The four pillars of responsible beef production

Alberta’s cattle feeders take great pride in the crucial role they play in producing our province’s world class beef – and in using responsible and sustainable production methods.

Here at the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA), we support our members in continuous improvement under four pillars:

1. Animal care

Alberta’s cattle feeders believe in treating the animals that feed us with care and respect. They follow the National Beef Code of Practice to ensure the finest in animal care, food safety and sustainability.

Two key programs that help them maintain the highest standards of animal care are:

-The Feedlot Animal Care Assessment Program

-The Canadian Livestock Transportation Certification

2. Animal health and production

Ensuring the health and well-being of livestock is a top priority for feedlot operators. ACFA is heavily invested in helping through initiatives such as the new histophilosis vaccine, and through forage and feed grain research.

3. Environment

Cattle feeders work hard to minimize environmental impact from their operations. 

ACFA has participated in several initiatives:

-The Feedlot Emergency Preparedness Plan which protects animals, the environment and human health in the event of an incident such as a disease outbreak or a natural disaster. 

-Environmental impact studies, such as Alberta Agriculture and Resource Development’s Livestock Impact on Groundwater Quality in Alberta.

-Interaction with the Natural Resources Conservation Board on environmental initiatives.

-Membership of the Intensive Livestock Working Group and Agri-Environmental Partnership of Alberta

Project Clean Cow.

4. People and communities

Protecting people, and the communities in which they operate is important for cattle feeders. Food safety, farm safety and community service are at the centre of their everyday operations.

It is on these four pillars that Alberta’s cattle feeders operate in the most responsible manner possible. They strive to ensure excellence in animal care, food safety, farm safety, and respect for people and their communities. At ACFA we are working hard to support them in those efforts.

Cattle feeders get serious about dust

On February 11, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association hosted an information session in Picture Butte, AB, about the challenges of dust management in feedlots, laying out strategies to help operators control the common problem.  

Subject matter experts who presented at the session were Walter Ceroici, acting CEO of the Natural Resources Conservation Board in Edmonton, and Dr. Brent Auvermann, centre director and professor of agricultural engineering at Texas A&M University

Why dust is an issue for cattle feeders

During the hot, dry months of summer dust poses a constant challenge to feedlot operators. On the hottest days, cattle move little during the day, but in the evening, when the sun is low in the sky and temperatures cool, they start to move around. And when they move, they kick up the dust.

Dust is not just an annoyance for cattle, feedlot workers and their neighbours – it can also cause more serious issues. Dust can impact the health and performance of cattle, be a serious irritant for those suffering from respiratory problems, and in some cases can create a traffic hazard on nearby roads.

How to minimize dust

Applying water to pens and roadways has long been the most common technique used to minimize the dust raised by cattle in feedlots. Ideally, it should be sprayed onto dusty surfaces before the dust becomes a problem, but forecasting the correct time, and applying water in sufficient quantities, isn’t always that easy.

“This sounds straightforward,” said Walter, “but it can be challenging to determine the timing and frequency of pen watering in order to be effective. The volume of water required to control dust by watering varies with the depth of manure in pens. During extremely dry conditions there is no practical way to supply the amount of water needed to control dust without creating other issues such as odour, flies and pen floor damage.”

Some other methods of dust control include:

-Removing dry powdery dirt and manure from pens on a regular basis.

-Increasing stock density in pens during the dustiest times of the days.

-Planting windbreaks and other vegetative barriers to help stop dust from travelling.

According to ‘Dust Emissions from Cattle Feeding Operations,’ written by Dr. Auvermann, along with Sharon L.M. Preece, Ronaldo Maghirang and Steve Amosson, pen design also has a role in minimizing dust:

“The shape of a pen should allow for complete manure harvest from edge to edge. Pen surfaces should slope away from aprons, feed bunks, and water troughs at a 3 to 5 percent grade. They should drain separately into a runoff channel rather than into each other wherever possible.”

Roller-compacted concrete is another technique that cattle feeders have used successfully to keep dust to a minimum.

