Part 1: GHGs and the beef industry. Solutions are coming

Beef has been likened to coal for its production of greenhouse gases. That sound byte is neither accurate nor fair. For sure, there are challenges to overcome, and we’re working fast to overcome them. This is Part 1 of our series on upcoming solutions.

It is unlikely that even the among the most reclusive there exists an individual who has not heard of the impacts and dire warnings regarding the rising human population, our increasing carbon intensity and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and the combined impact of these on our earth’s climate.

Many will be less familiar with the fact that that the global food system accounts for 21-37% of annual GHG emissions. Of these emissions, methane is among the most potent, often referenced as having more than 25 times the climate impact of CO2; it is also estimated that agricultural activity is responsible for 50% of the global methane emissions produced by humans.

Closer to home, in 2019 about 24% of Canada’s methane emissions originated within the agricultural sector. 90% or 21.65 million tonnes of methane was generated as a result of cattle and sheep production. (Editor’s note: Gentec collaborator and AAFC livestock specialist Karen Beauchemin is quoted in the link).

Still … A world’s got to eat.

It is expected that, with a growing population combined with a propensity to consume more protein per person (globally), the world will need to produce 70% more food in the coming decades. Who could blame them for wanting to enjoy safe, delicious, nutritious AND sustainable Alberta Beef.

So… what can be done?

John Basarab, Gentec Head of Beef Operations points out that Gentec and our industry and funding partners are investing significant resources towards improving the environmental footprint of Alberta beef production. This, by definition, increases industry sustainability. It is, however and by necessity, a stepped approach. Certain steps can be taken immediately and have an immediate impact.  Examples include modifying feeding regimes and/or the adding feed supplements such as lemongrass, seaweed or garlic to inhibit methane production.

Other, mid-term interventions, while more gradual in their impact, could reduce the beef-environmental footprint much more. These include genomics tools (molecular breeding values) to select for improved feed efficiency, reduced methane emissions, and other traits that can increase the productivity of the beef producer while improving quality.

And finally, longer-term interventions impacting health (such as vaccine development) and those that alter the microbial populations of the rumen show perhaps the greatest potential to reduce methane emissions.

But research and data are not enough. Each advance requires validation, demonstration and effort to get the tools and information necessary to reap the benefits of “science” into the hands of Alberta beef producers.

So, between us here at Gentec, our funding partners such as RDAR, our industry collaborators, and most importantly the individual beef producers… it truly is a team effort.

More information on each of these approaches along with their potential to improve the profitability and sustainability of the Alberta beef industry will appear in future editions of this newsletter. Stay tuned




Reviewing Key Principles for Gilts’ Lifetime Performance

On February 1, 2023, PIC  hosted a webinar and the first of two sessions of “The Impact of Gilt Development on the Future Sow Herd “.  This event had a global audience.

Sergio Canavate’s (PIC Global Applied Female Reproduction) presentation “Reviewing Key Principles for Gilt’s Lifetime Performance” highlighted some of the work from our collaborative industry project with PIC.

From 2018 to 2020, Jenny Patterson worked closely with Juan Carlos Pinilla, PIC Technical Services, to establish key principles to improve sow lifetime productivity. Pinilla summarizes the project as a powerful blend between the private sector and academia, where the private world was represented by Kekén , a large producer in Mexico, and PIC, a leading genetic supplier. Our overarching question was: Of the many potential factors involved, what key elements can be managed by farms? We understand lifetime performance as the expression of reproductive aspects (farrowing rate, litter size), management decisions (culling) and unexpected losses (sow mortality).

To answer the question, the collaborator provider extensive data from 2 years of individual gilts entering the system that were tracked until the last one hit the third weaning. That information was carefully reviewed and analyzed to come up with updated recommendations, driven by data. Those general recommendations are:

Early puberty: Start boar stimulation early enough (~170 days). Gilts should have a recorded heat by 195 days.

Breed gilts on at least 2nd detected estrus: Delay to 3rd estrus only to meet minimum weight targets.

Breed gilts between 140-160 kg body weight: Avoid going beyond that.

Breed gilts prior to 225 d of age: Older than that, they are likely overweight!

“We were extremely fortunate to work with Kekén because of their excellent gilt management practices and quality of data they collect, they set the bar high in terms of industry standards and biological performance,” says Jenny. She goes on to stress, “Gilts are the foundation that drives pig productivity now and in the future.”

