Beef. Discover what makes Canadian beef such high-quality meat. From Agriculture Canada. From Agriculture Canada.
Beef farms. A tour of Cumbraes Beef Farms, where you can see various breeds of cattle, including Angus, Charolais, and Smokey Calves. From Cumbrae Meat.
The cow-calf enterprise involves maintaining a breeding herd to produce the heaviest weight of weaned calves possible. Cows are selected for their mothering ability, beef quality traits and other desired characteristics. Mating takes place in early summer and peak calving occurs in the following spring. On most farms, the entire cow-calf process takes place in open pastures, where the cattle graze and the calves nurse. Once the calves reach 225-275 kg (500-600 pounds), they are weaned from their mothers and are put on a forage-based diet.
There are over 60 000 cow-calf farms across the country. Canada's beef-cow herd is estimated at approximately 5 million head. Breeding-herd size varies considerably, from a few cows on small mixed farms to several hundred in large range herds. The average Canadian beef-cow farm counts 61 head. Forty-eight percent of the beef-cow herd is now located on farms with more than 122 head. Large operations account for 13% of all beef cattle farms and are found in the 4 western provinces, where over two-thirds of Canada's breeding herds are located. However, about one-sixth of Canada's supply of veal and young beef comes from unneeded male and female calves of dairy herds, most of which are located in Ontario and Québec.
The western emphasis on beef production probably stems from the fact that the cow-calf operation is usually based on a low-cost pasture resource, eg, sparsely vegetated areas, nonarable land (12 ha required per cow), or very intensively cultivated and irrigated pastures (0.5 ha per cow). Some of the largest operations are found on predominantly natural pastures requiring 8 ha or more per cow. In such areas, the winter feed supply may be purchased but most often comes from improved native meadows or intensively managed arable land.
The female side of the breeding herd usually consists of cows and heifers of a single breed, or the female crosses of breeds that are likely to produce hybrid vigour in the various maternal characteristics such as milking and mothering ability. Performance-tested, purebred bulls from breeds noted for their post-weaning growth and carcass characteristics make up the male side of the herd (see ANIMAL BREEDING).
Other British breeds, including Galloway (polled and dun, black or white-belted black), Black Welsh, Lincoln Red (of Shorthorn origins), South Devon, Devon and Luing, have appeared over the years but have not been significant in Canadian beef production.
Over the past 3 decades, the emphasis on growth and the hybrid vigour produced by crossing has resulted in considerable interest in continental breeds ("exotics"), especially since new quarantine regulations were adopted to facilitate importation.
Other continental breeds popular in cross-breeding are Maine-Anjou, a large red and white breed from northwest France; Blonde d'Aquitaine, from southern France; 3 white breeds from Italy, ie, Chianina, equal in growth rate and mature size to the Charolais, and its smaller sister breeds, Romagnola and Marchigiana; Gelbvieh, a large, red German breed; and Salers, a smaller red breed of central France.
Summer grazing is usually controlled by a good distribution of watering facilities and trace-mineralized salt licks, pasture rotation, or movable electric fences. Calves, "identified" at birth, run with cows. If not naturally polled, they are usually dehorned and vaccinated against common diseases (eg, blackleg) early in the pasture season. Male calves are generally castrated. If range is limited or extra gain is economically warranted, calves may have access to grain.
Breeding takes place in summer, preferably during a 6-week to 2-month period when cows are exposed to fertility-tested bulls (approximately one bull to 30 cows). Yearling heifers (approximately 15 months old), if well grown (300 kg), are bred to sires known to produce easily delivered calves. High conception rates are extremely important but seldom exceed 85-90%. Calves are weaned from early October to mid-November, usually just before winter feeding.
At 6 months, calves from British breeds and their crosses usually average 200 kg for males and 185 kg for females. Earlier-born calves or crosses with "exotics" may be 50-100 kg heavier. Male calves and those females not needed for breeding are transferred to stocker operations, as are cows that failed to become pregnant or produced poorer calves.
Wintering requires feeding in most areas, although pasture or cash crop residues may be used, weather permitting. In some areas, eg, the CHINOOK belt, winter grazing of mature herds on specially reserved pastures is normal. Feed is supplied only under severe weather conditions and before calving. The herd is usually broken into 3 or 4 groups so that replacement heifer calves, pregnant yearling heifers and 2-year-olds expecting their first calves can be fed to facilitate growth.
In large herds, bulls are usually fed and managed separately. In the smaller herds, they may be allowed to run with the mature and pregnant cows. Winter feed is usually home-grown hay or silage from GRASSES, legumes or CEREAL CROPS. Grain and protein concentrates may augment poor-quality feeds; mineral mixtures and vitamin A supplements are the main purchased feeds. The average cow will consume 2% of its body weight in dry feed (eg, hay) per day; hence, wintering a mature cow normally requires 2 t of feed.