Having a plan

The Natural Resources Conservation Board of Canada, (NRCB), encourages feedlot operators to be aware of the conditions that contribute to dust, and of the options for dust control. 

They recommend every operation have a dust control plan, outlining strategies to mitigate dust, as well as response strategies in the event of a dust incident. The plan would typically outline available dust control methods, when those should be applied and how they should be implemented, as well as the responsibilities of individual workers in dust control.

“Operators who would like assistance, or to learn more about strategies to control dust for their operation are encouraged to contact their local NRCB staff,” said Walter.

Canada’s Food Guide leaves room for beef on the table

With the release of Canada’s updated Food Guide earlier this week, beef producers are happy to see that Health Canada recognizes a place for beef in the healthy diet.

Some of the highlights of the new guide focus on healthy eating habits, such as cooking at home, limiting intake of processed foods, and drinking water rather than sugary drinks.

In its visual plate model, Health Canada suggests a diet consisting of half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter whole grains and one quarter proteins. It recommends choosing plant-based proteins more often, but in combination with other foods such as lean meats. 

Meats and plant-based foods are better together – the nutrient value of both foods increases when consumed as part of a meal. For example, the absorption of iron increases over 150 per cent when meat and legumes are combined on the plate.

Beef and other meats are among the most nutrient-rich sources of complete, quality proteins. To get a comparable amount of protein from plant-based foods would require consuming considerably more calories.

Many Canadians are overfed but undernourished – even though dietary trends show a decrease in meat and dairy consumption, consumption of processed and other nutrient-poor foods is on the rise. Health Canada’s recommendations to make healthier choices are aimed at encouraging Canadians to eat mindfully, and to eat a wide variety of healthy, nourishing foods.

All food production systems come with their own impacts and benefits. To replace Canadian beef with another protein source could, in fact, mean higher caloric and environmental impacts from other foods. Cattle feeders support consumers taking action on food waste reduction through sustainable food choices. Beef is a good example of a sustainable food choice because Canada is an exceptional place to grow beef and has one of the most sustainable agriculture systems in the world.

Real, unprocessed food

Because beef is typically eaten as part of a complete meal, rather than in isolation, it fits nicely with Health Canada’s recommendation to eat a variety of healthy foods and to limit highly processed foods.

When combined with vegetables and whole grains, a delicious portion of lean beef makes a complete, balanced meal. 

Preparing beef for a healthier diet

Beef is an excellent source of many essential nutrients including iron (in the bio-available heme form), zinc, vitamins B6 and B12, riboflavin, niacin and selenium. It also contains good fats such as ruminant trans-fats, which are linked to health benefits.

Health Canada recommends using herbs, spices and seasonings to add flavour, without adding salt or sugar. Check out the delicious recipes to be found at Think Beef and Alberta Beef where you will find inspiration for a healthy, delicious meal that fulfills the recommendations of Health Canada’s Food Guide.

You can learn more about the nutritional benefits of beef in ‘4 reasons you should include beef in your health, balanced diet’

4 reasons you should include beef in your healthy, balanced diet

Every day we here about a new fad diet. One urges us to eat no meat, another recommends  eating only meat. Meanwhile, another cites the importance of good carbs, while others tell us to cut out carbs altogether. It’s confusing to say the least.

Despite all these fad diets, the voices of nutritional reason advocate moderation and balance.

If you’re worried that you should cut out red meat for the sake of your health, here are four reasons to make beef an integral part of your nutritious, balanced diet:

#1 Protein

Meat is one of the most complete dietary sources of protein, containing all eight of the essential amino acids needed for the growth and maintenance of our bodies. Plant protein sources such as beans, lentils and nuts are considered to be incomplete, because they do not contain all the essential amino acids.

Protein is essential for growth, energy, maintenance and repair, and animal derived proteins such as meat, fish, eggs and milk are the best sources.

