to microbiological contamination and minimizing expensive food recalls are priorities for the food processing industry and for UM food scientists.
Researchers at the department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences are determining the ability of E. coli found on stainless steel and polyurethane surfaces to survive and transfer to fresh beef surfaces during processing. The team is also investigating sanitizer resistance and learning which sanitizers are most effective to eliminate E. coli biofilms found on food processing equipment.
Health and Welfare
Information generated by projects that address on farm health and welfare ensure healthy animals, address worker safety, farmer mental health and overall enhance public perception of cattle production systems.
Animal Science Researchers and collaborators from AAFC and the University of Alberta are evaluating Red-osier dogwood extract as an alternative to antibiotics to improve growth and health of newly weaned calves. Red-osier dogwood is a locally grown deciduous shrub well known for its many uses and health enhancing properties, especially with Indigenous groups.
Researchers at the department of Entomology are investigating the relationship between ticks, known transmitters of anaplasmosis, their abundance and risks to cattle and livestock workers. The team has completed the first year of assessments where they determined tick quantities on pasture and their relationship to biting pressure on cattle, horses, and humans.
To further expand research capacity in animal health and welfare, effective January 2021 the University welcomes Meagan King as the Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science. King has completed her PhD in Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Guelph. She intends to develop a research program that examines interactions between livestock species and their environment to
develop best management practice that support raising animals for food. King is also planning to start a project focused on producer mental health.
Visit the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences outreach website Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange (MAKE) http://www.makemanitoba.ca for select project highlights on beef production and additional topics in agriculture.
- Animal Science – Emma McGeough, Kim Ominski, Marcus Cordeiro, Meagan King
- Plant Science – Doug Cattani, Yvonne Lawley
- Soil Science – Mario Tenuta, David Lobb, Francis Zvomuya
- Entomology – Kateryn Rochon
- Agriculture Economics -Derek Brewin
- Agriculture and Agri Food Canada – Sara Pogue, Tim McAllister, Aklilu Alemu, Emma Stephens, Wenzhu Yang
- Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute – Majid Iravani
- Ducks Unlimited, Wetland and Waterfowl Research Pascal Badiou and Lauren Bortolotti
- University of Alberta – Lingyun Chen