This is supported by an always-growing empirical evidence from the field that shows systems with solid and consistent gilt programs tend to be more cost-efficient and competitive than their counterparts that don’t.

This project also highlighted the importance of using farm records to provide powerful insight to make data-driven decisions that positively affect overall herd performance. In the case of the replacement gilt, the necessary data are often not collected and/or analyzed… BUT critical to track and monitor reproductive success.

At Gentec, we value our industry partners, and we work together to address industry-wide issues. We continue to work collaborate with PIC to address sow longevity.

Jenny Patterson, Gentec Swine Industry Liaison

Juan Carlos Pinilla, PIC Technical Services




Introduction to the Beef Improvement Federation 2023 Symposium on Precision Breeding

The theme of this year’s BIF symposium focuses on practical ways to make selection decisions, and genetic improvement in general, more precise and better tailored to your environment and market. The Symposium program encompasses the most recent advances in tools and technology, with a strong focus on practical application. The four-day Symposium will include world-renown Canadian hospitality, producer recognition awards, a tour of the Technology Access Centre and new meat-processing teaching facility at Olds College, a showcase of data-integrated beef production value chain, and most notably, nine scientific sessions that discuss the state of the art with regard to genetic improvement.

This month, we focus on the Young Producer Symposium and the Plenary sessions: next month, the Technical Breakout sessions and the can’t-miss feedlot tour.


The Young Producer Symposium will take place July 3rd, 1 – 4 pm. With increasing consumer, climate, and regulatory pressures on beef production, there is a need to push the boundaries and stay ahead of the competition. Advanced technologies can provide that competitive edge; however, this level of innovation, from creation to adoption, requires purposeful investment in talent and expertise. This afternoon session for Young Producers will explore the potential for innovation in beef breeding, management, and direct sales through the lens of an innovation community.

Kicking off with learnings from the new Platform Innovation Centre, Calgary, we will hear how open social innovation is driving new technologies and increased investment in Canadian agri-tech. We will discuss how, by expanding our perspectives on what solutions and partnerships in beef production might look like, we can stay ahead of the curve in generating ideas and scaling solutions. This approach encourages collective action, and harnesses the potential for technology to solve today’s challenges. “Innovation Investment Opportunities in Ag-Tech” will explore how new technologies and innovations can be funded and implemented in agriculture. A panel of out-of-the-box thinkers and producers will discuss how they have successfully developed and implemented technology on ranch in “On-farm Innovations in Action.” The Symposium will conclude with a discussion on the value of mentorship for innovation.

This event is certainly not limited to young producers. If you have a passion for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, if you are young at heart – this is the conversation to be a part of!


The official BIF 2023 Symposium Welcome and Scholarship Reception will be held on July 3, 5 – 9 pm at the infamous Thomson’s Social Club, Calgary Hyatt Regency.

The Calgary Hyatt Regency is on Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary. This is ground zero for entertainment, exquisite food, and drink. Don’t let the night die young. Go out and explore!

This will be your first of many opportunities to experience true Canadian hospitality, and network with your follow BIF Symposium participants. We expect beef producers, industry leaders, and genetics extension specialists from across the globe to attend. Come reunite with old friends and make new ones. Students being awarded the Roy Wallace and Baker-Cundiff scholarships will be recognized during the reception.

Later that evening (7 – 9 pm), the National Association of Animal Breeders, the NAAB, a non-profit trade association serving the US dairy and beef artificial insemination industry, will host an information session titled “Breeding with Purpose: Using the reproductive tools available to capture value.” Dr. Ken Odde, a Kansas State University professor emeritus will discuss “Increasing Value of Steers Relative to Heifers: An opportunity for ‘Male’ Sexed Semen?”. If you’ve heard Dr. Odde before, you’ll agree that this straight shooter is worth the trip alone!

Day 1 of the BIF 2023 Symposium (at least the official program) will conclude with Mark McCully, American Angus Association CE0, and Dr. Clint Rusk, American International Charolais Association Executive Vice President, collaborating on how different reproductive tools and strategies can be used to increase the value of livestock breeding, “A Breed Perspective – Creating Tools for Desired Outcomes”.