#2 Fat

Red meat contains a combination of saturated fats, unsaturated fats and ruminant trans-fats, which all have a role in a nutritious diet. Here’s what you should know about these fats:
– The notion that saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels has been disproven.
– Consumption of saturated fats can raise HDL (or good cholesterol) in the blood stream.
– Lean beef contains more unsaturated fats than saturated.
Ruminant trans-fats, unlike their manufactured counterparts, are not considered unhealthy.
– Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a ruminant trans-fat, is linked to various health benefits, particularly regarding weight loss.

Thanks to enhancements in cattle breeding, production and beef trimming practices, today’s beef is leaner than ever. On average, today’s Canadian beef has less than 8g of fat (per 100 g), when trimmed of external fat.

#3 Vitamins and minerals

Red meat contains many of the vitamins and minerals our bodies rely on:
B12. Found only in animal derived foods, this is an essential nutrient for blood formation, brain function and the nervous system.
Iron. The iron found in meat is in the heme form, which is absorbed readily by the body. Not only is heme iron only found in meat, but it actually improves the absorption of the non-heme iron found in plant-based foods.
Zinc. Important for body growth and maintenance.
Selenium. An important trace element.
Niacin. Also known as vitamin B3, it helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
B6. Important for blood formation.
Phosphorous. Essential for body growth and maintenance.

Beef also contains many other vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts. People who don’t consume meat run the risk of having deficiencies in many essential nutrients.

#4 Other compounds

Some other natural compounds that you will benefit from every time you eat beef include:
Creatine – an energy source for muscles.
Taurine – an antioxidant amino acid important for heart and muscle function.
Glutathione – an antioxidant found in most whole foods, which is particularly abundant in meat.
L-Carnitine – an amino acid thought to aid with heart health, diabetes control and weight loss.

Worried about cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a sterol found in animal fats. It is produced naturally by the body and has many functions, but an excess is linked to heart disease. Dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol and is not considered a health concern. Moderate consumption of saturated fats has also been cleared of raising cholesterol.

Lean meat has even been shown to have a positive effect on cholesterol.

Worried about heart disease?

Many studies have attempted to prove whether beef contributes to the likelihood of heart disease and the results have been inconclusive. Some have found a connection and others have found no connection. 

It has been speculated that many health-conscious people avoid red meat because of health claims in the media, and those people tend to eat more fruits, vegetables and fibre and also to exercise more. While meat eating could be a marker for unhealthy behaviours, that is not to say that it doesn’t have an important role to play in a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Worried about cancer?

There is some evidence that eating large amounts of overcooked, or well-done meat, fish or poultry could increase the risk of cancer. This could be because overcooking produces heterocyclic amines, a class of cancer-causing substances. 

There is no link between cancer and the consumption of properly prepared meat, fish or poultry.

The health benefits of beef summarized

A healthy, balanced diet should include a variety of nutritious foods, all eaten in moderation. This includes beef, which is a source of many important nutrients, including complete proteins, vitamins and minerals, all of which have a crucial role in building strong, healthy bodies.

Now that you know eating beef should be a healthy part of your balanced diet, check out this blog post on the environmental impacts of beef production. You might be surprised what you learn.

How Inside Education is bringing agricultural insights to the next generation

Producing food for a hungry world is an important job, and one farmers have been managing for generations. But today’s farmers have considerations that didn’t concern their predecessors – such as how to produce food while demonstrating their concern for the environment, and how to deal with a chronic labour crisis.

One organization is supporting Alberta’s agriculture industry by introducing these considerations to grade school students. Inside Education is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and engaging young stewards by incorporating environmental and natural resource education into their classrooms.

Kathryn Wagner, program director at Inside Education, explained that our society is often polarized about issues that matter most. “Our ability to balance a healthy environment with a productive economy demands a careful look at the range of values at play — the spectrum that lies between black and white,” she said. “Our unique programs immerse learners into the big picture, giving them a balanced look at key issues. We challenge everyone to become responsible citizens by understanding the science, technology and issues that affect our world.”

How Inside Education works

For over 30 years, Inside Education has been teaching students about the diverse natural resource topics and issues affecting the agriculture, energy and forestry industries. They have four program areas:

“It all culminates in us bringing current, accurate, locally relevant information, to teachers and students across Alberta, to complement the curriculum,” said Kathryn.

