A $15.5 million injection into the University of Guelph’s Elora research farm is expected to produce a world-leading beef research facility.
Meat science researcher and nutritionist Dr. Ira Mandel says the new facility will allow the university to amalgamate the beef research herds from New Liskeard and Guelph.
“We’re going to have a much larger herd here,” he said.
The cow-calf area will have room for 288 mature cows and be equipped with automated feeders to measure individual intake allowing researchers to study everything from correlating genomic traits to feed efficiency to studying greenhouse gas emissions. A separate facility will house 72 bred heifers and 96 replacements.
Depending on budgets, Mandel says there will be 48 or 60 cow pens with six head per pen.
The cow-calf facility will contain two cow barns and a heifer barn, connected by a common handling area.
The cow-heifer barn will be the first phase, to be completed next year in what is currently a soybean field adjacent to the current buildings.
A new feedlot barn will come next, after the demolition of many of the current buildings that were erected in 1969. The university has had a limited amount of feedlot space, since losing a barn about 15 years ago that held 48 head. The new barn will contain 24 pens at four animals per pen for a total of 96 head on feed at any one time.
The provincial government, through the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario, is investing $12.4 million in the facility, with the federal government and Beef Farmers of Ontario contributing about $3.1 million together.
The investment is important to the future of beef farming in Ontario, says Joe Hill, vice-president of Beef Farmers of Ontario, particularly in terms of environmental best practices. “As an individual farmer it is harder to address these things, but at a research scale, we can sort out where the issues are and how to best manage them at a farm level. It is going to save farmers a lot of time and energy trying to sort through what their options are and how to meet these challenges.”
New facilities can also improve the University’s recruiting sales pitch for top-quality researchers, as well as students with an interest in livestock production.
One major project planned for the new facility will be the identification of genes and genomic markers to improve feed efficiency and decrease methane emissions in beef cattle. The federal government and Beef Farmers of Ontario are funding this work by Dr. Angela Canovas which dovetails nicely into the work by Dr. Katie Wood into best management practices to improve feed efficiency.
The province, the industry and the university invested $25 million in a new dairy research centre that opened in 2015 just up the road from the beef station. The beef barns are the second step in a long-term plan to upgrade all livestock research facilities at the university.