Upping your game through pain control

New video makes the case that pain control makes sense in a host of ways

The Beef Cattle Research Council has a new video to help producers better understand new pain control requirements.

As of Jan. 1, the national beef code requires pain control after horn bud attachment and for castration of bulls older than nine months. (The latter changes to six months as of Jan. 1, 2018.)

The benefits greatly outweigh the cost of pain control medication, feedlot owner Leighton Kolk says in the video.

Leighton Kolk

Leighton Kolk
photo: File

“Yes, it costs money, but we like to look at the bigger picture,” says Kolk, who operates Kolk Farms near Picture Butte.

“If the animal is more comfortable, my staff feel better about what they’re doing because they don’t see the cattle in pain and the animal feels better. I think it’s a win-win for all of us.”

The video also makes the case for performing painful procedures early in a calf’s life.

“It’s best to do castrations as early as possible because the tissue area is much smaller, the blood supply is less developed, and we believe the innervation (nerve supply) of that area is less developed,” says Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein of Agriculture Canada’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre.

“Dehorning is particularly painful once the horn attaches to the skull,” adds Reynold Bergen, the research council’s science director.

“When a calf is born, if it has horns, the horn is actually loose — it wobbles because it’s not directly connected to the skull. Probably around two to three months that horn does get connected (to the skull). At that point, taking that horn off hurts an awful lot.”

This scene from the video shows that at the age of two or three months, the horn bud attaches to the skull and makes dehorning much more painful.

This scene from the video shows that at the age of two or three months, the horn bud attaches to the skull and makes dehorning much more painful.
photo: Beef Cattle Research Council

There are also production benefits from using pain control.

“Producers report that calves that have been medicated for pain will follow mother, they will suckle more, and they will travel easier,” says Dr. Eugene Janzen of the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine.

It also makes beef easier to market because it addresses consumer concerns about animal welfare, says B.C. beef producer Phil Braig.

“It would be better for the industry if producers were to voluntarily move in the direction that consumers want,” says Braig, assistant manager at the Douglas Lake Cattle Company.

“I think in the end that would improve the salability of our product.

Pain control treatments come in two classes.

Anesthetic drugs cause a lack of feeling and awareness and are used to dull the pain to permit surgery and other painful procedures. In cattle, the primary anesthetic used is Lidocaine.

The other type is analgesics, which relieves pain without affecting awareness (similar to Tylenol or aspirin in humans). The most common analgesics in animals and people are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The three analgesics for cattle are: ketoprofen (sold as Anafen), flunixin (Banamine), and meloxicam (Metacam). All three are injectable and have variable withdrawal times.

The eight-minute video can be found at www.beefresearch.ca/pain. The web page includes information on pain control products, as well as the recommendations and requirements listed in the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle when performing painful procedures like castration and dehorning.

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