We’ll not only have to deal with these animal welfare, nutrition and health issues on the farm, but at the regulatory and legislative levels as well.
From an animal health and welfare perspective, I would characterize the state of the beef industry as “challenging.” But, that’s the beauty of beef producers — we never back down from a challenge! Here are three challenges on which our industry must stay vigilant:
1. Weather patterns have had a profound effect on cowherd expansion, dissuading many producers from growing their herds. The impact of the drought on our national cowherd, however, has also resulted in some issues that will require more than rain to overcome.
Fetal programming is one sucah issue. Fetal programming occurs when a pregnant female undergoes substantial stress. Research indicates that hormonal, environmental and nutritional stress during gestation can result in long-term effects in fertility and production of the offspring.
We’ve certainly seen widespread environmental and nutritional stress for the past couple of years. Once more “normal” weather patterns are established, it may still be some years before our cows and their offspring return to what we’d consider normal production and health parameters.
2. Veterinary oversight will continue to expand. How we use antibiotics, especially feed-grade antibiotics, is already undergoing substantial change. Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) is a term with which we’ll all become very familiar in the coming years. VFD is a somewhat complicated subject that would require an entire column to explain, but it’s much like a prescription for feed-grade antibiotics.
It’s very likely that VFD will apply to many, if not all, feed-grade antibiotics currently being sold over the counter directly to farmers and ranchers. If, or when, these VFD regulations are enacted, your herd-health veterinarian will be required to write a VFD whenever it’s determined that your cattle would benefit from using a feed-grade antibiotic. Also, depending on the product used, there may be restrictions on how, when or what injectable antibiotics are used if individual animal treatment is deemed necessary.
In explaining the VFD issue to a producer recently, he was surprised and flabbergasted that one day he might not be able to go to the local co-op and just pick up a bag of Aureomycin®. I suspect he isn’t alone in his lack of awareness about what federal regulators are trying to do.
3. Consumers continue to want to know more about how their food is produced. They want to know that their beef is raised in a humane, ethical manner. Of course, there are a multitude of activist groups also seeking to “educate” consumers about their perspective on raising animals for food.
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Beef producers have responded to this consumer interest very positively, and we’re seeing more efforts by producers to educate consumers. We’re also seeing more efforts by producers and researchers to further improve the welfare of our livestock.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in studying animal welfare, it’s that welfare is a moving target — for every advance we make, we can nearly always figure out a way to make it a little better. This is just one of many reasons why I am generally not supportive of legislation pertaining to welfare standards. From my perspective, legislation will hold welfare back more than it will advance it.
I’ve touched lightly on three very complex topics. Fetal programming isn’t controversial and is a problem we’ll have to deal with on the farm. There is, however, considerable controversy when it comes to veterinary oversight and animal welfare.
These latter two issues have become very political, so we’ll not only have to deal with these issues on the farm, but at the regulatory and legislative levels as well. We shouldn’t expect these problems to go away anytime soon, so I strongly encourage beef producers to accept the challenge and face them as only we can do. We’ll discuss these issues in more detail in future “Vet’s Opinion” columns.
Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire, LLC, Satanta, KS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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