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Canadian Feed, Grains and Grassland Efficiency Research Review

18 February 2014

Beef Cattle Research Council

Manure composition, a new bloat-free legume variety and the nutritional value of distillers dried grains and solubles are explored in this review of forage and grassland research undertaken by the Beef Cattle Research Council.


Forage and Grassland Productivity

Canada’s forage industry is the single largest crop with 80 per cent of production going to livestock feed. As a critical input for the cow-calf and backgrounding sector, Canada’s forage productivity must continually improve to support Canada’s international competitiveness.

Beef Cluster I research identified native grass and legume cultivars suitable for semi-arid rangelands, developed a new variety of a non-bloating legume, and discovered genetic markers that are significantly associated with barley silage digestibility. Appropriate forage and legume mixtures can provide an optimal ratio of forage quality and yield in Central and Eastern Canada.

Seeding dates and alternative annual forages were compared for swath grazing to reduce winter feeding costs of the cow herd. Research suggests that swath grazing triticale can reduce winter feeding costs by over $100 per cow compared to wintering cows for 100 days in a corral.

Savings were lower for swath grazed barley ($89) due to lower yields, and for corn ($83) due to higher input costs. This has significant implications for Canada’s beef industry as reducing total winter feeding costs by as little as 1 per cent would save Canada’s cow-calf sector an estimated $6 million annually.

Triticale had the lowest production cost, higher yields, and a lower daily feeding cost compared to barley and corn. High-yielding crops which utilize a greater portion of the season than barley have the potential to reduce the cost of wintering cows further than previously envisioned.

Lower fertilizer costs improved returns for alfalfa-grass mixed pastures. Economic simulation indicated substantial benefit to alfalfa inclusion and small detriments to rested grazing, though these may be overcome if cow-calf performance on early-seeded and early-swathed annuals could be improved.These results will contribute to improved soil health, pasture longevity and productivity, and reduce production costs in the cow-calf sector.

Feed Grains and Feed Efficiency

Feed is the single largest variable input cost in both cow-calf and feedlot production. For the feedlot sector, a 5 per cent improvement in feed efficiency could reduce feed costs by over $50 million annually, dramatically reducing feed grain usage. For the cow-calf sector, a 5 per cent improvement in feed efficiency would reduce winter feeding costs by close to $30 million annually.

Research quantified the influence of grain type, source, and processing on the nutritional value of DDGS for beef cattle. Four protein ingredients were tested and found that they can be used effectively in diets fed to backgrounded cattle. This study helped feedlots to appropriately price these alternative feeds relative to traditional feed grains, based on their effects on animal backgrounding and finishing performance, carcass value, beef quality and manure nutrient levels. Strategies effectively incorporating DDGS into backgrounding and finishing diets were developed and widely adopted by industry.

The impact of feeding DDGS was extended to assess manure composition, E. coli shedding and shelf life of beef (see the Food Safety and Beef Quality sections for those results). Composted manure contains less dry matter, moisture, and more nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), sulfur (S) and salt than raw manure.

Soil salt, P and S increased as manure from DDGS-fed cattle was applied at higher rates, particularly for composted manure. The increased P in the composted manures has the potential for P loading in soil and would require reduced rates to avoid excessive buildup of PO4-P in the soil. P-based applications of manure would better match crop demand than N-based manure applications.

Genetic and physiological indicators of feed efficiency were also evaluated. This led to a better understanding of the interactions between selections for feedlot feed efficiency and other economically relevant traits (primarily fertility). Marker assisted expected progeny differences (EPDs) and indexes to assist in the identification and selection of breeding stock that are genetically superior for economically relevant traits were not completed through the Beef Cluster I, but a number of individual cattle breed associations are in the process of developing these tools.

The beneficial effect of improved feed efficiency on environmental indicators like methane and manure production was measured. Improving feedlot feed efficiency will have measurable environmental benefits; a 20 per cent improvement in feed efficiency translates to a 30 per cent decrease in manure production, as well as a 30 per cent reduction in methane production.

Two deliverables were not met due to: • Feed efficiency markers identified not working across different breeds, hindering the development of viable marker panels for commercial feedlots • A reliable value for heritability could not be developed because phenotype data was not collected in multiple locations. Related research by the team is underway to determine this. Due to substantial investments by other industry partners, the BCRC elected not to invest in feed grain variety development through Beef Cluster I. As those investments come to an end, BCRC will invest in feed grain breeding research in Beef Cluster II (2013-2018).

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