Livestock Research: Beef Research Group

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    Our Vision:
    Livestock Research Branch: World-class partner in delivering applied and innovative solutions for a sustainable and vibrant Alberta.
    Mission Statement:
    Enable the Alberta livestock industry to use research-based knowledge and technology to enhance competitiveness.

About Us

Who we are
John Basarab - Research Scientist
Yidong Graham - Research Technologist
Susan Markus - Research Scientist
Lisa McKeown - Research Technologist
Brenda Ralston - Research Scientist
Tim Reuter - Research Scientist
Kim Stanford - Research Scientist
Susanne Trapp - Research Technologist
Homayoun Zahiroddini - Research Technologist

What we do
Our team conducts original, applied beef and dairy research focusing on:
  • Using molecular techniques to identify genetic markers for use in marker assisted selection by relating phenotype to genotype. As an example, feed intake data will enable the selection of cattle that reach market faster, with less feed and which produce less waste and greenhouse gases. (John Basarab)
  • Alternate feeding and slaughter strategies for beef and sheep production systems and the impact they have on measurable eating quality attributes, costs of production and sustainability as the industry moves to marketing healthier beef and lamb for human consumption. (Susan Markus)
  • New food-borne pathogen mitigation strategies as well as rapid, sensitive and inexpensive detection strategies and tools. (Kim Stanford, Brenda Ralston)
  • Developing strategies for controlling resilient animal or environmental pathogens such as prions, (spore-forming) bacteria, or viruses. (Kim Stanford, Brenda Ralston, Dongyan Niu)
  • Assist in the development of livestock pharmaceuticals. (Brenda Ralston)
Why we do it
  • Alberta is recognized as a world leader in feed efficiency, an area that will reduce cost of production, improve competitiveness and reduce the environmental impact of Canada's beef cattle industry.
  • Alberta beef must be marketed based on our superior beef quality and safety through alternative, branded product lines to safeguard our domestic and export market consumer confidence.
  • The beef industry needs to be strengthened on a foundation of animal health, food safety and public health to make us more globally competitive with our lowest cost competition.
Current projects

