Everyone’s an expert

A few months ago when I decided to get active in social media and start sharing my views, I kept coming across a buzzword that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue :agvocacy. Initially, I thought this was spectacular. Farmers and ranchers advocating for agriculture seemed like a concept that will change our industry. After a few months of reading blogs and spending entire evenings trolling through twitter, I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of “agvocates” are full of shit. 

I honestly can’t remember the last time I read an original thought on a blog. I read an article from Reuters or Drovers, and then my twitter feed blows up with links to blogs about these subjects. I click these links and I find wannabe journalists regurgitating the same crap from that article.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve read several blogs about Zilmax. Most of these are written by cow calf producers and students with no experience to back up what they’re writing about.  They just write down somebody else’s thoughts and present it as fact. It would be nice to see some original thoughts on Zilmax and what the real problems are. 
When we have thousands of farmers presenting themselves as experts, we are going to do more harm than good. Someone with limited feedlot experience being referred to as an expert on the industry is worse than me telling people why gestation crates are a good thing. It’s important to remember that just because somebody has thousands of people following them, doesn’t mean they’re always going to be the best source of information. 



#pluckEZchicken, Squabbling Farmers, and Zilmax

I’ve been pretty busy this past week packing and whatnot but I wanted to muse over a few things that have been consuming my thoughts lately. 
First off is the whole pluckEZchicken movement. I think it’s a great thing that this was brought to light and producers stood up for themselves and their production practices. What’s grinding my gears about this is the division in producers. On almost every blog, tweet, Facebook status, and smoke signal regarding the subject, you can bet your firstborn that two producers from either side of the fence will be bickering over who’s right. They aren’t always all out fights, but in almost every discussion there seems to be some underlying tones of condescension. Neither side will give and admit that there are merits to both sides of the arguments. I’m as guilty as the next guy when it comes to this, but I wonder what it does for consumer confidence and public perception? Could somebody come in and see these comments and still leave without their preconceived notions? I don’t think so. It might be time the industry started promoting meat as a whole. If the consumer wants natural, organic, or conventional protein, they will find it. When we start promoting our product as better than our neighbours because we use or don’t use antibiotics, we are just as guilty as Panera Bread for using fear based marketing. Now I realize it is probably more complicated than this, but those are my thoughts. 
Next is Zilmax. God I hate Zilmax. When I saw that Tyson will no longer be accepting Zilmax cattle I danced, and it was a happy dance. When I first encountered Zilmax a few years ago I didn’t notice any specific health problems with it, but after 7 or 10 days the cattle started looking different. Their barrels would grow and they’d almost look unnatural. You’d see these fine-boned, skinny legged heifers with the muscling of a 1500 pound steer. When you start changing cattle like that, it’s bad news. Over the past two years, the health problems have become a lot more obvious to me. I haven’t seen the soreness (we use A LOT of wood shavings) but the lethargy is definitely there. The more prevalent problem (in my opinion) are the AIPs. You can guarantee when a pen of cattle goes on Zilmax, the incidence of AIPs will take a pretty significant jump. With cattle not on this beta antagonist, the pen riders and doctors have a pretty good shot at saving and salvaging an AIP. With Zilmax that’s not always the case. They seem to be a lot more severe and treatment failures and non responsive cattle are a lot more common. So what gets me is, why has it taken until now for this to happen? How could we knowingly feed something that does this? I understand that it puts a lot of pounds of beef on an animal, but with the public spotlight on animal welfare and production practices, you would think its removal would be justified. I also wonder, how much the consumers know about beta antagonists? If they knew how the animal was physically changed, I wonder whether it would be as hot a topic as antibiotics?
Anyway, those are my random thoughts for the evening. Have a good one folks. 

Determining Antibiotic Use in the Feedlot

With all the talk of antibiotic use in livestock I thought I’d share the process of selecting, pulling, treating, and rehabilitation of sick cattle. 
First, in every feedlot there is a crew of pen checkers. They are individuals who are trained to identify signs of sickness, lameness, and anything else that would require an animal to be pulled from its home pen and brought to the hospital. Typically they will look for the animal(s) that stand out from the rest. In a pen of cattle, the majority will be healthy so it’s best to see what the pen looks like as a whole and identify the ones that stand out from there. Early clinical signs of respiratory disease (BRD) in cattle are often very subtle and difficult to pick out. They can be as simple as dull eyes, flaring nostrils, or hanging their head a bit when they walk. As the disease progresses, the signs will become a bit more obvious. There may or may not be nasal discharge, the animal will appear obviously depressed, the coat will be dull, and their breathing will often be laboured. When they’re determined to be sick, they will be pulled from the pen, either on horseback or foot, and brought to the hospital. 
At the hospital barn, a team of doctors will use a thermometer, stethoscope, and a visual assessment of the animal to diagnose its disease, and the severity of that disease. A rectal temperature will tell the doctors an animals fever and whether its immune system is functioning. Animals with a non-functioning immune system usually won’t throw up a fever. Listening to air movement through the lungs will determine the level of congestion and restriction in the airways, and help differentiate between different types of pneumonia. A visual assessment will help to determine whether an animal can return home or must stay in a convalescing pen for a while. 
The antibiotics used are determined by a protocol established by a veterinarian. The vet will prescribe a proper course of therapy for different diseases and severities. At the time of treatment, all information is entered into a computerized record keeping system. Antibiotics used, dosage, route of administration, animal ID number, and weight are all recorded to help ensure all animals harvested have cleared the withdrawal time. 
If animal is determined unfit to return home, they will be sorted into convalescing pens containing similar sized animals with similar afflictions. Here, they are exercised and worked with daily and fed a lower energy ration with increased roughage to help them through recovery. When the animal is ready to go home, their weight, treatment history, and withdrawal times are reviewed to make sure they can thrive at home. 
Hopefully this provides a bit of insight into antibiotic usage in the feedlot. 

