A University of Alberta beef researcher is hopeful to help cattle farmers facing extreme temperature swings.
Assistant professor in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences Gleise M. Silva and a team of graduate students have been monitoring 49 cattle at the U of A’s Roy Berg Kinsella Research Ranch for a year, where they monitored the cattle’s bodily behavioural reactions to temperature changes.
“The Alberta study will be one of the first to compare cold and heat extremes using the same animals in naturally occurring conditions,” a U of A press release said.
The project is expected to finish later in March, and Silva is hopeful to have a greater insight into whether cattle that can convert calories can also cope with extreme climate change.
“The issue is a pressing one, considering Alberta is home to 40 per cent of Canada’s beef herds, and too big temperature swings,” Silva said.
Adjusting to extreme hot or cold weather requires cattle to make behavioural, physiological, and metabolic changes, the release said.
Silva added, “All of these changes have a cost to the animal, yet we need to have animals that are able to perform well in both summer and winter temperatures.”
When the temperature falls significantly, beef producers have to pay the price, by providing more winter feed.
Silva’s research is testing the theory that feed-efficient cattle are also better at regulating energy to stay warm or cool.
Silva and the team are tracking temperatures recorded at the ranch, and measuring the changes cattle make to cope with the changing weather.
“The results will show whether the heifers maintain their weight, immunity level and breeding success compared with their less efficient herd mates,” the release said.
The research findings are expected to build overall knowledge between feed intake and weather resilience while collecting data to help livestock producers find effective ways to care for the animals in climate changes, the release said.
“It’s going to be important to improve animal well-being and production to keep sectors such as beef production even more sustainable,” the release said.
Based on the research findings, and data collected, producers could better determine which animals to retain for breeding.
“It would mean the animals don’t need to change their behaviours a lot, that they can live in a constant way throughout the year,” Silva said. “This is especially important in cow-calf operations where cows are kept in the herd for years.”
The data could also help producers in planning stress strategies, such as providing more shade and water in the summer, and windbreaks in the pastures during the winter.
“Having animals that can maintain and sustain more productivity, regardless of what’s going on outdoors, would be great for the industry,” the release said.