America’s farmers and ranchers have responded to our consumers’ concerns and questions about how their food is raised. We have plenty of challenges in beef production, and we’ve come to accept that explaining, and even defending, our practices and procedures is a part of everyday life. But we can’t sit still.
Our consumers are reasonable; our adversaries are not. My concerns are that while our efforts to inform and improve are admirable, it seems our adversaries are still driving the bus.
Recently, an animal rights organization attempted to acquire information on U.S. farm animal care standards and protocols with the goal of creating an Animal Protection Index. This index would provide a rating of various countries’ commitment to animal care based on national legislation and regulations. In addition, another animal rights group recently criticized the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for its beef cattle care and handling guidelines. The writing on the wall is very clear.
For consumers who have decided that meat will no longer be a part of their diet, there is nothing we can do to change their minds; we will never satisfy them. We can satisfy those who do include meat in their diet, but these consumers want assurances that we’re doing whatever we can to see to the welfare of our cattle. Seeking ways to improve the welfare of our animals should also be a part of our everyday lives.
In July, at the Fourth International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare in Ames, IA, animal behaviorist Temple Grandin said that she wasn’t as concerned about cattle handling as she once was, because our industry has responded well and has addressed this issue.
The Colorado State University professor believes that the next issue the industry must address is shade. This doesn’t mean we can put cattle handling on the back burner; we must continue our efforts in making sure our people understand how to handle cattle.
Shade is certainly a valid issue to address, but it’s a tricky one. First, we have to establish what our expectations are. Do we expect shade to relieve all heat stress? Do we expect shade to eliminate all heat-related death loss? If we do, we will be terribly disappointed. Especially in areas with high humidity, we still have heat-related issues, even when there is plenty of shade available.
We must be realistic in our expectations of what shade will do for the welfare of our cattle. While shade (or heat stress management) should be addressed, it is an issue that causes problems for, at the most, a few months of the year. And if we address heat stress, then we must also address the other end of the thermometer: cold stress.
In my opinion, we should turn our efforts to pain. Dehorning, castration and even branding are painful procedures that are commonly performed on our cattle. The best way to address pain is to avoid it altogether. Since this isn’t always an option, the next best thing is to manage the pain.
Recent research efforts have provided us some practical methods for dealing with pain. The current value of cattle makes it somewhat risky to not brand them, but I do believe we could do a much better job as an industry to shrink the horn issue. The next time you plan to perform any of these procedures, please ask your herd-health veterinarian to develop a pain management protocol.
These are all issues we must address proactively. Waiting until we are forced into it does nothing for our image or for our consumers’ confidence in us. We will never get ahead by just keeping up. Excellence occurs when expectations are surpassed. We can’t be concerned about pleasing our adversaries, but we can satisfy our consumers by demonstrating that we do care.
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