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Beef and forage issues series aims to boost innovation

Forages: News Roundup from the September 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

A livestock extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture says it’s important that cattle consume the feed in front of them, especially when considering body condition score over winter.

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has published a series of six articles covering a pilot project that brought together farmers, ranchers, scientists and experts to improve technology and innovation adoption.

For the pilot, participants toured east-central Alberta farms and discussed several topics. One topic was smooth versus rough awns. Many cattle feeders have voiced concerns about mouth abscesses and lesions caused by rough-awned cereals over the years, said Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at Alberta Agriculture’s Ag Info Centre.

“If you are the producer of a cereal crop, you will take into account operating costs with yield outcomes. Assume less than a one per cent incidence of mouth lesions from cattle consuming awned crops, but superior yield under drought conditions compared to awnless. That means you take the chance and grow those varieties,” said Yaremcio.

In drought conditions, smooth-awned varieties won’t produce as well, Yaremcio added, leaving ranchers short on feed. “A low incidence of mouth lesions is a small price to pay to ensure feed for the entire herd.”

Pat Juskiw, barley breeder with Alberta Agriculture in Lacombe, said that while certain beneficial traits sought by industry can be bred into new varieties, there will usually be trade-offs. For example, if a producer is considering an end-use requiring a malting grade, barbs may be part of the risk.

“Smooth awns in six-row barley are now an industry standard,” said Juskiw. “In two-row barley there has been push back on smooth awns due to end-use risks associated with loss of quality, especially in malting types.”

Triticale was another topic of discussion during the tour. As a cross between wheat and rye, triticale is more drought-tolerant and resistant to diseases and pests than either of its parent crops.

Taza spring triticale is a newer variety that has proven popular with livestock producers for silage, greenfeed or swath grazing due to its reduced awn.

“Taza is impressive with its volume of forage even under dry conditions,” said Mazen Aljarrah, Alberta Agriculture plant breeder working at the Lacombe Field Crop Development Centre. Aljarrah developed Taza spring triticale.

“To get the increased forage yield, plant height was sacrificed. Like most varieties of triticale, the white waxy appearance on the leaves and stems of the Taza plants help to hold in the moisture resulting in reduced losses of water to evaporation. That was critical to production under the drought conditions of 2018.”

Andrea Hansen is a livestock extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture. It’s important that cattle consume the feed in front of them, she said, especially when looking at body condition score over winter.

“When palatability is an issue, our concern is cow weight loss during cold temperatures,” said Hansen. “Newer varieties do not have the same palatability issues attributed to triticale in the past.”

The project included researchers from the Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre, specialists from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and members of the Alberta Beef Producers and the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta.

For more information on the series, contact Susan Markus at [email protected].

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