Ont. beef research gets funding boost

ELORA, Ont. — The University of Guelph’s beef research program is receiving a $15.2 million investment designed to create state-of-the-art facilities and expand re-search on key questions like feed efficiency and sustain-ability.

Located at Elora. Ont., the 300-head cowherd is also likely to go through some changes as well, said Katie Wood, an assistant professor who researches beef nutrition at the university.

Past research saw an infusion of Piedmontese in the university research herd. The idea was to see if the tenderness calpastatin gene in Piedmontese could be transferred. One of the results was overly large cows.

Some cows in the research herd may be a quarter Piedmontese but once they come to the end of their productive lives, they will be removed, she told a tour group last month.

“We routinely had one ton cows here, which is way too big for a commercial setting. We are going to work hard to get our cow size more manageable and we will be culling out those very large cows,” she said.

The beef division shares feed with the nearby dairy research centre. Feed supplies are produced locally and because the forages are so rich, the cows on site are plump.

Haylage may measure up to 19 percent crude protein, which suits lactating dairy cows, but the beef cows are approaching a body condition score of four to 4.5.

“Routinely in our cow rations, we will see 40 to 45 percent straw in a TMR (total mixed ration) to try and dilute that down,” she said.

The plan is to build a more moderate Angus based cow herd.

The program also had a high twinning rate linked back to the 1980s when there were twin experiments. They still see about 10 percent twins, she said.

Because the cows are so large, there were few calving problems.

The cows are artificially inseminated with commercially available semen so they know which sires are responsible for the calves born on site. DNA is also collected on all the research animals.

The facility will be an H shape design where all the cattle are housed indoors. A cow-calf area, feedlot, hospital and maternity wing will be incorporated along with office space and laboratories.

Cattle placed in feeding trials are monitored with the Grow Safe and Insentec feeding systems. Electronic ear tags activate the computer sensors so they can monitor feed intake, animal weights and behaviour.

With the computerized feeding systems, they found steers may visit the feeders a couple times a day or as many as 100 times a day.

“They are not necessarily eating a lot but they are true snackers.”

Researchers want to know if the snackers are more or less efficient than full meal eaters.

“Sometimes I think they are bored.”

Other projects are looking at relationships between feed efficiency and reproductive efficiency.

They are comparing what happens when animals are on feed, graze pastures and then return to a finishing diet. They want to know if the fatty acids change in the meat when they switch feeding systems.

Another trial starting later this year is looking at enzymatic feed additives to improve fibre digestibility in the backgrounding and finishing diet. Yeast products may be added to test in a natural production system.

In summer, pasture research is conducted at the same site. Once the new buildings are completed, pasture renovation is the next project.

“We try and get 96 of our cows on the rotational pasture. It is 100 acres and is divided into 16 paddocks and each paddock has eight cells,” she said.

In this area one acre can support a cow-calf pair but often more space is needed.

Originally, the university pastures were set up with four different varieties of forage blends. Over time those merged together and they want to reseed the paddocks to get more relevant research results.

In winter, all the cattle are moved indoors and by calving time in March, scours emerges as a major issue every year. Vaccination is used.

“Whether or not it is effective is hard to say. Certainly, it wards off some infection but scours remains one of our challenges,” she said.

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