Canada is home to more than 60,000 cattle ranches and farms, as well as a modern cattle-feeding industry. Collectively, these farmers, ranchers and feedlot operators produce beef that is recognized globally for its wholesomeness and quality. Canada is the sixth largest beef exporting country in the world.

“The outstanding quality of Canadian beef is based on the fact that for a portion of the production cycle, cattle in Canada are grain-fed which contributes to well-marbled, flavourful and tender beef with firm, white-coloured fat,” says John McKinnon, the Saskatchewan Beef Industry Research Chair and a professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan.

Another factor that plays into the quality of beef is the age of the animal when harvested. More than 85 percent of Canadian cattle raised for beef production are harvested at two years of age or less. The younger the harvest age, the greater the tenderness, says McKinnon.

Producers seek science-based answers

Cattle producers are looking to scientists for fact-based research to improve their operations while supplying Canadians and international markets with exceptional beef.

This fall, a new world-class complex of field and science laboratories that will be a powerhouse for innovative research, teaching, and industry engagement in all aspects of livestock and forage production opened east of Saskatoon, SK. The University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence is designed to bring together every link of the livestock production chain.

At this unique centre, Canadian and international scientists will work together to focus on emerging issues related to beef cattle health, reproduction, grazing management, nutrition, genetics, and public safety, as well as environmental issues facing the livestock and forage industries.

The $38-million research facility is a partnership between the university, the provincial and federal governments and the cattle industry. Located on more than 4,300 acres, the centre is divided into three teaching and research units.

The Beef Cattle Research and Teaching Unit includes a 24-stall metabolism barn where basic nutrition and physiology studies will be carried out. In addition, there are 44 pens that house up to 15 animals each for replicated nutrition studies, plus eight commercial-sized pens. Mitigating the environmental impact of intensive cattle operations is a central focus of the research carried out by engineers. Other researchers are focusing on the economics of alternative production systems, novel feeding strategies for Canadian beef, and the evaluation of new feed grains for Western Canada.

The Forage and Cow-Calf Research and Teaching Unit includes 300 breeding females and 800 acres of pasture for replicate grazing studies. Research currently underway includes evaluation of alternative forage species for grazing as well as for winter feed supplies, impact of grazing cattle on the environment and the benefits of carbon sequestration.

The Goodale Research Farm houses 165 breeding cows as well as horses, bison, and deer. Researchers will focus on reproductive physiology of cattle and horses, cattle health, and responsible use of vaccines and antibiotics.

Research addresses sustainability

A growing number of consumers, at home and around the world, want to know where their food comes from and that it is produced in a responsible manner. Researchers at the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence will provide science-based responses to their questions.

McKinnon notes that the centre will work with industry and consumer groups to help develop, evaluate and implement programs such as Verified Beef Production Plus that focus on producing high-quality, wholesome beef in an environmentally-responsible manner that emphasizes the care and comfort of the animal. In this role, the centre will help spearhead innovation, profitability, and sustainability in the Canadian livestock and forage industries.