Through a 10 year study at Brandon, productivity was shown to double on alfalfa-grass mixtures, compared to grass pastures without added fertilizer. The alfalfa-meadow brome mixtures pasture yielded a net profit, unlike its non-alfalfa mixture equivalents. Purple-blossom varieties of alfalfa typically need to be re-established. An AC Yellowhead trial, however, noted that this particular variety was ideal for long-term pastures as it did not use carbohydrate reserves in the fall for regrowth. As a result, early fall grazing tends to be the most beneficial for this variety.
AC Yellowhead was bred in Saskatchewan at AAFC Research Centres, where it was found the variety was ideal in grass mixtures and under heavy grazing. In fact, the development of AC Yellowhead was preceded by grazing trials which showed the yellow blossomed alfalfa had the greatest persistence among wheat grasses and bluegrass compared to other purple-blossom varieties. Later trials from the University of Minnesota showed that AC Yellowhead performed well in the face of low precipitation, yielding 20% more than the next highest variety tested. This variety has also had a 1-2% higher protein content than other varieties of alfalfa. Nevertheless, AC Yellowhead has not yet been widely adopted.
The Saskatchewan Forage Council, as part of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture’s Agriculture Demonstration of Practices and Technologies (ADOPT) program, conducted a trial beginning in 2014 across the province to demonstrate AC Yellowhead alfalfa’s establishment, winter survival, and persistence in forage stands.
Demonstration plots were seeded in the summers of 2014 or 2015 near Lestock, Swift Current, Rosetown, and Smeaton. All four sites incorporated a brome grass (which differed only by location), with a comparison plot featuring the same type of brome grass, and a purple-blossomed alfalfa appropriate for that region.
The most successful establishment was located near Rosetown. Both varieties of AC Yellowhead alfalfa and purple-blossom alfalfa were well established. However, the AC Yellowhead variety yielded only 92% compared to its counterpart and was approximately six inches shorter during harvest, while appearing denser. The AC Yellowhead variety showed better crude protein and fiber value as well as slightly higher levels of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. The purple-blossom variety was higher in TDN and energy.
The Smeaton site, located at the Smeaton Community Pasture, had some difficultly in its establishment due to a late seeding date at the beginning of August, and broadcast seeding into a stand that had not been fully terminated. Elk then grazed in the winter of 2014-15, a critical time of establishment, which did not allow the root reserves to be re-established for winter survival. The purple-blossom alfalfa showed a higher plant count than AC Yellowhead alfalfa in 2015, and the AC Yellowhead alfalfa yielded only 60% of the purple-blossom variety. In the following 2016 year, the AC Yellowhead variety was leafier and denser, which increased yield to 156% of the purple-blossom variety.
The Swift Current site did not have any alfalfa, whether the purple-blossom variety (Runner) or the AC Yellowhead variety due to a low seeding rate, very little rain in that year, and the marginal land it was planted upon.
The Lestock plot, located at the Ducks Unlimited Touchwood Hills Conservation Ranch, was not able to seed in 2014, the initial year, due to excessive moisture. In the following year, the purple-blossom variety appeared more vigorous, and was taller. The AC Yellowhead variety yeilded only 66% of the purple-blossom alfalfa variety, though they had a higher seeding rate. Alfalfa weevils also affected the stand which prompted the producer to cut the stand earlier than normally expected to prevent greater losses.
And the results are…
While we all hope to have precise results with information that can help producers improve pastures, plot trials are not always helpful, and don’t always occur during years with the best conditions. These plot demonstrations were affected by drought, insects, and uncontrollable grazing patterns – something all producers face. These results may not be similar to the AC Yellowhead already in pastures around the province due to these circumstances.
The four plots from across the province showed great differences in establishment due to circumstance and precipitation. Where this variety of alfalfa did establish itself, it was noted to be leafy but with smaller leaves, shorter, and finer. It also tended to mature later than purple-blossom varieties, and yielded less than the purple-blossom variety in all applicable locations except at the second year of the Smeaton site. AC Yellowhead might be better adapted to the Rosetown area, where it thrived compared to the purple-blossom variety. There was also no proof that this variety could better survive winter.
Read more about the full results here.
Do you grow AC Yellowhead?
