Tag Archives: humane cattle care

The Freedom To Thrive…

The popular sustainability discussion often holds references to animal care. From corporate statements made by McDonalds and Walmart to sensational allegations from news sources like Consumer Reports – the way that food animals are raised provides a veritable battle ground for today’s food debates.

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  • What is the correct care?
  • Who defines it?
  • Is it based on science or philosophy – or a blend of both?

With each day that passes, dialogues regarding food production practices trend beyond the farm gate to include the thoughts and ideas of an incredibly diversified audience. In 2015, the general expectation of a safe food supply is constantly expanding to also include philosophical preferences for how it is raised. I am proud of the many different types of systems used to grow food. This diversity is a tribute to the innovation of America’s farmers. It is cause for celebration, not cause for persecution.

Rigorous debates inspire positive critical examination and can result in continuous improvement. However, I grow weary of the sensational drama currently permeating the conversations involving the topic of animal welfare. To me, good cattle welfare can be defined with one simple question.

Do the animals have the freedom to thrive?

Cattle are raised with the sole purpose of contributing to the food supply. Healthy animals make healthy beef – Cattle that are raised with the freedom to thrive are healthy. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not cause for battle. It also should not be sensationalized to instigate media coverage or personal gain. Animal welfare is not about the person who eats the beef, rather it is about the calf that is raised to provide it.

These 1300# steers at my feed yard exhibit exuberant play behavior demonstrating their freedom to thrive…

Many, many different environments exist in which cattle can thrive. The animal welfare debate should not be about the type of system, rather it should be based on whether the system is managed by the farmer to allow for the animals to have the freedom to thrive. Grass pasture or feed yard, organic or traditionally raised – the basis for quality cattle welfare lies in the ability of the farmer to create an environment in which the calf can prosper. A good farmer works tirelessly for this regardless of the label that he/she places on the package of beef.

Long term food sustainability as well as the integrity of the United States protein supply lies in the hands of America’s farmers. It is wrapped up in their ability to nurture – to blend science and practical daily care with the art of intuition. It is providing for the practical needs of the animal while also taking the time to be a compassionate good shepherd.

It’s not about the grass pasture or the feed yard pen, it’s about the culture of caring that exists regardless of the type of farm.

The current discussion of animal welfare has gone terribly awry because it is no longer about the animal. It is lost in a great pit of sensational and politically motivated confusion.

Isn’t it time that Americans once again focus on defining animal welfare from the point of view of the animal receiving the care?

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It won’t be a sensational story, but it will result in food raised with integrity.

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Continuous Improvement…

I met Dr. Tom Noffsinger more than a decade ago.  A veterinarian in Southwestern, Nebraska, Dr. Tom teaches the concept of low stress cattle handling and holistic bovine care.  He is a master at understanding the bovine mind, and is truly a devoted advocate for our animals.

Tom Noffsinger

Dr. Tom Noffsinger…

I love to watch Dr. Tom engage and handle cattle.  His gift of patience and dedication to caring mentors me as I travel my own personal journey of continuously improving cattle care.  I laugh to my girls that “when I grow up, I want to be like Dr. Tom”, and it is a lifelong goal of mine to be as savvy a cattle caregiver as he is.

I am very excited to report that Dr Tom has teamed up with a Brazilian veterinarian (Dr. Paulo Loureiro) to star in a variety of cattle handling videos that are available online for the public to view.

On this Thoughtful Thursday, I encourage each of you to visit the website and spend some time watching and learning from Dr. Tom.  Whether you are a cattle farmer or simply an interested animal lover, these videos show a fascinating side to creating high quality animal care in a feed yard setting.

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Why continuous improvement? Because it matters to him…

 Many thanks to Dr. Tom and Dr. Paulo for bringing good cattle care and handling to the spotlight; as well as to Merck Animal Health for funding the effort. 

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General, Thoughtful Thursday

Shades…

While 80 degrees is “short sleeve” weather for my favorite blonde cowgirl, 55 degrees is “short sleeve” weather for my cattle.  Cattle (at least those of northern origin) are much more cold tolerant than heat tolerant.  The weather in Nebraska is often one of extremes, and spring and summer are marked by temperature fluxes of upward of forty degrees in any given day.

