Behind the scenes with M.Sc. candidate Kayleigh DeCoste

Research Roundup Fall 2023

Kayleigh in pasture with cattle

Tell us about your background and what brought you to the University of Guelph! 

Growing up, home was Mississauga, a big city just outside of Toronto. I did not have much exposure to the agriculture industry however, many of my relatives lived on or had farms of their own that my family and I had visited quite often. From there, my love of agriculture grew, especially having been around a wide variety of farm animals which then led me to doing my undergraduate degree here at the University of Guelph. I completed my B.Sc. (Agr) in 2022, majoring in Animal Science and then transitioned into my current M.Sc. program in September 2022 under Dr. Eric Lyons in the department of Plant Agriculture.  

I understand you're studying pasture systems, could you tell us about the different types of grazing you're investigating? 

In this project, we are investigating the effects of three main kinds of grazing: continuous grazing, rotational grazing and strip grazing. In our trial, cattle in continuous grazing are given access to a certain amount of land for the entirety of the season, expected to eat only what is available out there with no rotation. We have three different rotational grazing treatments, a 2-day rotation, a 3-day rotation and a 4-day rotation where cattle are only given access to one paddock at a time at each rotation. Lastly, strip grazing is similar to rotational grazing, where we fence cattle into a small strip and move this strip daily. The aim behind strip grazing is that they graze all available feed, resulting in an even graze while adjusting the allotted strip space daily depending on how much the cattle have been eating.  

What is your research focusing on, can you give us a summary? 

The aim of my research is to investigate the effects of different grazing management systems on pasture resiliency, pasture productivity and the productivity of the cow-calf pairs. We are looking at how available feed differs between grazing management, how species change over time between management and arguably the most important, how well both the cows and calves perform in terms of maintaining and grow in weight. The end goal of this research is to determine optimal grazing management for Ontario pastures that would increase the productiveness of the herd while also extending the longevity of a pasture. A better managed pasture will be more resilient, maintaining a desired blend of species and avoiding weed pressure and in turn, will need to be renovated and reseeded less often. This decreases labour and inputs from the farmer and reduces the need for tillage, an important factor in storing and maintaining carbon levels in the soil.  

What is the end goal of this research? 

Ideally by the end of this project, the hope is that we are able to distinguish differences in pasture quality and growth as well as cattle growth between different rotations. From this, a producer could then use this information to help them decide on the best management for their farm based on their own goals.  

What are you hoping to pursue after this degree? 

While I don’t have a specific career in mind, I do hope to continue working in the agriculture industry with livestock. I enjoy doing research and may even stick around for a PhD!  I also hope to try my hand at raising some of my own cattle in the near future as well. 

Is there anything else about your research that you would like to share?? 

This project is part of a larger collaborative project studying how these different grazing management strategies impact soil health and soil carbon storage.  

Is there anyone else working with you on this project?

For the most part, I have been fairly independent working on this project up to this point. Currently, the only people working on this project are my advisor, Dr. Eric Lyons, a part-time employee in our lab, occasional help from our summer students and of course, the wonderful support from the staff of the Ontario Beef Research Centre.  

What are your funding sources for this project? 

This project is currently being funded by Beef Farmers of Ontario, OMAFRA and NSERC.   

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