Behind the barn doors: What Guelph’s new beef research facilities will offer
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
Construction on the new beef facilities at the University of Guelph’s research farm near Elora is in full swing. They’re part of the institution’s vision to become a leader in beef cattle research in Eastern Canada – and globally – that has also included numerous new staff hires in recent years.
“We are going to have state-of-the-art facilities so we can lead research in sustainability, production, health welfare, and beef quality” said Prof. Katie Wood from the Department of Animal Biosciences. “All the outside framework for the buildings are done and the barns are starting to come together and take shape – we are really excited for the things to come.”
The new cow-calf facility will be able to house up to 288 cows and 96 replacement heifers, which will include the university’s beef herd in New Liskeard that is being moved to Elora.
The 165,000 square foot building is an H-design with two cow housing areas and a cross-over connecting them to an animal handling area. The bedded pack barns will have a scrape alley at the front to move manure right through into the new manure handling and storage facilities.
And it will be equipped with some pretty powerful, state-of-the art equipment to capture data on individual animals. The automated feeding system reads each animal’s RFID tag and decides whether the cow has permission to eat. It can also track things like how much feed she is consuming, how many meals she consumes per day, or how long each meal takes.
“Historically, we have been feeding pens of animals that are group fed, but we’ll now be able to collect individual feed intake data from each animal from the entire herd; we’re happy to have such a powerful tool in our research,” Wood said. “This will allow us to be more precise and will reduce research costs because we don’t need as many animals to get accurate data.”
There will also be a metabolic area in the barn for very detailed research on feed metabolism. When not being used for metabolic research, those pens will double as calving pens for use during calving. The barn is being built so that these pens can be adaptable to service any future research needs.
The new feedlot barn will have capacity for 288 growing and finishing steers, an increase of about 96 head over the current feedlot facilities. It, too, will allow for collection of feed intake data on individual animals.
“A big difference will be that the animals are now under roof which will result in more controlled environment compared to the original barn where animals were more exposed to elements,” said research station manager Bev Livingston. “When you have the elements added in, that’s one more factor that can affect the research results, from moisture changes in the feed and wet days that affect the bedding area and general cow comfort. It will be a more standardized environment now that will result in a greater level of consistency for data collection.”
Although there were no issues with animal comfort in the old buildings, the new ones were designed with future animal care recommendations in mind with respect to stocking density and space per animal, Livingston said.
“Redundancy is one of the things we do try to build into the facilities so there is always a backup system to ensure research data is not lost and animal care needs are always met ” he said. “Research depends on everything working well every day, so there is a full generator backup for power outages, for example, as well as interconnection between our two wells to ensure there is never a shortage of water for livestock.”
The project also includes expansion, renovation and development of pasture for beef cattle grazing research. The land base will increase from the current 160 acres to approximately 400 acres, and will include two pasture handling facilities to enable comprehensive sample collection on pasture. Improvements will also be made to the pasture itself, such as planting of new grass/legume mixtures for use in rotational grazing system research.
“We’re very fortunate to be able to renovate the pasture too; it will be a huge benefit for us,” Wood said. “It will let us integrate the ecology side of beef research so we can do more focused work on soil health and carbon sequestration, and integrate that with animal health, and performance aspects from pasture systems.”
The research station’s office and laboratory facilities are also undergoing an overhaul, such as new lab space that will let researchers do more processing of samples on-site. According to Wood, not only does this save costs, but the sooner genetic samples can be processed and frozen, the better quality they are.
A new graduate student area and better staff facilities, including updated staff and washroom facilities that aren’t present in the existing barn, along with meeting space are also being added.
“The existing beef facilities have served research well for last four and a half decades and the new facilities will be able to build on that history and provide a new research platform for that same period of time going forward,” Livingston said. “This was designed with an eye towards ongoing research in the beef industry and being able to handle all the different kinds of research that may come along in the future.”
This article was published in Ontario Beef May 2019. It is provided by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation as part of LRIC’s ongoing efforts to drive innovation in livestock production and report on Canadian livestock research developments and outcomes.