The stocker operation is normally attached to the cow-calf or the finishing enterprises, being essentially a period of growth between weaning and the finishing phase for slaughter (6-12 months). It is roughage- and pasture-based, aimed at getting as much efficient youthful growth of skeleton and muscle as possible. As a single enterprise, it is highly speculative and is usually a "grasser" operation for individuals with ample pasture but no winter feed. These farmers buy wintered steer and heifer calves in spring, and then resell them in late summer or fall to feedlot operators.
Finishing, the final step in preparing animals for slaughter, aims to increase body weight and value. While some cow-calf operators may carry out this enterprise after a stocker phase for their own calves, most finishing is now done in specially designed units, holding several hundred or thousands of animals. Some farmers, eg, a few in Ontario, traditionally used the feedlot to enhance the value of their home-grown crops and to provide a winter occupation. Larger units may be equipped with feed-preparation mills and most use mixing and unloading trucks to distribute the feed in long troughs.
Profits arise from 2 sources: price margin, ie, the difference between the buying and selling price (the original 300 kg weight of a steer purchased for $1.80/kg and sold for $2.00/kg has produced a profit of $60.00 through the $0.20/kg price margin); and feed margin, ie, the difference between the cost of a kilogram of gain and the selling price of that gain. Thus, if it cost $1.90/kg to put on 200 kg in the feedlot and the 500 kg finished steer sold for $2.00/kg, the operator has had a gain of $20.00 through a positive $0.10/kg feed margin.
Astute and fortunate buying and selling may govern price-margin profits, but feed margin is dependent on cattle that are efficient users of feed and on low-cost rations. Calves 6-8 months old are the most efficient converters of feed (6-8 units of feed per unit gain) but are the slowest gainers (1.0-1.1 kg/day) and require the longest feeding period. Yearlings are less efficient (8-9 units of feed per unit gain) but gain faster (1.1-1.3 kg/day) and usually require 140 days in the feedlot. Heifers usually gain slightly more slowly in the feedlot and finish at lighter weights.
The key in finishing is high-energy feed (eg, grains of BARLEY, CORN and, to some extent, WHEAT and OATS) fed with bulky roughages (eg, corn silage, hay, straws). In local areas, some refuse or byproducts (eg, distillers' slops, brewers' grains, BEET pulp and molasses, milling and canning crop residues) may form the basis of less efficient but profitable feeds. Lower-quality feeds are usually used in the first part of the finishing period. As the animal increases in weight, each new unit of gain requires more or better feed, and higher-energy feed is needed to produce economical gains.
In most parts of Canada, finishing cattle on grass alone is not economical, as top grades can seldom be reached because of the yellow colour of the fat in most breeds or the lack of sufficient fat covering in yearling or younger cattle. It is very effective and more economical if the last 60 days are spent in dry lot.
In spite of the vagaries of price fluctuations and increasing costs, beef farming has persisted, as beef is the meat preferred by most consumers. Over the long term, it has produced reasonable returns; however, since the annual operating costs are high, because of the large capital involved in land and cattle, many operators cannot withstand years of low returns and high interest rates.
Author E. STRINGHAM
Links to Other Sites
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Online
An extensive information source about Canada's thriving agricultural sector and related issues, studies, and government programs. From Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
See the latest news about food saftey issues in Canada from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
An extensive information source about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD.) From the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance
The website for CAFTA, a coalition of national and regional organizations, associations, and companies in the agriculture and agri-food sectors.
Mad Cow: The Science and the Story
An in-depth look at the impact of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) on Canada’s agricultural industry. Features audio and video news clips from the CBC.
Check out the history, care, and breeding of the Holstein cow at the Holstein Canada website.
Glossary: Veterinary Medicine
A glossary of terms related to veterinary medicine. From Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases
This site offers brief descriptions of neurodegenerative disorders such as BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy,“mad cow”), scrapie, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
Canadian Cattlemen's Association
This site serves up the latest news about beef production in Canada. Features an extensive list of industry links about animal care, cattle identification systems, and more.
Meat Cuts Manual
Your illustrated guide to well dressed beef, poultry and other animal products. From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Canada Beef Export Federation
A good information source about cattle raising, grading, inspection, exports, animal health issues, and more. Includes an industry newsletter.
Industrial Development of Lethbridge: A Geographer's Interpretation
An account of the industrial development in the City of Lethbridge from a geographical and historical perspective. A paper by Ian MacLachlan, The University of Lethbridge. Click on the link at the bottom of the page for the PDF version of this document.
Public Markets Ltd.
A brief history of the Union Stock Yards, established by Public Markets Ltd. in the City of St. Boniface to provide a marketplace for Manitoba livestock producers. From the website for the University of Manitoba Libraries.
The Bar U And Canadian Ranching History
View excerpts from "The Bar U And Canadian Ranching History," a book about the history of ranching in Alberta and ranch historiography in the American and Canadian West. From Google.ca.
A daily roundup of the latest news and information about the Canadian agricultural industry.
Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute
Check out this website for information and reports about current issues impacting on the productivity and competitiveness of Canada's agri-food sector.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...