Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profile




Duane McCartney





Agro-ecological zones
   Forest regions


The beef industry
The dairy industry
Sheep production


Vegetation zones
   Arctic tundra
   Boreal Forest
   Deciduous Forest - Eastern Canada
   Mountain Cordilleras - Western Canada
Grassland biome - the prairie
   The Aspen Parkland
   Fescue Prairie
   Mixed Prairie
   Tallgrass prairie
Hay harvesting and winter feeding systems
Annual cereals for forage
Forages for domestic and export markets
Pedigree seed production



Technology transfer




Canada is the world's second largest country after Russia, covering approximately 10 000 000 km2 and extends 5 500 km between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and 4 600 km north from the USA border to the Arctic - see Figure 1 (McCartney and Horton, 1997, Canada 2011). Canadians have a wealth of natural and agricultural resources; from the spectacular mountains of the west, through the grain and grazing areas of the prairies, to the forests and rivers of the Canadian Shield and finally to the historic farmlands of eastern Canada. The variable topography, the Great Lakes, and the surrounding oceans influence climate, vegetation, and demographics. About 90% of Canada is uninhabited with 90% of Canadians living within 500 km of the USA border which is 8 890 km in length. About 60% of Canadians live in southern Ontario and Quebec. Canada contains vast expanses of wilderness to the north and has the world's longest coastline: 202 080 km. Even though Canada is the second largest country in the world it has about the same population as the state of California, USA, which is one-twentyfifth its size. According to the World Factbook the estimated population in July 2011 was 34 030 589 with a growth rate of 0.794%.

Figure 1. Map of Canada (World Factbook)
[Click to view full image]

Canada contains a mixture of diverse national and cultural groups. At the time of Canada’s first census, in 1871, about half the population was British and nearly one-third was French. Since that time the proportion of Canadians of British and French ancestry has dropped to about one-fourth each, as more have arrived from other countries in Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Because immigrant groups have tended to settle in particular locales, they generally have retained their cultural identity. For example, Ukrainians largely migrated to the Prairie Provinces where the land and climate were similar to their homeland, and many Dutch settled on the flat, fertile farmlands of south western Ontario. Many Chinese, Portuguese, Greeks, and Italians have settled in specific sections of large cities, particularly Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

The mix of ethnic groups differs greatly from province to province. The proportion of people claiming ancestry from the British Isles ranges from about two-thirds in Newfoundland and Labrador to less than 5% in Quebec; the proportion of people of French descent ranges from a majority in Quebec to a low percent in the rest of Canada. More than one-third of Canadians identify themselves as being of mixed, or “multiple” origins. Since the latter part of the 20th century, Asian immigration, notably Chinese, has increased dramatically, accounting for about half of all immigrants during the 1990s.

The early settlement and growth of Canada depended on exploiting and exporting the country’s vast natural resources. During the 20th century, manufacturing industries and services became increasingly important. By the end of the 20th century, agriculture and mining accounted for less than 5% of Canada’s labour force, while manufacturing stood at one-fifth and services, including transportation, trade, finance, and other activities, employed nearly three-fourths of the workforce.
Canada’s economy is dominated by the private sector, though some enterprises (e.g., postal services, some electric utilities, and some transportation services) have remained publicly owned. During the 1990s some nationalized industries were privatized. Canadian agriculture is firmly private, but it has come to depend on government subsidies in order to compete with the highly subsidized agricultural sectors of the European Union (EU) and the USA. Several marketing boards for specific farm commodities practice supply management and establish floor prices.

A land of vast distances and rich natural resources, Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 while retaining ties to the British crown. Economically and technologically, the nation has developed in parallel with the US, its neighbour to the south across an unfortified border. Canada faces the political challenges of meeting public demands for quality improvements in health care, and education, social services, and economic competitiveness, as well as responding to the particular concerns of predominantly francophone Quebec. Canada also aims to develop its diverse energy resources while maintaining its commitment to the environment.

Canada is made up of ten provinces and three territories (see Figure 2) Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon Territory. The capital of Canada is located in Ottawa, Ontario. On 1 July 1867, Canada became independent from the union of British North American colonies. The Constitution Act of 1867, created a federation of four provinces, and the Constitution Act of 1982, transferred formal control over the constitution from Britain to Canada, and added a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Figure 2. Map of Canada showing provinces and capitals
[Click to view full image]

The Canadian legal system is based on English common law, except in Quebec, where the civil law system is based on French law (Napoleonic Code). The main difference between Canada and the USA is the form of government. The head of state for Canada is Queen Elizabeth II represented by the Governor General while the head of government or Parliament is the Prime Minister. The cabinet or federal ministry is chosen by the prime minister usually from among the elected members of his own party sitting in Parliament.

The Governor General is appointed by the monarch on the advice of the prime minister for a five-year term; following legislative elections. The leader of the majority party or leader of the majority coalition in the House of Commons is generally designated prime minister by the Governor General

Parliament consists of the Senate (105 seats; members appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister and serve until 75 years of age) and the House of Commons (308 seats; members elected by direct, popular vote to serve a maximum of five-year terms).

Canada is a vast nation with a wide variety of geological formations, climates, and ecological systems. It has rain forest, prairie grassland, deciduous forest, tundra, and wetlands. Canada has more lakes and inland waters than any other country. It is renowned for its scenery, which attracts millions of tourists each year. On a per-capita basis, its resource endowments are the second richest in the world after Australia.


Figure 3. Relief map of Canada
[Click to view full image]

Canada's topography is dominated by the Canadian Shield, an ice-scoured area of Precambrian rocks surrounding Hudson Bay and covering half the country. This vast region, with its store of forests, waterpower, and mineral resources, is being increasingly developed. East of the Canadian Shield is the maritime area, separated from the rest of Canada by low mountain ranges, plains and river valleys, and including the island of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. South and southeast of the Shield are the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence lowlands, a fertile plain in the triangle bounded by the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, and Georgian Bay. West of the Shield are the farmlands and ranching areas of the great central plains, some 1 300 km wide along the US border and tapering to about 160 km at the mouth of the Mackenzie River. Toward the north of this section is a series of rich mining areas, and still farther north is the Mackenzie lowland, traversed by many lakes and rivers. The western most region of Canada, extending from western Alberta to the Pacific Ocean, includes the Rocky Mountains, a plateau region, the coastal mountain range, and an inner sea passage separating the outer island groups from the fjord-lined coast. Mt. Logan, the highest peak in Canada, in the St. Elias Range near the Alaska border, is 5 959 m high. The Arctic islands constitute a large group extending north of the Canadian mainland to within 885 km of the North Pole. They vary greatly in size and topography, with mountains, plateaus, fjords, and low coastal plains.

The central Canadian Shield area is drained by the Nelson-Saskatchewan, Churchill, Severn, and Albany rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. The 4 241 km Mackenzie River with its tributaries and three large lakes (Great Bear, Great Slave, and Athabasca) drains an area of almost 2.6 million km2 into the Arctic Ocean. The Columbia, Fraser, and Yukon rivers are the principal drainage systems of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. The Great Lakes drain into the broad St. Lawrence River, which flows into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Other rivers flow laterally from the interior into Hudson Bay or the Atlantic or Pacific ocean. [see link].

Approximately 40% of Canada's landmass and freshwater is north of 60 degrees north latitude. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut contain 9.2% of the world's total fresh water. The area north of the tree line is 2 728 800 km2 or 27.4% of the total area of the country. Overall, Canada is a fresh water-rich country. On an average annual basis, Canadian rivers discharge close to 9% of the world's renewable water supply, while Canada has less than 1% of the world's population. Water is also highly visible in Canada: probably no country in the world has as much of its surface area covered by freshwater. Of particular note are the Great Lakes, which are shared with the USA, and which make up the largest area of freshwater found in one place anywhere in the world (Canada, 2011).

Canada has a wide range of soil types ranging from the peat soils in low lying areas to sandy soils in other areas. In some regions soils are heavy clay while in others soils are light brown to black and grey wooded. Since there is such a wide variety of soil types it is difficult to attempt an overall summary. Basically there are ten Orders in the Canadian System of Soil Classification (Table 1 and see Figures 4a and 4b).

