COUNTRY LIFE IN BC • AUGUST 2019
A good start helps calves finish in top shape Preparing calves for the feedlot begins before weaning, with a focus on health
by TOM WALKER
WILLIAMS LAKE—Keeping a tight rein on costs is an important part of being a successful cattle rancher. And while it’s possible to budget for most inputs, social costs are another matter. But improving consumer confidence is an increasingly important investment
for beef producers, says Katy Lippolis, an assistant professor and extension beef cow-calf specialist at Iowa State University. “We need to be providing the kind of product that the consumer wants,” she told delegates to the BC Cattlemen’s Association’s annual general meeting in May. Today’s consumer wants to know where food comes from, is concerned about animal welfare, sustainability and the environment, and doesn’t trust contemporary agriculture. “Consumers don’t understand the sustainability of our industry,” she says.
“They think that plant-based [food] is better for the environment.” This is where quality assurance programs play a role, not only on the ranch
but after animals leave. In her talk, “The value of preparing calves for after they leave the ranch –
How is it worth it?” Lippolis showed her audience how both profit and perception can be improved by taking care to have calves ready for their move to the feedlot.
The first six to eight months of a calf’s life can be pretty sweet. They have a lot of mother, milk, and sunshine, but the journey to the feedlot changes that. Lippolis describes a number of practices that can be hard for calves. The transportation to the feedlot itself can be difficult and it’s compounded if that includes a stop at the auction ring. When they arrive, calves that are weaned on the truck face strange food sitting in a bunker, an unfamiliar waterer and are being jostled by new mates who may be carrying strange bugs. It would be difficult to call the pace of change good for the animal’s welfare. “This transition is one of the most stressful times in a calf’s life,” Lippolis notes.
“They are exhausted, have lost weight, are not ready to feed and their immune systems are very compromised.” Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is the most costly disease in feedlot cattle and up to 75% of calves may be at high risk for the disease when they arrive, she says. Indeed, the Beef Cattle Research Council states that BRD accounts for 65% to 80% of sickness and 45% to 75% of deaths in some feedlots.
Lippolis notes that antibiotic treatments are standard practice in feedlots
across North America. “And that is not something the consumer wants,” she says. The costs are substantial. An average treatment for a sick calf is about US$25. They will be off feed, which will result in a lower final body weight and lower carcass quality. For an animal that has to be treated twice, the combined cost of care and lost income averages US$172, Lippolis says. Preconditioning calves can go a long way to lessening the impact of that trip
to the feedlot. BRD costs the North American beef industry up to $1 billion US annually, says Lippolis. “Only management at the ranch can help reduce the incidence of BRD in these compromised calves,” she says. This is also low-hanging fruit from a consumer perspective, she adds. “It is an easy way for us to show consumers that we are really trying to
improve animal health and welfare,” she says. She calls it pre-kindergarten for calves. “Wean the calves ahead of time,” says Lippolis, 35 to 40 days before they are
shipped, if possible. “Don’t wait until they are loaded on the truck to force wean them.”
She also encourages producers to pay close attention to nutrition. “Give a well-balanced ration with protein, energy, and vitamins and minerals,” she advises. While you are getting them used to eating out of a bunk and drinking from a
waterer, get them used to being handled, too, Lippolis adds. “That way, getting on and off the trailer won’t be such a surprise to them,” she explains. Vaccinations at home are better than antibiotics in the feedlot. Try for two or
three rounds of vaccinations for pathogens and BRD, she says, adding that they’re most effective before weaning. Keeping animals out of the auction ring if possible is another protective
measure. With the variety of online, video and direct marketing options available, ranchers have alternatives that will help calves avoid the stress of auction day. Hopefully, that extra care will translate into a higher price as buyers start to recognize that the calves have had a good start and will finish well. “You want those calves to hit the ground running when they get to the
feedlot,” says Lippolis. “If they are preconditioned, they will be set up for success. That translates to less incidence of costly disease and a better daily gain.”
AGRICULTURAL ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT CODE OF PRACTICE (AEMCoP)
NEW RULES COMING INTO EFFECT OCTOBER 1, 2019!
As of October 1, 2019 a risk assessment is required if you are planning to apply manure or other nutrient sources to land located in a high-precipitation area during the “shoulder season” (February, March, October). A risk assessment must be completed for each field before you apply any nutrient sources.
What is a risk assessment?
A risk assessment determines the risk of nutrient loss from a field based on factors that may affect runoff such as forecasted precipitation, soil type, and slope.
Why is it required? A risk assessment is required to minimize the risk of nutrient loss because applying manure or other nutrient sources during high-risk conditions increases the chance of contaminated runoff entering surface water.
How do I complete a risk assessment?
An Application Risk Management (ARM) tool is being developed to help; the ARM tool is a simple questionnaire that considers precipitation, soil and field conditions, and management factors to determine the risk of nutrient loss and provides you with a risk rating of low, medium, high, or extreme once you complete it. The ARM tool will be available online soon.
FOR MORE INFO, INCLUDING HIGH-PRECIPITATION AREA MAPS VISIT: www.gov.bc.ca/Agricultural-Environmental-Management
BC Agriculture Council (BCAC) is assisting the Province of BC with communicating the key changes related to AEMCoP. Please look for this ad in the coming issues of Country Life in BC for updates.
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