This session brings views and insight from around the globe on how we can push the needle on genetic gain. To be as precise as possible in our achievements, we need to know where we’re going. We need to define the goals we are working to achieve. This is the nexus of our first four discussions. Starting us off, Dr. Peter Amer (AbacusBio Ltd.) will walk us through formulating that breeding objective. Dr. Brian Kinghorn, Emeritus Professor, University of New England, will build on this. Dr. Kinghorn will help us consider all possible outcomes of our objectives; and talk about how selection and mating decisions become actualized goals. As the year and decades roll by, the environment will change, and genetic improvement as a mitigation tool for beef production’s environmental footprint impact holds a lot of promise. Dr. Filippo Miglior, Lactanet, will share the progress being made by the Canadian dairy industry in achieving net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. Finally, Dr. Eileen Wall from Scotland’s Rural College will discuss breeding for resiliency and adaptability because, as the environment changes, our animals will need to be adaptable, some slightly and others more so.


Launching us into our second day of the BIF 2023 Symposium, Dr. John Crowley (AbacusBio Ltd.), will summarize Tuesday’s content on the theme of precision breeding, and set the stage for Wednesday’s talks. The session will begin with Dr. Juan Pedro Steibel, Iowa State University, addressing a rapidly-expanding topic: the use of hardware and sensors for phenomics to deliver complex data and advance animal breeding. Geoffrey Shmigelsky, CTO of OneCup AI Inc., how it couples AI and computer vision through on farm cameras to deliver a sophisticated animal monitoring and phenotyping system. Geoffrey will describe the development, validation, and challenges associated with on-farm development and deployment of this cutting-edge technology.

Advancements in Emerging Technology, chaired by Dr. Megan Rolf, Kansas State University

This session will kick off with Dr. Daniela Lourenco, University of Georgia, bringing us up to date on advancements in technology going into the generation of genomically-enhanced EPDs. Dr. Lourenco will discuss the opportunities and challenges that come with having massive amounts of genomics data being incorporated into single-step genomic evaluations as well as her take on new data sources. Next, Dr. Juan Hernandez Medrano, University of Calgary, will report on extensive studies of the impact of extreme weather on female fertility, and the role of epigenetics. Finally, Dr. Mahdi Saatchi, Iowa State University, presents RightMate from Top Genomics, and how it can improve depth and precision when evaluating the actual ability to transmit value and profit.

Advancements in End Product Improvement, chaired by Dr. Tommy Perkins, West Texas A&M University

With this session focusing on carcass, the National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) results will be presented by Michaela Clowser, NCBA, and Dr. Jeffrey Savell (Texas A&M University). The NBQA is a comprehensive survey that evaluates efforts to improve beef quality. Conducted every five years since 1991, the checkoff-funded Audit assesses progress on a variety of production issues that ultimately affect consumer demand for beef. This session will also provide recommendations for future producer priorities.

After learning about current carcass quality results, we turn to the task of continually improving carcass quality. Dr. Andy King, USMARC, and Dr. Manuel Juarez, AAFC, will talk on the use of machine learning and a new mass spectroscopy tool “REIMS”, and the use of high-throughput phenomics to improve beef quality, respectively.

To wrap up, the session chair, Dr. Tommy Perkins (West Texas A & M University), will give an update on ultrasound guidelines and approval of new software to estimate carcass quality. The BIF Guidelines to aid producers in selecting and improving beef cattle are divided into three principal sections: Data Collection and Processing, Genetic Evaluation, and Selection and Mating.

Advancements in Genomics and Genetic Prediction, chaired by Dr. Warren Snelling, US Meat Animal Research Center

This session will feature discussions surrounding current genetic evaluations and prediction developments. Dr. Steve Miller, University of New England, will talk about current advances in genetic selection with a strong influence of observations from Australia. Dr. John Basarab, Livestock Gentec/University of Alberta, will continue by addressing non-additive genetics. Dr. Basarab will discuss studies that measure the impact of genomically-assessed heterosis on fertility, stayability, cow lifetime productivity, health resilience and GHG emissions. Dr. Snelling will present the premise and approach for rewarding high-quality data recording with higher EPD accuracies. To end the session, Dr. Kajal Devani, Canadian Angus Assoc. will present a newly-developed genetic evaluation for high immune response and cow longevity.







At the Grill with William Torres: How are you filling the ag tech gap?

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) talks about connecting ag tech to “senior” decision-maker producers by focusing on dollars and SENSE, not raw data.

This one is for all my techies at the farm. Do you ever feel like you’re on a five-year mission to explore new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations? You might as well be on the Farmship Enterprise!

