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Glamorous Agricultural Jobs

At the recent Saskatchewan Beef and Forage symposium it was good to see there are still a number of young people interested in the livestock industry… not the audience, they were all old, but the young men and women learning the science of cow and grass production who attend the University of Saskatchewan or the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

Just a bright, enthusiastic group of “kids” (and I say that with respect), working on their masters degrees, who were investigating a wide range of topics. All presentations, that I heard were interesting, but I have to take my hat off to 23-year-old Dyan Pratt, a student in the Department of Agricultural and Bioresource Engineering for rolling up her sleeves as part of her studies.

Here is a farm girl from Maricopa, Arizona who comes all the way to Saskatoon to investigate the impact of decomposing livestock carcasses on the environment. Now, there is a very good purpose for this. I don’t think it so much applies to the rancher with a cow that dies from bloat and it is dragged off into the trees so the coyotes can have it. Her work is more about, “what if there is a serious disease outbreak in the beef industry (like that could ever happen) and large numbers of cattle had to euthanized and buried?” What impact would 5,000 or 10,000 buried carcasses, in one place, have on the environment?

Good question, but the gruesome part of her research is that she, and any other fellow students she can con into this project, bury a few beef, hog and poultry carcasses in plastic lined pits, and then have to go back a few weeks/ months later and open these pits, and collect and analyze the leachate that is coming out of these rotting carcasses. Now wouldn’t that be a fun job? My daughter will clean up dog poop, but I don’t think I would every find her up to her elbows in a rotting gut pile.

And, even I try to avoid the smell of the little compost collection bucket that sits on our kitchen counter, when I empty it every two or three days.

Anyway, I thought it was real dedication to furthering the knowledge of science. Maybe she is trying to get a guest shot working in the morgue on CSI. No degree of corpse decomposition seems to bother those people. The worse it is, the happier they are to talk about their favourite restaurant during the post mortem.

Lee Hart Editor

SYMPOSIUM SHORTS

Here are a few summaries on talks from presenters at the recent Saskatchewan Beef and Forage Symposium in Saskatoon:

Alison Ward is working on a project to see if vitamin-A supplements can improve the marbling in beef cattle. Some cattle may have a genetic disposition to better handle vitamin A than others, and if genetic testing can identify those cattle, supplements could be used to improve marbling.

Dyan Pratt, selected a glamorous project where she is collecting the liquid from rotting carcasses to get a chemical analysis. The whole point of this is, if there is ever a major disease outbreak and large numbers of cattle have to be euthanized and buried, she wanted to evaluate the impact of this liquid or leachate on soil and groundwater. It appears the leachate would be very high in ammonium sulphate, phosphorus, chloride and other compounds, so proper citing of these disposal grounds and even SRM disposal is important to protect the environment.

Brooke Aitken, of Eyebrow Saskatchewan and a student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, is trying to determine if there is a way to identify overly aggressive cattle in a beef herd. Some goofy heifers just make poor mothers, and of course other aggressive females, at calving, injure and kill ranchers every year. Some limited surveys she has done shows that 70 per cent of producers report having “dangerous” cows, and 70 per cent of those producers have been injured by cattle. Surprisingly only 50 per cent of injured ranchers say they culled overly aggressive cattle.

Alin Gannon, at U of S, is looking at the potential of using the bran from wheat used in ethanol production as a feed source for feeder cattle. Research results are preliminary, but it appears the high fibre bran can replace barley in a feed ration and still produce good gains.

John McKinnon, currently Saskatchewan Beef Industry Chair in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan, has for several years been evaluating the use of dry distillers grain (DDG) from ethanol production. While a lot of the DDG used in Canada comes from corn-ethanol plants in the U. S., as much as 500,000 tonnes of wheat DDG is produced in Canada. Looking at DDG used in back-grounding rations, McKinnon’s research shows wheat DDG can be a very cost-effective ingredient, however he notes it is high in nitrogen and phosphorus, so any surplus nutrients end up in manure making it a challenge to properly manage manure application so it doesn’t overload the environment.

NOW WHO IS SMARTER?

Did you hear about the Manitoba lawyer and the Ukrainian rancher who was coming to Canada to buy 15 Limousin bulls for his 5,000-head beef operation back home, who sat next to each other on the long flight to Canada. The lawyer, figuring he is smarter than most people on the plane, asks if the Ukrainian rancher would like to play a fun game.

