By Mabell, Dave on April 21, 2017.
Alberta beef producers using less feed to grow meat
Today’s beef producers are using less feed to grow top-quality Alberta meat. And their animals are generating less methane gas and less manure.
Those are among the impacts of Alberta-based research, a Lethbridge audience learned Thursday. Further advances are on the way, predicted animal science researcher Erasmus Okine – who’s now vice-president (research) at the University of Lethbridge.
“Agriculture is changing,” he told a session of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. There’s a steadily growing demand for beef.
But our province’s producers are meeting the challenge, thanks to long-running research projects at Alberta universities and the federal government’s agricultural research stations.
Selective breeding, Okine said, is one of the reasons that today’s beef cattle eat less feed but grow larger. Dairy cattle have shown even bigger gains: they’ve maintained sustainable levels of milk production while using 65 per cent less water and 90 per cent less land than they were at the end of the Second World War.
Information gained through “big data” is another factor, he explained. And Alberta producers are also assisted by cross-breeding, reduced losses at calving time, and better feed monitoring.
High-tech projects like the Canadian Cattle Genome Project are important as well, with the University of Alberta and the U of L playing a role, along with research stations at Lacombe and Lethbridge.
With a predicted nine billion people on earth by 2050 – and a growing middle class in China and other developing nations – Okine said Canada should become the world’s preferred source of beef, with Australia and Argentina supplying much of the rest.
While Albertans currently produce more than 60 percent of Canada’s beef supply, he said the industry’s prosperity will hinge on our producers’readiness to incorporate new discoveries.
Responding to questions, Okine said Canada’s hog and poultry producers are benefitting from similar research. While chickens are more efficient in turning grain into meat, he pointed out, cattle grazing remains the best use of Alberta grasslands which aren’t suitable for cultivation.
Asked about growth hormones and implants used by many producers, he said there’s very little residue found in Alberta beef – while levels in imported broccoli or cauliflower are about 1,000 times higher.
Even so, some producers offer organic, hormone-free feed – the standard set for the European Union, but priced higher.
“As a society we have to choose, how much are we willing to pay for beef?”
Whatever consumers choose, Okine said, some of those byproducts are finding their way into our water system.
“It’s the antibiotic residues that concern me a lot.”
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