I have been a user of ag technology since university, and a bridge builder for close to 2 decades. The opportunity someone mentioned to me is that, “It feels like Ag-tech is too tech heavy. There’s not a lot of producers and growers in the conversation, and it feels like we’re talking at them, not with them.”

Remember, there are no problems, only opportunities.

I must slightly disagree with this statement, particularly here in Alberta. Quite a few companies are Western-Canada-based, and they have almost always worked directly with ranchers and growers or, at a minimum, they are doing user research with them on a frequent basis. They know they can’t expect a rancher/farmer to use a platform that wasn’t built with their direct input. I understand that, because of our ag backgrounds, we (tech developers) don’t need to include them in every meeting but we always focus on the farmer, and many on the team still have an active role in farming.

The Challenge: What I see, is that the younger generations that can learn and understand the benefits of today’s ag-tech are not the decision makers within their operations. The major decisions are still being made by the two previous generations. A large proportion of these generations are resistant to change. These farmers and ranchers have run an operation for many years in a particular way, and stick to the old adage of, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” They have been successful (or at least maintained) through the way they have done things, and see no reason to change.

The Opportunity: If you’re an ag tech user, sales rep and/or promoter, and you keep presenting the benefits in financial terms of Return on Investment (ROI), then you better be prepared to deliver dollars and SENSE.

What I mean is: break things down to where the dollars make sense.

For example, if you point out that your “tech” can improve the feed efficiency by… let’s say 10 – 15% by doing genetic selection; don’t tell me you have a “P value of 0.095 that can result in significance feed savings over the next 25 years.”

I’m not discounting data, data are good, and you can’t manage what you don’t measure. But present things in a way that make sense, like: “If you select a bull with a low score (like golf, golfers get it) for RFI of -0.125kg DM/day, the progeny will save you $55 / head annually over the next 6 years. With your herd of 100 cattle, this means 41 round bales that you DON’T have to feed every year. You can sell those bales for $140 each, and voilà, you just made an extra $5,500/year

AND…. with that $5,500, at a $1.60 per diesel litre, that’s almost 3,500 litres of diesel saved.

Remember techies, if the older generations do not see the value in or are generally resistant to learning new technology, visual representations of money are very helpful. We all like to see where our money is going or, better yet, where it doesn’t have to go.


BCRC: 25 years strong

It all began with an explosive growth in production and exports in the Nineties, thanks in part to agreements like NAFTA, followed by a contraction in ag research funding through entities like Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. But the growth period highlighted the need for targeted research to meet industry needs on topics as broad as forage, animal health and welfare and, more recently, sustainability and climate. Suddenly, it was clear that ag research was not adequately funded. The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) was born out of that need.

“In 2004 when I started, we funded a handful of research projects, and received 5c of the one dollar national checkoff,” admits Andrea Brocklebank, Executive Director at the BCRC.

(Editor’s note: Back then, the BCRC worked closely with the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Bovine Genomics, Gentec’s predecessor, and Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC’s Science Director, sat on Gentec’s Management Advisory Board. Also, Gentec CEO Graham Plastow remembers how meeting staff at BCRC and understanding their vision helped set the agenda for Gentec in terms of open collaboration. He says they have been a fantastic partner for Gentec’s beef research, and recommends subscribing to their blogs and webinars to keep up-to-date. They really do a fantastic job in bringing research to producers for application.)

Over the years, the BCRC focused on increasing investment and demonstrating value. That means extension and production-based research that leads directly back to benefits on the farm. BCRC’s portfolio also had to broaden because, from the consumer perspective, things changed. There was a new expectation to provide sound science to support agricultural practices and their impacts on animal welfare and the environmental footprint as well as to inform public trust and policy issues.

“We needed science to inform those issues because emotions get in the way,” explains Andrea. “That background compelled the understanding that we needed more industry investment in research.”

In 2012, the BCRC launched an important extension initiative aimed at producers—a growing online presence focusing on the website. The annual webinar series and the monthly newsletter, The Wire, are industry benchmarks. And the economic tools that help producers make customized decisions for their operations are a particular source of pride for Andrea.

“Extension excites me because we don’t have a traditional model but we make it relevant so we’re more likely to increase uptake. As an economist, I’m most proud of bringing economics into extension. Now, we can say, ‘Here’s the science. It’s valid. Here are the economic costs and benefits to consider when implementing in your operation.”

