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.

Think you know the facts about beef production and the environment?

If you think you’ve got all the answers about how beef production impacts the environment, test your knowledge in this fun quiz.

How did you do?

  • If you got up to four answers correct, you were probably surprised to learn that beef production is not as bad for the environment as you thought. In fact, it has many positive impacts on the environment.
  • If you got five or six answers correct,  you’ve got a pretty good handle on the true facts.
  • If you got seven or eight answers correct, there’s no fooling you!

To learn more, check out ‘4 things you should know about beef production and the environment’.

Mark your calendar for the Alberta Beef Industry Conference

The Alberta Beef Industry Conference is less than two months away, taking place at the Sheraton Red Deer Hotel from March 12-14, 2019.

The event is one of Canada’s largest beef conferences and trade shows, and provides an opportunity for the industry to come together to learn, to network and to discover the latest products and innovations.

As one of the five hosts of the conference, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association is delighted to work alongside Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Auction Markets Association, Alberta Livestock Dealers and Order Buyers Association, and the Western Stock Growers’ Association.

Once again, there is a line-up of speakers who have a wealth of industry or subject expertise to share. We look forward to hearing their insights on the industry’s most pressing issues. Here are some of the highlights:

Brad Wall: Western Canada’s Economy: Risks and Opportunities; Offense and Defense 

Brad will speak about the current political landscape and its impact on Western Canada.

Amber MacArthur and Marty Seymour: If the Future is Different Than the Past, is Your Business Ready?

Learn what your business needs to do to adapt to changing times.

Chief Clarence Louie: Cowboys & Indians – Causing Disruption to Create Economic Prosperity

Hear how he turned a bankrupt band into a multi-faceted corporation that employs hundreds of people.

Dr. Frank Mitloehner: Sustainability in Beef – the Nexus Between Productivity and Environmental Performance

A look at environmental mitigation opportunities, especially in the areas of carbon emission reductions, welfare and health.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois: The Rise of the Conscious Carnivore? The Good, the Bad, and the Awfully Ugly

Advice on dealing with the vegetarian and vegan movements.

Marie-Noelle Desrochers: Trade Agreements That Matter for Canada

An insider’s perspective on governments’ approach to trade matters and the impact it has on the Canadian beef industry.

Brett House: Global Economic Outlook Amidst Rising Uncertainty

What’s ahead for the global economy.

Brett Stuart: Global Beef & Protein Outlook

A view of the global beef landscape, including international trade and health issues.

Brian Perillat: CanFax Market Update

The beef industry’s supply and demand dynamics, and current Canadian price trends.

Art Douglas: 2019-20 Weather Forecast

The upcoming forecast, and a discussion of the impact weather patterns have on the beef industry.

The ever-popular Danny Hooper returns as master of ceremonies, and comedian John Hastings will be entertaining us during the Taste of Alberta dinner on Wednesday evening.

Mark your calendars for another not-to-miss event – you can register here.

Test your cattle feeders knowledge

Throughout 2018, we have provided you with insights and facts on Alberta’s cattle feeding industry. This holiday, take a few minutes to test how much you have learned from those posts.

The cattle feeders quiz has questions drawn from this year’s blogs. Some of the questions are easy, some a little trickier, and all the answers can be found in blog posts from 2018.

Answers:

1, B; 2, A; 3, B; 4, A; 5, A; 6, B; 7, C; 8, B

How did you do?

If you got all eight questions right, you’re a cattle feeder guru! If you got five to seven questions right, you’ve obviously been paying attention all year. If you got four or fewer, don’t worry — we’ll provide more great cattle feeder information throughout 2019.

Next week, we’ll be reviewing what our industry and our organization has been up to in the past year.

In the meantime, we wish you, and your friends and family a safe and happy holiday.

How roller-compacted concrete is improving cattle health in feedlot pens

Alberta’s cattle feeders are always looking for innovations that will contribute to their excellent standards of animal care and improve the sustainability of their operations.

Roller-compacted concrete (RCC) is a product new to the industry that can be used as a base for feedlot pens instead of clay. Jared Clark, of KCL Cattle Company Ltd., near Lethbridge, explains some of the benefits of RCC, in this video:

Benefits of RCC

Roller-compacted concrete was developed in the 1960s, but its application in the feedlot world is new. The benefits for cattle health, feedlot efficiencies and environmental performance are all being studied, but feedlots using the product have already observed:

– Reduced pen dust, which improves air quality, as well as water quality in the dugouts near the pens.

– Reduced loss of clay every time a pen is cleaned. This means less pen maintenance, and also reduces the emissions created by trucks hauling away manure mixed with clay.

– Less mud in pens gives cattle more room to roam, and also promotes foot health.

RCC is just one of the many ways cattle feeders care for their animals. You can learn more in ‘Why our high standards of animal care make Canadian beef the best’, and ‘How 5 freedoms help ensure excellence in animal care’.

Micro-machine helps reduce feedlot waste

Feeding cattle the best diet for growth is a complicated business. Now, new technology is making it not only easier to do but also more efficient. 

