Answers to many of our most Frequently Asked Questions are listed below. If you don't see the information you seek, please contact us.
A. Excerpts from the Nutritional Service Association on High and Low Energy Bull Development Programs
Aaron Grant, Ph.D. and
L. Scott Schake, Ph.D., PAS
Condensed by Jean Lucas
Performance testing bulls allows for the evaluation of an individual bull's genetic potential for post-weaning growth and reproductive traits compared to a contemporary group under identical conditions. Both high and low-energy development programs may be used to develop and test bulls.
Developing bulls on high-energy rations tests their ability to convert feed in a simulated feedlot setting; generally they have greater average daily gains and wt. per day. They may also reach sexual maturity at an earlier age. However, bulls developed on high-energy rations may become over fat, this may lead to structural unsoundness and impaired fertility.
Developing bulls using low-energy/forage based rations tests a bulls ability to perform in a grazing/forage based environment. By including a limit-fed concentrate feed supplement it may allow young bulls to gain adequately and reach sexual maturity in time to be marketed as yearlings while reducing the chance of structural and fertility problems.
Gain. Bulls tested using high-energy diets were reported to have daily gains up to or greater than 4lb/day, while 3lb/day would likely be maximal for a low-energy diet.
Structural Soundness. Bulls tested on high-energy diets are more prone to develop structural problems compared to bulls on a low-energy diet. The excessive energy intake has been found to cause abnormal bone growth and laminitis, feet and leg problems may develop as their bones and cartilage may be too immature to carry the excessive weight. The structural problems may increase in severity as a bull matures, which could lead to a higher bull turnover rate.
Fertility. Bulls on low-energy diets may not be as sexually mature as those fed high-energy diets, possibly making it unfeasible to market them as yearling bulls. However, bulls on a high-energy diet have the potential to become over-fat and may "melt" in a pasture environment, resulting in a lack of stamina throughout the season. More importantly, excessive fatness and body condition may also impair fertility, as added fat may be deposited and stored in the scrotum of young bulls. Bulls on high-energy diets had softer testes and larger scrotal circumferences, part of the increase in size resulted from additional fat deposition. The fat deposits inhibit the bull's ability to cool the scrotum. Bulls on low-energy diets have a greater percentage of motile as well as morphologically normal spermatozoa.
Traditionally, performance testing bulls has been associated with feeding high-energy diets post-weaning to test a bull's genetic capacity to gain and convert feed. Both feeding methods have merit and should provide the customer with valuable information. It appears that forage-based/low energy tested bulls display a greater ability to adapt to range conditions with less susceptibility to structural and fertility problems. To minimize problems with our bulls, we choose to feed a low-energy ration.
A: By Achieving Optimum Production and Long Term Ecological Management of the Land.
The preference of every livestock producer is unique; our preference is a least cost, optimum production philosophy. We look to gain the most value out of everything we do, whether it is producing Angus cattle and North Country sheep seed stock or applying animal nutrition and grazing management principles.
We believe in ranching that is sustainable, profitable and enjoyable, deriving our income from solar energy collected by the plants on our rangelands, which convert that energy into a nutritious, safe food source for people, livestock and wildlife. Sustainable grazing systems start with ecological soil management practices which replenish and maintain soil fertility, as good herds and flocks start from the ground up so to speak. Ranching in a way that effectively turns forage into a marketable product and generates cash flow; we aim to reduce off farm inputs, environmental hazards and reliance on non-renewable resources. Integrity Ranching approaches land stewardship sustainably by applying principles of grazing management and ecology that result in healthy ecosystems and profitable ranching.
A good indicator of sustainable rangeland management is the biodiversity or range of natural organisms the ranch has. Increased biodiversity in rangelands increases drought mitigation, forage value, grazing tolerance and water quality and quantity. A diverse plant community provides essential habitat for wildlife and waterfowl species. Currently Integrity Ranching is working with various organizations to enhance biodiversity and maintain our prairie landscape. Ducks Unlimited and Operation Grassland Community as well as the Growing Forward program of Alberta have enabled us to restore native grassland as well as implement various other positive practices such as off site water systems, which provide an economical as well as environmental benefit.
These projects are important as they not only contribute to the long term well being of the ranch, but also to that of the public and society as well. Sustainable food production and responsible land stewardship provide public goods and services in the form of ecosystem-function benefits. This includes carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, year round critical habitat for wildlife and waterfowl, species at risk preservation, soil conservation and fragile ecosystem protection.
A: High quality livestock that naturally fit in their environment reduce overall production costs therefore increasing profitability.
