Evaluation of forage species for stock pile grazing in beef cattle 


Project Details

  • Project Lead(s):Emma McGeough, Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba (Forage species establishment and evaluation; grazing trial) Kim Ominski, Professor, University of Manitoba (Grazing trial) Karin Wittenberg, University of Manitoba and Paul Jefferson, Western Beef Development Centre (Project principle investigators)
  • MBFI Location(s):Johnson Farm
  • Collaborating Partners:Doug Cattani, Derek Brewin,  University of Manitoba Bruce Coulman, University of Saskatchewan Kathy Larson, Western Beef Development Centre
  • Start Date: Oct. 2016
  • Status: Ongoing


Extending the grazing season by maintaining beef cattle on pasture has been adopted by many producers on the Prairies as a consequence of lower cost and labor requirements compared to traditional overwintering.  Stockpiled forages, for example, account for 29% of the cold season grazing in Western Canada1. However, there is limited information regarding forage quality of stockpiled forages taken into the fall/winter for beef cattle. This project aimed to fill knowledge gaps examining  nutritive value of forage and subsequent animal performance in extended grazing systems.



Project Design and Methods

Sixty-four bred heifers reflective of those used in the Prairie region were grazed using species selected from the small plot forage evaluation trial (led by McGeough) and in consultation with an industry-led steering committee. Parameters measured over two experimental periods included forage yield and chemical quality, animal forage intake and live weight gain, blood profile including urea nitrogen, enteric methane emissions measured using the SF6 tracer technique, and animal energetics/activity measured using GPS collars.

The four forage treatments included:

1) Courtenay tall fescue/Fleet meadow brome/Yellowhead alfalfa

2) Killarney orchard grass/Algonquin alfalfa

3) Courtenay tall fescue/Algonquin alfalfa/Oxley II cicer milkvetch

4) Fusion corn

Grazing strategy:

Four heifers were grazed from Oct. 20 to Dec. 14, 2016 in each of four replicate paddocks per treatment. Animals from two replicates were designated for forage intake and methane measurement, whilst those from the other two replicates were designated for grazing behaviour and performance assessment. Paddocks were strip grazed for the duration of the study with forage allocation determined every one to two days.

Sampling procedures included the following:

Individual animal intake was determined over 12 days at the end of each experimental period. Following an initial seven-day adaption period, fecal samples were collected twice daily on days eight to 12. Pre- and post-grazing forages samples were obtained from each paddock to determine nutritive value and alkane profile on days eight to 12 to determine feed or nutrient intake.

Enteric methane was measured over a 24-hr period at the end of each experimental period. Animal performance was determined using live weights collected throughout the study.

Blood samples were obtained in each experimental period to assess serum urea nitrogen concentration.

To evaluate grazing behaviour the heifers were fitted with GPS collars for the duration of the grazing period.  

Results and Discussion

Analysis of collected animal and forage data is currently ongoing.



Funding for this project provided by the Beef Cattle Research Council ($967,171), Manitoba Beef Producers ($15,000) and MBFI ($5,198).


Mae Elsinger and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Brandon Research and Development Centre for assistance with pasture composition analysis and forage sample processing.


MBFI and Manitoba Agriculture for the establishment of pastures and assistance with sample collection and animal management.



1Sheppard SC, Bittman S, Donohoe G, Flaten D, Wittenberg KM, Small JA, Berthiaume R, McAllister TA, Beauchemin KA, McKinnon J, Amiro DB, MacDonald D, Mattos F and Ominski KH.. Beef cattle husbandry practices across Ecoregions of Canada in 2011. CJAS. 2015;95:305-321.