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While Megan and I can take off our favorite hooded sweatshirts as the temperature swings, cattle are left with the same hair coat on any given day.  Beginning in early April, my animals begin to shed their heavy winter coats but it is a gradual process for them.  Cattle can acclimate to warmer temperatures approximately one degree per day and, once acclimated to summer, have an upper critical temperature threshold in the low to mid 80’s.

When temperatures soar above the critical threshold, my job as cattle caregiver becomes even more important.  In particular, providing a constant source of fresh cool water is vital as higher temperatures result in a double in a bovine’s water requirement (from 10% of body weight to 20% of body weight).  Next to water, air flow / wind is a bovine’s best friend.  Wind will decrease the heat index temperatures equal to the MPH strength of the air flow, and also tends to decrease humidity which makes temperatures more comfortable.

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We have a list of heat management protocols that we follow at the feed yard to aid our animals in the heat of the summer months:

  • Process/Handle/Ship cattle in the early morning hours (after they have had the chance to cool off with the nighttime lows and before the heat of the next day begins).
  • Make sure that there is good air flow in all of the home pens.
  • Make sure that the fresh water reserve is adequate to refill cattle water tanks quickly as animals have higher volume water needs.  We have an additional water well that we use in the summer months to ensure adequate water availability.
  • Decrease the number of animals held in each home pen to increase accessibility to both water and air flow.
  • Diligent control of weeds and insect pests as those increase the susceptibility of animals to heat stress.
  • Careful management of cattle feed rations to maximize cattle comfort.

This year, I am adding an extra tool for heat stress management in an effort to increase the comfort of my animals.  I purchased several “cattle shades” to place in pens where larger (closer to market) animals reside.  I am excited to see if this increases cattle comfort as we enter into the months of summer.

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At this point, we are still patiently waiting for some warmer temperatures, but I can report that my animals appear to enjoy both rubbing/scratching on the bases of the shades as well as napping in the shade underneath them.  This pen of steers pictured was incredibly fascinated by my favorite blonde as she posed for a photo shoot on one of the cattle shades.  They gathered up behind her curiously until she decided to jump up on the bars and go for a swing!

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They must have sensed her desire to play because as she got down from the shade arm several of them came running back up to her.  In typical Megan fashion, she laughed as she turned toward them and asked them to move out of her space.

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Megan’s kind of sunshine doesn’t need any shade…

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Hormones…

The first day of school for my girls…

Our house has continually rising levels of Estrogen.  I like to tease my husband that he “always wanted to be surrounded by women, and now he is”.  As the only male in a house of four women (four opinionated women…), he does at times feel a little bit overwhelmed…We have three male (neutered) cats, and two male (gelded) horses but that falls significantly short of balancing the circulating estrogen (and resulting drama) produced by the two legged girls in his house!

All jokes aside, I would like to take a couple of posts to try and demystify the topic of growth hormone use in my beef cattle.  What are they? How do I use them? At what level do I use them? Why do I feel confident that using them is a good decision?

I feed the beef that I produce to my family every day, so I want to be confident that what I am feeding to them is healthy…

As a college graduate with a major in physiological psychology, I have a basic understanding of the role that hormones play in the lives of both humans and animals.

As a cattle caregiver, I have a vested interest in understanding the role that growth promoting hormones play in the welfare of my cattle and the efficient use of natural resources to produce beef.

As a mother of three developing girls, I have a vested interest in understanding how the use of hormones in beef cattle affects the beef that I feed to my children every day.

  1. What are they?  Hormone implants are small doses of hormones that act on the pituitary gland (in cattle) and cause it to produce more somatotropin which is the animal’s own natural growth promoting agent.  This allows the calf to gain more weight with an improved dry matter feed conversion (which means that it takes fewer pounds of feed to create more pounds of beef).
  2. How do I use them?  Calf #718 received a “calf” implant at branding time (the same time that he was castrated).  He then received another low dose implant when he arrived at the feed yard eight months later.  He received his final implant approximately 80 days prior to harvest.  These hormone “implants” are administered according to FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and Beef Quality Assurance guidelines, and are placed in the calf’s ear.

