New research may keep Manitoba cattle on pasture longer

Researchers at the University of Manitoba (U of M) have begun an expansive research project that aims to provide new knowledge to help farmers keep their cattle on the pasture longer in the fall, saving time and money. The U of M is collaborating with the University of Saskatchewan, Western Beef Development Centre and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) on the project.

Finding nutritious forage

Emma McGeough, assistant professor, sustainable grasslands/livestock production systems in the department of animal science at the U of M is one of the researchers involved in the project.


Emma McGeough, assistant professor, sustainable grasslands/livestock production systems at the U of M

"Many producers across Western Canada use extended grazing to lower the economic and environmental costs of raising cattle. Bale grazing is a commonly used strategy but our research aims to provide new knowledge on stockpiled grazing, as an alternative to bales, to extend the grazing season," she says. "Longer time spent on pasture, as opposed to confined feeding, can reduce labour and feed costs, as well as manure accumulation."

The study began this spring with researchers seeding a range of grasses, legumes and cereal crops in test plots at four sites across Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The forages that perform best in terms of their yield and ability to maintain quality throughout the fall will be used in larger, test pastures with grazing cattle.

The project was supported in part by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. One of the unique aspects of the project is researchers are using animal GPS collars to understand more about animal grazing behavior. Their purchase of these collars, as well as forage harvesting equipment, was supported by Growing Forward 2.

"The collars will determine the amount of time the cattle spend grazing versus lying down or ruminating," says McGeough. "The data generated on grazing behavior will provide producers with information on forage use to help in management decisions to improve animal performance on pasture."

Research cutting edge in Manitoba

Glenn Friesen, business development specialist – forage with MAFRD says this work is particularly important in Manitoba as not a lot of forage evaluation research has been carried out in the last decade, especially to this scale.

"Grazing annual crops in late fall is not a typical practice in Manitoba," says Friesen. "We tend to get more rain or snow than other prairie provinces, which lowers the feed quality of the grazed crops, increasing feed costs. We expect the research being done at the U of M will help us better understand how to predict animal performance when they're grazing on forages in the fall, potentially allowing us to keep cattle in the fields longer."

While other crops such as wheat and canola are currently the subjects of many research studies, there has been limited research comparing forage crops over several years and at different locations. That seems to be changing however. In the last two years, there has been a turning point and forage research is increasing.

"The investment in materials for this project will further support forage research in the future," says Friesen. "It's been many years since we've last seen this sort of interest in forage. The University of Manitoba gets a lot of credit for prompting the industry to invest in this area."

Safe, healthy and just food systems

Martin Scanlon, acting associate dean for research in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the U of M says the cattle forage research will impact cattle production in Manitoba.

"We're interested in creating safe, healthy and just food systems in a manner that is sustainable for producers and the environment. The research tools provided by Growing Forward 2 expand our capacity to study extensive grazing and overwintering of cattle," he says.

Other funding partners supporting this project include Beef Cattle Research Council and Manitoba Beef Producers.

Although the project has just started earlier this year, it has the potential to create significant economic benefits for cattle producers. The findings will be shared in various industry and scientific publications and also in the University of Manitoba's National Centre for Livestock and the Environment (NCLE) newsletter.


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