Work continues on schedule at new beef research facilities in Elora
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
The new cow barn and some of the renovated pastures at the University of Guelph’s research farm near Elora are now in use - and work continues on construction of the new feedlot. This is all part of the updating of the University’s livestock research facilities in the province, some of which have been in continuous service since the 1970s. New dairy facilities began operations in 2015, and construction on the beef project began in 2018.
According to Prof. Katie Wood from the Department of Animal Biosciences, there had been some uncertainty about whether construction could continue when Ontario went into widespread shutdown in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but fortunately, the complex project continues to progress largely on schedule.
The 165,000 square foot cow-calf facility is already in use, with cows moved in earlier this year. The H-design building with two cow housing areas and a cross-over connecting them to an animal handling area has capacity for up to 288 cows and 96 replacement heifers. A scrape alley at the front of the bedded pack barns lets manure be moved right through into new manure handling and storage facilities. The automated feeding system and corresponding animal RFID tags enable data capture on the feeding behaviour of individual animals.
Renovation of the pasture to the east of the barns is finished, which includes re-seeding new grass and legume mixtures, a new in-field handling facility and new fencing, and animals began grazing on those fields in June. Work on the remaining pastures - re-seeding and handling facility construction - is ongoing.
The pastureland has increased from 160 to approximately 400 acres and will allow for rotational grazing system research as well as comprehensive sample collection from cattle in-field to support pasture and forage-based projects.
Feeding area and feedlot
The feeding area shared between the barns remains under construction. This involves removing the old bunker silos and expanding storage area in the silo space. As well, the old beef research barns have been torn down and the new feedlot is now being built.
“The foundations are poured, and trusses have gone on, so construction is coming on quickly on that as well,” says Wood. “It won’t be finished completely until Fall 2021; we’re hoping to put animals in there next fall.”
The new feedlot barn will have capacity for 288 growing and finishing steers, an increase of about 96 head over the previous facilities. It, too, will allow for collection of feed intake data on individual animals.
Larger projects, new research areas
Not only will the new facilities permit more and larger projects, but they will also enable research in areas that weren’t possible before. One of those projects is already underway: a methane mitigation project funded through the Beef Cattle Research Council that’s a collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan.
A first screening trial for one of the products under evaluation through the project was completed in the new barn, and additional work is now being done on the newly renovated pasture. The new in-field handling facility is being used weekly for sampling and the new pasture set-up means treatments can be applied and replicated easily across different groups of animals.
New GreenFeed trailers now at the research farm are being used to monitor enteric methane emissions from cattle in the trial. And thanks to the extensive data collection now possible inside the barns, Wood is also working on a related project that will look at feed efficiency and gas exchange.
It’s this type of work that will help answer growing questions about the environmental impact of beef production from consumers concerned about climate change. For researchers, it enables more focused work on soil health and carbon sequestration and being able to integrate those findings with animal health and performance in pasture systems.
“Having more pasture than in the past gives us opportunity to push more into pasture work, which hasn’t been done a lot previously, and without all the new equipment, we couldn’t do this type of work that we’re now doing,” she adds. “This couldn’t have happened in the old facilities and it’s a huge advantage for beef research in Ontario. The support from Beef Farmers of Ontario in particular plays an important role here in both the rebuilding of these facilities and in funding specific beef research.”
This article was published in Ontario Beef, October 2020. It was provided by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation as part of its ongoing efforts to drive innovation in the livestock sector.