    The implant is administered the middle third section of the back of the animal’s ear. This administration site is discarded at harvest time and never enters the food production chain.

    I work with both my nutritionist and veterinarians (you “met” them all in the last couple of weeks), to select appropriate hormone implants and the timing in which they are administered.

  3. At what level do I use them?  The first implant that Calf #718 received immediately following castration contained 10mg (milligrams) of Estradiol and 100mg of Progesterone.  The hormone implant given to Calf #718 eight months later, upon arrival at the feed yard, was 36mg of zeranol.  The final hormone implant that the calf received contained 24mg of Estradiol and 120mg of Trenbolone Acetate approximately 80 days prior to harvest.

He received these implants in order to replace some of the circulating hormones that were lost due to castration.  You might ask, “Why did you castrate the animal and then give him a hormone implant?  Why didn’t you just leave the animal “sexually intact” and use the hormones that his body produced?”

 The short answer is that I can do a better job managing the hormone levels and their effect on both the animal and his meat by castrating the animal at a young age, and then putting a portion of the hormones lost due to castration back into the animal at timely intervals.

Allowing my animals to efficiently convert their feed into beef reduces my environmental footprint…

A more moderate level of circulating hormone (which occurs with the correctly timed and administered hormone implant) allows the animal to gain weight efficiently (using fewer natural resources), and produce what I believe is a more tender beef product.  It also makes the animal less aggressive than his “intact” herd mate which is a “handling safety” benefit.

Perhaps the most important question of all is: Why do I feel confident that using them is the right thing to do?  Click here to see a follow up post answering this questions in addition to providing you will some statistics about the different levels of hormones in beef and other foods that we eat.  https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/unfamiliarity-with-technology-breeds-distrust-and-misunderstanding%E2%80%A6/

My beef needs to be healthy and come from animals that are efficient in their use of natural resources…It nourishes my children and ensures their future.

I hope that you will join me in feeling good about sharing a great tasting and healthy beef meal with your family!

Thanks to the Nebraska Beef Council for a picture that makes my mouth water!


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Filed under Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General

Milestones…

Where has time gone??

She is now taller than I am and heading off to middle school…

I remember vividly when my children were born…I remember vividly when I weaned each of my girls…I remember vividly the “art” and “act” of potty training…I remember vividly the day that each of the girls went to preschool for the first time…I remember vividly the “big day” of Kindergarten…My oldest daughter will go to middle school in just a few weeks (oh, my goodness—how did I get that old?!). 

My "middle schooler" with her dog Shelley...

All of these are “milestones” in development.  When you look at a calf’s life, you can trace milestones of development as well.  Each segment of a calf’s life is marked by important events.  Let’s divide up these segments and look at them for Calf #718.

Al "checking" his cows and calves...

*Birth to “Branding”—Birth to approximately 3-4 months of age (March-May).  #718 is very dependent on his mama, and the vast majority of his nutrition comes from “mama’s milk”.  #718 and his mama are kept on pastures in close proximity to Al and his crew so that they can be watched carefully during this critical time. 

*Branding time- It is at this time that #718 receives his first vaccinations, is castrated, and branded.  To accomplish this, #718 is separated from his mother for a short period of time while Al and his crew “work” him.  Calf-hood vaccinations are critically important, and allow for continued good immune system development.  A castration procedure is done at this time as well.  Young bull calves that are destined for harvest (will not be used in the breeding herd) are castrated at an early age so that they will have an improved “disposition” and will handle better.  These calves also get along more easily with their herd-mates without the increasing levels of testosterone.  In addition, I prefer the taste and tenderness of a castrated steer to an “intact bull”.

*Branding to Preconditioning—By early summer, #718 is becoming more independent and will separate himself from his mama for short times of play and rest.  He has also learned to eat some grass and is starting to graze and gain some of his nutrition on his own.  Following “branding”, #718 and his mama are moved to pastures further away from the ranch head-quarters because they are more self-sufficient.  Al leases “forest ground” near Halsey, Nebraska and #718 and his mama spend the summer grazing on the “forest ground”.

The Halsey Forrest...Where #718 grazed with his mama during the summer months...

