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New name and facilities for Western Beef Development Centre

A new facility at the University of Saskatchewan includes both cow-calf and forage research

There are changes afoot at the Western Beef Development Centre (WBDC) including a new name, additional locations and increased research, teaching and outreach capacity.

On April 1, 2018, the Western Beef Development Centre, a division of the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI), rolled into the University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence (LFCE).WBDC now goes by the name of the Forage and Cow-Calf Research and Teaching Unit (FCCRTU). Although the name has changed, the unit is continuing and expanding the forage research, education and extension work that WBDC has been doing for the past 20 years. All the staff and researchers crossed over to become University of Saskatchewan employees with the exception of general manager Jim Wasserman, who is an employee of PAMI.

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New facilities at Clavet

Besides some upgrades to the University of Saskatchewan’s 2,000-acre Goodale Research and Teaching Farm site, state-of-the-art facilities are being built south of Clavet, including a new 1,500-head feedlot for the Beef Cattle Research and Teaching Unit, with double the capacity of the former feedlot in Saskatoon.

Across the road from the feedlot, the construction of a new home for the Forage Cow-Calf Research and Teaching Unit should be completed in fall 2018. The 300-female breeding herd will not relocate until fall 2019, and will remain at the Termuende Research Ranch near Lanigan, which will still be used until current grazing research projects are completed in 2020.

Interim director Kathy Larson says the new LFCE offers a “pasture to plate” focus, facilitating collaboration between all the different researchers and allowing better integration of various trials.

“Having new facilities literally across the road from each other makes collaboration a lot more seamless,” she says. “We have a forage plot for the forage breeders right nearby, so they’ll be developing new varieties that we’re then seeding and assessing with grazing preference trials and ability to overwinter on a field scale. We can also see how those forages are being digested with the metabolism barn and cannulated animals. What makes this facility special is that we can tie in researchers from a variety of disciplines and focus areas — forage development, reproductive physiology, environmental sustainability, genetics, herd health, animal behaviour, feedlot management, nutrition, cow-calf management and pasture management, to name a few.”

Larson says the new Clavet location, just 20 minutes outside of Saskatoon, is also more convenient for researchers and students. “Students can quickly commute from campus to their research plots or trial pens, and they have the option to stay and work in the 12-carrel student room at the BCRTU or return to campus for classes.”

Updated technology

There is also some updated technology for the laboratory facilities at the Beef Cattle Research and Teaching Unit and a 24-stall metabolism barn that will allow researchers to do additional work in gut and rumen research.

GrowSafe feed bunks have been installed in pens at the BCRTU which allow the measuring of individual animal intakes, as well as a GrowSafe Beef watering station in one 200-head pen that can estimate weights and health status of animals when they come for a drink.

“When an animal goes up to drink water, it has to step onto a platform that reads their ID tag and takes a weight as it drinks,” says Larson. “It then does a calculation using the front half of the animal’s weight to estimate the animal’s overall weight. We can now measure gain without having to run animals through a chute every time.”

Behavioural scientist Dr. Diego Moya joined the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in January, and additional animal behaviour-monitoring equipment is being installed to assist with his research.

Connecting with producers

Connecting with producers is an essential part of LCFE’s role, says Larson.

“It’s important to make sure that the research we’re doing is relevant and applicable plus we need to share the results with producers. We can’t be anywhere in the beef industry without forages and that’s why it’s front and centre in our Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence. Throughout a beef animal’s life, it is consuming forages.”

Larson says outreach is a huge part of what the facility is designed to do. “There’s more room where the cattle are handled and bleachers have been added because we want to host events, such as the feedlot management school,” says Larson. “The space has been configured for the side demonstrations and training of students.”

Expanded forage research

New forages are being established this year at the new lands south of Clavet so that grazing trials can begin in 2019. They will include a four-year study into novel mixtures of annual and perennial forages. The aim is to determine effects on biomass and nutritive value, pasture water cycle dynamics, soil nutrients and sequestration, GHG emissions and system economics. The second, two-year trial will evaluate new perennial forage cultivars for biomass, quality, persistence and carbohydrate reserves under high-stock-density grazing.

There are a number of continuing beef and forage trials at Lanigan, led by Dr. Bart Lardner of the University of Saskatchewan, which will be completed by 2020. A two-year study is evaluating extended forages in conventional versus non-conventional (with no cattle implants or antibiotics) backgrounding programs. Lanigan is also the site of a two-year study evaluating forage yield and quality, soil nutrients, grazing capacity and the economics of polycrop mixtures compared to barley swath grazing.

A three-year study at the site is looking at novel binary (grass-legume) mixtures managed during late summer and early fall for forage biomass and quality, botanical composition, grazing animal performance and system economics. The other three-year study at Lanigan is evaluating sod-seeded non-bloat legumes. Early results indicate addition of legumes in existing pastures contributes to increased biomass, forage quality and steer performance.

Lardner’s team has just finished a three-year study evaluating DNA parentage testing in multi-sire breeding programs. Results show tremendous variability between which bulls are contributing to the calf crop each year. The study found some sires were giving 54 calves, while another bull in the same breeding group only had one calf.

“We are starting a second applied genomic study in 2018, evaluating not only parentage testing, but also bull behaviour and repeatability, and finally whether the calves are expressing the desirable performance traits passed on from the high genetic merit sire,” says Lardner.

This article was originally published in the 2018 issue of the Forage & Grassland Guide.

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