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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’.

Myth or fact? 5 beef myths debunked

Have you ever heard people say that eating meat is bad for our environment and our planet? In this latest Myth vs Fact post, we’re exploring some common misconceptions about beef production, so you can eat that next steak with a clear conscience.

#1 Beef cattle are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions

Cattle account for only 2.4 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – compared to 28 per cent for transportation. Cattle in Canada also produce some of the lowest GHGs in the world thanks to best practices developed through ongoing research. 

#2 We don’t need to eat meat – we can simply substitute it with plant proteins

Plant proteins such as beans and lentils are wholesome, nourishing foods. But it is wrong to assume that they can provide the same amount of protein per unit of food as beef. One 75 gram (2.6 ounces) serving of beef contains the same amount of protein as about two cups of beans. The plant-based protein is also not as easily digested and is missing important nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and heme iron – the type of iron most readily absorbed by the body.

Like beef, plant proteins have an important part to play in a balanced diet, but they cannot be compared, portion for portion, as a substitute.

#3 We need to eliminate beef production for the sake of the environment

Eliminating beef production would help reduce our GHG emissions by a small amount, but there are other significant reasons why pastureland is good for the environment:

    • Only 26 per cent of our native rangelands remain intact in Canada, and those would be lost without grazing animals to maintain their health. As an ecosystem, those grasslands support biodiversity and help retain water.
    • Grasslands provide important habitats for migratory birds, species at risk and other wildlife.
    • Grasslands store carbon, which would be released into the atmosphere if they were cultivated.

The relationship between cattle and wildlife is recognized by the World Wildlife Fund in its ‘2017 Annual Plowprint Report’.

#4 Feeding cattle is a waste of resources that should be used to benefit people

Cattle and other grazing animals in Canada are typically raised on land, and fed foods that might otherwise be unusable:

    • Most pastureland is unsuitable for crop production.
    • 86 per cent of all cattle feed in Canada is not fit for human consumption. 
    • Only nine per cent of cropland in Canada is used to grow grain specifically for cattle feed.
    • Food animals also play a huge role in recycling the by-products of human food production. For instance, cattle are fed the leftover grains from the production of beer, whiskey and other alcohols, which would otherwise be considered waste.

#5 Our food production is being taken over by huge, corporate factory farms

Ninety-eight per cent of Canadian farms, both large and small, are owned and operated by families. Some have been in the family for five or more generations. These farmers have been raised on the land, and they care deeply about preserving it for their own children and generations to come. 

They work hard to raise their animals in comfortable, low-stress environments. 

They understand that if animals are unhealthy or stressed they will not grow to their full potential. Even in an intensive livestock setting, healthy, well cared for animals help ensure the health of the operation.

So, next time you’re at the grocery store, wondering what to make for dinner, you won’t do better than a good serving of Canadian beef. It’s good for you, and raised ethically, sustainably and humanely.

For more in our Myth vs Fact posts, check out ‘3 feedlot myths busted’ and ‘Busted! 5 beef myths that don’t stand up to the facts’.

Should Canadians be concerned about antibiotics in food animals?

Last week in part one of this three-part series, we explained why and how antimicrobials (of which antibiotics are one type) are used in beef cattle. This week we’re exploring the causes for concern over that use.

We continue our conversation with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd.

How long do antimicrobials stay in an animal’s system?

There are many different antimicrobials labelled for veterinary use in cattle in Canada. Each is classified according to its uses, its effect on bacteria and the way it works.

“As part of the label, a ‘withdrawal period’ – a period of time before which the animals are not allowed to enter the food chain – is specified. Some antimicrobials have a zero day withdrawal period (they are eliminated from the body within a very short period of time), while others are known to stay in the body for much longer periods,” Sherry explained.

Causes for concern in the use of antimicrobials

Sherry explained that there are two main concerns related to the use of antimicrobials:

1. Antimicrobial residues

A residue is a remnant of the antimicrobial molecule itself or a degradation product of that molecule, left in the animal after harvest.