Micro-machine technology enables cattle feeders to accurately measure individual additives or supplements that help cattle grow. 

There are three primary constituents in cattle feed – the concentrate, which is typically grain; the roughage, or silage; and supplements, including minerals and vitamins. The makeup of the feed varies with the gender of the animal and how long it has been in the feedlot.

Most Canadian feedlots hire nutritionists to create a balanced feed plan for their livestock.

Once a nutritionist has decided on the optimum supplement blend, it is typically made into a custom pellet. These pellets are then mixed in with the grain and silage. A feedlot might have four or more different pellets formulated for use during different stages of the feedlot growth cycle. 

Simon Cobban, manager of feedlot solutions at United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), said customizing feed for different groups of cattle can be wasteful. “If a feedlot operator wishes to increase the use of any given supplement, he must increase the number of pellets added to the feed. This means increasing all the supplements in that pellet and incurring a great deal of waste.”

How technology is reducing waste and improving accuracy

With micro-machine technology, cattle feeders can measure individual additives or supplements to within 1/100th of a gram. Once measured, these supplements are then sprayed directly onto the grain. It provides a much more accurate and homogenous mix than mixing in a pellet.

“The machines aren’t new, but the high capital cost puts them out of reach for most feedlots,” said Simon. “At UFA, we have a program for cattle feeders where we provide the machine at no cost, as long as they buy our feed, additives and supplements. We install the machine in a custom building, set it up, program it and maintain it. It makes this technology much more accessible.”

Initially, UFA’s micro-technology program was only available for feedlots that feed 10,000 or more head of cattle per year. It is now available to feedlots with 5,000 head, and it will soon be going down to 1,500 head.

“We currently service something like 60 to 65 per cent of the fed cattle in Western Canada,” said Simon. “We have 100 per cent customer retention, and we have quite a few smaller feedlots waiting for when we can reduce that threshold to 1,500.”

To learn about other ways technology is used in feedlot operations, read ‘How technology is helping improve feedlot efficiencies’.

How funding for the New Era Beef Industry will benefit all beef producers

This fall, Alberta’s beef producers will vote in a province-wide plebiscite on the industry’s checkoff program. The issue at hand is whether the refundable payment should become non-refundable.

Why the checkoff is currently refundable

The beef industry checkoff has been around since 1969 as a levy paid to the Alberta Cattle Commission (later to become Alberta Beef Producers, ABP). Funds from the levy were used for industry research and marketing, but it was somewhat contentious from the start. In 2009, the Alberta government passed a bill making the checkoff payment refundable – meaning that producers were able to apply for full reimbursement.  

Why a change to the non-refundable checkoff makes sense

Despite these early challenges, ACFA believes the associations and organizations representing different sectors of the beef industry production chain must join together and work for the benefit of the entire industry.

In 2017, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association and ABP reached an agreement founded on their shared belief in collaboration and mutual support between different beef production sectors. The New Era Beef Industry (NEBI) is the result of that agreement, and it heralds a return to a mandatory beef cattle checkoff, with revenues to be shared by ABP, ACFA and a new Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund (ABIDF).

The ABIDF will provide project funding for market development, research, education, consumer advocacy and industry collaboration, for a stronger, more profitable beef industry. The fund will be governed by a council comprised of three representatives selected by ABP and three selected by ACFA. The six council members will select a chair who is not a member of the board or of either organization.

ABIDF will help compensate for the loss of the Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency, which provided funds for industry development until it was shut down by the government in 2016.

Under the New Era Beef Industry, the total checkoff payment will be $2 per head of cattle. It will be distributed like this:

  • 5 cents to the remitters of the checkoff 
  • $1.30 to ABP 
  • 25 cents to ACFA 
  • 40 cents to the Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund (ABIDF)

If the plebiscite in the fall results in a vote for the refundable checkoff, ABP will continue to collect the mandatory checkoff, and producers can still request a full refund if they wish. If the plebiscite results in a vote for NEBI, it will provide a unique opportunity for crucial industry research and development.

The checkoff was just one of the issues that new ACFA board chair, Ryan Kasko flagged as important to cattle feeders this year. You can read about the other issues in ‘Finances are among cattle feeders’ top issues’. 

2017: Cattle feeders’ year in review

This past year saw a number of challenges arise that gave cattle feeders cause for concern, such as changing legislation and regulations, taxation, and trade. At each step, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) has played an active role in advocating and negotiating for our members.

Here are some of the major projects we worked on in 2017:

Strategic plan

In March, ACFA board members, staff and industry partners met to renew the organization’s vision, mission and strategic plan. Here is a summary of the outcome of those talks:

Vision: Champion a sustainable cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Mission: Pursue innovative and collaborative solutions for a thriving Alberta beef industry

Strategic priority #1: Build ACFA membership by delivering value to our members.

Strategic priority #2: Engage with the provincial government to strengthen the health of the cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Strategic priority #3: Collaborate with partners to advance the industry.

