Tag Archives: feedlot

The Feedlot Special Olympics: A guide on how to effectively lower animal handling standards.

Last month, I competed in the Zoetis Feedlot Challenge. It’s a feedlot competition in southern Alberta where teams from various feedlots demonstrate their processing and pen checking prowess, and their knowledge of antibiotics, vaccines, and diseases associated with feedlot production. Over the past few years, this has been a great event that’s promoted low stress cattle handling in the area. This year, however, seemed to be a huge step backwards. 

Almost every aspect of the event was excellent.  The processing went smooth, the exam was fair, the steaks were rare and the beer was cold.  My qualms lie in the pen checking competition, and specifically the judging. There was way too much emphasis put on pressuring the animals out of the pen.  Truly effective cattle handlers understand pressure and release. If you don’t provide release at the gate, and continue to pressure it out, you will change the behavior of that animal and his pen mates. If you are checking high risk calves, this will translate to missed pulls every time. 

When we spend three years promoting pressure and release and showing cattle the way out, what message do we send when we tell the pen checkers to chase them out the gate in the fourth year? We are telling them to revert, to just do it how we did before. 

So kudos to the judge, Curt Pate.  Anybody who promotes better livestock handling deserves credit, but in the future, the bar needs to be set higher. Every time we work cattle we have to strive for perfection and effectiveness.  When the winning team has negative motion in half the pen, this is far from effective. I hope that in the future, our industry sets higher standards for handling and aims for goals that are a little loftier than what’s easily achieved. 


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. 


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.