RED DEER — Improved animal welfare practices makes good business sense, but consumers do not want to hear that.
“Consumers want to hear, ‘I am doing it because it is the right thing to do,’ ” said Joyce Van Don-kersgoed, an Alberta veterinarian and one of the authors of the Canadian Feedlot Animal Care Assessment program.
“If consumers say, ‘I want to buy meat products from animals that were raised with care,’ then we have to provide that.”
The program, specifically designed for the care of cattle in feedlots, is being rolled out across the country.
Major packers, the SPCA, veterinarians and cattle associations participated in its development. The intention was to make it practical and acceptable to packers, which want feedlot standards in line with their own welfare requirements.
Packers follow a North American audit program required by food service and retailers to en-sure humane care of cattle when they enter the plants.
The Canadian code of practice for the care and handling of beef cattle was used as the base document, and practices specific to feedlots were then added. Information was also used from the American Meat Institute’s animal handling guidelines, the Canadian certified livestock transporters program and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Beef Quality Assurance program.
The new document is expected to be revised regularly. It is meant to be a practical program while still ensuring good animal care from the time cattle arrive at the feedlot until they leave for the packing plant. It is also a legally defensible document to show that due diligence was carried out at the operation.
An audit is a snapshot in time but it should also show positive aspects.
“In the industry, we are really bad about telling people we are doing a good job,” Van Donkersgoed said at a special session on the new program at the Alberta Beef Industry conference, which was held Feb. 15-17 in Red Deer.
Auditors contact the feedlot in advance and someone from the operation will guide that person throughout the site. They need to be there on a day when cattle are being transported and worked in chutes to assess handling practices over an hour.
The program includes self-assessment and a third party audit.
“You should do your own self audit at least once a year,” she said.
The feedlot will receive a confidential written report, and a copy goes to the packer that requested the audit.
A feedlot fails if it refuses to be audited or egregious acts of abuse or neglect are seen. There is also a requirement to show how shortfalls will be corrected, and proof is needed to show this was done.
The program emphasizes staff training in all aspects of the operation: receiving and loading cattle, administering medication, ensuring proper supplies of feed and water are provided and knowing when to make the decision to put an animal down because of illness or injury.
Employees need to be trained in low stress handling. Videos are available online or trainers can come to the yard to teach people about cattle behaviour so that the operation is safer for animals and employees.
Managers and owners should also be committed to good animal welfare and need to be involved in this program. Foremen need to see what employees are doing and take action if something goes against standard practices.
Good employees lose their motivation when they see others breaking the rules and nothing is done about it.
“Good employees are worth their pay. You as managers need to recognize those people and remove the bad apples,” Van Donkersgoed said.
The program’s 10 chapters cover the operation’s commitment to animal care, transportation, facilities, handling, nutrition, environment, health, euthanasia, care of other working animals at the feedlot and egregious acts of neglect or willful acts of abuse.
Animal abuse must be taken seriously. An auditor who witnesses abusive behaviour will intervene, report the act to feedlot management and fail the feedlot.
“These are things that should never happen at your yard,” she said.
Transportation is a large section of the program so people need to understand the rules about loading compromised animals and how to handle those that arrive in poor condition.