Table 1. Summary of the Soil Orders in the Canadian System of Soil Classification
Diagnostic Horizon
Chernozemic Ah, Ap, Ahe A grassland soil whose diagnostic horizon is formed by high levels of organic matter additions from the roots of grasses.
Solonetzic Bn or Bnt A grassland soil with high sodium levels in the B horizon; usually associated with a clay-rich B horizon and often with saline C horizon material.
Podzolic Bf or Bh A forest soil normally associated with coniferous vegetation on igneous-rock derived parent materials. High acidity in the A horizon results in formation of a bleached Ae horizon and deposition of iron and aluminum in the B horizon.
Luvisolic Bt A forest soil found in areas with parent materials derived from sedimentary rocks. Dominant process is eluviation of clay from the Ae horizon and its deposition in the Bt horizon.
Brunisolic Bm A forest soil whose properties are not strongly enough developed to meet the criteria for the Luvisolic or Podzolic Orders.
Gleysolic Bm Found throughout Canada wherever temporary or permanent water saturation cause formation of gleyed features in the profile.
Regosolic Bg, Cg Found throughout Canada wherever pedogenic conditions prevent the formation of B horizons (unstable slopes, sand dunes, floodplains etc.).
Vertisolic Bss, or Css and Bv Associated with high clay glacio-lacustrine landscapes; characterized by shrinking and swelling of clays.
Cryosolic By, Cy, Cz A soil of arctic and tundra regions; characterized by presence of permafrost.
Organic O horizon Organic soils are associated with the accumulation of organic materials (peat) in water-saturated conditions. They are most commonly associated with Boreal Forest soils.


For a detailed description of the various soils that can be found in different regions of Canada the following websites should be visited:
University of Saskatchewan
University of British Columbia
Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada (Canadian Soil Information Service)
Soil map of Canada

Figure 4b. Soil Order Map of Canada (Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
[Click to view full image]

A detailed map of the major soil zones of the Canadian prairie region is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Major soil zones of the prairie region
[Click to view full image]


Figure 6. Climate regions of Canada.
[Click to view full image]

Because of its great latitudinal extent, Canada has a wide variety of climates (Canada 2011). Ocean currents play an important role, with both the warm waters of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic and the Alaska Current in the Pacific affecting climate. Westerly winds, blowing from the sea to the land, are the prevailing air currents in the Pacific and bring coastal British Columbia heavy precipitation and moderate winter and summer temperatures. Inland, the Great Lakes moderate the weather in both southern Ontario and Quebec. In the east the cold Labrador Current meets the Gulf Stream along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, cooling the air and causing frequent fog.

The northern two-thirds of the country have a climate similar to that of northern Scandinavia, with very cold winters and short, cool summers. The central southern area of the interior plains has a typical continental climate - very cold winters, hot summers, and relatively sparse precipitation. Southern Ontario and Quebec have a climate with hot, humid summers and cold, snowy winters, similar to that of some portions of the American Midwest. Except for the west coast, all of Canada has a winter season with average temperatures below freezing and with continuous snow cover.

In the winter those parts of the country farthest from open water are the coldest, so that in the interior plains and in the North the winters are extremely cold. The lowest temperature ever recorded was -63 °C at Snag, Yukon, in 1947. During the summer, however, those parts of Canada farthest from open water are the warmest. The highest temperature recorded was 45  °C in southern Saskatchewan, in 1937. The west-coast city of Vancouver has an average January temperature of 3  °C and an average July temperature of 18 °C, while in south central Saskatchewan, on the interior plains, average temperatures vary from −18 to +19 °C). The daily range of temperature is also narrower on the coasts than in interior locations.

Humid air masses from the Pacific cause enormous quantities of orographic (mountain-caused) rain to fall on the west coast and mountain areas. Several sites along the British Columbia coast receive annual quantities in excess of 2 500 mm, but British Columbia receives much less precipitation in summer than in winter because low-pressure systems move on a more northerly track in summer and seldom cross the southern part of the coast. Vancouver has an annual average precipitation of about 1 000 mm.

In the interior plains and the North (arctic and subarctic), precipitation is seldom more than 400 mm per year. As air currents generally move from west to east, the west-coast mountains effectively keep marine air out. Spring and summer are wetter than winter.

Ontario and Quebec have more rainfall than the interior plains because the air masses pick up water vapour from the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Average annual precipitation is about 800 mm in southern Ontario and 1 000 mm in southern Quebec. Because winters are not as cold as in the interior plains, the air is less dry, and enough snow falls to make winter and summer precipitation about equivalent.

The Atlantic Provinces are wetter than the provinces of Central Canada. Yearly precipitation, most of which is cyclonic in origin, exceeds 1 250 mm in places and is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. There are few thunderstorms, and the low Appalachian Mountains produce only a little rainfall. In general, the rainfall on Canada’s east coast is less than that on the west coast because the prevailing winds come from offshore.

Canada’s snowfall does not follow the same pattern as rainfall. In the North and the interior plains, snowfall is light because the cold air is very dry. The snow is hard and dry, falls in small amounts, and is packed down by the constant wind. The east and west coasts are areas of lighter snowfall because the ocean usually makes the air too warm for large quantities of snow to fall. The depth of snow increases inland from each coast, reaching maximums of about 6 100 mm in the Rocky Mountains and on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Still farther inland, a lack of moisture reduces the depth of snow. Freezing precipitation may occur during the colder months in any part of the country, occasionally disrupting transportation and communications.

Agro-ecological zones
Canada is a large and ecologically diverse country. It borders on three oceans, contains vast areas of boreal and temperate forest ecosystems, mountainous ecosystems, arctic ecosystems and prairie grassland ecosystems to name a few (see Figure 7). These ecosystems support numerous human activities such as agriculture and forestry upon which the country’s economy heavily depends. While some activities often leave no impact and others help restore ecosystems, generally the integrity of Canada’s ecosystems is threatened from the collective weight of many kinds of human activities originating from both within and beyond the ecosystem borders. Despite this situation, society is attempting to implement various measures to conserve and protect entire ecosystems and their components so they will continue to sustain themselves and provide for future generations.

Figure 7. Map of Canada’s biomes
[Click to view full image]

Forest regions
Almost half of Canada’s land mass is covered with forests (Canada 2011). There are several large and distinct forest zones, which blend into a number of transitional zones. The northern coniferous, or boreal forest (taiga), is the world’s second largest area of uninterrupted forest; only Russia has a greater expanse of boreal forest. The severe winter and short growing season limit the number of tree species. The boreal forest (Figure 8) is an important source of pulpwood and also produces considerable lumber, but much of the northern area is too inaccessible for commercial lumbering.

Figure 8. Map of the Boreal Forest.
[Click to view full image]

A vast transitional zone, the taiga shield, comprising some 1 300 000 km2 of mixed boreal and tundra growth, connects the northern forest and the tundra region. Generally, the trees in this subarctic zone, with its cold, dry climate, are small and of little commercial consequence.

Along the southern edge of the boreal forest lie two other transitional zones. In the interior plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta the forest merges with the grasslands to create an arc of aspen parkland (Figure 9), characterized by prairie vegetation dotted with groves of aspen (Populus tremuloides) and other poplars in low moist areas and along valley bottoms. East of the Manitoba-Ontario border is a band of mixed coniferous-deciduous forest that extends into both the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence lowlands and the Appalachian region.

The forest of the Pacific coast, where steep slopes facing moisture-bearing winds produce a high rainfall, is Canada’s densest tall timber forest. Abundant moisture and a long growing season are conducive to the growth of evergreens with very hard wood, excellent for construction lumber.

Canada’s forest soils are acidic, the result of varying degrees to which minerals are leached out of the topsoil; they are thus relatively infertile for agriculture. The degree of acidity and leaching is greater in the coniferous and less in the mixed and deciduous forests. With proper soil management the mixed and deciduous forest soils make good farmland.

Figure 9. Map of the Boreal Transition



The southern portion of the interior plains is too dry for forests and gives rise to grasslands or natural prairies [Figure 10 and Table 2] (Bailey et al. 2010). The grazing industry is located primarily in western Canada with British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba having 84% of the national beef herd. Ontario and Quebec have 73% of the national dairy herd. The majority of harvested forage, dehydrated alfalfa and forage seed crops are grown in western Canada. The forage-based livestock industry makes a significant contribution to the national economy.

