Lots of valuable information in updated beef code of practice

Everyone involved in the beef industry, whether they are producers, transporters, marketers, nutritionists or veterinarians, should read the new Beef Code of Practice.


It is the first update since 1991.


It may seem long at 56 pages, but there is something in the document for everyone, and the table of contents makes it easy to follow and find a specific section.


As a veterinarian, I learned a few new things, and it will get you thinking of others.


Some hard and fast rules are coming, particularly regarding castrating and dehorning, but they are for the good and will benefit cattle production, both from an economic and animal welfare standpoint, well into the future. 


I’ll cover some of the highlights here, but it is worth printing a copy for the coffee table or other prominent reading place for everyone to peruse.


The beef code is a guideline for most of the areas involved in raising cattle, such as describing the basic freedoms of cattle, care and handling, transportation, common veterinary procedures and when to euthanize.


It provides cut-off numbers for health. For example, a humidity index higher than 740 is serious when talking about heat stress, and ammonia levels inside a barn higher than 25 parts per million are hazardous. 


Even more guideline numbers would have been useful because this will become a reference source for producers.


Regarding animal welfare, the code says producers should use prods less than five percent of the time. This is a number I have heard from animal behaviour expert Temple Grandin many times.


There is either something wrong with your handling facility or you are abusing the prod if you need to prod more than one animal in every 20 or use too much vocalization. Use the prod only as the last resort. We often use flags, paddles or rattles when handling cattle.


The biggest problem in handling facilities is keeping cattle split up because they want to follow the leader. Provide traction to minimize cattle trips, slips and falls.


We monitor slips out of the chute when processing. Producers can sometimes solve this by throwing dried manure or sand in front of the chute.


When it comes to hydration, the code says eating snow for water is fine except for lactating cows and newly weaned calves. I probably would have added cows in their third trimester. 


Be aware of stray voltage if cattle are reluctant to drink. Restrict cattle from areas of thin ice. Common sense should prevail, but every year we hear of a few dugout deaths from cattle piling up on the ice and it giving way. These catastrophes usually involve several head.


Regarding more general health conditions, establish an ongoing veterinary client patient relationship with your vet so he or she can advise on treatment, animal welfare issues, vaccination protocols, and many other factors that keep herds healthy and productive. 


Prevention is far better than treatment. A good rule to follow with lame cattle is to reassess or seek veterinary advice if the initial treatment fails. There are many causes of lameness other than foot rot. 


Seek advice from a veterinarian or nutritionist if the problem is laminitis from grain overload to determine how to prevent cases in the future.


Everyone should read the section on respiratory disease and how to prevent it. 


The code has a section on calving, with information on when to help a cow, complete with timelines. There is another appendix on condition scoring. 


For biosecurity reasons, avoid using dairy cow colostrum and use colostrum only from the farm or from good commercial products. 


The code also notes coming deadlines, such as Jan. 1, 2016, when pain control will be required during dehorning after the horn bud is attached and when castrating bulls older than nine months. This will improve animal welfare and allow cattle to grow and do better. The economic cost of the pain control products will be returned many fold. 


The code covers unacceptable euthanasia methods. As well, veterinarians and producers should tranquilize more fractious animals for their sakes as well as their own. 


The code contains helpful contact numbers such as producer organizations and animal care groups.


The document was produced under the direction of the National Farm Animal Care Council with lots of input from provincial animal care bodies and volunteer consultants. I believe the group was objective.


Producers from British Columbia to the Maritimes, experienced or novice, will find something of value in this document.


It will make us all better cattle producers, and productivity should improve, even as we address animal welfare concerns.


I hope this document will undergo a slight review every five years so that changes can be made on an ongoing basis. We don’t want to wait another 22 years for the next code of practice.


To obtain a copy of the code, visit the CCA website at www.cattle.ca or the NFACC website at www.nfacc.ca.

Roy Lewis works as a technical services veterinarian with Merck Animal Health in Alberta.

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