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Learnings from the Manitoba Beef and Forage Conference (2023)

Written by
Anneliese Walker
Published on
January 16, 2024

This past December I’ve had the pleasure of attending, and presenting at, the inaugural Manitoba Beef and Forage Conference hosted by Manitoba Agriculture, Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives, and Manitoba Beef Producers. It was a wonderful event showcasing several speakers from across the industry and the country. 

As a grazier and Customer Success Officer at MaiaGrazing, I learned so much from the sessions I was able to attend. That being said, I would love to share small nuggets of knowledge and curiosities I picked up along the way.

Takeaways from the Manitoba Beef and Forage Conference

1. Alternative Grazing Options to Extend the Grazing Season

Three years of severe drought across North America has had several effects on our industry. Increased cattle prices, increased input prices, and decreased cattle inventory just to name a few. 

Direct costs associated with increasing substitute feeding, supplemental feeding or acquiring more grazing ground (rented or owned) skyrocket during drought years which has caused many producers (including myself!) to start looking further afield for grazing inspiration. I found that inspiration in grazing standing corn. 

Standing Corn Grazing as an Alternative to Substitute Feeding

For this midwestern beef operator on a grass-fed operation, the thought of grazing corn was significantly outside of the box thinking! 

Standing corn grazing is the practice of planting corn for the purposes of grazing in the non-growing season. I’ve heard of this practice occurring across the southern provinces of Canada, and producers have reported as much as 250-300 Animal Days per acre. 

Intercropping Different Species

Some operators will plant it as a true monoculture, though many are starting to utilize intercropping different species with the corn. The purpose of this is to increase grazeable forage, balance nutritional needs in the pasture, and increase water holding capacity and soil health over the course of the season. 

The two largest limiting nutrients using this practice would be Calcium and Protein, so it must be supplemented.

Forage Supply vs. Animal Demand

So, from a forage-supply versus animal-demand standpoint, what are we looking at here? If we had 150 dry pregnant cows rated at 0.9 Animal Units (AU) on a pasture with 300 ADAs (Animal Unit Days per Acre) we could graze them on 45 Acres for roughly 90-100 days.

manitoba beef and forage conference 2023

Of course, the above equation does not consider losses from stand degradation due to weather. 

Weather-Related Considerations

It’s my understanding that some stands will see as much as 30% loss due to weather like wind and heavy snow loads. However, even at 30% loss, that’s still 210 ADA’s. This is well beyond the 7-10 ADA’s on average stockpiled pastures.

I found this practice to be an attractive alternative because of the sheer volume of biomass available. Corn also stands up a lot better to wind and snow load. 

Corn Grazing in Action

We had the amazing opportunity to tour our friend Brett McRae’s operation, Mar Mac Farms, to see standing corn grazing in action.

Brett showed us how they set up their grazing, water and supplementation program and how they mapped out and mowed paths for running electric fencing and polywire. He noted that in an ideal situation cattle would be grazing towards the direction of the prevailing winds as the corn itself provides a fantastic wind break. 

Additionally, he explained that there are species of corn being grown for the purpose of grazing, and we talked through some of the species that they’ve used on their operation. 

We look forward to hosting Brett on a MaiaGrazing LIVE webinar in the near future to talk about his experiences using standing corn grazing to extend their grazing season. Keep an eye out for the announcement and registration details.

If you’re interested in getting more information on grazing standing corn, I highly recommend you tune into Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiative’s podcast called “Beef and Forage Roundup” which is hosted by Chantel McRae. It can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts from!

2. The Importance of Micronutrients

On day two, Dr. John Campbell of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan shared key findings from his team’s work from the Canadian Cow-Calf Surveillance Network. The study looked at 159 herds across all the southern provinces of Canada looking at both production data and management. 

During the study, they looked at the prevalence of copper deficiency. 