These are short descriptions of current projects that the Beef Research Group is working on:
  • Managing livestock mortalities for biosecure disposal via composting. Funded by GF2 Business Development Initiatives, 2016-2018. [Tim Reuter, Kim Stanford, Cody Metheral]
  • The risk of emerging disease due to microbial evolution of antibiotic and virulence between diverse livestock production systems and the environment. Funded by GF2 Business Development Initiatives, 2017-2018. [Tim Reuter, Shaun Cook, Lisa Tymensen]
  • Development of an Analgesic Elastrator Band in collaboration with Chinook Contract Research, Alberta Beef Producers and funded by the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP). Under the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle (2013) pain control for castration is currently required for bulls castrated after 6 months of age. While products are labelled for pain control in cattle, currently only one pain control product is labelled for alleviating the pain associated with castration. This product's label claim is for up to 56 hours of pain relief, however; given the practicalities of cattle handling, and the desire of producers to mitigate the stress of handling, it is often administered at the time of castration. This means that pain control does not begin until sometime after the initial castration procedure is completed. It has been documented (Moya et al. 2014) that the effects of band castration (a common method of castration in cattle), including a reduction in average daily gain and feed intake along with an increase in scrotal temperature, occurs two weeks and later after castration, long after the currently available product's therapeutic efficacy has expired. If successful, this project will immediately generate effective products to mitigate the pain associated with band castration. [Brenda Ralston]
  • Effect of using Meloxicam Oral Suspension in reducing the incidence of BRD dairy calves and increasing weight gain following castration in collaboration and funded by Solvet. Stress is a major contributor to bovine respiratory disease (BRD) and is an animal welfare and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) concern for North American cattle production. BRD is the major illness and reason for the use of antibiotics in beef cattle. There is a potential for the reduction in animal stress and suffering along with enhanced antibiotic efficacy through the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs). It is well established that the stress of weaning, auction market movement and transportation, castration are major contributing factors to BRD. Recent studies (in the USA) have shown that Meloxicam provided reduced the expression of stress proteins, improved performance and reduced the number of pulls in cattle following stressful events such as castration, dehorning and long haul transportation. However, these studies were limited in number, were not conducted under Canadian cattle handing conditions, and were not sufficiently large to make recommendations to veterinarians and producers. This study will be used to evaluate the use of a NSAID during castration for the reduction in animal stress and suffering and use of antibiotics for the treatment of BRD. This will translate into reduced production costs that enhance industry competitiveness in both domestic and international markets. The effective management of respiratory infection in cattle is thus critical to the sustainability of the industry. This project is intended to provide cattle producers and veterinarians the information needed for adoption of this management tool to enhance efficacy of antibiotic use against pathogens, decrease potential resistance issues, cost, needless antibiotic usage and improve animal health and welfare. [Brenda Ralston]
  • “Effects of antibiotic use on emergence of highly virulent multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacterial pathogens associated with bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in Southern Alberta feedlots” funded by GF2 the intent of this project is to investigate the prevalence of multidrug resistant bacterial pathogens including Mannheimia haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, Histophilus somni and Mycoplasma bovis associated with respiratory disease mortalities in feedlot calves from southern Alberta. This project is intended to provide beef producers and veterinarians the information needed to effectively support the management of respiratory infection in cattle by prudent use of antimicrobials and knowledge of the prevalence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) virulent bacterial pathogens associated with BRD. [Kim Stanford, Susanne Trapp, and Brenda Ralston]
  • Pain control strategies and extension for food producing animals - The successful completion of these projects will provide producers with tools and highlight the importance of pain management and production enhancements realized when these strategies are adopted. [Brenda Ralston]
  • Early gestation detection of ewe pregnancy and litter size impacts flock profitability. Quicker and more accurate culling decisions of infertile females and improved nutritional management of those carrying multiple lambs results in better lamb survivability and ewe condition. Using metabolomics technology to uncover biomarkers associated with ewe pregnancy status and litter size is the research focus to develop a low cost, accurate pen-side kit with immediate results for ewe flock and feedlot owners. [Susan Markus]
  • Validation of sheep nutrient recommendations based on the SheepBytes® ration balancing program. Areas of investigation will also include costs of production, carcass quality and value for Alberta flock, environment and feed conditions. An assessment of feeding behaviours and predicted lamb performance (dry matter intake, average daily gain and days on feed) compared to actual lamb performance using individual animal intake technology from GrowSafe® Systems will be carried out. [Susan Markus]
  • Packaging and delivery of education and outreach activities related to current beef and sheep production and feed efficiency research aimed at increasing the adoption of technologies, innovations and tools on the farm or ranch. [Susan Markus]
  • Development and deployment of MBVs/gEPDs for feed efficiency and carcass traits that perform in commercial beef cattle. Low density genotyping (36,000 SNPs) was completed on 2300 commercial beef cattle. These genotypes were used to determine genomic breed composition, retained heterozygosity and inbreeding for over 2000 commercial cattle. Preliminary analysis of a small evaluation group of crossbred heifers from the Lacombe Research and Development Centre revealed highly accurate prediction (96%) of breed composition using genomics, and a moderate relationship between genomic heterozygosity (hybrid vigor) and feed efficiency. Heifers that had 40-75% retained heterozygosity (more crossbred) were more feed efficient by $16-$32/cow/year compared with heifers that had 10-35% retained heterozygosity. In addition, heifers with high vigor were more fertile, had lower calf death losses and produced more calf weaning weight over their lifetime low vigor heifers. Income minus replacement heifer cost for high vigor heifers was worth between $115-$188/heifer/year when followed over 6 calvings compared with low vigor heifers. These results are the bases of Delta Genomics’ EnVigour HX product/service line launched 4 February 2017 at the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association Conference and EnVigor HX is expected to assist cow-calf producers in making sire selections for different cow groups that optimize retained heterozygosity, hybrid vigor, longevity, fertility and sustainable in breeding females. [John Basarab]
  • Optimizing feed intake recording in beef cattle in order to increase the rate of improvement for feed efficiency, Field trials for project were completed on April 16, 2016. One manuscript published in Canadian Journal of Animal Science; another submitted. Results show that reducing days for feed intake testing to 42 days (from 80 days) would reduce cost of testing for feed efficiency by about 50% and double the number of animals that could be tested, thus doubling genetic response for feed efficiency. Loss in accuracy would only be 5-7%. [John Basarab]
  • RFI methane Project. Methane emissions from beef cattle bred for low residual feed intake, Year 2 of project in progress. The Greenfeed Emissions monitoring system (GEM) is a practical, accurate, real-time, internet based and non-invasive method of measuring methane and CO2 emissions from cattle under on-farm conditions. Preliminary results measured with GEM and open path lasers revealed that feed efficient (low RFI) beef cattle emit less daily enteric methane and CO2 compared with inefficient (high RFI) cattle. [John Basarab]
  • GreenBeefCow: Identifying and evaluating genomic and fecal microbiome markers for low methane emissions in beef cattle. Approved as of March 2016. [John Basarab]
  • Improving the annotation of genetic variation associated with feed efficiency and methane yield in beef cattle. Approved as of March 2016. [John Basarab]
  • New methods for measurement of methane emissions from beef cattle in order to mitigate climate change and improve sustainable production. [John Basarab]
  • Development of an integrated model to predict longevity of beef cows. [John Basarab]
In the Table below you can find videos explaining research that the Beef Research Group is involved in. Click on the title to open the videos in a new window.

