By Dwayne Summach, MSc., PAg., Regional Livestock Specialist, Kindersley
The Saskatchewan Beef Industry Conference (SBIC) was held January 24 and 25 at the Saskatoon Inn. At the conference, Dr. Karen Beauchemin of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, delivered a presentation on improving efficiency as a way to reduce the environmental impact of beef production. The main ways that livestock producers have to reduce the carbon footprint related to meat production are: the genetic selection of more efficient animals, manipulation of dietary ingredients for complementarity of nutrients to minimize overfeeding, and the use of feed additives that result in more efficient use of supplied nutrients.
Dr. Beauchemin and her colleagues have been conducting studies into a feed additive that, when included at very low dietary levels, two grams per head per day for cattle reduce methane emissions by 42 per cent. This is not incremental improvement in efficiency; this technology represents a substantial improvement in efficiency. The additive inhibits the last step in methane formation in the rumen, resulting in the energy that would normally be released in association with burps and eructation to remain in the digestive tract and be absorbed by the animal. The end result is more meat produced with less methane. The current expectation is that this additive will be licensed and commercially available sometime prior to 2021.
Dr. Jillian Bainard of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Swift Current Research and Development Centre discussed the pros and cons of using cover crops for forage production. Cover crop in this context is the term used for growing multiple species together, which is also referred to as polycrops or forage cocktail mixtures. These mixtures often include a combination of several different types of warm season and cool season plants: cereal, brassica and legumes with different rooting patterns.
The suggested benefits of these diverse mixtures include increased biodiversity leading to a more sustainable ecosystem, improved soil fertility, increased soil porosity and erosion control. They may contribute to management of crop pests and be disruptive to disease cycles. Diverse crop mixtures may also lead to an improvement in stable soil aggregates, increase soil organic matter and increase the fraction of labile organic carbon.
The drawbacks to routine use of diverse crop species include limited options for weed control, additional workload at seeding to generate optimum seed to soil contact and seeding depth for a range of seed sizes. Seeding rates in complex mixtures are often established from taking an educated guess rather than from research findings. The quality of the resulting forage mixture is speculated on at the time of seeding and is only known once the crop has been grown and analysis conducted.
If you have questions regarding improving operational efficiencies of your livestock operation or require assistance in planning a multi species forage mixture, contact your Regional Livestock or Forage Specialist.