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Beef industry is meeting new challenges

Animal Health: New technology and regulations help producers do a better job

The beef producer has always been resilient and the last few years have seen many new challenges. Under the guidance of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association and Alberta Beef Producers the cattle industry has responded to these issues very well.

The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle, which has been out for a while now, highlights proper animal care. Many sections stress the need for use of painkillers or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for procedures such as castration, branding or dehorning.

There are now many products used to reduce pain and they have been adopted by cattlemen wholeheartedly. NSAIDs can be given by injection, orally and a brand new one has been released that has pour-on application.

The code’s castration age deadline — within six months of age if no pain killers are used — has been greatly surpassed with now many cattlemen giving NSAIDs at branding time to 200- to 300-lb. cattle. These calves don’t miss a meal and the stress is greatly reduced so payback is immediate. I have recently said there are very few things we treat or perform surgery on such as C-sections where NSAIDs would not be a great help. Work with your veterinarian to find when they would recommend NSAIDs on your farm.

Marketing for the pure sake of marketing will hopefully eventually get big organizations like A&W in trouble. The veggie burger, Beyond Beef, is a perfect example. I want to call it “beneath beef” but that is a topic for another day.

Implanting continues in 98 per cent of cattle marketed. Implants return at least 20:1 in value and are necessary in to maximize gains. Implants have been around for about 50 years. While some people are concerned about the risk of high levels of hormones, remember in places like Europe they market a lot of intact bulls with their own natural high level of hormones and that meat is deemed perfectly safe as well.

Implants are simply a way of repartitioning the hormones, and with zero meat withdrawal the meat is totally safe to eat. More hormones can be found in many garden vegetables and they are safe to eat as well. The branded or no added hormone programs are fine as long as the premiums paid are high enough to compensate the producer.

New requirements have an upside

Producers will see a change in the use and dispensing of antimicrobials because of the removal of the growth-promoting claims. New requirements are aimed at ensuring the careful use of medications, the best choices at the right dose and staying away from the families of drugs used in human medicine.

This is not doom and gloom as improved management tools such as respiratory vaccinations, soft weaning, scours vaccinations, immune stimulants, improved biosecurity and not mixing cattle of different farm origins all lead to less reliance on antibiotics. Also being aware that conditions such as lameness are very seldom caused by foot rot so other treatments besides antibiotics can be used. This all contributes to prudent use of drugs.

We as an industry can do more to improve animal health and welfare through tools such as direct marketing through video auctions. The technology is also becoming more common even in bull sales. Good on producers to find more efficient ways to market and save on transportation costs, minimizing stress and delivering a better product. There are even electrolyte solutions to help cattle better withstand the stress of long haul or delivery to the kill plant. The new Livestock Transportation Code will hopefully shed some light on this subject.

As genomic research helps the industry identify and understand specific traits, purebred breeders can begin using these tools to select animals for the most important individual traits, while ignoring others. Our Canadian genetics are still sought after worldwide and purebred producers of all the breeds in my mind are continually improving genetics to facilitate this. Work with your purebred breeder, veterinarian and nutritionist to maximize production.

There is always something

Every time the industry gets going strong there seems to be a huge hiccup along the way. From the recent TB case in southern Alberta to the Chinese closing the border to Canadian beef because of alleged traces of ractopamine residues in swine, all meat proteins seem to be tied together in some way.

Rest assured that private veterinarians have your best interests at heart. After all, your livelihood pretty much becomes their livelihood. In future I only wish our CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) would consider hiring private veterinarians to help with its investigations. It would instil further confidence in the health of the Canadian cattle industry and speed up the process when large numbers of animals need to be looked at. There will always be new emerging diseases and a rare outbreak of an old reportable disease. We need to be ever vigilant.

Tools such as sleds, carts, drones and cameras and using genetics to select for easy calving bulls have taken a lot of the work out of calving. The new calf crop still relies on the hard-working farmers and ranchers doing their checks to maximize the survivability of each newborn. This is especially true in inclement weather. The public has no idea of how hard producers work. They need to all tell their stories. I commend all farmers and ranchers on their vocation and here’s to a rewarding weaning season this fall and fruitful calving season ahead. The world still relishes the final product good, wholesome, safe beef.

About the author

Columnist

Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.

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