One only has to take a step back to see the advances the cattle industry is making. This article is a small overview of some of the major ones I have seen.
Canada is unique because the different seasons require different management strategies and our distances are great when it comes to stress of transportation. Newer transport regulations may alleviate some of this stress, and we all know loading and unloading is key. Transport has been reduced significantly by the extended use of satellite and internet sales. Bigger producers are seeing more and more sales done on farm with video auctions with buyers bidding remotely and the cattle transported directly from seedstock producer directly to purchaser.
Unnecessary trucking costs and stress are being eliminated rather than to and from auction markets. In a video of cattle slowly walking in their natural environment, you can see a lot more than cattle spinning around in a small sales ring. This is another benefit. And the videotape can be replayed with the touch of a button.
When cattle need to be transported long distances, especially to slaughter, electrolyte products can be fed in their last meal that cut down on shrink and dark cutters. This is another huge benefit to our industry. The research is there to support these products and we want cattle arriving at our plants in the best shape possible. Everyone loses when dark cutters increase and shrink is at a maximum.
I only wish regulatory regimes at the border would facilitate easier crossings.
With accredited veterinarians doing the paperwork and the technology of ear tags, long delays at the border should be reduced. Off-loading cattle only to load them again goes against all that we as veterinarians are preaching.
Hopefully the government will also finally approve the blood test for TB. Any of us who export test know the second process to read TBs as soon as 72 hours after the first process is a tough thing and especially on the more flighty species such as elk or bison. This single move would eliminate unnecessary stress on handling critters and the accuracy of this test is as good as the 72-hour caudal fold test used on cattle and bison.
With the codes of practice, which have a heavy focus on animal welfare, being widely accepted across Canada, many positive changes have been initiated. NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory painkillers) are being widely prescribed and used when branding, dehorning, and castrating and for dealing with lameness and birthing difficulties. Using these products in certain procedures is also reducing the use of antibiotics.
Castration is a good example of this and I have implemented it in the small amount of practice I do. For castration of larger bull calves, freezing and NSAIDs have taken the place of antibiotics. With longer-lasting implants also being utilized, in some cases everything can be done in one pass through the chute eliminating further labour and stress.
One of the biggest changes I have seen in all the years of practice is handling facilities.
Low-stress cattle handling combined with good facilities and calm personnel make the task enjoyable, and give a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Auditing how you implant, largely eliminating prod usage, and feedlot audits have greatly improved our handling and processing techniques. I think that having women on processing crews has facilitated this trend.
The need for dehorning with the use of polled bulls has all but been eliminated. Castration in general is being done on younger and younger animals. Purebred breeders are sorting their bulls at a younger age, and more and more producers are castrating with the rings at birth, the time (when it is the least stressful).
Other stressful events — such as tattooing in the purebred industry, ear notching or split ears for identification, and even vaccinating — will also be addressed by researchers and practical solutions will be found. Topical anesthetics have been worked on in the swine industry and perhaps they can be addressed in the cattle industry.
More injectable vaccines and combining them with antigens is keeping the number of shots down to a couple. Intranasal vaccines may, in some cases, eliminate some of these needles.
We have seen advances in dewormers with them being given through feed (and scripted through the minerals in some cases). Water-soluble dewormers have been developed for the poultry industry, which means you manage timing perfectly and dose very accurately with almost zero labour.
Giving vaccines at the ideal time and before stressors appear results in herd immunity. While this doesn’t totally eliminate issues (we are dealing with a biological system and the response is variable), herd immunity prevents outbreaks, minimizes disease prevalence, reduces severity, and in many cases, reduces antimicrobial usage.
I have seen an increased vigilance to diagnose individual conditions such as lameness in the cow-calf, feedlot, and backgrounding sectors. Lameness is not always because of foot rot and some conditions need a lot of individual care. Others are major problems where recovery is unlikely and euthanasia is the only humane option. Dramatic strides have been made in education, early intervention, and prevention.
We need to keep driving forward with improvements in technology, early disease detection, low-stress and minimal handling, and animal welfare. Communication between the different sectors of the cattle industry is critical.
This is a very strong industry and I only see it improving even more in the future.