It now has an official title — Manitoba Beef and Forage Inc. (MBFI) — and some of its first projects are underway.
MBFI has four major partners — Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP), Ducks Unlimited, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) and Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association (MFGA). They’ve joined to find answers on the latest technology and production methods for the province’s beef producers.
MBP general manager Melinda German provided an update on research projects to the Manitoba Feedlot School at the Brandon Research Station last week.
“This is a lofty goal but I think that it is very important at this time in the industry… more and more industry, academia and government are coming together to make sure that we don’t lose resources but also make sure we are conducting and getting the research out that is important to producers,” German said.
The goal is to take university research and determine how it can be practically applied on the farm.
“What we want to do is tweak and take the risk out of adopting new production practices or new technologies, because we know the adoption of some of these things can be risky for producers.”
The project consists of three sites near Brandon — Johnson, Brookdale and the First Street farm. All are guided by a producer-led advisory committee.
“Our goal is to have a very strong feed of information from our advisory committee so that we make sure we are doing the research that is important here in Manitoba to producers, and then making sure we are getting this information out to folks so that they can use it in a timely fashion,” German said.
Energy-dense annual forages
A number of projects is beginning to take shape in the first year. MBFI will examine energy-dense forages for the prospect of keeping cattle in the pasture longer, increasing production and providing a substitute for perennial pastures that have lower quality in the fall and require resting for the next growing year.
Several other countries are currently utilizing these forages but they have not been tested in Manitoba growing conditions.
Sites in Arborg, Beausejour, Carberry and Brookdale have planted four species: Antler chicory, Boston plantain, Nubucco Italian ryegrass and Perseus festulolium.
“We planted these forage pieces in different areas around the province to see how they would do,” German said. “And then custom grazed 50 head at the Brookdale site. This year we found a few things. The cattle weren’t crazy about the plantain or the chicory. It looks like there may be a bit of a palatability issue, but this is only year one.”
Led by Juanita Kopp from MAFRD, researchers will measure forage productivity and quality. Cattle will graze larger, pasture-sized plots and grazing preference will be recorded.
Following this study, which will be conducted over a number of years, MBFI anticipates seeing new forage options and improved cattle gains.
First Street site
At the First Street site, MBFI will be looking at how rotational grazing improves pasture health indicators, including species composition, litter accumulation, soil exposure, erosion and noxious weed abundance.
Led by MAFRD extension specialist Jane Thornton, this project has seen fences built for a rotational grazing plan that will begin in the spring.
“Prior to the grazing we found the site had very low fertility and a medium-intensity infestation of leafy spurge. We introduced some biological controls, like the black leafy spurge beetle,” German said.
“In July when we assessed the pasture, we still saw a pretty good stand of spurge per square metre but we saw that the flowering was significantly reduced and the foliage was stunted. We will continue to work on this and possibly introduce some other methods of control to see what we can come up with to deal with this weed and to overall improve the health of that area.”
MBFI anticipates the project will demonstrate low-cost methods of improving soil health, weed reduction and forage diversification and production.
At the Brookdale site, a project led by Pam Iwanchysko from MAFRD is looking at how two different grazing strategies affect forage health, soil and cattle production.
Two groups of 25 head have been grazing at the site since early June. One herd is mob grazing, being moved every day through one-acre paddocks in the first rotation without back grazing, and a term-grazing herd is being moved through larger paddocks at a slower rate.
“The gains this year were higher with the term-grazing herd but what we did see is we had a lot of leftover forage on the mob-grazing sites, which gave us a lot of forage to work with if we were short in other areas,” German said. “We will continue to refine this and look at the impacts of mob and continuous grazing, not only on the animals but on the plants and soil health as well.”
Emma McGeough from the University of Manitoba will be leading MBFI’s project looking at forage species for overwintered cattle.
The project will evaluate annual and perennial forage species and their potential to serve as stockpiled forage.
This year, several forage mixtures were established in the northeast corner of the Johnson site. MBFI hopes to identify forage varieties with improved yield, quality, persistence and productivity for use in extended grazing systems.
Cow-calf feeding and vaccination
This project will evaluate the effect of injection techniques on carcass quality, the performance of calves from cows that had nutrient-restricted and non-restricted winter diets and developing a method of measuring pasture feed intake.
Kim Ominski from the University of Manitoba will lead the project and cattle from this project will be pastured in the northwest corner of the Johnson site next year.
“We will graze the calves at our site and start using needle-free technology. There will be two groups, one using traditional and one using needle free and then after they are done grazing with us in the fall they will be harvested and we will evaluate the carcasses,” German said.
In the coming years, MBFI will continue with these projects, pulling in field experts from various academic institutes and industry organizations.
There are also plans to build new infrastructure on the sites, create a mobile lab and an interactive website that will utilize drone images.
MBFI will be providing regular project updates and findings as more in-depth annual reports and yearly producer tours. A grand opening for the demonstration farm has been slated for summer 2016.