With a grass roots approach to raising livestock, Integrity Ranching manages rangelands for long term, optimum production and we breed cattle and sheep that fit that environment. To ensure livestock profitability we look at optimizing stocking rates, producing the highest quality animals while fitting the needs of soils and plants within environmentally imposed constraints. (Romo, J.T. 2004). We calve and breed in sync with our grass season, making the best use of our cow and sheep body condition prior to calving and lambing season. This allows for natural enhancement in our reproductive rates and effective weight gain of our animals ultimately resulting in fewer costs and more profits for our enterprise.
Stocking rates are the actual number of animals or animal units on a specific range area for a specific period of time (Abouguendia, Z. 1990.). Optimizing stocking rates is essential as the stocking rate has an important effect on the gross margin per acre of a land base, fluctuates with the forage supply and is affected directly by land type and grass management.?Generally, the ranch wants to run at its highest ecologically sustainable stocking rate to maximize returns on the land.
Stocking rate is also important from a livestock genetic standpoint, because feed requirements are proportional to weight and cow feed consumption is the most important variable cost in meat and food production. The mature cow or ewe weight has a direct effect on stocking rate, as larger framed animals require more feed and it is easier to achieve a higher stocking rate with moderately framed animals than those of a larger frame and weight. Furthermore ewes and cows that can wean a higher weight of calf or lamb per kg of cow or ewe per year are more economically viable, so moderate framed animals have the ability to be more profitable.
Picture the afternoon summer wind blowing over the native grassland, dominated with needle and thread, rough fescue, blue grama, and wheatgrass. Wild prairie flowers and forbs fill the air with their fragrance and the song of grassland birds pick up a rhythm into the evening. Riding on horseback over this terrain a person has a great appreciation for the energy and feel of the land; it is ancient, untouched by the modernization of society, the most efficient natural design. However, the wild prairie ecosystem is truly rare and now more a mosaic of fields and farmyards, human altered environments encompassed with the roadways and fence lines left by our sod busting ancestors. Never the less the mixed grasslands of Integrity Ranching are an interconnected community of plants and animals drawing on the same food and energy sources from their surroundings. In order to understand the ecosystem one needs to have a good awareness of the water cycle, nutrient cycles, photosynthesis, plant and animal growth, reproduction, death and decomposition; the tumultuous interactions between organisms and their environment.
All aspects of this rangeland ecosystem operate within a soil plant animal complex which is directly affected by our Alberta climate. Welfare of the animals depends on plant productivity and the vigour of the plants is directly related to our soils. Ranching is the livelihood which sustains us and can promote the health of rangeland or deplete its resources depending on how it is managed. With proper grazing a rancher can; promote native prairie to excellent condition while optimizing stocking rate, reproductive rates and animal weight gain. Overgraze and the overall health and profitability of the land declines. Integrity Ranching approaches land stewardship sustainably, applying principles of grazing management and ecology that result in healthy ecosystems and profitable ranching.
A: Identify Objectives, Set Goals, Analyze and Monitor, and Finally Make Changes Accordingly
The first aspect to our range management is identifying our objectives and setting short and long term goals for our grazing systems. As managers we have a variety of goals which we want to achieve. Next a complete resource inventory and evaluation of our land base is conducted which involves determining all range sites and their condition. We balance our forage supply and demand, which means determining our carrying capacity and setting stocking rates accordingly.
Our cost benefit analysis includes looking at the enterprises within our operation and determining our cost of production and profitability. By annually monitoring range site condition and trend we are able to determine the cause and effect of our management decisions and where to make adjustments. We change our plan accordingly depending on what are specific goals are.
A: Utilizing Knowledge and Understanding of Range Ecosystems
The most pivotal components of our ranch grazing system effectiveness are management commitment and ability. This ability comes from a knowledge and understanding of the range ecosystem, animal health, nutrition and behaviour. Vital attributes of grazing systems include developing user friendly models that maximize energy capture and flow, balance forage production and consumption, optimize forage yield and livestock performance, prevent overgrazing, optimize ecosystem functions and are economically and ecologically sustainable. (Romo, J.T. 2004.)
Rest and deferment from grazing as well as maintaining residual leaf area promotes plant growth and productivity, which means we give our plants a chance to recover from defoliation. As stewards of the land we maintain a good comprehension of plant community composition and use it as an indicator of our management practices. This is achieved by understanding the range ecosystem.
Knowing our forage quality and the nutrition it provides at different times of the year promotes the best animal health and performance. Our grazing systems incorporate practicing good animal husbandry by understanding our animals' behaviours and meeting their needs. We maintain accurate stocking rates and adjust them accordingly to optimize forage utilization. High stock density allows us to work in sync with prairie ecology. We achieve many of our grazing strategies by utilizing low cost, temporary fencing supplies.
Abouguendia, Z. 1990. A practical guide to planning for management and improvement of Saskatchewan rangeland-Range plan development. New Pastures and Grazing Technologies Project. Regina, Saskatchewan. 52pp.
Romo, J.T. 2004. Vital Attributes of Grazing Systems. Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Sk.