Figure 10. Map of the prairie eco-regions
[Click to view full image]

Table 2. Estimated hectares of Canadian natural prairie rangeland by province
Canadian Praries
All Lands Grazed: grassland & forest range        
Natural land for pasture*
6 529 916
5 175 864
1 548 223
13 254 000
Government pasture
921 884
808 975
167 137
1 897 966
Military rangeland
419 487
18 000
44 516
482 000
Natural Grassland Only        
Natural land for pasture*
4 832 120
4 140 707
636 008
9 908 835
Government pasture
460 942
404 488
83 568
948 998
Military rangeland
299 471
12 000
24 281
335 752
Parks grassland
80 938
109 266
72 844
263 049
Total natural grassland
5 673 471
4 666 461
1 116702
11 456 634
*Statistics Canada Census 2006 refers to natural lands that are used for livestock pasture. No information is reported for areas of natural grassland not being grazed by livestock, as found In parks, military bases, and other conservation areas.
Source: Bailey et al., (2010)

There are five main Canadian prairie eco-regions. The Dry Mixed Grass prairie in southeastern Alberta and western Saskatchewan is the most southerly and driest area of western Canada and consists of needle-and-thread (Stipa comata) and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) with sagebrush (Artemisia tridentate) and cactus. The Mixed Grass prairie eco-region surrounds the Dry Mixed Grass eco-region of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba where there is slightly more precipitation. The vegetation is mainly Wheatgrass-Needle-and thread range type (Stipa-Agropyron). The Foothills Fescue Prairie eco-region occurs along the southwestern Alberta foothills where there is higher annual precipitation than in the adjacent Mixed Grass prairie eco-region. Foothills rough fescue (Festuca campestris) can be found in the Alberta foothills, while plains rough fescue (Festuca halli) grows primarily on the Black Chernozemic soils of central Alberta, Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba. The comparatively good moisture and rich soils of the Foothills Fescue Prairie has made it a very productive annual crop area. At the northern limit the grasslands merge with the transitional Aspen parkland at the edge of the boreal forest to form the Aspen Parkland –Northern Fescue Prairie eco-region of central Alberta Saskatchewan and Manitoba With higher precipitation, bromegrass-bluegrass (Bromus-Poa) complexes are predominant. The Tall Grass Prairie eco-region occupies a huge region of the northern Great Plains of the United States and southeastern Manitoba where the climate is warmer and moister than in the Parkland –Fescue and Mixed Grass prairie eco-regions.Warm season grasses are dominant with needle-and-thread, prairie dropseed (Stipa-Sporobolus),Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi) and Indiangrass (Andropogon-Sorghastrum) communities.

Today in western Canada, the remaining native grassland area is small as annual crops have replaced native grass in all but dry or hilly areas (Bailey et al., 2010).

With high organic matter and mineral content, the grassland soils are among Canada’s most fertile. The best soils for crops are the dark brown Chernozemic and black soils of the tallgrass and parkland zone, the area of Canada that is famous for wheat cultivation. The less fertile light Brown Chernozemic soils of the dry mixed grass prairie country tend to be alkaline, and the predominant agricultural activities are dryland farming and grazing. Wind erosion has been a serious problem in prairie regions wherever the grassland has been converted to cultivated farmland; however, modern reduced tillage systems have substantially reduced erosion on cropland.


Forage and Ruminant livestock

Forages occupy 44% of the farmed area in Canada, with 15.5 m ha. of natural land on private farms for pasture, 5.7 m ha of seeded pastures, 2.9 m ha in seeded hay and fodder crops and 5.1 m ha in alfalfa. (Statistics Canada 2009), exceeding any other individual crop kind. In addition there are vast areas of natural rangeland as shown in Table 2.The estimated feed value of forages used domestically exceeds $1 US billion. The remainder is sold as hay or dehydrated forage, some of which is exported. Canada is a significant exporter of compressed timothy and alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets, forage seed and leafcutter bees used for alfalfa seed pollination.

The majority of the forage-based livestock industry is situated in western Canada. Forage management in western Canada integrates rangeland resources with cultivated forages. The four western provinces have 96% of the 26 million ha of Canadian rangeland used for livestock production with 36% in British Columbia, 29% in Alberta, 24% in Saskatchewan and 8% in Manitoba. The western provinces also have 82% of the nation’s cultivated pasture, 64% of the nation’s forage crop area, and 84% of the nation’s beef cow herd. Most farmers produce their own forages in Canada, with less than 15% of forage produced being sold on commercial markets.

The beef industry
Canada’s beef industry (see Photos 1-4) has 4.3 million beef cows and the beef industry accounts for close to 25% of total farm receipts (Statistics Canada, 2010). The prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have 82% of the national beef cow herd, Ontario and Quebec 12%, British Columbia 5% and Atlantic Canada 1% (Statistics Canada 2010). Alberta, with its vast rangelands and feed supplies, dominates Canada’s beef production. There are over 61,000 farms with beef cattle in Canada and 13% of the farms have 48% of the beef cows and each of these farms has over 122 cows. The average beef cow herd size in 2007 was 61 head and 61% of all the beef farms have less than 47 cows. (

Data for livestock numbers, beef/veal, milk and total meat production and meat and milk exports and imports for the period 2000-2010, mainly from FAOSTAT are given in Table 3. These give an overview and indicate the level of meat (total meat) and milk equivalent exports and imports. Although Canada is a net meat exporter, since 2004 imports of milk products (milk equivalents) have exceeded exports.

For more detailed information on livestock numbers or statistical information on Canada’s agricultural industry go to: (and browse under “agriculture” and then “sub-topics”, where summary tables give livestock data up to January 2011)

Table 3. Canada: statistics for livestock numbers, beef + veal, milk and total meat production and meat/milk exports/imports for the period 2000 - 2010 (FAOSTAT, 2011)
  2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Cattle, head (million) 13.2 13.6 13.8 13.5 14.6 14.9 14.7 14.2 13.9 13.2 12.5***
Sheep, head ('000) 793.0 947.8 993.6 975.3 994.2 977.6 893.8 879.1 825.3 808.2 813.6***
Horses, head ('000) 385.0 470.0 385.0 385.0 385.0 385.0 385.0 385.0 385.0 n.a* n.a
Pigs, head (million) 12.9 13.6 14.4 14.8 14.7 14.8 15.1 14.9 13.8 12.1 11.9***
Beef & veal Mt (million) 1.26 1.26 1.30 1.20 1.50 1.47 1.33 1.28 1.28 1.30e 1.30**
Cow milk whole, fresh Mt (million) 8.16 8.11 7.96 7.73 7.91 7.81 8.04 8.15 8.14 8.21 n.a
Total meat production Mt (million) 4.00 4.15 4.30 4.23 4.60 4.59 4.44 4.42 4.49 4.48 n.a
Total meat exports Mt (million) 1.19 1.32 1.48 1.38 1.56 1.68 1.57 1.54 1.68 n.a n.a
Total meat imports Mt (million) 0.48 0.55 0.57 0.52 0.39 0.45 0.51 0.61 0.63 n.a n.a
Milk equivalent exports Mt (million) 0.66 0.87 0.83 0.75 0.48 0.42 0.50 0.45 0.38 n.a n.a
Milk equivalent imports Mt (million) 0.70 0.71 0.63 0.68 0.71 0.71 0.73 0.83 0.71 n.a n.a
*n.a. not available; e estimate; ** McCartney (this profile); *** from Statistics Canada (as of 1st January 2011)

Click on the pictures to enlarge them

Photo 1. Cattle Grazing Southern Saskatchewan Photo 2. Eastern Canadian beef farm Photo 3. Cattle grazing along the Fraser River in Central British Columbia Photo 4. Starting the fall cattle roundup interior British Columbia

Most beef herds calve in mid winter to early spring. In the more moist areas of eastern Canada cows will calve in a barn while in the drier areas of western Canada cows calve on bedded mounds protected from the wind with wind breaks. Cows in eastern Canada are fed stored feeds consisting of corn (Zea mays L.) silage, corn grain, and grass hay, while in western Canada cows will winter graze (see Photos 5-10) on stockpiled grass, or graze on swaths of green cereal crops grown specifically for winter grazing or be fed stored hay (Photo 11) and barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) grain (McCartney et al., 2004). There is an increased interest to reduce winter feeding costs by extending the grazing season to a year-round one; this also includes grazing hay bales which are strategically located in the fields to provide cattle with designated amounts throughout the winter. For extended grazing season, calving occurs in late spring (May-June). For more detailed information on grazing look at Extension of Grazing Season <>. For information on “Sustainable management of nutrients on landscape for in-field livestock winter feeding systems for beef cattle”see link.