Strategic priority #4: Strengthen ACFA governance.

Advocacy

There were many issues affecting cattle feeders in 2017 in which ACFA played an active role in advocating for our members’ interests. These included:

    • The Lethbridge County head tax which would severely impact cattle feeders in that area, resulting in feedlot closures.
    • The provincial carbon levy which could add costs by as much as $6 to $7 per head.
    • Federal income tax changes that will harm the viability of family-owned corporations.
    • Infrastructure needs, which are not receiving adequate provincial or federal funding.
    • Labour shortages, ongoing issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), and proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP).
    • Farm safety, employment standards and the Employment Standards Code.
    • Trade, and access to new markets for cattle feeders.

Outreach

ACFA’s communications with stakeholders and the public included:

    • Key provincial government ministers, decision-makers, MLAs and MPs.
    • Members, industry and the media.
    • Feedlot tours for educators, students, and government officials.

Watch for status reports, as we continue to stay on top of these issues throughout the coming year.

Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed wins award for contributions to cattle care

Joyce Van Donkersgoed is a valued member of the cattle feeding sector who we’ve written about in previous posts on this blog. Her contributions to animal care and welfare make hers a familiar name among industry members.

We were delighted to see Joyce recognized at the 50th annual conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners on Sept. 14, 2017, in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Metacam® 20 Bovine Welfare Award is given each year to recognize the achievements of an individual in advancing the welfare of animals via leadership, public service, education, research/product development, and/or advocacy. It is awarded to a doctor of veterinary medicine or animal scientist working in Canada, or a faculty member or a graduate student of a Canadian university. The recipient is someone whose work significantly improves bovine welfare in cattle production and research systems, or improves scientific methods of measuring bovine welfare.

Joyce is the owner of Alberta Beef Health Solutions in Picture Butte, Alberta, providing emergency, herd health and production services as well as research and regulatory services. She was also instrumental in the development of the Feedlot Animal Care Assessment Program (pdf) which we wrote about inNew assessment tool to audit feedlot animal care’.

Of her research work, Joyce said: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure, which includes animal welfare, and we must continually strive to improve. Beef veterinarians have a key ethical and moral responsibility to ensure animal welfare whilst balancing the needs of their clients. It isn’t always simple or easy to do, but persistence does pay off over time if you don’t give up and are doing the right thing for the animals, which is ultimately best for the client.”

Joyce donated the $2,000 award to the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) Welfare Committee.

You can read more about Joyce and her achievements in ‘Feedlot people: meet a cattle feedlot veterinarian’.

Helping cattle feeders manage business risk

Every business comes with risk, but the savvy business person is one who manages and minimizes those risks.

That’s why ACFA partnered with Lethbridge College to create an Agriculture Business Risk Management (AgBRM) program. Available online, the program is designed specifically for managers and owners of agri-businesses, such as beef, pork, grain and oilseeds.

We spoke with Lyndsay Smith, industry liaison for agriculture at Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Arts & Sciences, to learn more about the new program. 

“Alberta Cattle Feeders identified the need for an increased level of knowledge of agriculture business risk,” said Lyndsay. “At about the same time, Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge had received a $5 million donation from Cor Van Raay, one of Southern Alberta’s most well-known agricultural entrepreneurs and a leading cattle producer, to develop the Cor Van Raay Southern Alberta Agribusiness Program,” she said. “It was a good fit for Lethbridge College and ACFA to partner to develop the online AgBRM program as the first initiative.”

The course is aimed at owners and managers of agricultural businesses. “Since the program focuses on financial and commodity risk management, it will help industry members face the volatility challenges we have seen in the commodity markets,” said Lyndsay. 

Flexibility to fit busy work schedules

Because the course is available online, students can fit it in around their work schedules. It is divided into 28 modules and two capstone (or culminating) courses. Students who do not wish to work toward the full certificate can take any modules that interest them.

The certificate focuses on financial and commodity price risk management. This includes:

    • Statistics for Agribusiness (optional)
    • Effective Communications
    • Financial Literacy
    • Currency
    • Introduction to Market Tools
    • Government Policy and Marketing
    • Market Fundamentals
    • Market Tools
    • Risk Tolerance and Policy
    • Market Equity
    • Successful Planning in Agribusiness. 

Healthy business, healthy economy

Business Risk Management has been a focus of the provincial government’s Growing Forward 2 (GF2) suite of products and services. GF2 provides “programs and services to achieve a profitable, sustainable, competitive and innovative agriculture, agri-food and agri-products industry that is market-responsive, and that anticipates and adapts to changing circumstances, and is a major contributor to the well-being of Canadians,” according to the province’s website.

Although grant applications are not currently being accepted, Lethbridge College’s AgBRM program is very much in alignment with Growing Forward, and ACFA believes that training business owners and managers in business risk management is a key contributor to a healthy economy.

You can read more about how ACFA contributes to a vibrant, healthy cattle feeding industry on our Initiatives page.