“Animal wellbeing is the foundation for the performance, health and profitability of cattle raised for beef, and, as an industry, we take great pride in our responsibility to properly care for animals,” says Dan Thomson, associate professor and director of the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University (KSU). “We’re constantly looking for new and innovative ways to build upon existing science to ensure healthy animals and safe, quality products to feed the world’s population.”
This reality was hammered home last week during the second biannual International Beef Cattle Welfare Symposium hosted by KSU’s BCI.
Throughout the intensive two-day program, there was no doubt about the industry’s confidence in its longstanding ability to provide quality animal welfare or its desire to make quantifiable evidence-based improvements where possible.
Symposium speakers included a majority of the commissioners of the North American Food Animal Wellbeing Commission (NAFAWC). NAFAWC was established last year, in part to direct research efforts, field studies and assessment tools for the North American beef industry in relation to beef cattle wellbeing in order to provide science-based recommendations for cattle management practices.
Thomson explains, “The NAFAWC mission is to be an independent voice to advance evidence-based and practical improvements in the care and wellbeing of North American beef cattle.”
For instance, symposium topics included: mitigating the pain of castration and dehorning, advantages and disadvantages of various euthanasia tools, the most humane ways to handle non-ambulatory animals, how to develop and implement cattle handling audits at the ranch, whether euthanizing day-old dairy bull calves is ethical, and the list goes on.
NAFAWC commissioners comprise a who’s who of domestic and international animal welfare experts, including: Thomson; Temple Grandin, internationally acclaimed animal behavior expert from Colorado State University; Janice Swanson, director of animal behavior and welfare at Michigan State University; Ron Gill, Texas A&M University; Joseph Stookey, University of Saskatchewan; and Dee Griffin, University of Nebraska.
In addition to the info provided at the symposium – attended onsite by 200, with 1,000 others joining by Internet from 27 states and six countries – participants learned about a bevy of sources at their disposal. For instance, KSU and the Livestock Marketing Association offer more than 200-training modules at www.animalcaretraining.org. These modules cover everything from cattle handling at livestock markets, to Beef Quality Assurance by industry segment, to routine cattle surgery techniques. Evaluating the information through a pre-test and post-test of feedlot and dairy employees viewing the five-minute modules, Thomson says scores improved 25% on average. The modules are also available in Spanish.
“Animal wellbeing issues extend beyond the ag community,” Thomson says. “People across the country are looking for more info on animal care and handling, and we’re eager to share our story with them. This symposium is an example of how the beef industry and its researchers continue to find new advances in animal wellbeing for the cattle they raise for beef. The beef industry has nothing to hide from the American public.”
Bottom line, cattle producers in every segment of the industry have a valuable resource, advocate and research tool in both the NAFAWC and the International Beef Cattle Welfare Symposium.