The Ukrainian is tired and just wants to take a nap, so he politely declines and tries to catch a few winks. The lawyer persists, and says that the game is a lot of fun. I ask you a question, and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me only $5; you ask me one, and if I don’t know the answer, I will pay you $500,” he says.

This catches the rancher’s attention and to keep the lawyer quiet, he agrees to play the game.

The lawyer asks the first question. “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?” The Ukrainian doesn’t say a word, reaches in his pocket pulls out a five-dollar bill, and hands it to the lawyer.

Now, it’s the Ukrainian’s turn. He asks the lawyer, “What goes up a hill with three legs, and comes down with four?” The lawyer uses his laptop and searches all references he could find on the net. He sends emails to all the smart friends he knows, all to no avail. After one hour of searching he finally gives up. He wakes up the Ukrainian and hands him $500. The Ukrainian pockets the $500 and goes right back to sleep.

The lawyer is going nuts not knowing the answer. He wakes the Ukrainian up and asks, “Well, so what goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four?”

The Ukrainian reaches in his pocket, hands the lawyer $5 and goes back to sleep.

The lesson here — Don’t mess with those Ukrainian ranchers.

Reader Comments

LET’S THINK ABOUT CHECKOFF

In response to a question posed in an earlier issue of Cattleman’s Corner, “who is making money on beef?,” Iain Aitken of Rimbey, Alberta writes:

I think it’s fair to say both the packer and the retailer. According to NFU research, the primary producers share of retail beef price was 24 per cent in 1999 but this fell to roughly 16 per cent in 2008 and no doubt will be below that now. Therein lies the real problem for cattle producers — not lack of demand for beef, SRM disposal costs or any of the commonly cited excuses.

If we were able to restore the producers share to the 24 per cent it was in the late 1990s, fed cattle prices would rise by 50 per cent. If that approximately $500 per animal value made its way back through the feedlot and cow-calf sectors it would replace the equity currently being drained from all beef operations. Establishing what the distribution of profit between the packer and the retailer is would take a thorough investigation, something that I feel the federal government should be doing.

In December, I tried to promote the need for that investigation by getting a cull cow custom processed and comparing the retail value of the beef to the auction ring value. The results didn’t surprise many producers as they witness this robbery going on every time they sell cattle. I must say I was flabbergasted by the Alberta Beef Producers response to my press release though as they assured reporters that their organization would not support any inquiry into beef packer/retailer profitability. This is maybe something for

beef producers in Alberta to keep in mind when they consider whether to claim a refund on their checkoff dollars starting in April?

In the meantime I hope producers will adopt Christoph Weder’s approach of calling the retailers and asking some questions on the source of the beef they sell given the amount of U. S. beef being brought into the country. This would be especially timely given the fact that R-CALF has raised its ugly head again with the intent of further damaging Canada’s chronically ill cattle sector.

NEW AFAC HEAD

Lorna Baird of Calgary has been named the new Executive Director of Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC). Baird took over from Interim Manager, Jim Haggins, on Feb. 1, and replaces Susan Church, who held that position for many years.

Baird joins AFAC as she is completing her PhD in Animal Science from Queen’s University of Belfast. Raised in Winnipeg, she obtained her BSc. in Agriculture (Animal Science) from the University of Manitoba and followed that with an MSc. in Agricultural Sciences (Animal Welfare Program) from the University of British Columbia (UBC). Her theses at UBC and Queen’s, focused on various aspects related to lameness in dairy cattle. Baird has eight years of experience developing and delivering “Lameness in Cattle” training sessions and research presentations to various audiences.

“I believe the most powerful way that animal agriculture will move forward in Alberta is through collaborations between industry, government and research to provide a clear, cohesive, forward-thinking message to the media and consumers,” says Baird.

Baird’s clear understanding of welfare issues, experience in management and research, communication skills and her dedication and passion for animal behaviour and care will be excellent assets in fulfilling her responsibilities to AFAC. She is excited about the opportunity to work with the board of directors, staff and the Alberta livestock industries in leading AFAC into the future.

AFAC is a partnership of Alberta’s major livestock groups, with a mandate to promote responsible, humane farm animal care. AFAC members have worked together to build a framework for continual improvement in handling, transport, research, education and other areas

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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