For example, should a producer drill a new well to improve water quality? Better access to water improves calf growth and animal health even though there’s an upfront cost. That benefit is hard to calculate, and drives industry adoption or not.

“Demonstrating BCRC’s contribution to industry really paid off when we went to increase the checkoff in 2016,” says Andrea. “We got an increase to $2.50/head for research and marketing of which the increase for research was around 70c.”

A more unusual aspect of extension has been the growing relationship between researchers and producers. Being a new researcher, being new to Canada and not knowing the Canadian beef context or simply not having an ag background are significant extra barriers to an already fraught process. To address that these researchers weren’t always successful in getting industry funding, the BCRC launched the Beef Researcher Mentorship Program.

“It’s been five years now. I thought we’d run out of applicants but far from it,” says Andrea. “Now, researchers are more confident in asking questions. Their connections are wider, and their proposals stronger. Some of the earlier mentees are now leads in fairly large projects that we fund.”

Looking ahead, the BCRC’s 2030 goals focus on economic sustainability, the environment and targets set by producers, vets, funders and a broad cross section of the industry to bring strong buy-in for the priorities. Among those is genetics.

“We recognize that, compared to other sectors, genetic improvement has significant potential to address some of our goals on increasing productivity,” says Andrea. “We also recognize that genetic improvement has been slower in beef than in other areas. So we look to organizations like Gentec and the Canadian Beef Improvement Network to accelerate that.”

That will take a two-pronged approach: research and extension, at which BCRC, Gentec and CBIN all excel. Because, as Andrea says:

“Being with producers reminds me about sustainability and the strengths of Canadian beef as, for example, having the one of the lowest global environmental footprints. But, at the end of the day, if producers aren’t financially sustainable, the rest doesn’t matter! That’s what the BCRC is about.”

For more insight on the BCRC’s milestone birthday, see here, and video here.









Hands-on Learning: Grazing management and the Alberta Agrisystems Living Laboratory

The Alberta AgriSystems Living Laboratory (AALL) represents a new approach to combating global climate change, and is a component of the broader federal Agricultural Climate Solutions (ACS) program. The ACS program is designed to combine traditional agricultural research with on-farm/ranch producer knowledge in a co-development process that evaluates newly-implemented beneficial management practices (BMPs).

Individual BMPs are evaluated on how they can improve productivity and profitability, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints and increase carbon storage in agricultural lands. ACS projects are led by non-research organizations (e.g., industry and not-for-profits) who serve as liaisons to facilitate on-farm/ranch co-development and evaluation of BMPs. The AALL is one such organization, led by the Alberta Beef Producers. It draws on the expertise of a wide range of industry partners from across the province, including crop commissions, non-governmental organizations, and private industry.

The network of living labs nationwide has the goals of increasing our fundamental understanding of agricultural impacts on soil carbon stock, stability, and GHG dynamics, and of fostering a greater understanding among producers as to how they may help combat climate change while benefiting their bottom line. The combination of fundamental research and on-farm/ranch co-development in which agricultural experts advise on implementing BMPs as well as monitoring field-level responses allows for an enhanced predictive framework on how widespread changes in agricultural land-use practices can benefit all of society.

Several BMPs are capable of contributing to carbon storage and GHG mitigation. These include practices such as intercropping, restoration of perennial forage lands, strategic enhancement of plant diversity (e.g., in forage lands), agroforestry, riparian area conservation, and the use of technologies to increase fertilizer use efficiency and reduce nutrient loss. Additionally, with nearly 10 million hectares of grazing land in Alberta supporting more than 1.5 million breeding cows, finding ways to increase carbon storage in perennial grazing lands is an important strategy to combat climate change. Grazing lands are important for storing soil carbon, typically supporting 30-50% larger carbon stocks than annual cropland. Moreover, grazing lands provide other environmental goods and services (EG&S), such as conserving biodiversity, supporting wildlife, reducing erosion, and maintaining water quality. While the benefits of perennial forage lands over croplands are relatively well-known, what is less understand is HOWgrazing can be fine-tuned to increase these EG&S, including enhancing carbon storage and GHG reduction.

