The cattle sector has made big advances in livestock health and wellness, but needs to do more, says a rancher who donated $2 million for a new research chair to make that happen.
“This has nothing to do with bad treatment of animals — it has to do with better treatment, better protocol, better records, and better looking after of the animals so when they get to market, they will be better for people to eat,” said John Simpson, who operates Simpson Ranching near Cochrane with his daughter Christie and son Luke.
“The industry has moved to an industry that wants to know what kind of upbringing the animals have had, what kind of feed they’ve had and what kind of drugs they’ve had, if any.”
Topping that list is bovine respiratory disease, the most common and costly disease in the cattle sector. That’s also an area where Dr. Edouard Timsit — the inaugural Simpson Ranch Chair in Beef Health and Wellness — is an internationally renowned expert.
Timsit, an assistant professor of cattle health at the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine, was one of five experts considered for the chair, which Simpson has been working on for a decade.
“We selected Edouard to be an advocate to the community, to try and bring the industry forward to where the consumer is going,” said Simpson. “He was the one who had the biggest vision for the whole of the industry.”
Timsit (who is also a part-time feedlot consultant at Feedlot Health Management Services at Okotoks) doesn’t just focus on cow-calf production, feedlots, or research, and has set a goal of developing an overall strategy for bovine health and wellness, he said.
“I plan to use the chair’s funds to tackle important issues facing the beef industry such as a reduced access to antimicrobials, but also to help the beef industry with any emerging challenges,” Timsit wrote in an email.
He plans to continue his work on bovine respiratory disease, but will also work with his colleagues from the University of Calgary’s vet school, the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, and international experts to identify areas that urgently need research. (Timsit earned a DVM in Belgium and a PhD on bovine respiratory disease and epidemiology in France before coming to Calgary in 2012.)
The $2-million endowment will be used for projects that don’t easily find support from other funding agencies, Timsit said. This includes applied research and extension and training of producers. He said he would like to see more research on preconditioning of calves before their entrance into feedlots. Other priority areas include zoonotic diseases, reproduction, lameness, and beef quality. He also plans to work closely with the beef cattle community to identify and address emerging issues.
“As these funds are not tied to a (specific) project, we will also be more reactive/proactive when facing emerging issues,” said Timsit.
It’s an approach that will both produce results and address consumer concerns, said Simpson.
“I believe it will go a long way to move the industry to what the consumer is wanting. I think that’s where the industry needs to go,” he said. “Timsit has a five-year assignment as chair and will be working with ranchers and industry people to try and figure out whether we’re going the right way or not.
“I think he’ll figure it out in the first six months.”
The endowment was praised by Craig Dorin, a 2016 winner of the province’s veterinarian-of-the-year award and a longtime advocate of practices such as low-stress weaning and pre-weaning vaccination to reduce disease in feedlots.
“There’s no doubt that we need more research in the beef cattle industry at a lot of different levels,” said Dorin of Veterinary Agri-Health Services in Airdrie. “The Simpson family has had a long history of supporting the University of Calgary.
“This chair and the role that Edouard is going to play is going to raise the profile of the U of C vet school even more than it already is. This is just another step in us becoming a premier educator of veterinary students.”