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The Application Of Science Has Been A Primary Driver Of Industry Progress

Article-The Application Of Science Has Been A Primary Driver Of Industry Progress

beef vet looks at 50 years of cattle health

Upfront, I’ll admit I didn’t read the first issue of BEEF magazine, as I was looking forward to my first birthday in just a few weeks. But I also know from experience that many changes have occurred in beef production since that time.

Born in Iowa, I remember practically every farm having a few feedlot pens through the 1960s and early ’70s. Many farmers would feed the cattle they raised, as well as a few “outside” cattle they bought each year to finish.

I remember going to Sioux City with my dad and grandfather to receive some Montana feeder cattle that Grandfather had purchased and were delivered by train. Once home, we fed them in wooden fenceline bunks, using a Roorda feed wagon and a Massey-Harris tractor. Feedwagon scales were virtually unheard of then, so my dad just put a couple of loader buckets each of silage and corn in the wagon, and then topdressed it with a bag of pelleted protein supplement. Ah, the good old days.

In considering the advances in beef production over the past 50 years, the role of Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) deserves special mention. It’s been very encouraging to watch how this program has been so widely accepted and implemented across all sectors of the beef production spectrum.

BQA started out as a program to reduce the incidence of residues and injection-site lesions. It evolved into a broad, sweeping program that includes, among other things, feed manufacturing, carcass traits, facility design and maintenance, genetics and animal welfare.

Of course, the progress and focus in the area of animal welfare are hugely due to the work of animal behaviorists like Temple Grandin and Bud Williams. It’s very difficult today to visit a farm, ranch, feedyard or packing plant without seeing their influence in facility design or cattle handling.

From my perspective as a DVM, another primary driver of industry progress has been the application of science, and genetic selection is a primary example. Artificial insemination helped bring about great genetic advancement by allowing producers access to the best herd sires available.

Meanwhile, improved techniques in embryo transfer helped establish the value of the superior dam. And the advent of EPDs helped producers make more informed decisions on a wide array of heritable traits in herd sires and dams they want to use in their herds. 

The science of nutrition has tremendously influenced our cattle’s health, reproduction and performance efficiency, too. I consider feedstuff analysis and the widespread use of the simple scale as the major cornerstones of our advances in this area. Of course, efficiencies in resource management, and the overall production improvements these tools have allowed producers, also are immeasurable.

My profession has changed greatly as well. As beef production grew to be more specialized, the “fire engine” aspect of veterinary practice has drastically shrunk, while the role of the herd-health veterinarian has expanded. It’s the boots-on-the-ground application of science where herd-health veterinarians have really shined.


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I chose the above discussion topics because they are all things with which I have been involved, as have most other herd-health veterinarians. I’m a BQA and low-stress handling trainer. I’ve also designed handling facilities, helped clients understand EPDs so they could make genetic decisions, and balanced rations for cowherds. These are in addition to the more traditional role of veterinarian. Beef production is a dynamic way of life, and I think I can speak for all veterinarians when I say thank you for letting us help.

Congratulations to BEEF, whose pages have documented the progress this industry has made in the past 50 years. But we also must congratulate its readers, as you are the backbone of progress.

There will always be challenges, but if the last 50 years serve as an example, we are up to the task. 

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire LLC, Satanta, KS. He can be reached at [email protected].


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