“For each antimicrobial, a level of residues (usually extremely low) has been deemed to be acceptable for human health through rigorous safety trials,” said Sherry.

“Therefore, meat that goes for sale to people must be at or below that level. The withdrawal period for each antimicrobial defines the amount of time that must have elapsed from the last dose before an animal can be harvested for meat, thus ensuring any possible residues are below the acceptable level and safe for human consumption.

As an added step of food safety oversight, meat at processing plants is regularly tested for residues on an ongoing basis as part of quality assurance and compliance monitoring.”

2. Antimicrobial resistance

According to Sherry, of greater concern than residues is the issue of antimicrobial resistance, which for many reasons, has become a global health issue. As the use of antimicrobials continues, for people and animals, there is increasing development of bacteria that are resistant to them.

“There is a potential for the presence of bacteria on meat or in the environment which carry resistance genes for particular antimicrobials, and this relates to the possibility that these bacteria could multiply or infect people,” she said.

The role of continued research and monitoring

“The above concerns are actively addressed through continued research, regulatory requirements, veterinary oversight, antimicrobial stewardship practices, and producers’ commitment to provide safe and nutritious beef,” noted Sherry. “In addition, appropriate cooking of beef further protects against these concerns by inactivating any residues present, or by killing any viable microorganisms,” she stressed.

The Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS) monitors and describes antimicrobial resistance (and some use) in retail meat, on farm and in animal and human populations.

Stay tuned for part three of this series, in which we’ll discuss how food safety is ensured when antibiotics are used in cattle – and ongoing changes to regulation.

In the meantime, check out part one, ‘Antimicrobials and food production: 4 reasons antibiotics are given to beef cattle’.

Antimicrobials and food production – 4 reasons antibiotics are given to beef cattle

Some Canadians have questions about antibiotic use in farmed animals. In an earlier post, we looked at the science behind the use of hormones in beef cattle. This week, in part one of a three-part series, we’re exploring another hot topic – antibiotics.

First up, an explanation of what antibiotics are, and how and why they are used.

Antibiotic or antimicrobial?

An antimicrobial is any agent that is used to treat microbial infection. An antibiotic is one type of antimicrobial, specifically made from natural microorganisms.

When looking at the safety or issues of using antibiotics in beef cattle, it makes the most sense to discuss the use of antimicrobials as a whole, rather than only antibiotics.

We spoke with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd. to learn more about the use of antimicrobials in feedlot animals.

Sherry explained that there are four main reasons for the use of antimicrobials in feedlots:

#1 To treat disease

“Diseases such as respiratory disease, arthritis and other lameness, abscesses, etc., are effectively treated with antimicrobials in injectable or oral form,” said Sherry.

#2 After surgery or injury

Antimicrobials are used to prevent infection in individual animals after specific events.

#3 As a preventative

Antimicrobials are sometimes used when animals have been exposed to disease, or unfavourable environmental conditions, and are at risk from an outbreak of infectious disease. They are also fed to groups of cattle at specific times to help prevent common diseases.

“Based on clinical field trials, we know that specific groups of animals may already be sick by the time they reach the feedlot after weaning, co-mingling in auction markets, and transport,” explained Sherry. “Antimicrobials help us prevent outbreaks that could spread through the herd.”

#4 To improve growth and production

The use of antimicrobials have historically been used to improve rumen function and enhance growth and production of meat, but this use is declining, and becoming increasingly regulated, due to the risk of antimicrobial resistance. We will discuss antimicrobial resistance further in part two of this series.

When antimicrobials are withheld

When an animal is sick, or at risk from disease, it would be cruel to withhold treatment.

“There are three main health implications when antimicrobials are withheld,” Sherry noted:

    • Poor animal welfare – animals would become sick or die.
    • Greater potential for spreading of disease among animals in a pen.
    • Food safety concerns increase because animals are more likely to have infections when sent to slaughter.

Stay tuned for next week when we will discuss the causes for concern around the use of antimicrobials in beef cattle, and what’s being done to address them.

In the meantime, check out ‘Beef and hormones: what the science says’.