Has AC Yellowhead persisted longer than purple-blossomed alfalfa in your stand? Have your cattle thrived with this variety? We would like to know how you have seen success, and why you’ve used this variety.
Let us know about your success and experience at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
How much weight do you expect your replacement heifers to gain in the winter months leading up to breeding them? You might want them to put on as much weight as possible, but research from the Western Beef Development Centre from Dr. Bart Lardner and his team (and funded from your check-off dollars) has provided evidence to the contrary.
You might assume that you want a heavier heifer to ensure that she reaches puberty as soon as possible. Ensuring puberty then leads to a higher birthing rate in the herd in year but also greater efficiency as it allows for the greater possibility of more calves born within a 21-day period. (Why is that important? Read that here.)
As described in the research summary from the Western Beef Development Centre, mature cow body weight from cows 5 years and older is 1410 lbs.
In this trial, which allocated cattle in two different years and studied them both over the course of 3 years, heifers were bale-grazed bromegrass-alfalfa round bales and supplemented with barley grain. Trials were completed in a drylot pen and in a field paddock, but no notable differences were found between the two feeding areas. These heifers were also split into two other categories: those who were fed to reach 55 percent of their mature weight, (770 lbs), and those who were fed to reach 62 percent of their mature weight (870 lbs). It should also be stressed that both of these groups were well fed – their rations were designed to reach the recommended protein and energy requirements for pregnant beef heifers.
As expected, during the winter development period, heifers fed to gain only 55 percent of their mature weight had a lower average daily gain. This resulted in lower feed costs for these replacement heifers compared to the heifers provided with more food to reach 62 percent of their mature weight within the winter development period.
But did it affect their birth rate? Pregnancy rates were very similar for both groups. The replacement heifers fed to reach 55 percent of their mature weight had a pregnancy rate of 86 percent, while the replacement heifers fed to reach 62 percent of their mature weight had a pregnancy rate of 88 percent. The pregnancy rates between the two groups leveled off even more within the next two years, with rates between 94 and 96 percent for both subsequent years.
So, if there’s wasn’t a big difference in pregnancy rates, which group had a greater benefit for the producer? The group that was only fed to gain 55 percent of their mature weight had a significantly lower cost. Without a loss in reproductive performance, the smaller replacement heifers reduced their development cost by $58 per animal.
As you keep in mind the number of replacement heifers you’ll need this fall, which are likely just calves now, also keep in mind the costs you could reduce in this coming year as well. How much feed will you have available, and how much is necessary? Did you have healthy replacement heifers? Could you have reduced your feed costs this past year? Answering these questions could improve your herd and your costs next year. Talk to your nutritionist to determine a ration that will lower your costs, but still provide the necessary nutrients for your replacement heifers. (In Saskatchewan, contact your Agricultural Knowledge Centre at (306) 694-3727 for more assistance with your feed rations)
Would you like another point of view? Check out this article from the Beef Magazine.
While we at the Saskatchewan Cattlemen's Association mostly work to provide funding to research projects, and then to tell beef producers about the results of these projects, there are occasions when we help researchers, who need beef producers to help them create the best research project possible.
MSc Candidate Phil Rose is looking for owners or lease holders of native rangelands willing to grant access to their properties for a study on grassland bird habitat requirements. The study will take place over 2-3 days at each property between mid-May and Mid-July and will involve observing bird species/numbers, and taking measurements of grassland characteristics (e.g., grass height, percent cover, litter volume, shrub density).
It WILL NOT involve any capture or handling of wildlife. Vehicles will not be used in pastures unless specific permission is given for designated trails. Native rangelands must have at greater than 50% cover of native grasses with minimal tree cover. The goal of this research project is to randomly select one native rangeland within 75 km of all of the following locations: Val Marie, Consul, Maple Creek/Tompkins, Kyle/Beechy, Kerrobert/Kindersley, and Swanson.
For more information or to indicate interest in granting access to a site, contact: Phil Rose (MSc Candidate, University of Regina) at email@example.com or 204-730-0855.
Research is a huge part of the SCA's mandate. Going forward, we'll use this space to spotlight research in a number of forms, discuss how the Saskatchewan Cattlemen's Association Industry Development Fund approaches research applications and talk about what's new and innovative. So check back in the new year for great new content!