Recent work completed at UAlberta using a network of study ranches across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba suggests that a specialized form of rotational grazing, known as adaptive, multi-paddock (AMP) grazing, could benefit grasslands and producers. AMP grazing entails the use of small paddocks and elevated stock densities, with frequent moves to ensure long recovery periods between grazing events. On those sites, long-term use of AMP grazing improved water infiltration and forage production. In addition, AMP-grazed grasslands had deeper topsoils that contained more carbon, and the microbial community of AMP soils had greater methanotrophic activity, which increased ‘consumption’ of methane. Based on these very encouraging results, this work is being expanded within the AALL to more comprehensively field-test the benefits of AMP grazing on a variety of EG&S, including pasture health, forage agronomics (yield and quality), carbon storage and GHG dynamics.

Among the novel aspects of the AALL program is the projects’ interdisciplinary nature. Researchers work hand-in-hand with producers to identify opportunities to implement BMPs, foster their implementation, and then monitor their impact. Together with the collection of field data evaluating changes in carbon stock and stability, and ongoing fluxes of GHGs such as CO2, CH4 and N2O, is the assessment of net impacts of BMPs on producer cost of production and, therefore, profitability. Additionally, detailed management data on the land use activities prior to the study and during the interval encompassed by the monitoring period from 2023 through 2026, during and following BMP implementation, are used to better understand when, where and how land use practices may mitigate climate change, while fully assessing their feasibility of implementation. Furthermore, the AALL includes a socio-economic evaluation of the uptake of BMPs by participants directly involved in the AALL and producers throughout Alberta. Producers interested in adopting BMPs themselves will have the opportunity to view and learn about the impacts of newly-implemented BMPs in similar production scenarios. The grazing management component of the AALL is being led by Edward Bork (of the Rangeland Research Institute and Gentec partner) with a large team of scientists from UAlberta with expertise in many disciplines. Gentec scientists including Carolyn Fitzsimmons and ChangXi Li of Agriculture and AgriFood Canada and John Basarab and Paul Stothard (UofA) will be considering how genomics can support these efforts.

If you are a rancher and interested in participating in the project, contact Edward Bork for more information.

If you are an agricultural producer (cropping, beef, forage) and interested in the AALL and other BMPs, check out the website.



At the Grill with William Torres: Things I learned about the cattle industry that apply anywhere

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) writes about the on-farm management skills that are valuable commodities in any industry.

Decades ago, I left our family’s ranch to venture on my own path in the military. Little did I know that agriculture and military service had a lot in common. The top three things I noticed after I returned to ag-life are:

  • The public has no idea what we do.
  • The government is always trying to take more money away from us.
  • Activists are always trying to tell us how to do our job.

But what other similarities do agriculture and military service have? Well… I believe it is as much a national service to be in agriculture as to be in the military. A very small percentage of Canadians serve in the military (1.4%); those primarily involved in ag number just over 2%. Not to mention that veterans feel right at home working in a farm. Both sectors are mission-focused, require discipline, and are physically demanding.

If you think about it, these last items are just some of the skills that can translate anywhere. If you ever left the farm, any employer should gladly welcome them. Then there’s problem solving skills, because we all know you need to fix a never-ending number of problems on the ranch.

Another similarity is the early adoption of technology. Many farmers and ranchers utilize tools to aid in their everyday chores. Think about it, how many of you use apps to track things at the ranch? From calving data, feed deliveries, commodities trading, etc. Data management is crucial. Even now as we approach bull sale season again, many ranchers have already downloaded or ordered their bull sale catalogue. This is just the first step in data-crunching to make decisions for your outfit. Making sense of EPDs (see my take on this in February 2022’s At the Grill feature) is just data analyzing.

We all use data management skills daily, most times unaware of what we are doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re going over last year’s crop records, plotting them against the last 10 years, forecasting this year’s outcome based on new mixtures of fertilizers, perhaps a new seed type—all are examples of how we examine and use data on every level. On the cattle side, you might be closer to getting your licence as a commodities broker than you realize. Making sense of the beef market report, trading against the US dollar, locking in contracts, hedging your longs and shorts are no easy tasks. It takes some serious dedication and knowledge to stay alive in the markets.

We learn so many skills at the farm that we could use anywhere else. So why leave the farm when you could put all that knowledge to good use—or better yet, send your next generation of farmers and ranchers to master these skills at an institution, and bring them home to ensure your long-term sustainable operation plan has the tools to succeed.




At the Grill with William Torres: Trust yourself, and let people know

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) develops the case for trusting that producers know what they’re doing to raise the best beef for the price and for sustainability.