Beef and hormones: should Canadians be concerned?

These days we hear a lot in the media about the use of hormones in food production. In fact, ‘hormone-free’ has become a common advertising theme. This week on this blog, we’re taking a look at why food producers use hormones, and whether Canadians have any cause for concern. Read more

Why traceability is making Canada a world-leader in beef production

In previous posts on this blog we have seen how technology is helping improve feedlot efficiencies, and could even help with the labour crisis.

The technology responsible for much of these developments is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), and this week we’re going to take a look at how this technology is used in the Canadian Cattle Identification Program.

To learn more, we spoke with Kori Maki-Adair, communications manager at the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA).

“The use of RFID tags in Canada’s cattle identification program assists the Canadian cattle industry with the automation of data collection and the ability to maintain the integrity of all information,” said Kori. “In 2003, the entire Canadian cattle industry committed to a transition to this technology, and Canada’s traceability system is now world-renowned for its efficiency and effectiveness.”

What is RFID?

Every cow in Canada is fitted with an ear tag prior to leaving its farm of origin. Each tag contains an approved RFID transponder (capable of receiving and transmitting a radio signal), consisting of an encoded chip and antenna.

The tag can provide a permanent record of such basic information as where the cow originally came from, its date of birth, sex, breed and species. But the possibilities are almost endless – the tags can be used for herd management, on-farm record keeping and more. As we saw in ‘How technology is helping improve feedlot efficiencies’, they can also be used to monitor what each individual animal has been fed, and its precise intake.

Why does this ability to track information matter?

The technology gives us the ability to trace an animal through the entire chain of custody (from its farm of origin through every step of the production chain, right to the consumer). It’s a crucial tool in helping to ensure the protection of animal health, public health and food safety. For instance, in the event of a disease outbreak, tracing the origin is fast and simple.

This ability to track how each individual animal has been raised creates absolute confidence in our Canadian product, and has given Canada a reputation as a leader in the field. For retailers and restaurants it means they can make claims about the beef they serve with 100 per cent certainty that they are accurate.

“A strong and credible traceability program will help to ensure Canada remains a leading producer and marketer of beef and dairy cattle, bison and sheep, with a stable demand for products at all times,” said Kori.

How is the program implemented and enforced?

All cattle must be identified with an approved tag before leaving the farm where they were born – and it is prohibited for any operator in the beef supply chain to send, transport or receive an animal not bearing an approved tag. This is enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“Tags are issued to livestock operators through CCIA-authorized tag dealers,” explained Kori. “Each tag is visually marked and electronically embedded with a unique identification number which is allocated by, and subsequently recorded on, CCIA’s Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS) database.” Data from each tag is transmitted to, and stored on the database, using tag readers.

The unique number of any animal’s tag remains active until the point at which the animal is exported, or processed and inspected.

Are the tags reliable?

All approved Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) RFID tags are laboratory and field-tested to a rigid testing framework that embraces international standards,” said Kori. “They are designed to function without battery power, and have the capacity to perform for the lifetime of the animal. In addition, they are designed to function in a variety of climates and through other environmental contaminants that are known to impede line of sight technologies such as bar-codes and dangle tags,” she continued.

If an animal loses its approved tag, it must be replaced with another approved tag.

As we saw in the post ‘McDonald’s verified sustainable beef – what does that mean for Canadians?’, the quality of Canada’s traceability program was a leading factor in McDonald’s Restaurants’ decision to use Canada for their Verified Sustainable Beef Pilot Project.

Stay tuned as we explore more ways technology is being used by Canada’s beef industry.

McDonald’s verified sustainable beef – what does that mean for Canadians?

Sustainability is something of a watchword these days, but when it comes to beef, what does it actually mean?

That’s a question McDonald’s asked themselves when they made a commitment to source all their food and packaging from sustainable sources. Read more

3 feedlot myths busted

What happens to cattle once they reach the feedlot? Because this stage of the cattle rearing process is conducted largely ‘behind closed barn-doors’, there are many misconceptions and a great deal of misinformation about what actually goes on. Read more

The beef industry and sustainability: how are we doing and where could we improve?

