Beef industry improvements provide steady benefits

Many new approaches to old issues in cattle health are improving outcomes for producers. A smokey haze hangs over these animals grazing some dry pastures near Turtleford, Sask., last week.  |  Robyn Wheat photo

Major changes have occurred in the production of beef in our country over the last few years. Many could benefit a cattle operation.

Some are pharmaceutical in nature. Others are advances in equipment, services and reduced stress cattle handling. It is promising to see advances that will improve both profitability and beef quality.

Pharmaceutical companies in general continue to work on newer and broader spectrum vaccines and especially intranasal vaccines. Vaccines for pasteurella, mannheimia and corona virus, as well as bovine viral diarrhea, have been developed in the last several years.

The theory of prevention rather than treatment of respiratory and enteric diseases makes lots of sense, especially with the necessary trend of reduction in use of antimicrobials.

We must all come to grips with the fact that, in cattle production, it is unlikely we will see any new antimicrobial drugs in the immediate future.

Use of class one and two pharmaceuticals is being restricted so disease prevention, whether in vaccination protocols, management changes, early detection or natural treatments, will be increasingly needed. Immune stimulants or immune modulators are being launched and the future will tell us how well they work.

The need for a prescription for all medically important antimicrobials has been a positive thing. The veterinary-client relationship requires practitioners to review vaccination protocols and they may find gaps.

Many of those gaps are found in treatment of young calves and often the intranasal vaccines can fill these voids. Talk to a veterinarian about reviewing vaccine protocols and timing. Missed booster shots can leave livestock susceptible to illness.

I have always promoted proper storage, handling and administration of vaccines. There are now commercial coolers that keep vaccines at the right temperature in inclement weather. I am convinced we can all do a better job vaccinating cattle, leading to fewer treatments and less sickness.

All vaccines have undergone extensive testing and we pay good money for them, so they must be properly administered. Better early detection of disease, including respiratory disease, will help avoid relapses or chronic conditions.

Vaccinators and oral drenchers can reduce labour and increase accuracy. I have even seen scale heads that quickly round to the nearest five pounds, are easy to read and connect to computer programs and tag scanners.

Equipment for traceability will continue to provide better record keeping, better compliance with drug withdrawals and more accurate treatment dosages. The old adage of “you can’t improve what you can’t measure” is true in the cattle business.

Huge changes in animal welfare include the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for conditions such as lameness, tough calving and surgeries. In many cases they can reduce the amount of antimicrobials applied. NSAIDS can be injectable, oral or pour-on and one is combined with an antibiotic. Cattle are more comfortable and generally recover quicker.

Handling systems have evolved to help cattle acclimate in their pens and facilitate easier handling. Cattle with lower stress are more likely to gain more weight, develop better protection when vaccinated and be less susceptible to disease.

Squeeze chutes, neck restraint devices, double alleys and properly designed tub systems make handling safer and quicker than it has ever been.

Prods aren’t needed in good handling systems. Sliders prevent pilling up and squeeze chutes that open to the side help with cattle flow.

I have always been a fan of hydraulic chutes because handlers and cattle are safe and processing or treatment goes much smoother.

Many new implants have come on the market recently, some with a delayed release component. This means fewer cattle passes through the chute and less disruption to feeding, less chance for injury, fewer behavior problems and reduced labour and use of handling equipment. This should all convert to lower overhead costs.

Animal welfare can benefit in transport if certain nutritive supplements are offered before shipping. That can reduce shrink and minimize dark cutters on slaughter cattle. This is especially beneficial in long-haul cattle.

Ask a veterinarian about these new advances and when considering a new handling system, check among those manufactured in Western Canada. Many new chutes have the palpation cage built into the chute and this eases pregnancy checks. Bottom split panels make it safe yet accessible to semen test young bulls.

It never hurts to ask neighbours and herd veterinarians about improvements that might benefit an operation.

Roy Lewis works as a veterinarian in Alberta.

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