“There are lots of different places where these sorts of topics align,” she said, “from science and social studies to food systems, sustainability and careers.”

Inside Education and cattle feeders

Inside Education works directly with more than 25,000 students every year, in 80-plus communities. In its recent agriculture program, 28 teachers participated in a feedlot tour so they could see firsthand what the industry looks like and what happens in a cattle feeding operation.

“Agriculture is such a fundamental topic of conversation here in the province – it guides our society, our economy, and our environment,” said Kathryn. “If we can provide these experiences and this information to young people, then we will have young stewards who are ready to go on and shape what our agricultural landscape will look like for years to come.”

Careers in agriculture

Organizations such as Inside Education could also play a role in helping alleviate the agricultural labour shortage. “There are so many misconceptions about what it means to work in agriculture,” Kathryn explained. “Students may want to leave their communities, and we can show them opportunities available in their own backyards and how they can contribute to sustainable agriculture in Alberta.”

In 2016, the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association (ACFA) attended Inside Education’s Youth Summit, in Brooks, Alta., where junior high school students were introduced to careers in agriculture, including the cattle feeding sector. It’s events like these that can help excite students about the many career opportunities in farming.

In earlier blog posts, we have written about other organizations or programs that are helping educate young people about the opportunities in agriculture, including Agriculture in the Classroom and Career Connections.

From cattle to classrooms: how cattle feeder Martin Zuidhof is giving back

This is the second post in our volunteer spirit series – a look at the generosity that is so strong among Alberta’s cattle feeders.

This week we caught up with Martin Zuidhof, ACFA’s board chair. Martin and his wife, Annette, recently visited Nicaragua to help build three new classrooms for a school in the capital city of Managua.

Martin explained that the trip was somewhat spur of the moment: “I was having dinner with my two sisters and two brothers-in-law, just after Christmas,” he said. “One brother-in-law was planning his seventh volunteering trip, and he suggested we should all go together. It seemed like a great idea, and we decided to try and go as soon as possible.” The group ended up going with just two weeks’ notice.

The school they worked on already existed, but had six classrooms for 345 students. Because school was in session at the time, the group of volunteers worked with an audience of teachers and children. “The students would watch us from their own classrooms and I could just imagine the teacher telling them ‘get your educations otherwise you’re going to be like those North Americans who come down here to get out of the cold – this is the best they can afford,’” he joked.

Even though the work was backbreaking, and the sun hot, Martin found the experience very rewarding.

cattle feeders volunteer spirit Martin Zuidhof“We had to hand-dig holes with picks and shovels, and there was lots of rebar to tie. It was hot, and after the first hour or two I really wondered what I was doing there. But you get used to it, and the teachers were very appreciative,” he said.

“The kids put on a little program for us at the end, and the principal said it means so much that people would come and do this rather than taking a summer vacation, because the key to their future is getting more of their children educated.”

Fortunately, the trip wasn’t all work. Martin said they enjoyed their evenings in the town, and had time for some sightseeing.

You can read about a trip taken by another of Alberta’s cattle feeders in ‘Alberta’s volunteer spirit shines among cattle feeders: meet Jacob Bueckert.’ In future posts we’ll introduce you to some more of our industry members who epitomize Alberta’s generosity.

Alberta’s volunteer spirit shines among cattle feeders: meet Jacob Bueckert

Not content with merely feeding the world, many of Alberta’s cattle feeders also have a strong commitment to building community. We think that’s pretty special, and in upcoming blog posts we will be featuring some of the ways our members volunteer their time to help others.

This week we met Jacob Bueckert, of Driland Feeders in Warner, Alberta. Jacob and his wife, Caroline, recently flew their three children down to Mexico to build homes for a disadvantaged family.

“We went to Vicente Guerrero about four hours south of San Diego to build a house for a family who was basically living in a one-room shack,” said Jacob. “They had one bed for a family of four, and a baby on the way in less than a month.”

building homes for the needy Vicente GuerreroJacob’s family flew down and joined a church group and friends from Burdett, Alberta. In all, the group of 33 people built two houses.

