Dr. Bart Lardner
Professor – Department of Animal & Poultry Science, College of Agriculture & Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan & Chair – Cow-Calf & Forage Systems, Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program (SRP)
Over the last few years, with climate change being at the forefront of many Canadians’ minds, consumers have increasingly raised concerns about how Western Canadian livestock producers raise animals. It may surprise many Canadians to know that the country’s cattle producers are equally as concerned with issues of sustainability and animal welfare. That’s why producers, scientists, economists, engineers, and more have come together to form the innovative University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence.
“The University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence (LFCE) is a unique complex that will model and research all aspects of the beef and cattle industries,” says Dr. Bart Lardner (PhD), a professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources.
“The objective of the LFCE is to pull multiple disciplines under one model, under one roof. For example, people in animal health, animal nutrition, animal breeding, foraging and grazing management, soil and water management, production economics, and more will build on a strong network of partnerships to improve beef cattle and forage production across Canada and internationally,” says Dr. Lardner, who is also the Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program (SRP) Chair in Cow-Calf and Forage Systems.
If we removed cows from the picture, we would put that land at risk for conversion back to other uses — uses that would release more greenhouse gases.Dr. Bart Lardner, professor at the University of Saskatchewan
The big picture
The one-of-a-kind facility, which opened last fall, is one of the largest and most comprehensive livestock research centres in the world. By bringing together experts from a wide variety of fields, producers will have access to contemporary, top-notch, well-rounded research that gives them a complete picture of cattle production, notes Dr. Lardner.
“We won’t just be dealing with how animals grow, but also the nutrient cycle, the soil and water dynamics, veterinary medicine, and more,” he says. “Previously, these subjects were all studied as separate entities and now they’ll all be under one roof in a collaborative way to provide real-world information to farmers that they can implement on their farms for the best, most sustainable results.”
Prairie’s sustainable pastures
Not only are the country’s Canadian Prairies the ideal location for the LFCE, they’re also the perfect location for beef cattle production. Dr. Lardner notes that Western Canada has more than 28 million acres of native rangelands and approximately 15 million of those are in Saskatchewan.
“That land is pasture and forage, and we know that land removes greenhouse gases from the air and stores them in the soil,” he says. “So, if we removed cows from the picture, we would put that land at risk for conversion back to other uses — uses that would release more greenhouse gases. Also, if we didn’t have grazing or beef cattle production on those native rangelands, we’d see a buildup of fuel from the grasses, which would be a huge fire hazard for both rural and urban areas.”
Dr. Lardner further emphasizes that it’s in the producers’ best interests to raise healthy, sustainable beef.
“Producers are probably the most sustainable folks that I know in this province,” he says. “Their objective is to leave those resources in better condition for the next generation than when they took them over. Furthermore, it’s important to understand that Canadian beef production accounts for only 0.04% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is only 2.4% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.”
In fact, one of the main goals of the LFCE is to figure out how to develop eco-friendly farming.
“We’re always looking at new opportunities with cattle management,” Dr. Lardner says. “Are there ways to improve the cows’ diet quality to reduce emissions? Different rotation management systems or forage combinations that we can use that will capture more carbon? Sustainable farming is in everyone’s best interest.”