Winter feeding of beef cattle
Photo 5. January: cattle windbreak for cows swath grazing in western Canada.
Photo 6. January: Beef cows swath grazing oat or barley in western Canada
Photo 7. January: Winter feeding of hay using round bale unroller
Photo 8. Round bale winter feeding of hay
Photo 9. January: Bale shredder feeding hay to beef cows in western Canada. Photo 10. Bale grazing
Photo 11. Hay in feeders in winter.

Many cattle in western Canada graze on government land managed by federal and provincial government land agencies. In some areas, cattle producers lease government lands for long-term grazing in addition to owning their own land. Governments in western Canada have facilitated community pasture grazing programs where local cattle producers communally graze a limited number of head on a common pasture for a yearly fee. The grazing season for many of these areas traditionally extends from late May to October, depending upon location. Most producers practice some form of managed rotational grazing of their lands to various degrees.

From an ecological perspective, the Grassland Biome and Interior Mountain Cordillera are the most important areas for the beef industry in western Canada. A strategic challenge facing the Canadian beef cattle industry is how to proactively interact with the increasing number of non-agricultural interests that are also using Canada’s grazing lands.

The feedlot finishing industry (see Photos 12 & 13) is mainly located in southern Alberta. Beef producers normally wean spring-born calves in the autumn at 200-250 kg. These calves are then fed through the winter on forage-based rations to approximately 400 kg at which time they go onto a high grain finishing ration, normally barley in western Canada and maize in eastern Canada. Cattle are normally slaughtered at 16-18 months and at 550 kg live weight. Some large Alberta feedlots have a capacity of up to 100 000 head on feed at any one time. In 2010 Canadian feedlots fed 3.36 million head of cattle for slaughter

Photo 12a. Feedlot in southern Alberta
Photo 12b. Aerial view of feedlot in southern Alberta
Photo 13. Feed truck feeding cattle in a feedlot

The total Canadian beef production was 1.3 million metric  tonnes carcass weight equivalent in 2010 and Canadians annually consume an estimated 21.4 kg of beef per capita ( ). Canada exported approximately 50% of the total beef and cattle produced in Canada or 407 500 metric tonnes of beef in 2010 with the largest portion going to USA, followed by Mexico and Asian countries. Canada's cattle industry is the largest single source of farm receipts.

The dairy industry
The Canadian dairy farms have a total of 1.4 million cows and generated total net farm receipts of $5.5  billion and sales of $13.6 billion in 2009 (Canadian Dairy Information Centre: This represents 15% of the Canadian food and beverage sector. The dairy industry ranks third in terms of value in the Canadian agricultural sector, following grains and red meats.

Photo 14. Quebec dairy farm with tower silo and round bale silage.
Photo 15. Eastern Canadian dairy farm in winter.
Photo 16. Holstein dairy cattle in eastern Canada.
Photo 17. Dairy stanchon barn
Photo 18. Free stall dairy barn.

About 81% of Canadian dairy farms are located in Ontario and Quebec (see Photos 14-16), 13.2% in the Western provinces and 5.5% in the Atlantic provinces. The typical Canadian dairy farm has 72 cows and produces an average of 5,579 hectolitres of milk per year. There are 452 dairy processing plants (272 which are federally-inspected) contributing to more than 22 730 jobs across Canada. The Canadian dairy sector operates under a supply management or quota system based on planned domestic production, administered pricing, and dairy product import controls. Dairy products shipped from processing plants are valued at approximately USD$8 billion.

There are two markets for milk: fluid milk used as table milk or fresh cream accounts for 40% of the milk produced, while that balance is used for manufacturing of dairy products such as butter, milk powder, cheese, yogurt and ice cream.

Although the number of farms has steadily declined in the last 20 years, as has the number of cows, the amount of milk produced has remained fairly stable. The trend is toward fewer and larger farms. The average cow gives almost twice as much milk as compared to 25 years ago, due to better feeding, disease control, improved management techniques and genetic advances. The Holstein breed represents 93% of the Canadian dairy herds and is one of the world’s highest ranked breeds for milk production.

Smaller herds are housed in tie stalls or stanchion barns (Photo 17), while larger herds are housed in free-stall barns (Photo 18) with milking parlours. Most farms are owned and operated by a single family, while some large operations are incorporated businesses. Pasture may be used to a limited extent during the grazing season, but total confinement and total mixed rations are prevalent. Rations consist mainly of barley grain and barley silage and grass/alfalfa hay in western Canada and corn grain, corn silage and alfalfa /grass hay in Ontario and Quebec.

Canada's orderly marketing system is designed to encourage the production of sufficient volumes of industrial milk and cream to meet domestic demand for dairy products as well as certain planned exports. The Canadian Dairy Commission, in its facilitative role, helps build consensus within the industry, which characterizes the overall approach to orderly marketing in Canada's dairy industry.

Canadian dairy cattle, recognized for their disease-free status and their ability to produce high quantities of milk over several lactations, are exported around the world. In 2009, Russia was the top market for Canadian live breeding cattle. Canadian dairy bovine semen was exported to 84 different countries with the USA, the Netherlands, Japan and Spain being Canada’s largest markets.

Canadian dairy product exports reached $266.7 million. The top three products exported were dairy spreads, products consisting of natural milk constituents, and skim milk powder. The primary destination for Canadian dairy products was the USA which accounted for 48% of total dairy exports in terms of value.

Canadian dairy innovation is built on the industry's expertise in research and development. Canada's scientists are leaders in developing and transferring new dairy technologies. An example of Canadian dairy innovation is the development of a robust line of functional dairy products. Already several products have been developed, such as probiotic yogurts, ultra filtered milk, and dairy products containing Omega-3 fatty acids.

Sheep production
In Canada the main sheep producing areas (see Photos 19 and 20) are Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. Sheep are mainly produced for meat. The total (2010) sheep population in Canada was 813 600 sheep and lambs (as of January 1st 2011, Statistics Canada), with 521 000 ewe sheep on 2 800 sheep farms. The average flock size is 102 ewes, 29 ewe lambs, 4 mature rams and 2 ram lambs. When large commercial flocks were excluded, the average flock would have 65 ewes with 20 ewe lambs, 3 mature rams and 1 ram lamb. Suffolk is the main breed and lambing usually occurs in the month of April. Most flocks are raised in a pasture program with some large flocks on native range in southern Alberta. There are a few total confinement systems where lambs are fed intensively indoors. The lambs are normally slaughtered in September and October at a weight of 50 kg. The yearly output per ewe is 1.75 lambs marketed. The per capita consumption of mutton and lamb in Canada is very low at less than 0.5 kg per year.

Photo 19. Sheep grazing in eastern Canada
Photo 20 Sheep production in eastern Canada in winter


Canada's forage resources include both native range and cultivated crops. The area stretches from the vast arctic tundra of the far north to the grasslands of the southern prairies, and from the forests of British Columbia through the boreal forests of central and western Canada to the deciduous forests of eastern Canada. Only 7% or 68 million ha of Canada's entire land base is used for agriculture (McCartney and Horton, 1997).

Agriculture is one of Canada's primary industries. It is the third highest contributor to the gross domestic product after mining and oil (Statistics Canada, 2010). The agri-food industry contributes approximately 8% of Canada's annual gross domestic product. Agriculture's primary importance varies across the country and is most important economically to the province of Saskatchewan.

The forage resource used for grazing and production of forage crops covers over 36 million hectares. This compares to 25 million ha in grain and oilseed crops. This is divided into 72% native range (26 million ha), 11% cultivated pastures (4 million ha) and 17% tame [Canadian Census of Agriculture notes that “in 1996, the name and definition of "Tame or Seeded Pasture" was changed from the previous census. In 1991, it was called "Improved Land for Pasture or Grazing"] forage crops of hay/silage and forage seed (6 million ha) (McCartney and Horton, 1997). Forage production is the foundation of Canada's beef and dairy industries.