Copper Deficiency in Cattle

Copper deficiency can cause a host of issues including poor breed up, poor hair coat and resistance to pests, and increased diarrhea and coccidiosis. Copper deficiency can be caused by several factors including low bioavailability of copper in soils, high levels of molybdenum levels in soils, and high levels of sulfates in water or feed sources. 

Molybdenum and sulfates can bind copper in the rumen making it unavailable for absorption. 

Prevalence

In 2014, the study found that 42.9% of the 2,030 animals that were tested were deficient in copper, and 92% of all herds had at least one deficient animal (94 of 102 herds). In 2016 and 2019, 24.4% (391/1,604) and 29.0% (328/1,130) were deficient in copper respectively. In 2019, 63% of Beef Cows had less than adequate Serum Copper Levels! 

In a separate 2008 study done in a community pasture, lower blood serum copper levels were associated with higher open rates in cows that were less than 10 years old. It should be noted that during drought years, sulfate levels in feed and surface water do increase which, as previously discussed, can be a contributing factor in copper deficiencies. 

Science is great, but when the rubber hits the road, how can we apply it? 

Testing for Copper Deficiency

Blood Test

You can test for copper deficiencies in cattle using a blood test. The blood test is not reflective of total copper reserve which would require a liver biopsy. However, if your cattle are deficient via the blood serum test, your cattle are very copper deficient and don’t have much banked in their liver. 

  • Forage Sampling

Send in forage samples for testing. Testing your forage will help you understand where your deficiencies may lie and help you evaluate which mineral supplements may be best suited to your current herd’s needs. Dietary needs will also change by class of cattle, so this may be a good time to evaluate which herds should graze where based on forage type.

Further Exploration

Copper deficiency is not something that I have considered in the past as a potential part of the puzzle. I look forward to exploring what implementation might look like on our operation in the future. 

If you are interested in learning more about cattle nutrition, I highly recommend you check out Dr. Campbell’s podcast “The Beef Cattle Health & Nutrition” podcast which can also be found on Apple Podcast, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts from.

3. Growing the Weaned Calf

Early in my career, my exposure to caring for calves looked a lot like either helping care for bottle fed dairy calves or helping with shipping on weaning day by scribbling records for the owner. That being said, I was really excited to see how other producers are doing it. 

In attending the session “Feedstuffs, requirements, and everything between: Growing the weaned calf,” the presenters talked intake processes, feed rations, and pen construction. 

High Quality Grass

While we do not own a feed yard, it was interesting to hear how their intake process works. Feeding flyweight (< 400 lbs) weaned calves leaned heavily on feeding high-quality grass hay as their rumens further develop. 

The speakers noted this class of cattle shouldn’t get any kind of concentrate until they’re over the 400-450 lbs mark. 

Wet Chemistry Analysis

Both speakers noted that a wet chemistry analysis is the most complete kind of forage analysis available, so it might be something to look into for taking in riskier animals. Maybe there’s a copper deficiency.

Overall, regardless of the operation type and class of cattle, it seemed the three tenants of husbandry were the same: Balanced nutrition based on class, low stress stockmanship, and a keen eye on herd health. 

Summary

My hope is that these learnings from the Manitoba Beef and Forage Conference will help fellow graziers like you to explore solutions for winter forage issues, drought, increasing biomass, cattle mineral deficiencies and weaning calves. I look forward to returning to the conference in 2024 for additional insights.

Exploring a New Grazing Plan?

Implementing a new grazing technique, such as standing corn grazing, requires experience, knowledge, and the right resources. Grazing management tools can help you optimize grazing practices, maximize profitability, and enhance soil health to build soil carbon.

MaiaGrazing offers insights into the best grazing strategies, tailored to the needs of your individual farm. It also will help you to:

  • Maximize your livestock’s potential
  • Boost carrying capacity of your land
  • Optimize paddock yield
  • Minimize feeding costs
  • Capture data for seasonal planning and adjustment
  • Manage your grazing to build and retain soil carbon

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