In previous posts on the blog we’ve talked about the contribution the beef industry makes to Canada’s economy; about beef exports, young people in agriculture and more. These are all subjects that matter to Canadians.

The central issue of all these topics is ‘sustainability’ – our ability to operate profitably and for the long-term, without being harmful to people or the environment. That poses some big questions for us as an industry. How are we performing when it comes to our industry members, our animals, our environment and our consumers?

That’s why, in 2014, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) commissioned the National Beef Sustainability Assessment (NBSA) and Strategy. The two-year study assessed the environmental, social and economic performance of the Canadian beef industry, right from ‘farm to fork’, and identified areas where we could improve.

According to Cherie Copithorne-Barnes, chair of the CRSB, “we have created a sustainability benchmark to enable us to start measuring, and to be able to tangibly see, what we’re doing well and where we need to improve. We now have a national report that’s been measured coast to coast and encompasses all the components to the sustainment of the entire beef industry.”

The most inclusive model of its kind

“We created completely new models, for instance for biodiversity and carbon sequestration,” said Cherie. “It is the first, and most inclusive of its kind worldwide, and is now an internationally recognized model.”

A summary of the methodologies and results can be found in the newly released assessment and strategy report (PDF). In this post we’re going to take a look at some of the areas where room for improvement has been identified, and where goals have been set.

Environmental assessment

Alberta cowsFrom ranching right through to feeding or processing, our industry uses water, land and feed; our operations consume resources and release substances into the air and water. Cattle also release methane into the air as food ferments in their rumen, or stomach.

On the other hand, the beef industry also provides many benefits, such as sequestering carbon in the soil in the form of manure, providing natural habitat for biodiversity and maintaining wetlands on the landscape.

The study examined the environmental performance of the Canadian beef industry in the following areas:

  • Climate change
  • Fossil fuel depletion
  • Air
  • Land use
  • Biodiversity
  • Water
  • Meat waste

Some of the main goals for our industry identified by the study are:

  • Reduce the greenhouse gas footprint for every kilogram of Canadian beef produced. Some of the ways this is being done are through optimized diets, manure management, increased carbon sequestration and genetics.
  • Enhance biodiversity on lands managed by beef producers. A need was identified for greater awareness of, and research into, the relationship between beef production, habitats and biodiversity.
  • Reduce the effects that the beef industry has on rivers and watersheds. Beef producers continue to encourage the completion of the National Wetland Inventory, and support knowledge and innovation in areas such as water use efficiencies, and the health of our rivers and waterways.
  • Reduce meat waste. Efficiencies at the processing stage, and improved packaging were both identified as areas where improvements could potentially be made.

Social assessment

rider herds cattle in feedlotThe social part of the study covered three main areas:

  • Working conditions
  • Animal health
  • Antimicrobials

The following goals were recommended:

  • Continue to promote farm safety, as well as a culture of diversity, inclusion and transparency.
  • Promote excellence in animal care, through the beef code of practice, including in such practices as transportation, pain control and branding.
  • Support and further develop best practices regarding antimicrobial use. This includes proper use in order to avoid resistances, as well as public education on the importance of responsible use of microbials for healthy animals.

Economic assessment

Producer viability and consumer resilience were the main areas of focus for the economic portion of the study. The two main goals that came from this were:

  • Increase the financial viability of beef producers in Canada with knowledge, efficiency and innovation.
  • Increase demand for beef within Canada by more effectively communicating the sustainability performance of the industry.

Moving forward

Cherie explained that the assessment will be an ongoing process, with updated surveys so that progress can be monitored.

This is a living document. It’s just a snapshot, and it will change for the next go round

“When you take a look at all the components of producing a pound of beef,” Cherie continued, “it’s given us the ability to really focus on the individual stages and see exactly how we can improve. It gives operators goals to focus on that are specific to their own part of the beef chain.”

If you would like more detail on the results of the assessment, the goals or the action items that will help us to achieve those goals, check out the National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Strategy Summary Report (PDF).