The beef and dairy industries are the second and third ranking primary agriculture sectors after grain. It is estimated that two-thirds of the feed protein in Canada comes from hay, grazing of forages, and fodder corn production. Hay production dates back to the 17th century. To-day hay is produced in every province. The majority of forage production is used on-farm, with off-farm sales estimated to represent approximately 10 to 15% of total production.

Canada's cold-temperate climate dictates winter feeding of livestock with preserved forages for periods as long as October to May depending on location and annual weather.

Cultivated forages have been widely adapted to various regions with significant production coming from lands not suited to annual crops. Forages are frequently grown in rotation with cereals and oilseeds. Grain crops are grown on the majority of cultivated lands but the farm value of forage conserved as hay and silage is about 40-60% the value of feed grain crops. Important cultivated forages include alfalfa (Medicago sativa), red, white and alsike clover (Trifolium pratense, T. repens and T. hybridum), bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), smooth and meadow bromegrass (Bromus inermis and B. riparius), creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra), timothy (Phleum pratense), orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata) and crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum and A. desertorum).

Most of the forage-based livestock industry is in western Canada and management integrates rangeland with cultivated forages. The four western provinces have 96% of the 26 million ha of Canadian rangeland used for livestock production with 36% in British Columbia, 29% in Alberta, 24% in Saskatchewan and 8% in Manitoba. The western provinces also have 82% of the nation's cultivated pasture, 64% of the nation's forage crop area, and 84% of the nation's beef cow herd.

Vegetation zones
Canada's natural vegetation is simply classified as 24% tundra, 71% forest and 5% grassland (McCartney and Horton, 1997). Plant geography classifies major terrestrial communities into biomes based on climate and natural vegetation. Canada may be divided into arctic tundra, boreal forest, deciduous forest, grassland and mountain cordillera biomes. See Figure 7.

Arctic Tundra
The Arctic Tundra (Photos 21 & 22) covers about 2 400 000 km2 and stretches east from the Yukon Territory in a southern arc to northern Quebec and north to include the Arctic Islands (Figure 11). This biome experiences long, cold winters and short, cool summers. It was described as the "barren lands" by the first European visitors; however, spring and summer can bring a sudden greening of the landscape. It is characterized by dwarf shrubs, perennial herbs, cryptogams and an absence of trees. The terrain consists of rolling uplands and lowlands underlain by Precambrian granite bedrock. A variety of large to small mammals are present including caribou (Photo 23) or reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), bears (Ursus spp.), wolves (Canis spp.), musk oxen (Ovibos moschatus) [Photo 24] and moose (Alces alces). While the area is sparsely inhabited, there is increasing ecotourism to the Arctic Tundra. The largest caribou herd in the world roams the eastern Arctic. Caribou can travel up to 9 000 kilometers in a year in their search for forage (Ryan, 1996). It is estimated that there are several hundred thousand caribou in the eastern Arctic herd. In addition, there are eight other nomadic herds with populations exceeding 100 000 head in other parts of the Arctic There is concern about the dramatic decline in caribou numbers across the Arctic due to hunting.

Figure 11. Map of the Arctic Tundra

Inuit hunters who traditionally have used the caribou as a source of food and shelter are very concerned about the long-term survival of these vast herds due to the lack of suitable grazing reserves. In addition to caribou, there are large herds of bison (Bison bison) and reindeer which are in some cases commercially managed in the arctic and boreal forest zones.

Photo 21. Arctic Tundra
Photo 22. Arctic landscape
Photo 23. Caribou in the Arctic
Photo 24. Musk Oxen in the Arctic

Boreal Forest
The Boreal Forest (see Figure 8) is Canada's largest biome covering 53% (5 200 000 km2) of Canada's land base. It extends from the Yukon in a southeasterly arc to Newfoundland. The area is dominated by trees, rivers, lakes and the Canadian Shield (Photo 27) bedrock which surrounds Hudson Bay. The climate consists of long, cold winters and short, warm summers as influenced by continental climatic conditions. Average annual precipitation ranges from 330 to 1 000 mm depending upon location. The main vegetation consists of white and black spruce (Picea glauca and P. mariana), aspen poplar (Populus tremuloides), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), and jack pine (Pinus banksiana). White spruce grows in upland areas along with aspen poplar, while black spruce is found on wetter soils. Balsam fir and jack pine are found in the central and eastern parts, while alpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) occur in the western areas.

Photo 25. Grazing lands in northern British Columbia
Photo 26 Grazing land in the Yukon, Canada's north.
Photo 27 Canadian shield and the Boreal Forest.
Photo 28. Northern British Columbia

Wheatgrass and northern porcupine grass (Agropyron-Stipa) communities are interspersed in this forest biome in northern British Columbia (Photo 28) and Alberta. Caribou, moose, beaver (Castor canadensis), deer (Odocoileus spp.), wapiti or elk (Cervus spp.) [Photo 29], coyote (Canis latrans) and bears are prominent mammals in the Boreal Forest. The whooping crane (Grus americana), one of Canada's most well known endangered species, nests in this biome.

Photo 29. Canadian Elk

While most of the Boreal Forest is not suited for agriculture, about 50 000 km2 are cultivated in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the isolated clay belt of northern Ontario. The soils of the Boreal Forest range from Gray Luvisols on the interior plains to organic soils on the lowlands of Hudson Bay, and the Podzols of the Canadian Shield. Soil fertility is low. Livestock operations (Photos 25 & 26) are found on the southern edges of the Boreal Forest where it meets the prairie grasslands and in the clay belt of northern Ontario.

Deciduous Forest - Eastern Canada

Figure 12. Agricultural areas of Ontario, Quebec Atlantic Maritimes

The deciduous forest biome of eastern Canada covers about 5% (450 000 km2) of Canada's land base. It can be divided into two ecozones; the mixed wood plains ecozone and the Atlantic Maritime ecozone (Figure 12).

The mixed wood plains ecozone stretches from the Great Lakes of southern Ontario and east along the St. Lawrence River of southern Quebec (Ecological Stratification Working Group, 1995). Its waterways, gentle topography, fertile soils, warm growing season, abundant rainfall and early settlement have made it Canada's most populated area, with 60% of the nation's people (Willms and Dormaar, 1993). The climate is warm in summer, cool in winter with mean temperatures ranging from 16-18 °C in summer and -10 to -20 °C in winter. Annual precipitation ranges from 720-1 000 mm.

Photo 30. Autumn (Fall) path in hardwood forest in central Ontario

One hundred and fifty years ago this area was heavily forested with more tree species than any other region of Canada. Less than 10% of this area remains forested today. Deciduous trees with their fall colours (Photo 30) are a major tourist attraction. Important tree species include sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (Acer rubrum), beech (Fagus grandifolia), American elm (Ulmus americana), trembling aspen and birch (Betula spp.).

Forages constitute the single largest crop grown in Ontario with seeded pastures (0.4 million ha) and hay land (1 000 000 ha) accounting for 40% of the crop land in Ontario (Clarke et al., 1993). This equals the land area used for winter wheat (Triticum aestivum), soybeans (Glycine max), and grain corn in Ontario. Livestock production dominates Ontario's agriculture with 36% of farm income derived from ruminant livestock and 56% of all farm cash receipts coming from all livestock products in general.

Quebec ranks first for the number of milking cows (Petit, 1993). Over 60% of Quebec's farm land (3.4 million ha) is in forage production with approximately 0.7 million ha in pasture (20% of the forage area). Principal forage species are timothy and white clover.

The Atlantic maritime ecozone (see Figure 12) (Photo 31) covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (Photo 32) and parts of southeastern Quebec. The climate is moist and temperatures are moderate ranging between 13-16 °C in summer and -10 °C to -20 °C in winter. Annual precipitation varies from 900 mm inland to over 1 500 mm near the coast: Forest vegetation is mixed stands of conifers and deciduous species of red spruce (Picea rubens), balsam fir, birch, sugar maple, and pine (Pinus spp.).

Photo 31. Typical Maritime Farm
Photo 32. Farmland in Prince Edward Island
Photo 33. Grass silage harvesting in eastern Canada.

