It’s a whole other world of research in southeastern Alberta. There are no high-tech labs or white-coated scientists. Instead, researchers here wear blue jeans, plaid shirts and leather boots. The research at Agriculture Canada’s Onefour substation is down to earth, and it is has generated groundbreaking results that are applicable worldwide. For example, many of the significant research results from Onefour can be applied to countries such as Russia, France, China and the United States.
John Lawson, in his book, “75 Years of Research: 1927-2002 Research Substation, Onefour,” states that even though these countries have “vast areas of land that provide a similar rigorous, stressful environment for the growing of forages and the raising of animals – they do not have the same long-standing research commitment or understanding of the problems and solutions.”
Many significant research results have come out of Onefour, especially in forage and range management, sheep, beef cattle and soils.
Several types of fence post preservatives were tested, resulting in recommendations that extended the life of the posts to 40 years, well beyond the usual three to five years in light, sandy, dryland soils.
Effects of carrying capacity studies became more striking each year, due to the cumulative effects on animals and of grazing treatments on grass cover. The regulation of grazing to conform to the carrying capacity of grazing lands is one of the most important principles in range cattle production. Conservation grazing is key.
Research showed that manure, straw and commercial fertilizers alone, and in combination, increased productivity but also deleteriously changed vegetation in some situations. In general, fertilization of range proved to be uneconomic.
In the early days of settlement, large sheep flocks were prevalent but conditions were harsh and lamb losses were heavy. Research was initiated to optimize production. A new breed, the Romnelet, was developed specifically for range conditions. Several breeds and breed-cross combinations were evaluated for production and prolificacy (adaptability to range conditions).
The four range breeds – Rambouillet, Romnelet, Targhee and Columbia – were essentially the same in fertility, prolificacy and weaned lamb production, but the Suffolk produced more weaned lamb than any of the other breeds. One highlight of a 15-year, five-phase study comparing purebred and two-, three-, four-and five-breed cross ewes was that fertility was improved by crossbreeding but prolificacy was not. The number of lambs weaned per 100 ewes bred and percentage of lambs surviving to the end of the 75-day post-weaning period were highest for three-breed crosses followed by two-breed crosses and then purebreds.
Sheep research at Onefour ended many years ago but cattle and range research continues to this day.
Beef cattle research
Cattle breeding projects began in 1950 and focused on the evaluation of breeds and crosses for hardiness and productivity, the setting out of genetic principles, and the development of selection methodology and technology.
The Cattalo Project (1950 to 1964) demonstrated the advantages of hybrids and cattalo (a mixed breed of cattle and bison) over domestic cattle in hardiness and calf weaning weights, but also showed the disadvantages in total productivity, male fertility (including sterility in first-cross males), female fertility, and feedlot and carcass traits.
In the Ross Project (1963 to 1978), a crossbred line, developed by mating Brown Swiss, Holstein and Red Angus sires to Hereford cows and intermating the progeny, achieved and maintained a high level of reproductive performance under rigorous range conditions. This project was also an example of a 15-year partnership between industry (Ross Ranches) and a government research organization.