Did you know that cowboys (and cowgirls) are some of the most trustworthy people? So why do consumers want to know how their food is produced?

Advertising products as “natural” has impacted how people choose what they buy. Our (the industry) problem is that we don’t speak out about the benefits of some of the technology we use, like hormone implants,  for example.

Using an implant reduces the carbon footprint, reduces water intake, and manure output because we reduce the time an animal requires to grow to maturity. If we removed such advantage, we would extend greatly the amount of time an animal requires to reach slaughter weight—and those benefits are gone.

Imagine you run a business and you hire an accountant, but you tell the accountant that you don’t like electronic files, and you rather have an old-school ledger. Oh, AND you want to reduce carbon emissions, so you want them to deliver this ledger on a bicycle every month. Well, they would probably charge more for this service, right? It doesn’t mean that this way of doing things is better, it’s just more labour-intensive and they must recover those costs. The same goes for cattle raised without hormones and/or antibiotics. Feeding these animals is now longer and more costly, and this cost will be passed on to the consumer.

Unfortunately, sometimes, when we see a higher price, we assume there’s an environmental reason or added benefit. But the reality is the opposite. When we (the industry) don’t speak out and let people know that food is safe, consumers at the grocery store make their own assumptions as to why some meats cost more than others.

Whether you choose to raise your cattle with added benefits of technology or decide to reduce these benefits, the care and pride you take with your cattle doesn’t change. It is your right to run your ranch as you see fit. If you decide to hug your cattle at birth , take a selfie for evidence, and provide them only with bottled water… and you believe that you can capitalize on this practice and sell your cattle for more money, then go ahead. But it doesn’t make that beef taste any better than the rest.

Genetically speaking, the breed of the cattle, the crossbreeding (if any), and their diet are the benefits you provide to the consumer to make their experience a delicious one. Take 100% grass-fed cattle vs. those that are grain-fed; grass-fed cattle can still finish with a desirable amount of marbling if the genetics are in place, and the dining experience will still be a favourable one. For those of us on the inside, we know that you can’t take an animal from Ethiopia, like a Zenga, and expect it to taste like Angus beef.

A 2022 public trust survey by the ministry of agriculture in Saskatchewan  revealed that “87% of Saskatchewan residents have a positive perception of (Saskatchewan) agriculture. In fact, overall public perception of agriculture has continued to remain strong over the last 10 years, with an average of 88.2 per cent.”

People trust us—and they should—because we do what we do for the love of it.

So, tell your story, explain why your choice in genetics is what makes your cattle different and taste better. Don’t sit there and expect some scientist to provide a 30-page paper with every roast purchase and for the consumer to make sense of it and understand why you care so much for your cattle, their well-being, and how your family has been doing this for generations with the same level of commitment.




The the real money behind calf petting

“I became fascinated about how we might increase the profitability of the livestock industry simply by improving the welfare of farm animals in Brazil,” says Désirée Gellatly, Research Scientist at the Olds College Technology Access Centre for Livestock Production. “Mostly, when we interact with animals—for vaccinations, health treatment, ear tags, etc.—it’s an adverse stimulus. There must be other ways of doing these procedures without causing animals to be frightened of us in the next handling occasions.”

Back in Brazil, Dr. Gellatly was part of a research group studying best practices to improve the productivity, health, and welfare of dairy calves. One of the studies involved assessing tactile stimulation in newborn calves by gently rubbing the hands on their body to mimic maternal stimulation, such as licking and grooming. The licking behaviour performed by the cow cleans the calf, induces calf thermal regulation and creates a bond between the cow-calf pair. Briefly, all mammals have a specialized type of nerve receptors in the skin which signal the brain to perceive a nonpainful stimuli (such as massage-like gentle stroking) as “affective” and “pleasant” sensations. Evidence shows that tactile stimulation performed by humans in laboratory animals permanently affected brain development (more synapses) and the HPA  axis,which mediates stress responses. More positive sensory interaction in early life, less secretion of stress hormones – so less fight-or-flight response in adulthood. These changes are permanent.

“All mammals and birds have a window in brain development where the brain is more sensitive to environmental influences,” says Désirée. “In humans, this window is enhanced in the first five years of age. That’s why young kids learn languages better than adults. It’s also why babies are given to mom immediately after birth… to start the sensory interaction that helps brain development.”