Alberta is well known for being a generous province and, like so many others, Jacob is motivated by a desire to enrich the lives of others.

“I wanted my family to experience the joy of giving, rather than just sending money down,” he said. “When you send money, you enrich the lives of the people receiving, but when you go and help, you enrich your own life, too.”

Jacob’s children found the experience so rewarding that they are keen to forego their usual family vacations in order to do the same again. They are planning another volunteer trip in two years’ time. “When we got back, my son brought me his tablet and laptop and said that he thought he should start reading books instead of playing on these.”

Creating community here in Alberta too 

Jacob sits on the ACFA board of directors and also volunteers as a youth group leader. “Ten teens meet twice a month to have fun,” he explained, “but also to learn how to tackle life in a way that will bring joy.” As the industry struggles to encourage young people to stay in rural areas and work in agriculture, these activities help provide youth with strong roots and a sense of having a future in their communities.

In an upcoming post we will speak with board chair, Martin Zuidhoff, who recently visited South America to help build a school.

Meet the team: Ryan Kasko, vice-chair of the board

Here at the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association we couldn’t truly represent the interests of our industry without input from our board of directors. Comprised of the men and women who work in the cattle feeding industry every day, our board helps provide direction for all our activities.

For this week’s post, we sat down with Ryan Kasko, CEO of Kasko Cattle Company in Coaldale, Alberta, and vice-chair of ACFA’s board of directors, for another installment of our meet the team series.

Ryan grew up just outside Coaldale, the son of a cattle dealer, but it wasn’t until after graduating from the University of Lethbridge, with a bachelor of management degree, that he became involved in the industry himself. At that time he joined his father’s business, and two years later they decided to buy a feedlot together.

That was 20 years ago, and Kasko Cattle Company now has feedlots in four different locations. As it has expanded, it has also provided opportunities for other family members – Ryan’s wife, Shannon, is the office manager, and his brother and brother-in-law, and their wives, also work in the business.

“It’s an exciting industry to be in,” said Ryan. “The technologies we are using today are really sophisticated, and we’ve made significant improvements over the last 20 years, in the way we manage people and how we take care of the animals – it’s an industry that’s just been constantly changing and it’s great to be a part of that change.”

Helping the ACFA represent a changing industry to the government

Ryan has been on the ACFA board for five years now, a responsibility he takes very seriously. “It’s important to serve the industry,” he said, “and I’ve done that in different organizations through the years. I think the ACFA does a very good job representing cattle feeders in Alberta and I thought it was important I take my turn.”

“There’s been a lot of things going on recently,” continued Ryan. “New laws around labour standards and safety, and initiatives like the carbon tax have significant impacts on our operations. The ACFA works with government to help them understand the industry, and what we do every day – to help them make decisions that are going to work for our industry and the people involved in it. As a board, we help provide the association with direction.”

The Kaskos at home

With four children – one in middle school, two in high school and one in his first year of college – Ryan and his wife have a very busy family. They enjoy watching basketball together, and while his kids also play, Ryan says that watching is enough for him. For stress relief, though, he plays squash and competes in triathlons.

In other posts in our meet the team series, we introduced you to Bryan Walton, CEO, Page Stuart, past board chair, Martin Zuidhof, board chair, Casey Vander Ploeg, manager of policy and research, and Jennifer Brunette, manager of events and member services.

Feedlot people – veterinarian Lynn Locatelli

This is the second in our feedlot people series, and this week we meet Dr. Lynn Locatelli from Cattlexpressions. Lynn hails from New Mexico, U.S.A., but she’s a familiar sight in Alberta, where she consults with feedlots and other cattle operations on low stress cattle handling. Read more

How cattle feeders are helping create a future for young people in agriculture

One of the biggest challenges facing the beef industry, and agriculture in general, is a chronic labour shortage. As more and more people move into the cities for work, it becomes harder for agricultural operations to find the manpower they need to run at optimal efficiency.

Read more