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BCRC: Experts respond to drought questions

Experts respond to drought questions
On July 29, the Beef Cattle Research Council hosted a webinar that allowed beef producers to ask drought-related questions to a panel of nutrition and animal health experts. Producers asked for everything from recommendations for grazing canola, how to manage for antinutritional factors, tips on ammoniation and to how to manage grass into the fall. While questions were varied and diverse, a few main themes emerged.

Feed testing:

In a drought year, testing your feed sources is more important than ever. Especially when using alternative feed sources, a feed test allows you to understand what you have in terms of energy and protein and therefore what you will need to supplement to maintain the health and body condition of cows and other classes of cattle. A feed test will also identify some of the antinutritional factors and potential toxic levels of substances such as nitrates or sulfates that are more prevalent in drought years or unconventional feeds. Feed tests can be performed on standing or swathed crops, bales or silage. A feed test can be instrumental in determining how a particular feed will fit into your overall feeding strategy.

Water testing:

With hot dry conditions water conditions can change rapidly. As water evaporates it leaves behind the minerals and other compounds that can be problematic, toxic, or result in death or dehydration. Water should be tested frequently during drought and cattle should be monitored more closely. For example, one of the first warning signs of high sulfates is that cattle will refuse to drink the water. It is important to monitor cattle and remove them from the water source if you see signs that cattle have not been drinking. Depending on what levels of mineral(s) or toxin(s) are present in the water source, aeration or diluting the water with a clean water source may help mitigate the concerns.

Be aware of additive effects and interactions:

Even if feed and water sources are each within tolerable levels for potential toxins like nitrates or sulfates, remember that cattle consume both water and feed. The combination of the two could have additive effects resulting in negative animal health consequences or even death. This is even more important with alternative feed sources.

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The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is Canada’s industry-led funding agency for beef, cattle and forage research. The BCRC is funded through a portion of the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off as well as government and industry funding, and is directed by a committee of beef producers from across the country.