Shipping unhealthy animals could turn public against beef

CFIA veterinarian says animals in pain and struggling to walk don’t make beef, they make vegetarians

It’s a common dilemma for cattle producers.

If there is an older or lame animal on the farm, should that animal go to market or should it be euthanized?

A Manitoba cattle buyer says there’s a simple answer to that question. If in doubt, don’t put it on the truck.

“Compromised animals, we still see too many of those showing up, especially at the auction marts,” said Rick Wright, a cattle broker and order buyer with Heartland Order Buying Co.

“Producers need to know that those cattle are not welcome anymore (at the auction mart)…. The rule of thumb is … if you don’t want to take it home, don’t load it.”

Wright, who spoke in early February at the Manitoba Beef Producers annual meeting in Brandon, said it’s tempting to make an extra buck by shipping a lame animal, but cellphone cameras and increased interest in animal welfare mean the risk now outweighs the financial benefit.

“At one time, buyers would take a chance on those cattle … but now it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to be in the sights of CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)…. Consumers are wanting to know more about where their food comes from, and they don’t want to see that,” he said.

“(Plus) a lot of the (auction) markets now are charging a $350 disposal fee to get rid of that animal that’s not worth anything…. It’s not an everyday occurrence, but we still see animals that come in and we wonder, ‘why in the heck would the guy bring that?’ ”

Max Popp, a CFIA veterinarian who specializes in humane livestock transportation, showed a picture of a compromised bull at the Brandon event.

The animal, photographed at an assembly yard in Virden, Man., had a bowed head and was obviously struggling to bear weight on its legs.

“Does this animal look like a cattle beast to you? It has a sore on the foot … a chronic lesion. Look at the back leg. It’s tucked in to protect it because it’s painful to step on it,” he said.

“Its ears are back and its back is hunched…. Does this (animal) make beef or does it make vegetarians? I think it makes vegetarians.”

Wright is also concerned about cattle transport. He said he still sees too many trailers that are overcrowded, poorly cleaned or with insufficient bedding.

“I can’t believe the number of loads that come in where the cows and calves are in the same compartment. The calves are covered in (feces) … and we are expected to clean them up and resell them.”

Wright told the story of a Sask-atchewan producer who hauled three semi loads of cows to his farm and then immediately transported calves to Ste. Rose, Man.

“He didn’t clean the trailer out. There was probably six inches of loose manure in the bottom of the trailers,” Wright said.

“And (the producer) was mad as a wet hen when they got there and were covered in (feces) from head to toe.”

The farmer lost 15 to 20 cents per lb. on the group of calves because of their condition.

Despite the critical tone of his message, Wright said the cattle industry is making progress on humane transport.

There are many excellent drivers who truly care about animal welfare. They will stop twice during a 12 hour run between Brandon and Brooks, Alta., to check on the cattle in the trailer.

“We’ve got some really, really good guys.”

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