While corn growers employ technology including GPS-guided machinery, genetically modified hybrid seed and precision application of crop-protection products, veterinarian Jerry Stokka asks whether beef producers are keeping up.
Stokka, a technical services veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health, discussed vaccination, and other technologies that enhance efficiency in beef production, at last week’s Range Beef Cow Symposium in Mitchell, Nebraska. He led off the discussion with his analogy comparing corn and beef production, noting that all of agriculture must become more efficient to feed the world’s rapidly growing population.
Corn growers today, he says, begin with the latest hybrid seed, tailored to their production systems and costing upwards of $300 per bag. The equivalent technology for beef producers lies in selecting the best genetics, using EPDs and other tools to build a herd that performs well on the ranch, at the feedyard and on the rail.
Corn growers apply fertilizers to their fields based on soil analysis and crop needs. Beef producers can use modern growth-enhancement technologies such as implants, with products selected based on cattle type and production goals.
Corn growers benefit from judicious use of herbicides and insecticides, targeted to control specific pests with the right timing and correct application rates. Beef producers for their part, have access to animal-health technologies including parasite-control products and antimicrobials. Just as in crop protection, use of these products needs to be limited to the right timing and dose, for the right reasons.
Finally, Stokka says, crop producers invest in crop insurance to minimize their risk. For beef producers, vaccines serve as insurance against the risk of costly disease outbreaks.
Stokka reminds producers though, that simply vaccinating cattle does not guarantee immunity or health. Immunization requires an effective vaccine and an “immuneocompetent” animal – one able to mount an immune response. Management factors throughout an animal’s life influence its ability to respond to vaccines, including:
- A genetic base that enhances transfer of colostral immunity and reduces stress.
- Calving and handling livestock during times of decreased environmental stress.
- Meeting nutritional demands of the cow during pregnancy and for the calf during periods of higher stress.
- Handling all livestock with a practical knowledge of low-stress handling techniques.
- Reducing exposure to pathogens from outside sources, or biosecurity.