There has been a lot written about the revised Beef Code of Practice, which was released in 2013 and was the first revision since 1991.
It is most definitely worth a read, whether you are a beef producer, transporter, marketer, nutritionist, veterinarian, or are involved with the cattle industry in any way. At 56 pages, I know it may seem long, but there is something in the document for everyone and the table of contents makes it easy to follow and find specific sections relevant to you.
As a veterinarian, I learned a few new things and it will, no doubt, get you thinking of others. The document also looks to the future, especially as it pertains to animal welfare. And while there are some hard-and-fast rules coming regarding castrating and dehorning, these types of changes are all for the better and will benefit cattle production — both from an economic and animal welfare perspective — well into the future.
This column will deal with the animal welfare deadlines and briefly discuss some of the most important points (and others of interest to me). But as I mentioned, it is worth printing out a copy and having it on the coffee table or other prominent place for everyone to peruse. This is a national document.
Regarding animal welfare, I have seen Dr. Temple Grandin quoted many times saying that the cattle prod should be used no more than five per cent of the time. If you need to prod more than one animal out of every 20 or if there is too much vocalization, then there is either something wrong with your handling facility or you are abusing the prod. Use the prod as the last resort only after other methods have been tried.
We often use flags, paddles, or rattles more when handling cattle and the new paddles are ergonomically easy to carry plus they don’t bruise the cattle. I have often said that in good handling facilities, the biggest problem is keeping cattle split up, as they want to follow the leader.
Good facilities should have traction to minimize cattle trips, slips and falls. When processing, we monitor slips out of the chute and sometimes it is simply a matter of having dried manure or sand available to throw down in front of the chute. There is often funding available to upgrade tub systems, chute systems as well as loading or unloading facilities.
For more general health conditions, you should establish an ongoing VCPR (Veterinary Client Patient Relationship) with your vet so he/she can advise on treatment, animal welfare issues, vaccination protocols, and many other things which keep your herd healthy and productive. Prevention is far better than treatment.
Your veterinarian can also advise as to when appropriate painkillers or anti-inflammatory medication are necessary. The NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are in greater use today because they make our patients more comfortable, are more affordable, and there are several on the market that have specific uses. Use them where necessary under your vet’s guidance.
Since the beginning of the year, the code requires that you use pain control when dehorning after the horn bud is attached or when castrating bulls greater than nine months of age. By offering pain control, animal welfare is improved and your cattle will perform better. So the economic cost of the pain control products will be returned to you manyfold. This is a very good rule.
We also need to think of when and how we castrate in order to not lose production, minimize risk, and minimize discomfort. Some may use NSAIDs, others will want to incorporate local anesthesia, and some will use both. As of Jan. 1, 2018, the age for effective pain control in castration drops to six months of age. Again, these are very easy goals to reach and you will find that pain medication on calves of any age is a good thing.
Many producers are now giving painkillers to bull calves when castrating at branding and most give them to all calves branded. NSAIDs are coming down in price and there are easy methods of administration available. Having been in practice for over 30 years, I have seen the vast improvement in recovery times when NSAIDs are used for any surgical procedure, including castration.
The different methods of surgical castration are also coming under close scrutiny by researchers. The banding techniques which eliminate blood loss as a positive have drawbacks of a greatly increased risk of tetanus as well as increased stress during the period when the scrotum is about to fall off. Castration with the knife in combination with clips or tying the cords and NSAIDs may make a comeback when doing older bulls. As a rule castrating at as young an age as possible (i.e. rings at birth) is the least stressful and if we augment that with implanting, gains should be similar as leaving them as intact bulls.
The dehorning guideline is a good one but polled bulls are looking after most of our dehorning issues and for those who use horned bulls, using paste or electric dehorners before the horn bud is attached does a better job and is less stressful. The big keystone dehorners and burdizzos for castrating should essentially become relics hanging in the barn. They remind us of how far we have come in the cattle industry.
I believe we are way ahead with these changes to the beef code and the industry will be better off and more profitable as a result. Progress is good.
Everyone in cattle production should give the beef code of practice a read, and keep it around as a reference source or a training document. It also has tons of contact numbers — such as producer groups, cattlemen’s associations, and animal care groups across the provinces. To obtain either a hard or electronic version, go to either the CCA website (cattle.ca) or the NFAC website (nfacc.ca).
And tell all your fellow producers. By adhering to the guidelines in it we are definitely moving in the right direction when it comes to animal welfare.