Feedlots to benefit from new animal care audit

The program is a companion to the country’s national beef code of practice but addresses specific issues in feedlots

A standardized animal welfare program for Canadian feedlot operators should result in healthier, more profitable cattle.

Better animal care has a spin-off benefit because it improves performance, health and reduces the chronically ill or railers, that is, animals that must go to slaughter before they reach market weight.

“They are a loss. They might be a couple hundred pounds lighter so they cost the feedlot money. If there is some way we can reduce those, it saves money,” said feedlot veterinarian Joyce Van Donkersgoed.

Van Donkersgoed was instrumental in developing the audit program with the National Cattle Feeders’ Association and other partners. She described the Canadian Feedlot Animal Care program at the University of Calgary veterinary symposium held earlier this summer.

It is a companion to the national beef code of practice but addresses specific issues in feedlots.

Canadian facilities JBS and Cargill Meats, and Tyson’s at Pasco, Washington, are involved with the program as are retailers and some companies like McDonald’s.

“We will continue to work with our packers and try to work toward a North American program,” Van Donkersgoed said.

The program has received certification and approval from the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO), National Farm Animal Care Council and the Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Beef.

It is available online and is offered in English, French and Spanish. It includes low-stress animal handling videos online.

In developing the program, record-keeping and documentation was identified as the weakest link for most feedlots. Large operations are computerized with treatment records and other data, but they also needed a standardized protocol for audit purposes and background information.

The program attempts to cover all aspects of life on a feedlot from transportation, facilities, environment, handling, feed management and identifying acts of abuse.

However, the culture at the feedlot determines acceptance.

“Animal welfare is good for employee morale,” she said.

“I can tell you if top management or the owners of a feedlot don’t care about animal care, it doesn’t matter how good the people are in the organization, it is going to be very tough to change.”

However, more members of the beef sector are demanding adherence to higher animal welfare standards.

Tyson Fresh Meats handles cattle, hogs and poultry and released a program called FarmCheck in 2012. Primarily introduced for the hog sector, it overlays all animal production practices for anyone supplying the company, said Lora Wright of Tyson.

“Animal welfare today is even bigger than the five freedoms. It is much more specific and detailed and we are living in a world where our customers are expecting full transparency not only in what we do in our production facilities but throughout the supply chain,” she said.

The average person does not know what happens on the farm but they are curious about the source of their meat and what happens on the ranch.

A universal welfare program is a gargantuan task for the American-based company because it deals with 3,790 feedlots and livestock markets, 3,672 chicken operations, 1,774 hog operations and 95 turkey farms.

The program uses third party auditors and relies on help from an expert advisory council.

The audit covers facilities, animal health, transportation, nutrition, records on drug use and other treatments. It requires proper training for those working with animals to avoid abuse.

It does not prescribe a particular type of housing or other management decisions but focuses on the welfare of the animals living there.

In 2017, 539 audits on cattle, swine and poultry operations were completed. Individual audit results are not released.

Each sector has shown improvement but a particular issue for the beef sector was limited documentation of their activities.

“They spend their time caring for their animals and that is a good thing. However, in audits some amount of record keeping is required,” she said.

Read the Canadian feedlot program at nationalcattlefeeders.ca/feedlot-animal-health-welfare/.

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