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How 5 freedoms help ensure excellence in animal care

A lot of progress has been made since Alberta’s livestock producers banded together 25 years ago to promote excellence in animal care.

Commodity organizations, including the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, founded Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) in 1993 to ensure that all producers have access to the resources and information they need to provide a comfortable, low-stress environment for their animals.

“We are a non-profit, multi-species animal welfare organization,” said Kristen Hall, marketing and membership manager at AFAC. “We were formed by the livestock industry, for the livestock industry, to be a collective voice for animal welfare within the province.”

The notion of animal care is based on the five freedoms:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Freedom from fear and distress
  5. Freedom to express their normal behaviours

 

Some of the free resources AFAC provides for livestock producers include guidelines, videos, codes of practice and factsheets.

On Sept. 7 and 8, AFAC is partnering with the Foothills Forage and Grazing Association to host a Stockmanship Clinic. The two-day course will be taught by Dylan Biggs, cattle handling expert and specialist in low-stress animal care.

“We find people are very keen to learn,” said Kristen. “Even though they might have been caring for animals their whole lives and they’re already doing a good job, for the most part they’re still willing to take the opportunity to learn more.”

As well as providing resources for livestock producers, AFAC also advocates for the industry. “We do a lot of public education, at events such as the Calgary Stampede and Aggie Days,” said Kristen. “We also do classroom sessions in schools, teaching students how food animals are raised.”

Each year, AFAC hosts a Livestock Care Conference. The next one is scheduled for March 20 and 21, 2019, in Olds, AB.

You can read about some of the other programs that promote animal care and welfare, including the Feedlot Animal Care Assessment Tool, in ‘Animal care is a top priority for Alberta’s cattle feeders.’

How respect for the animals that feed us aligns with beef cattle production

Last week on this blog, we learned about the food safety innovations at Harmony Beef’s new processing plant. This week we’re exploring the new standards of animal care being practised at the plant.

We visited the plant and spoke with Harmony’s director of marketing, Cam Daniels to learn more. “One of the most important things in our business – and this came right from the owners – is that we must respect the animals that feed us,” said Cam. “They are treated with respect and dignity for the entire time they are with us.”

Warm dry barns keep the animals relaxed and calm

The high standards of animal care at Harmony Beef start with a covered, temperature controlled barn. Some of the barn’s features include:

    • A water vapour management system that keeps the barn comfortably dry at all times, and helps eliminate odours
    • Heated, slip-resistant floors that are well-drained so they remain dry and clean
    • Access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times, in every pen

“Animals that come in together are always kept together, to minimize the stress of new surroundings”, said Cam. “And we don’t keep any animals overnight – we only take in as many as we can process that day. It’s all part of keeping them as relaxed and calm as possible while they’re here.”

How a cow’s natural movement helps minimize stress

At Harmony Beef, the corral that brings the animals up to the harvest box follows a serpentine shape. “It’s influenced by the work of Dr Temple Grandin,” said Cam. “Cattle naturally tend to walk in an ’s’ and by allowing them to follow a natural pattern, it helps keep them moving, while also keeping them calm.

As the cattle move along the corral, they are gently nudged with paddles, rather than electric prods. A doorway allows only one animal at a time into the harvest box, ensuring the other animals stay relaxed until the end.

Better animal care leads to higher quality

Aside from the fact that treating animals well is the right thing to do, there is also a very practical reason why animal welfare matters. Glycogen in the muscles of relaxed animals is converted into lactic acid, which is necessary to produce tasty, tender meat. Stress causes the glycogen to be depleted, and the meat tends to be darker, dryer and less tender. So meat from a relaxed, calm animal is of a higher quality.

Check out last week’s post to find out how Harmony Beef is setting new standards in food safety. And stay tuned for an upcoming post in which we will learn about the lengths to which they have gone to minimize their impact on the environment.

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’.

Food safety, antibiotics and Canadian beef – can the 3 go together?

This is the final part of our three-part series on the use of antibiotics (or more accurately, antimicrobials), in food animals.

To conclude this series, we’re looking at the measures in place to ensure food safety when antibiotics are given to food animals. We continue our conversation with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd.

Animal protein is important in maintaining human health and combatting global food shortages,” said Sherry. “But at the same time, animal welfare needs to be supported and we don’t want animals to suffer because we are afraid to use antimicrobials to treat them, or because regulation will not allow the use of antimicrobials in animals.”

Food safety practices

Farmers play an important role in producing safe, healthy food, while protecting public health. But the care and welfare of their animals is an equally important priority for them. That requires a balance of sound science and responsible practices.

“Stringent food safety practices can help us ensure that the use of antimicrobials is safe for humans while allowing the best in animal care. The food safety practices for controlling bacteria during slaughter and processing are excellent, regulated and effective,” Sherry stated.

She stressed that, for the consumer, proper cooking of all food is the best way to protect against bacteria that has become resistant to antimicrobials.

Regulation of antimicrobials in Canada

Antimicrobials are subjected to a series of rigorous tests, clinical trials and field studies before they can be approved for use in animals or people. And even after a product is approved, testing and monitoring continues.

“Government, public health, veterinary, and livestock agricultural industry sectors have all been working to improve antimicrobial use protocols, monitoring, and transparency,” said Sherry.

“Soon, loopholes will be closed which allow antimicrobials to enter Canada without monitoring (‘own-use importation’ and the import of active pharmaceutical ingredients). The practice of buying antimicrobials at a farm store for use in animals will also no longer be allowed.”

The use of antimicrobials in animals strictly for growth promotion is another practice that’s on its way out. Regulations are soon to be introduced ensuring that the treatment must be required for health reasons.

To treat or not to treat?

In the balance, the benefits to animal welfare and food safety far outweigh the concerns surrounding the use of antimicrobials (including antibiotics) in beef cattle. There are valid concerns though, and they are being taken seriously. Changing regulations and practices will continue to address the issues around their use.

To learn about another food safety issue, check out  ‘Beef and hormones: what the science says’.