Death in the feedlot

Good evening folks! After reading a post by Diana Prichard ( @diana_prichard), I wanted to share my own experiences with death and euthanasia. 
First off, death is something that no decent human being takes lightly. Farmers and ranchers are no different. When an animal passes, it is something we take very personally and it affects us deeply. In the feedlot where I work, out death loss runs between 0.3 and 0.5%. This percentage is phenomenal, buts its important to remember that those are lives lost that had an opportunity to serve a purpose. The majority of these deaths are unexpected and die suddenly. They consist primarily of bloats, chronic pneumonia’s, and in the summer months, AIPs. 
The hardest ones to handle are the ones that must be euthanized. These are the animals that we pour everything we have into trying to save them. We spend hours, days, and sometimes even months treating their condition with antibiotics, getting them up, and caring for them. If they are still mobile, we get them up and walk them to feed and water. We rehabilitate them, and we give them a good scratch beside their tail head so they know we care. If they aren’t mobile, we bring them feed and water, turn them a few times daily, and they still get the scratch, because we still care. 
Euthanasia is the hardest part of any farmer or ranchers job. When determining when to euthanize an animal, COST AND CONVENIENCE ARE NOT A FACTOR!!!! The sole deciding factor for euthanasia is suffering. If an animal can’t have the quality of life it deserves, it must be euthanized. If an animal is in pain that can’t be mitigated, or if it suffers from an affliction that cannot be treated with medication or rehabilitation, we will euthanize it. We look at its weight, body condition, and overall demeanour and appearance to determine its progress. If the poor guy looks sick and in pain, and continually loses weight, then he has to go to sleep. 
When we have to euthanize an animal, our goal is an immediate and painless death. This is best achieved with a firearm. A bullet properly placed in the brain will result in immediate death. Personally, I’ve used lethal injection in the past and it is not pleasant for me or more importantly, the animal. They experience a few minutes of agony before passing and it is extremely painful, both to watch and experience. The goal of euthanasia is to be a release, not a climax, to the animals suffering. 
Before I close this, I want to talk about the animals we save because they are what make it all worthwhile. Most of the time, the extra effort pays off, and it is the best feeling in the world. Because of the close contact and the positive work required to treat these animals, when the recover, they are the friendliest animals you’d ever meet. For the rest of their lives, they are confident and comfortable around their caretakers and usually perform quite well. It is truly amazing to see how an animal responds to a little TLC. 

Predator vs. Prey

So for no apparent reason today, I got thinking today about the predator versus prey relationship between handlers and their livestock. A very wise man once told me its important that you don’t present yourself as a predator as you enter a group of cattle. For this reason, I believe it’s important to have a presence as you approach the cattle. When you watch any show on the Discovery Channel, the big cat always stalks its prey in a lowered position before pouncing at the last moment. If we approach the cattle in a similar manner, we could have some ugly consequences. 
I think that as we come up to the cattle, it’s important that we make ourselves visible and tell them “Hey, I’m here and I’m in charge.” Body language is the best way to start this dialogue. Stand up tall and tell the cattle you’re here. You don’t want to be the cheetah sneaking around the side. Be confident in your movements. Your confidence will manifest itself in the motion of the cattle. 
The other thing to remember is the cattle should always volunteer their movement. We should never force it. Use their eye to push or pull the head in the direction you want, and parallel movement past the eye to start and stop movement with the animals. Following these tips should help with any cattle handling you need to do

Low Stress Handling: Silence is Golden

What I’m going to talk about today isn’t necessarily new or revolutionary, but it’s something a lot of us need to be reminded of from time to time. As we were bringing a group of cattle up to the hospital barn for treatment today, the doctors started whooping and whistling and hollering as we got close to the barn. Almost on cue, both ears on every animal pointed straight back at them and the cattle stopped. A bit more noise and they turned around to face them. After some screaming and arm waving, they got the cattle locked behind the bud box. 
Excessive noise will almost always have a negative impact on cattle movement. It’s important to remember as we trail cattle up an alley, that we let them focus on where they are going, rather than where we are. If we set the cattle up for movement from the moment we approach the holding pen, they will go almost anywhere regardless of distractions. Here’s a few tips for bringing cattle up to the hospital or processing barn. 
First, the cattle are looking to you for guidance as soon as you come into their line of sight. You can use this to figure out which animals want the guidance and are going to lead the group out.
Don’t go immediately to the back of the pen and push the cattle out. Find your friend looking for guidance and use pressure and release to work him out of the pen. Always remember to work his eye, work him from the side, and if he hesitates, show him the way again. If all goes well, he will give the others confidence and you can lean on the fence and check Facebook while they all walk out. 
As the cattle move up the alley, don’t be a distraction. This is where silence is golden!!!! If the cattle balk hold them and let them figure out where to go. Cattle only process one thought at a time, so if they’re distracted by something in front and you hollering in the back, they’ll go back to a safe place, usually the holding pen. 
Finally, minimize distractions along the way. Turn off the chute and radio, and make sure your co workers know not to loiter around the barn as you’re moving the cattle. If you take care of these little things, it should make handling around the barn a lot simpler and safer.