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Building foundational skills

Participants at the first Feedlot School offered by the Maritime Beef Council in 2017.

If you're new to beef production or looking to expand your skillset, start with our roundup of resources for practical skills and knowledge

No matter where you are in your career, there's always value in learning something new.

When the Maritime Beef Council created the Atlantic Beef School, the goal was to provide the region's cow-calf and feedlot producers with opportunities for applicable professional development, and in a few short years the program has done just that.

"We have had new entrants, established producers, extension staff and industry salespeople all give positive feedback from sessions that they attended, so the scope of who would benefit is quite wide," says Amy Higgins with the Maritime Beef Council.

The program started in 2017 with a feedlot school module focused on health management, followed by another on dairy-beef production. In 2019, eight cow-calf modules were created to "cover all aspects of the beef production cycle," Higgins explains, to be spread out over two to three years.

The cow-calf modules are on pasture management systems, herd health management, feeding and nutrition management, cattle handling systems, reproductive systems management, herd procurement and replenishment, marketing strategies/value chain and farm business management.

"The development of the Maritime Beef Sector Development and Growth Strategy identified these modules as high-impact areas to profitability," she says. "The feedlot school is designed to be a bit more fluid with no set curriculum but offering certain topics with an ability to respond to that sector's need."

The courses are open to everyone, even participants outside the Maritimes. Originally, the Atlantic Beef School was an in-person program, but currently the modules are being offered online.

"Since moving entirely to virtual delivery, the future of the Beef School may involve some sort of hybrid delivery, as there are people who would prefer an in-person learning experience, and there are others who prefer the flexibility of taking the training from their own office," says Higgins.

The Atlantic Beef School is just one of the options available to Canadian beef producers who want to improve their practical skills. Here, we've highlighted a selection of resources and programs for anyone seeking to expand their knowledge of production practices.

Beef Cattle Research Council

In addition to its research priorities, the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) has developed a wide range of resources for beef producers as part of its extension activities. Throughout the year, producers can take part in BCRC's monthly webinars and receive e-newsletters with recent blog posts.

BCRC has developed a producer-focused website, BeefResearch.ca, to share news related to beef cattle research in Canada and resources on production practices. Producers can access videos and fact sheets. The decision-making tools section features a host of tools and calculators created by BCRC to help producers make decisions related to a variety of aspects of beef production. This includes winter feed cost comparison, evaluating feed test results, vaccination cost/benefits and the impact of body condition on cow productivity and profitability, among many other decision-making tools available.

Thompson Rivers University Applied Sustainable Ranching diploma

The Williams Lake, B.C. campus of Thompson Rivers University offers an applied sustainable ranching diploma, which can be taken in-class or online, making it a flexible option for those who are already ranching. This hands-on, interdisciplinary program is focused on developing practical beef production skills through real-life experience, either on your operation or on a home-stay ranch for your practicum.The program also focuses on giving students the knowledge and skills to build and manage a profitable beef operation through courses on business, land management, natural resources and marketing.

Continuing education at agriculture schools

Several post-secondary institutions across Canada offer continuing education courses in agriculture. Olds College at Olds, Alta., has a beef production certificate for non-students, as well as hands-on courses in artificial insemination, agribusiness finance and field-to-plate direct marketing. The college also offers a program on veterinary medicine geared towards teenagers.

Continuing education at Vermilion, Alta.'s Lakeland College includes workshops on calving, artificial insemination and using the feed management app CowBytes.

Many Canadian universities and colleges open their regular in-person and online courses to non-students. For example, Dalhousie University's faculty of agriculture in Truro, Nova Scotia, has online courses open to those not enrolled at the university. The past semester saw courses offered in principles of animal welfare and husbandry, animal feed and nutrient management, forages and cover crops, soil fertility, and introduction to animal health science.

Provincial extension programs

If your province has an agriculture extension program, you can contact extension specialists with production-related questions or browse online resource directories. For example, Saskatchewan Agriculture's Sask Ag Now website features a livestock and feed section with articles on a range of related topics and posts on upcoming events and programs. You can also sign up for a monthly e-newsletter with Sask Ag Now's top stories.

About the author

Field editor

Piper Whelan

Piper Whelan is a field editor with Canadian Cattlemen. She grew up on a purebred, Maine-Anjou ranch near Irricana, Alta., and previously wrote for Top Stock, Western Horse Review, and various beef breed publications.

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