About 15% of the soils in Nova Scotia, 20% in New Brunswick and 60% in Prince Edward Island are of high agricultural value with some areas specializing in potato production (Willms and Dormaar, 1993). Approximately 80 000 ha are used as pasture with another 388 000 ha used for cultivated crops (Papadopoulos et al., 1993).

Cultivated grasses (Photo 33) such as timothy, orchardgrass, tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) and legumes such as white clover can increase pasture productivity in the region and reduce seasonal fluctuations in dry matter yield associated with native swards. Improved swards gradually revert to native species due to competition under grazing. Supplemental pasture crops including annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) and mustards (Brassica spp.), extend the productive grazing season from approximately 4 to 7 months (Papadopoulos et a1.,1993).

Mountain Cordilleras - Western Canada

Figure 13. Map of the Pacific Cordillera

Western Canada is dominated by a series of mountain ranges. The effect of the Pacific Ocean combined with varying altitudes, slopes, and aspects of the cordilleras creates more diversity in climate and vegetation than is found in any other region of Canada (Meidinger and Pojar, 1991). The area provides an extensive grazing resource for wildlife and commercial cattle and horse producers.

The Pacific Cordilleran, or Coast Forest, extends from the Gulf of Alaska to northern California along the coast of the Pacific ocean (Figure 13). It covers about 3% (260  000 km2) of Canada’s land base, but due to the rugged terrain has limited use for beef production (Horton, 1994). Major species include western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), with sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) in the north and coastal areas, and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii) in the south. The area receives from 1 500-3 000 mm of annual precipitation due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean (Ecological Stratification Working Group, 1995).

Figure 14. Map of the Rocky Mountain Cordilleran Biome

The Rocky Mountain Cordilleran Biome stretches from southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta through central British Columbia into the Yukon (Figure 14). It covers approximately 9% (920 000 km2) of Canada's land base. The forage resources of the Rocky Mountain Cordilleran are important for guide-outfitting and ecotourism enterprises.

The Interior Cordilleran located in southcentral British Columbia covers 2% (170 000 km2) of Canada's land base. The climate of the zone ranges from sub-arid to humid at low and mid-elevations and cold at high elevations. The rain shadow created by the coastal mountains results in some of the driest areas in Canada. Other regions can receive 1 500 mm of annual precipitation (Ecological Stratification Working Group, 1995). The vegetation is floristically diverse ranging from bunchgrass associations in valley bottoms with dry to wet forest communities at mid-elevations to high elevation alpine communities. Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) grows in the southern parts while Douglas fir, lodgepole pine and trembling aspen grow elsewhere. Many ranchers (see Photos 34-39) use these areas for beef cattle grazing (Wikeem et al., 1993).

Commercial forest operations have been established throughout the area along with mining. Ecotourism is of great importance as many national and provincial parks have been established for recreational use and as wildlife preserves. About 5% of the region is suitable for agriculture (Willms and Dormaar, 1993). Farming and ranching occur in the valleys and on the plateaus. Cultivated crops are often grown under irrigation with fruit orchards, berry production, and vineyards located in heavy concentrations in the southern valleys.

Photo 34. Grazing land in central British Columbia
Photo 35. Interior grasslands of Central British Columbia
Photo 36. Cattle grazing along the Fraser River in Central British Columbia
Photo 37. Forest grazing in previously logged area in British Columbia Photo 38. Cowboys on the roundup trail in northern British Columbia Photo 39. Moving cattle in British Columbia

Grassland biome - the prairie

Figure 15. The Grassland Biome

The Grassland Biome (see Figure 15) in Canada is a continuation of the Great Plains of central North America. This biome covers about 5% (450 000 km2) of Canada’s total land base and most of the cattle grazing in Canada takes place in this region (McCartney and Horton, 1997). It stretches from the Canada-USA border in a tear drop arc from Alberta, through Saskatchewan and into southern Manitoba. These grass plains are comparatively flat and were home to large herds of bison prior to European settlement. Native grasslands have been extensively ploughed and cultivated for grain production over the last hundred years. Today most of Canada's wheat, oilseeds, pulse crop and beef production are centered in the grassland biome.

The continental climate ranges from semi-arid in the south to sub-humid in the north. Winters are long and cold; summers are short and hot with high evaporation. Annual precipitation ranges from 250 mm in the arid southern grasslands of Alberta and Saskatchewan to 700 mm in parts of Manitoba.

The natural plant communities of the Canadian grassland biome have been described by Moss (1944), Moss and Campbell (1947), Coupland (1950), Coupland and Brayshaw (1953), Moss (1955), Coupland (1961), Blood (1966), Looman (1969), Scoggan (1978), Looman (1981), Willms and Jefferson (1993) and Bailey et al. (2010). This biome can be classified into four associations (see Figure 10): Aspen Parkland, Fescue Prairie, Tallgrass Prairie and Mixed Prairie.

The Aspen Parkland
This forms the northern edge of the biome and is an ecotone with the Boreal Forest biome. It is an association of trembling aspen and balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) groves with interspersed grasslands. The Aspen Parkland (Photos 40-44) has expanded with the suppression of wild fires, associated with European settlement and policy (Anderson and Bailey, 1980; Bailey, 1995; Bailey et al., 2010). The region is highly productive with wheat, barley, oilseeds, specialty crops, alfalfa seed and dehydration products, and beef cattle being of primary importance. Since settlement in the Parkland, most native grassland has been replaced by cultivated crops. Many areas unsuitable for sustained crop production have become government-operated community pastures consisting of bromegrass-bluegrass (Bromus-Poa) complexes. Many wetlands suitable for duck and geese nesting are scattered throughout the region.

Photo 40. Aerial view of Aspen Parkland
Photo 41 Aerial view of land clearing for pasture in the Aspen Parkland
Photo 42. Typical pasture in the Aspen Parkland, Pathlow.
Photo 43. Cowboys moving cattle to the next pasture in the Aspen Parkland area (Pathlow, Saskatchewan) of western Canada Photo 44. Grazing Research Pathlow Community Pasture Research Site Central Saskatchewan  

Fescue Prairie
Mostly found between the Aspen Parkland to the north and the Mixed Prairie to the south (Willms and Dormaar, 1993; Bailey et al., 2010), stretches in an arc from the Alberta foothills through central Alberta, Saskatchewan and into western Manitoba. Foothills rough fescue (Festuca campestris) can be found in the Alberta foothills, while plains rough fescue (Festuca hallit) grows primarily on the Black Chernozemic soils of central Alberta, Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba. The comparatively good moisture and rich soils of the Fescue Prairie has made it a very productive crop area. As a result, this association has been extensively cultivated and only limited areas remain of the original Fescue Prairie.

Mixed Prairie
This is the driest portion of the Canadian grassland biome (Willms and Jefferson, 1993; Ecological Stratification Working Group, 1995; Bailey et al., 2010). It extends across the southern prairies from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. Soils range from Brown Chernozemic soils in the southcentral region to Dark Brown Chernozemic soils further north. Major species include northern and western wheatgrass, needle-and-thread (Stipa comata) and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis). Much of the original wheatgrass-Junegrass (Agropyron-Koeleria) communities along with portions of porcupine grass and northern wheatgrass (Stipa-Agropyron) communities have been converted to cereal and cultivated forage production. Only 6.5 million ha or 31% of the total area remains with native vegetation.

Tallgrass prairie
In south central Manitoba, there is a small northerly extension of the larger Tallgrass Prairie to the south (Willms and Dormaar, 1993; Bailey et al., 2010). It is characterized by needle-and-thread and prairie dropseed (Stipa-Sporobolus) and bluestem and indiangrass (Andropogon-Sorghastrum) communities. Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi) is widespread and comprises 50 to 90% of the vegetation.

[For prairie grassland/grazing scenes see Photos 45-52]

Photo 45. Prairie Grasslands Photo 46. 10 Open grasslands of southern Saskatchewan
Photo 47. Cattle grazing in Southern Saskatchewan.
Photo 48. Cattle ranching: moving cows on the range, southern Saskatchewan Photo 49. Cattle ranching: corrals in southern Saskatchewan Photo 50. Managed riparian grazing in southern Saskatchewan

Photo 51. Cowboys on the open range in southern Alberta Photo 52. 18 Early Winter in southern Saskatchewan

For more details on Canada’s land areas used for agriculture and forage and grazing click here. For details on tame or seeded pasture and natural pasture areas click here.

