Provincial livestock and feed extension specialist Catherine Lang reminded producers to test their water because it has a significant impact on the health of their animals. Photo: Gord Waldner.

LFCE summer field day returns

After a one-year hiatus, the annual Summer Field Day at the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence (LFCE) took place earlier this summer on July 20.

By Jessica Colby

The Canadian Western Agribition (CWA) sponsored the one-day event that attracted 142 people to the research centre. Organizers described the day’s theme as “Back to Business” — signifying the world’s gradual return to regular activities after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

All the field day’s events took place at the LFCE’s Beef Cattle Research and Teaching Unit (BCRTU) and Forage and Cow-calf Research and Teaching Unit (FCRTU), which are both located south of Clavet, Sask.

“This field day was a shining example of the co-operation and partnerships inherent in the LFCE. [Saskatchewan] Ministry of Agriculture staff chaired the field day committee, with engagement by researchers and students from across the university, LFCE staff members and our Strategic Advisory Board, and direct involvement by the Saskatchewan Cattleman’s Association,” said Dr. Scott Wright (PhD), director of the LFCE. 

“Amidst the challenges of COVID, field day attendees were treated to a variety of perspectives and research findings, backed up by forage videos made available on our YouTube channel and Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association website for research we were not able to include in the tour. LFCE is open for business!”

Go to the LFCE's YouTube channel to view these videos:

The morning kicked off with a panel discussion featuring Dr. Scott Wright, the LFCE’s new director, market analyst Anne Wasko, and Cynthia Beck, a clinical psychology graduate student at the University of Regina.

The three panelists spoke about what the pandemic has meant for the agriculture industry, for researchers and for the mental health of farmers, as well as what getting “back to business” might look like in the coming months.

Next, the crowd welcomed Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) reproduction specialist Dr. Gregg Adams (DVM, PhD), who gave more details about his multi-year, multi-phase research initiative called “IntegrOmes” that will create and apply genomics and other technological tools to enhance sustainable animal agriculture and environmental stewardship.

The wide-ranging research program includes working with Indigenous communities to develop the world’s first bison genome biobank at the LFCE, which is already home to a herd of wild bison.

During the afternoon, attendees boarded one of three buses for the "Pens, Plots and Paddocks Tour" to visit forage test sites as well as the two research and teaching units. At each stop, visitors had a chance to hear more about current research projects taking place at the LFCE.

Annual and perennial forage systems — effect on yield, quality, steer performance and gas emissions
Dr. Bart Lardner (PhD) and Megan Wasden

Wasden, one of Lardner’s graduate students, is working on a study analyzing forage types such as brassicas, barley, fall rye, annual clover, meadow bromegrass, hybrid bromegrass and alfalfa. Her study’s overall goal is to determine the best type of forage for cattle in terms of weight gain and performance. She’s also using two methods to measure enteric gas emissions to determine which is more accurate.

In 2020, Wasden investigated the number of grazing days that each type of forage provided for the 156 cattle participating in the study. Researchers placed 13 steers in each of the 12 paddocks. Wasden measured each animal’s body weight and body fat to determine the steers’ performance.

Wasden’s project used two methods to measure methane and carbon dioxide: the green feed emission monitoring system and the halter and yoke (called an SF-6).

“We’re hoping to push this well into September to get some good data,” said Lardner, a professor in the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources. The study is taking place for four years.

Effect of forage variety on forage characteristics, animal preference and grazing behaviour
Dr. Bart Lardner (PhD) and Cassidy Sim

Sim, another of Lardner’s graduate students, observed cattle behaviour on three blocks with multiple types of forages, including Armada meadow bromegrass, AAC mountainview sainfoin and AC Killarney orchardgrass. The different types of forages were randomly seeded in strips to determine the steers’ preferences.

As well, the research team evaluated how each forage variety peforms once it’s heavily grazed and how well it regrows after a long winter. The study also aims to evaluate how animals showing “shy” and “bold” characteristics use the pasture space differently.

The study’s long-term goal is to evaluate how well new forage types to Canada perform “in the field” after livestock trample and deposit waste on them — activities that aren’t studied in forage small plot trials. The objective is to have a forage type that can last a decade or more, as this is typically when producers reseed their forage.

