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Productivity and Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Cow-Calf Management Options

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

Sheila Nolan

July 2017 - March 2019


Goal: Greenhouse Gas

Audience: Cow-Calf

Project Type: Pilot

Location: Alberta

Efficiency improvements in Canadian beef production between 1981 and 2011 have already reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 15%. Our objective is to identify practices that further improve efficiencies and lower emissions. We characterized productivity ($/unit) and emissions (GHG/unit) in a case study simulation of a 120 head cow-calf operation near Vulcan Alberta. AgriProfit$ GOLD indicators (Growth, Open cows, Length of calving period and Death losses) were used to characterize herd management practices as Average, Above (+15%) and Below (-15%) based on survey data. The Holos model was used to estimate farm scale emissions and removals by soil carbon sequestration. Compared with Average management results per pound of weaned calf, Above resulted in higher sales (+20%) and lower emissions (-15%), while Below resulted in lower sales (-20%) and higher emissions (+22%). Growth accounted for the most variation in sales and emissions per pound of weaned calf. For overwintered Open cows, pregnancy checking and feeding high energy diets resulted in the highest net profit for spring sales and lowest emissions. There is potential to identify and demonstrate win-win options that increase productivity and lower emissions for cow-calf operations in Alberta.

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