Hay Harvesting and Winter Feeding Systems
With the cold Canadian winters beef cattle have to be cared for with extra shelter and extra feed. In eastern Canada the winters are usually wet with lots of snow so cattle need to have access to overhead shelter such as a barn or open fronted pole barn or cattle shed. In western Canada, winters are drier and most beef cattle are wintered without barns, but windbreaks (Photo 53 and also Photo 5) are provided through windbreak fences or bush or tree cover. In the southern areas of Saskatchewan and Alberta where snow fall is not a problem cows will graze all winter on the rangelands. Where snow is a problem, hay and silage are the main methods of feeding cattle in the winter, supplemented with grain as the energy source with free choice access to a mineral mix. Hay systems include small square bales, big square bales and large round bales (see Photos 54-57). Silage can be stored in concrete or metal tower silos or as round bale silage wrapped in plastic or chopped silage stored in long plastic bags. Silage can also be stored in bunker silos or pits and covered with plastic (see Photos 58-60 and 33). With increasing winter feeding costs most producers in western Canada use some form of wintering beef cows in a field and feed silage or hay on the ground. Many producers are now adopting swath grazing or feeding round bales in the field (see Photos 5-11) as a means of lowering winter feeding costs as they don’t have the extra expense of hauling feed and hauling manure. On the other hand most dairy cows are fed a total mixed ration year round in a barn.

Photo 53. Winter bedded area with windbreak Photo 54. Hay harvesting Photo 55. Hay harvesting in Ontario
Photo 56. Hay (round bale) harvest in the foot hills of Alberta Photo 57. Hay storage shed Photo 58. Round bale silage wrapped in plastic

Photo 59. Chopped silage stored in plastic bag and stored round bale hay. Photo 60. Silage pits covered with plastic to prevent spoilage

Annual Cereals for Forage
Using annual crops for forage is a common practice in the moist areas of Canada. Crops such as barley, oat (Avena sativa), triticale (x Triticosecale rimpaui Wittmack L.), pea (Pisum sativum), fall rye (Secale cereal), and many other crops are commonly grown and utilized as greenfeed or hay, silage, pasture, or swath grazing in livestock production systems. Annual crops are productive and flexible, allowing them to be used effectively to deal with sudden feed shortages.

Annuals can be used for pasture (Photos 61 & 62), and fit well into complementary grazing system. Oat, barley, fall rye or winter triticale, sown in late May to early June will provide mid to late season grazing. Stocking rates on annual forages need to be adjusted to reduce trampling losses and prevent cereals from heading and losing quality. Rotational grazing is recommended to achieve the required grazing pressure, and allow for plant recovery following grazing. These crops should be grazed before the boot or heading stage and can be regrazed after a sufficient rest period.

Annuals can be used for greenfeed or hay production. Timing of cutting has a large impact on the subsequent feed quality. The fibre content increases and protein and energy decrease as annual cereal forages go from boot to hard dough stage. Barley protein and energy levels decline more slowly than oats, triticale, and rye. Annual forages produce the highest yields and protein when harvested in the dough stage.
In recent years, swath grazing has increasingly been considered an option for extending the grazing season in western Canada. Swath grazing involves cutting annual cereal crops or perennial forage crops late in the season and allowing the crop to remain in swath. Cattle graze the swaths in late fall and winter through the snow (Photo 63).

Swath grazed crops in Western Canada are usually planted in late May to early June, so that they are ready for cutting in mid September before the killing frost. Stock densities are kept high with the use of electric fencing to reduce trampling losses and wastage.

All cereals, corn, peas and other field crops are commonly used as silage. Corn is the main silage crop in Eastern Canada with sufficient heat and moisture while barley is the dominant silage crop in Western Canada. Crops can be grown in mixtures for silage to enhance silage quality or to provide extra grazing through the re-growth of the mixture after the silage has been harvested.

For additional information on the use of annuals as forage go to <>.

Photo 61. Cattle grazing annual ryegrass in the Maritime provinces

Photo 62. January - winter grazing of Meadow brome re-growth
Photo 63. Swath grazing as a means of lowering winter feeding costs in western Canada.

Forages for Domestic and Export Markets
Canada is the third largest exporter of conserved forages, and has approximately 10 percent of the world market share. Some opportunity markets also exist, where there is forage production but it is in a deficit supply due to weather conditions or the movement of the forage to other markets. This is the case for the USA and Canada.

Many livestock producers involved with beef, dairy, pleasure horse, sheep and goat rely upon baled hay either big round bales, small or large square bales for winter feed. Quality is of great importance to the dairy and pleasure horse industry and top prices are paid for this type of product. Weather conditions at hay harvesting time are the main determinent to producing high quality hay.

Canada is a significant exporter of forages in both long fibre and short fibre forms in addition to alfalfa pellets (see Photos 64 & 65) to the USA. Canada is in a position to export forages throughout the world forage markets and has shipped products to a variety of international forage markets. Japan and the USA are the most significant markets for Canadian forages with over 90% of exports going to these markets. Most of the Asian markets exports have dropped over the last few years while some new markets are emerging in the Middle East. Canadian exports have increased dramatically into the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, with significant potential in Saudi Arabia. China and Mexico are other countries that have increased their use of Canadian forages.

Canada is able to produce top quality forages for export markets, and its produce is in demand in many importing regions. Historically, the lack of a strong forage sector, lack of industry support, regional differences, and fluctuating markets, have had a significant impact on the forage sector in Canada. With the development of the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association (CFGA) which represents a broad cross section of the forage and grassland industry in Canada, market barriers can now be addressed on a national basis. The current issue for many Canadian forage exporters is that there are several barriers that restrict market access in a competitive way. Transportation costs, currency rates, protocols, energy costs and market demands are some of the key barriers that Canada needs to overcome to effectively market into these regions.

Canada produces a variety of quality feed forages for a wide range of animals. Unfortunately the export markets currently only accept timothy and alfalfa. Many of the markets could benefit from some of the other forages available from Canada. Additional information on Canada’s hay and dehy industry can be found at <>.

Photo 64. Alfalfa dehydration plant producing cubed pellets for the export market
Photo 65. Double compressed hay for the export market

Pedigree Seed Production
Canada has a big pedigree seed industry located mainly in western Canada. In 2010 there were 58 400 ha of inspected pedigree seed production with approximately 21 000 ha in alfalfa seed, 11 000 ha in ryegrass, 10 500 in timothy and 5 800 ha in creeping red fescue. For additional information go to < > and see Photos 66 - 68.

Photo 66. Forage seed

Photo 67. Alfalfa leaf cutter bee shelter (pollinators for the alfalfa seed crop).
Photo 68. Certified Canadian forage seed for export


There has been a concerted effort by a number of dedicated people across Canada to raise the profile of the Canadian forage and grazing industry. The International Grassland Congress was held in Canada in 1997 as a means of inviting forage and grazing land scientists and producers from around the world to see first-hand the Canadian forage and grazing industry. Subsequently many provincial grazing conferences have been held across Canada promoting the results of forage and grazing research and these have been popular with producers. A web site <> was developed to highlight the most appropriate forage and grazing research applicable to Canadian conditions. Several provinces have producer-oriented Forage Councils that promote various technology exchange programs of current research coming from the Federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research programs and from Universities in Canada and the northern USA. A new producer/industry based national organization, the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association <>, has recently been created to represent and promote the entire forage and grazing industry across Canada.

Most Canadians live in urban areas and only 4% are involved with actual farming. In general, Canadians have an appreciation for grazing lands and wild landscapes. However, the beef cattle industry is just recovering from economic losses caused by the BSE crisis of 2003. As a result there has been little recent investment by producers into the improvement of pasture, grassland or rangeland resources. In some areas of Canada there is a limited demand for grass fed or ‘natural’ beef fed no hormones or antibiotics and some farmers are addressing this new market. However, there is great interest on the part of most cattle producers to make better use of their grazing resource and most producers use some form of planned grazing management.