Researcher Video title
Susan MarkusSheep Metabolomic Technology Applied Research Project - collaboration with Lakeland College and their student-managed farm
Susan MarkusSwath grazing - How swath grazing can help to extend your grazing season and issues to consider when using it
Susan MarkusCow efficiency - Feed efficiency in beef cattle is a moderately hertiable trait that affects your profitability. Know how to select for this trait when measured by residual feed intake and understand that it is not related to cow size.
John Basarab and V.S. BaronWill RFI studies mean a lower carbon footprint for cattle producers?
T. Flesch and John BasarabNew technology for measuring methane emissions - What it means for cattle producers.
T. Flesch and John BasarabCattle and methane emissions - Are we the problem, or the solution?
L. Beil and John BasarabGetting creative to cut methane from cows: Less-burpy bovines means fewer greenhouse gases.
Susan MarkusFour ways to improve beef cattle feed efficiency.
Susan Markus/John BasarabIntroduction to Livestock Genomics
Kim StanfordSystems for safe Alberta food

In the Table below is a summary of presentations given by members of the Beef Research Group. For some presentations, you can click on the title to open the presentation as a pdf file.

Nov 2018Fall Forum, Mayerthorpe, ABJohn BasarabGenomic tools for commercial beef herds
Feb 2018World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production, New Zealand T. Valente (John Basarab)Genomic insights for feeding behavior traits in beef cattle
Feb 2017Alberta Feeders Association Conference, Red Deer, ABJohn BasarabSustainable beef: Genomic tools and residual feed intake
Jan 2017Global challenge, Calgary, ABJohn BasarabFeeding 9 billion people by 2050: Role of sustainable beef
Oct 2016Livestock Gentec Conference, Edmonton, ABJohn BasarabgEPDs for commercial beef cattle
Feb 2016Workshop on metabolic gas emission measurements and GreenFeed, Melbourne, AustraliaManafiazar G. (John Basarab)Methane emissions and RFI: Repeatability of short-term spot measurement of CH4 and CO2 from beef cattle using GEM system
Feb 2016Animal Scinece 474 course, University of Alberta, Edmonton, ABJohn BasarabResidual feed intake and greenhouse gas emissions in beef cattle
Mar 2016Livestock Gentec lab meeting, Edmonton, ABManafiazar G. (John Basarab)Research progress report - RFI Methane project
Feb 2016Workshop on Metabolic Gas Measurements for GreenFeed, Melbourne, AustraliaManafiazar G. (John Basarab)Methane, CO2, O2 emissions variability and repeatability and feed intake comparisons in beef cattle
Sept 2015Western Nutrition Conference, Winnipeg, MBSusan MarkusInnovation in Ruminant Feed Efficiency
Jan 2015Northern States Beef Conference, Morton, MNSusan MarkusEfficiency and High Production - Can they co-exist?
Nov 2014Alberta Lamb Producers, Barrhead, ABSusan MarkusFeeding the flock for optimal performance
Jun 2014Canadian Speckle Park Breed Association, Ponoka, ABSusan MarkusDefining feed efficiency with Residual Feed Intake
Mar 2014Alberta Regional 4H Sheep Workshop, Airdrie, ABSusan MarkusLamb Nutrition
Jan 2014Alberta Lamb Producers, Grande Prairie, ABSusan MarkusNutrition for productive healthy flocks
Jun 2013ALMA FutureFare, Red Deer, ABJohn BasarabAddressing the Phenomic Gap: Next generation genomic tools in beef
Jun 2013Greenhouse Gases & Animal Agriculture Conference, Dublin, IrelandJohn BasarabResidual feed intake (RFI): An indirect approach for reducing GHG emissions
Jan 2012Tiffin Conference: Cattle Gate to Dinner Plate, Lethbridge, ABJohn BasarabFeed efficiency, RFI and the benefits for the beef industry
Jul 2010ADSA, PSA, AMPA, CSAS and ASAS Joint Annual Meeting, Denver, COJohn BasarabAlberta’s experiences with greenhouse gases: the beef cattle protocols

In the Table below is a summary of posters presented by members of the Beef Research Group. For some posters, you can click on the title to open the poster as a pdf file.

Animal modelResearcherTitle
All livestockTim ReuterBacteria and Genes in Environmental Commons - Infographic
Beef cattleJohn BasarabEstimates of the potential of GreenFeed errors using a modeling approach with varied visitation patterns.
Beef cattleJohn BasarabSampling frequency and measurement period for short-terms spot measurements of methane emissions from cattle using GreenFeed Emissions Monitoring System.
Beef cattleJohn BasarabIdentification of single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with heifer fertility and calving performance in beef cattle.
Beef cattleJohn BasarabResidual Feed Intake: Innovative solutions to improving feed efficiency in beef cattle
Beef heifers/cowsJohn BasarabRelationship between beef heifer residual feed intake and productivity as cows
Beef cattleJohn BasarabDoes low RFI in the drylot mean low RFI on pasture?
Beef cattleSusan MarkusA survey comparing meat quality attributes of beef from credence attribute-based production systems
Sheep and lamb Susan MarkusA nutrition assessment tool for the sheep and lamb industry
Factsheets and other extension tools
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Miranda Smit.
This information published to the web on November 17, 2014.
Last Reviewed/Revised on February 1, 2019.