Why and how do you pet/massage a calf? The most sensitive period of brain development in calves is in the first week. So, we recommend immediately after processing the calves (weighing, ear tagging, vaccination, and injections), to apply gentle but firm pressure (avoid light tickle touches) with your hands around the legs, back and areas that the cow would lick.

Désirée has been working with Lance and Karyn Neilson of Neilson Cattle Development near Stettler, AB, on this approach. In their first study, half the newborn calves got just one single occasion of 1-minute massage after processing procedures at 1-day of age. The massaged calves required 20% less treatments for illnesses over time, and, at weaning, were 47 lb. heavier than the unmassaged calves.

“It’s interesting that recent studies in Brazil on zebu beef cattle are finding the same results,” says Désirée. “Studies in laboratory animals attribute the greater growth performance in massaged animals to the greaterexploratory behaviour observed in those animals compared to control groups, perhaps because their brain develops differently, so they start eating solids earlier.”

A second study on the Neilson’s ranch compared different weaning methods: abrupt separation, nose-flap,and fenceline weaning. The fenceline approach was best for improving growth and reducing illness post-weaning. The nose-flap method raised some welfare concerns due to the high incidence of animals with skin lesions in both nostrils that last up to 14-days after removing the devices.

All that is fine for calves but the Neilsons also wanted to improve the reproductive efficiency of their herd. So came the third study , which resulted in much calmer heifers after acclimation to handlingand a 2-3% higher pregnancy rate compared to the control group. A validation study a year later produced a 10.8% better pregnancy rate in acclimated heifers compared to the non-acclimated control group.

“Now the acclimation procedure is permanent on this farm,” confirms Désirée. “Lance and Karyn found value in it. They were worried it would take too much time out of their day so I checked. With just the two of them, it took 15 minutes a day to acclimate 100 animals. I believe it’s doable for most producers in Western Canada!”

Désirée’s next step is to assess whether the benefits of tactile stimulation in newborn calves comes from the treatment “massage”, not from the genetics (sire). She’s planning to apply for project funding in collaboration with Gentec to find out exactly that.

“Cattle don’t do well in new situations,” she says. “If we can reduce their fear from day one through best practices and make it worthwhile for the producer, it’s got to be a win-win.”

Hypor announces new research partnership with Gentec at the Banff Pork Seminar

Well over 700 people attended the Banff Pork Seminar (BPS) from all over Canada and internationally. Canada’s top pig producers, industry specialists and decision makers represented nearly 80% of the attendees, and nearly a quarter were pig producers. Overall, presentations and discussions could impact many of Canada’s 1.2 million sows and, since 8 of the top 16 USA Mega Producers (Pork Powerhouse) were present, influencing >2.0 million sows in total.

Key players from all sectors of the industry, including production, veterinary, feed, genetics, pharmaceuticals, and provincial pork organizations were in attendance. This audience represents a goldmine for academics to share their research and to hear what questions they need answering for the future success of the industry.

During the conference, Hypor announced a new research partnership with Gentec supported by an Alliance grant from NSERC (Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada). This 4-year project will identify the underlying genetic and phenotypic relationships between different traits in order to achieve more balanced selection to improve sow lifetime productivity, production profitability and sustainability. Greg Simpson, General Manager at Hypor North America, stated “This is an incredible opportunity to work collaboratively with world class researchers to further knowledge on sow longevity.”  See article here .

The project is based on Gentec’s core principal of “Research into Reality”. “From this project, we will be able to provide recommendations for the management of gilts, sows and their progeny to deliver improved performance at the commercial producer level.”

BPS continues put on an excellent program hosting world-class speakers and a blend of plenary speakers and practical breakout sessions. Banks Baker from PIC spoke on the role that genetic improvement plays in a sustainable food system. He noted how genetic improvements address problems and reduce impacts before they occur, that raising the right animal is critical to the sustainability of protein production (i.e., healthy, robust pigs are more profitable, and reduce environmental impact). PIC believes that technology advances such as gene editing are a part of future animal health, delivering value and supporting improvement across the full value chain.

Dr. David Rosero in the “Technology” breakout stated that, “Swine production systems are rapidly adopting smart farming technologies to address the increasing pressure of higher production costs and the limited access to qualified labour”. At Gentec, we see that imaging technologies will allow us to collect difficult-to-measure phenotypic traits that also play an important role in implementing genomics.