Cattle sector creating code of practice for feedlots

RED DEER — The National Cattle Feeders Association is drawing up a feedlot code of practice to help feedlot owners assess animal health and welfare, environmental status, transportation and employee training.

Packers and retailers already have animal welfare standards, which feedlots are expected to follow.

“There are things happening and if we don’t get ahead of it, somebody else will do it for us,” said veterinarian Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed, who works with feedlot clients in southern Alberta.

An advisory committee with representatives from the cattle feeders staff, producers, veterinarians, animal behaviorists, packers, retailers, the SPCA, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and welfare auditors met in January to draft an assessment checklist.

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Ethical behavior and proper care of animals is a good way to do business, as well as meet processor requirements, Donkersgoed said at the Alberta Beef Industry conference held in Red Deer Feb. 19-21.

“As feedlot owners and operators do you know what is going on in your yard?” she said.

The assessment is expected to look at animal loading, transport, condition of animals upon arrival, willful acts of abuse and humane care for sick and injured animals, as well as staff behaviour and training.

Feedlots often hire inexperienced staff not trained in cattle handling or care. Low stress cattle handling training is essential in feedlots, she said.

“You need to support your staff and I really hope you get involved,” she said.

Canadian codes of practice for beef and dairy cattle already have requirements for feed and water provisions, pain management and euthanasia. This assessment package is expected to zero in on specific situations that can happen in a feed yard, such as dealing with mud and snow, cattle behaviour in pens and handling of sick animals.

Staff needs to be trained on handling pregnant heifers in the pens, knowing when animals have been injured, when they are in pain or how to handle emergency care.

Willful acts of abuse will also be addressed.

“Processors have zero tolerance for acts of abuse. If they do an audit and they see willful acts of abuse, you automatically don’t pass your audit. As owners I hope you deal with this when these situations occur,” Van Donkersgoed said.

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