Water quality and its impacts on cattle
Dr. Greg Penner (PhD), Catherine Lang and Mikaela Klemp

Lang is an employee with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture while Klemp is a USask graduate student whose work is supervised by Penner, a researcher at the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources. During the tour, Lang and Klemp discussed the effects of water with high sulfate and salt content on the health of cattle. 

“Cattle typically don’t want to drink water that’s anything higher than 800 milligrams per litre of sodium,” said Lang. “They’re pretty good at telling you when water’s salty.”

As Lang and Klemp demonstrated, appearances can be deceiving. Using actual water samples submitted to Lang’s office in Moose Jaw, the researchers asked a volunteer to arrange the water from best to worst quality. Ironically, what was thought to be the worst was the best sample in terms of water quality. 

“You cannot determine water quality based on the colour of the water, [or] based on the smell of the water,” said Lang. “We have to get a probe in there and look at conductivity (the amount of total dissolved solids in the water).”

Klemp’s role in this study and three others is to investigate the impact of high sulfate water and various strategies to reduce the negative impacts on cattle growth such as through novel feed additives and trace-mineral supplementation strategies.  

Genomic and genetic factors in gestation length
Dr. Mika Asai-Coakwell (PhD) and Hailey Bolen

Asai-Coakwell is an assistant professor in the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources and Bolen is her graduate student. In this study, the researchers are relating genetic markers to the length of the gestation period for different bulls at the centre’s BCRTU. The research team randomly assigned sperm from one of five different bulls to artificially inseminate 153 heifers during the 2020 breeding season. Then, the researchers tracked the gestation periods for all of the cows’ calves that were born during the spring of 2021.

Based on the study’s results, the research team measured about a week’s difference in time between the bull whose calves had the shortest gestation period and the one whose calves had the longest gestation period. The study’s goal is to identify the effect of five different selected genes on gestation length. Four of the five genes studied did not have any effect on gestation length and one of the genes is being investigated further.

Stocking density and bunk size on cattle behaviour, performance and liver abscesses
Dr. Diego Moya (DVM, PhD)

Moya, an assistant professor in the WCVM’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, is evaluating feedlot pens to determine the effects of space on stress levels in cattle as well as on the potential development of rumen acidosis and liver abscesses.

Using six pens with 50 cattle per space, Moya is manipulating the sizes of these pens to observe these factors. The team is also collecting blood samples from a subgroup of cattle to further measure the effects of space.

Dietary flavours to stimulate intake and health of newly arrived feedlot cattle
Dr. Diego Moya (DVM, PhD)

In another study, Moya is evaluating the impact of feed’s dietary flavours to stimulate the intake and health of cattle that recently arrived at a feedlot. In this study, the research team fed one of three diets to each group of cattle, including a standard receiving diet (control group) or the same diet but adding either a mix of basic flavours or sweeteners.

Based on the existing literature, cattle have different flavour preferences, so the study’s goal is to determine whether these different flavours affect feed intake, growth and stress as well as the immune system and temperament of feedlot cattle.

Impact of increasing levels of ergot in the diet of feedlot cattle
Dr. Gabriel Ribeiro (DVM, PhD)

Ergot contamination in feed — especially at high levels — can seriously affect the health of cattle. Ribeiro, an assistant professor in the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources, is studying the impact of ergot alkaloids in the diets of feedlot cattle as in recent years there has been an increase of ergot alkaloids in cereal grains.

The cattle in Ribeiro’s study were placed on one of four diets — one control diet with no alkaloids added or diets with 0.75, 1.5 or three parts per million (ppm) of ergot alkaloids, respectively. The study’s cattle were placed in 16 pens — four pens for each diet. 

So far, Ribeiro’s study has found that cattle continuously ingesting ergot alkaloids in their feed are more affected by hotter temperatures. Once the cattle were taken off the ergot-contaminated diet, they stopped experiencing symptoms of heat stress (such as panting and increased water consumption) within seven days.

The study’s goal is to discover how much ergot alkaloids are too much when it comes to the effects on the cattle’s ruminal metabolism, growth performance, health and welfare.

The LFCE’s next field day, presented by Canadian Western Agribition, is scheduled for June 21, 2022.

This summer, the LFCE published its first progress report. Click here to view the LFCE’s progress report (2018-2021).

Jessica Colby of Montmartre, Sask., is a fourth-year student in the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. She worked as a research communications intern at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) for summer 2021.