Unfortunately, there has been no united voice to represent the research and extension needs of Canada’s forage and grasslands industry. In the 1970s, there were a significant number of forage related research scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and at Canadian Universities. Provincial Departments of Agriculture had active agricultural extension education programs promoting the value and management of forage production and grazing management to farmers. Over the past 30 years, there has been a steady decline in numbers of public forage scientists and extension personnel caused by reorganization, budget cutbacks, and non-replacement of retiring personnel. Public funding for grassland/rangeland and forage research has declined and the livestock industry groups have put most of their resources into beef and dairy market development. However, there are still a few dedicated research scientists and provincial forage extension specialists who are active in promoting good grassland and forage management and integrating these ideas into farming systems across Canada.


Forage/Grasslands Organizations
(Use Google to locate websites for personnel and grassland/rangeland related programs)

Producer Groups/NGOs
Canadian Forage and Grassland Association
Canadian Cattlemen’s Association
Canadian Dairy Farmers of Canada
Provincial Forage Councils (Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta)
Ducks Unlimited

Scientific Societies
Canadian Society of Animal Science
Canadian Society of Agronomy
Society for Range Management

Federal Government
Agriculture and Agri Food Canada


Figure 16. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Research Centres

Research Branch (Federal Responsibility) funds long-term research

Agriculture and Agri Environment Services Branch Promotes environmentally sustainable grassland management

University of Alberta, Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences

University of Saskatchewan, Plant Sciences Department

University of Manitoba, Department of Plant Science

University of Guelph, Department of Plant Agriculture

Macdonald Campus of McGill University, Department of Plant Science

Université Laval, Département de Phytologie

Nova Scotia Agriculture College, Department of Plant and Animal Sciences

Provincial Governments
Responsible for technology transfer and education
Fund short-term research and graduate student training through Universities

Technology transfer

In the provinces, extension education activities vary from limited to modest. In some provinces the Forage Councils are very active in extension. Grazing mentorship programs has been very successful in transferring grazing knowledge from experienced producers to other farmers that may be new to the business. Provincial grazing conferences continue to be an excellent method for technology transfer to producers of all ages. In different parts of Canada one to two day pasture schools and pasture tours are organized by leading pasture producers and government extension personnel. A web site has been developed that summarizes Canadian forage and beef research and extension information Additional web sites listed below present a wide assortment of pasture/grazing manuals for each region of Canada.

The newly formed Canadian Forage and Grassland Association (see <>) has the opportunity to be the united voice of the national forage and grassland industry and lead the industry in the future.


Anderson, H. G. & Bailey, A.W. 1980. Effects of annual burning on grassland in the aspen parkland of east-central Alberta. Can. J. Bot. 58:983-996.

Bailey, A. W. 1995. Future role of fire in rangeland vegetation dynamics. Pages 160-163 in N.E. West (ed.)., Rangelands in a Sustainable Biosphere. Proc. of the Fifth International Rangeland Congress. Society for Range Management, Denver, CO.

Bailey, A. W., McCartney, D. & Schellenberg, M. 2010. Management of Canadian Prairie Rangeland. On line

Blood, D. A. 1966. The Festuca scabrella association in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba. Can. Field Nat. 80:24-32.

Canada. 2011. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved Feb 1 2011, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:

Clark, E. A., Buchanan-Smith, J.G. & Weise, G.R. 1993. Intensively managed pasture in the Great Lakes Basin: A future¬oriented review. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 73:725-747.

Coupland, R. T. 1950. Ecology of the mixed prairie in Canada. Ecol. Monogr. 20:271-315.

Coupland, R. T. 1961. A reconsideration of grassland classification in the northern great plains of North America. J. Ecol. 49:136-167.

Coupland, R. T. and T.C. Brayshaw. 1953. The fescue grassland in Saskatchewan. Ecology 34:386-405.

Ecological Stratification Working Group. 1995. A national ecological framework for Canada. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Branch, Centre for Land Biological Resources Research and Environment Canada, State of the Environment Directorate, Ecozone Analysis Branch, Ottawa/Hull.

Horton, P. R.1994. Range resources in the Canadian context. Pages 16-30 in F.K. Taha, Z. Abouguendia, and P.R. Horton (eds.) and T.O. Dill (prod. ed.), Managing Canadian rangelands for sustainability and profitability. Proc. of the First Interprovincial Range Conference in Western Canada. Grazing and Pasture Technology Program, Regina, SK.

Looman, J. 1969. The fescue grasslands of western Canada. Vegetation 19:128-145.

Looman, J. 1981. The vegetation of the Canadian Prairie Provinces II. The grasslands, Part 2. Mesic grasslands and meadows. Phytocoenologia 9:1-26.

McCartney, D., & Horton, R.. 1997. Canada’s forage resources. International Grasslands Congress Winnipeg Man. Saskatoon Sask Canada On line

McCartney, D. Basarab, J.A, Okine, E.K., Baron, V.S. & Depalme, A.J.. 2004. Alternative fall and winter feeding systems for spring calving beef cows. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 84: 511-522.

Meidinger, D. and J. Pojar (eds.) 1991. Ecosystems of British Columbia. British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Special Report Series 6, Victoria, BC.

Moss, E. H. 1944. The prairie and associated vegetation of southwestern Alberta. Can. J. Res. 22:11- 31.

Moss, E. H.1955. The vegetation of Alberta. Bot. Rev. 21:492-567.

Moss, E. H. & J.A. Campbell. 1947. The fescue grassland of Alberta. Can. J. Res. 25:209-227.

Papadopoulos, Y. A., Kunelius, H.T, & Fredeen, A.H. 1993. Factors influencing pasture productivity in Atlantic Canada. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 73: 699-713.

Petit, H.V. 1993. Pasture management and animal production in Quebec. A review. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 73:715-724.

Ryan, B. 1996. The Endless March. Equinox 90:27-37.

Scoggan H. J.1978. The flora of Canada. The evolution of Canada's flora. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.

Statistics Canada. 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011. Livestock statistics. Government of Canada, Ottawa, Ont.

Wikeem, B. M., McLean, A., Bawtree, A. & Quinton, D. 1993. An overview of the forage resource and beef production on Crown land in British Columbia. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 73:779-794.

Willms, W. D. & Dormaar, J.F. 1993. Geographic setting. Pages 17-34 in J. Martin, R.J. Hudson, and B.A. Young (eds.), Animal Production in Canada. University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB.

Willms, W. D. & Jefferson, P.G. 1993. Production characteristics of the mixed prairie: Constraints and potential. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 73:765-778.


For further information on grassland management go to the following government and related web sites

Canadian Forage and Grassland Association

Forage Beef Canada

British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands

 Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/sag2111#land

Alberta Forage Industry Network

 Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Saskatchewan Forage Council

Western Beef Development Centre

Manitoba Agriculture and Food and Rural Initiatives

Manitoba Forage Council

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Ontario Forage Council

Quebec Dept. Of Agriculture

Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick


For additional information on Canada’s Beef industry go to  Summarizes forage and beef research applicable to Canada   shows pictures of Canadian farms    Quality assurance program    Canadian Cattlemen’s Association   Canadian Cattlemen’s magazine.


For additional information on the Canadian dairy industry go to   Dairy Farmers of Canada  Canadian Dairy Information Centre On Farm Food Safety Western Canadian Dairy Seminar  Dairy Farmers of Ontario  Dairy nutrition


For additional information on Sheep production in Canada go to  Canadian Sheep Breeders Association  Canadian Sheep Federation    look for a manual “Introduction to sheep production in Ontario”


For additional information on Farms and Dairy seminars go to

Tours of Canadian Farms at   shows pictures of Canadian farms

Western Canadian Dairy Seminars



This profile was prepared by Duane McCartney, Agriculture and Agri Food Canada, Lacombe, Alberta (Retired).

Any enquiries about the profile and related issues should be directed to:
Dr. Bruce Coulman, Professor and Dept. Head,
Plant Science Dept University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon Sask.
E-mail , or
Dr. Mike Schellenberg Research Scientist,
Agriculture and Agri Food Canada,
Swift Current Research Centre, Swift Current, Sask.

[The profile was drafted in late 2010 and early 2011 and edited by S.G. Reynolds and J.M. Suttie in May/June 2011].