Projects Inventory


Productivity and Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Cow-Calf Management Options

Sheilah Nolan

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

July 2017 - March 2019

Audience(s): Cow-Calf   Project Type(s): Pilot

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.


Goal #2: Reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of Canadian beef per unit of product produced

Indicators Addressed:
  • Practices that support carbon sequestration and minimize emissions are understood and/or employed

Demonstrate relative success, efficiency and economic feasibility of practices that support carbon sequestration and minimize emissions.

Communication Tools:

This proof-of-concept project is in the initial stages of development.  Future plans being discussed include:

  • Building capacity to characterize and promote Alberta-specific advantages, e.g. soil carbon potential, feed types
  • Characterizing benchmarks e.g. regional, operation size, type - Historical comparisons  
  • Populating benchmarks with defaults that can be customized to specific farm conditions, e.g. multi-year economic summaries
  • Requesting input from ranchers / industry to assess management options of interest, e.g. frame size, grazing periods, high legume forages
  • Identifying overarching principles, e.g. improve feed quality
  • Characterizing related benefits, e.g. ecosystem services, water use
  • Developing training material about use of Holos and AgriProfit$ to demonstrate current and improved management practices
  • Developing infographics for ranchers to identify key management principles

Communications material will be posted on Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s webpage at: and/or elsewhere as appropriate.

Tagged as: Environment