*Preconditioning—In Mid-September, #718 is again “worked” and receives his preconditioning vaccinations.  This is approximately 1 month prior to weaning, and a critical time to booster the calf’s immune system.  Good nutrition and good immune system function allow the calf to enter the weaning phase of his life with good health.

*Weaning—In Mid-October, #718 is gathered on horseback and separated from his mama.  He is then moved back to the ranch headquarters in a stock trailer.  His mama will remain on the forest ground for a few more weeks until she is trailed back to the ranch headquarters.  “Trailed” means that the herd is gathered and moved by cowboys on horseback.

One of Al's "Stock Trailers" is pictured here in the background...

Once he arrives back at the headquarters, #718 is placed in a pasture with his herd-mates.  During this time, he “acclimates” to eating grass and being without his mama.  His mama, in turn, is able to regain strength and prepare herself to have another calf.

*Post-weaning to feed yard shipment time—Calf #718 learns to eat out of a feed bunk (he is “bunk broke”).  His feed consists of a “growing” ration of hay, distillers grains, and mineral supplement.  A few weeks after “weaning”, #718 receives his “booster vaccinations” and is “de-wormed”.  This completes the vaccination process that Al follows at the ranch level.  The three sets of vaccinations (calf-hood, preconditioning, and boostering) gives the calf good immune system protection from disease.

The corrals and "chute" area at AL Ranch...

A couple of important additional things to note:  Calf #718 has access to an abundant supply of fresh water throughout his life span on the ranch.  His mama taught him how to drink out of a water tank at an early age.  Calf #718 also has constant access to “free choice minerals” on the ranch.  Al puts out mineral tubs for his cattle and they have constant access to them.  They are termed “free choice” because they are always available to the calf and his mama.

Stay tuned for the two milestones left in the life cycle as #718 makes the trip to my feed yard and then to harvest!

Proud to grow your beef!

 

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General

Empathy’s role in caring for food animals…

Most days I feel as though I have more savvy using empathy with my animals than I do with people.   Part of that is the fact that I spend more time interacting with animals than I do with people, and part of that is that I find communicating with my animals challenging and rewarding.  The satisfaction that I feel when I effectively communicate with my animals and watch them thrive on my cattle farm is similar to the “athletic high” that I used to feel competing in swimming and running.  The added bonus is that I know my hard work offering the best care to my animals will result in the production of the highest quality of beef that I will feed to my children and you will feed to yours.

A few weeks ago I talked about what is important to my cattle and how good care requires not only an understanding of how a calf thinks, but also being able to empathize with the animal and “view the world as he does”.  (See previous posts archived under the topic of Animal Welfare).  Humane care must be defined at the animal’s level in order for it to have qualitative meaning.

Have you ever tried to let go of your “human thoughts and tendencies” and truly put yourself in the place of an animal?  It is very challenging, and it is something that cannot be completely learned and understood without many hours of observation and interaction with the animal.  You can read about it in a book or listen to someone explain it, but “hands on” work with the animal is imperative to your success in offering quality care that is based on the needs of the animal.

For instance, I am a naturally “straight-line thinker” and a planner.  I am very logical and task oriented.  I want to get from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible.  This was a huge obstacle for me as I tried to understand my animals because they are not “task oriented” and what makes sense for them does not necessarily correspond with my view of the world.  They live in the present and they are concerned with survival.  They do not view the world in straight lines and “tasks”.  They are concerned with:

  1. Safety from predators (survival)
  2. Food
  3. Comfort
  4. Play

Safety from predators trumps everything else because a calf is a prey animal.  That is his genetic make-up and the way that his brain is constructed.  Food, comfort, and play come into effect when safety is insured.  Remember, my calves live in the present and are incapable of imagining the future.

So, how do I make that “Patchwork Quilt” that Ashley Grace describes (see Ashley Grace’s corner) as I understand and have empathy for my animals?  I let go of my human tendencies and thoughts, and focus on the qualities that go into being a good “prey animal leader”.

Can anyone offer any ideas of what qualities are necessary in order to be a good “prey animal leader”?  Please leave your ideas in the comment section of this post so that we can talk about them!

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