From the minute a calf is born all the way through the production chain, cattlemen and women work around the clock 356-days a year to provide the best quality care for their cattle. The theme of May issue of Drovers CattleNetwork is animal care and well-being so we asked our board members what changes they have made recently to improve animal care and well-being on their operations and what changes they expect to make in the next five years. Here’s what they had to say.

Wayne Fahsholtz

Animal care and well-being is nothing new for ranchers. I sometimes cringe when I hear someone implying that it is something new. All of us with multi-generational ties to livestock have stories of calves in bath tubs or some other event where the caregiver actually risks life and/or limb to care for livestock, not to mention loss of sleep. That being said, we are all much more aware of the need to be very good stewards with regard to animal welfare.

About 20 years ago, we began to place more emphasis on low-stress livestock handling.   Some folks had a natural instinct for this and it was a part of their management. Bud Williams and Dr. Temple Grandin were some of the leaders. I have had them both on ranches, and now others, such as Whit Hibbard, are helping us. Most of our employees and especially the leaders are encouraged to get continuing education on this topic. We have learned that low-stress handling is important in all areas. It is better for the people and livestock. It is something that you never master because you can always see ways of making improvements. 

With cows and calves, it is really nice to be able to move them from pasture to pasture without any “run backs.” Also, having a good mineral program that is specific to our ranch has really helped with sickness, and, I believe, this improvement carries on throughout the life of the animal. Another thing that we have done is to move our calving date to May. Calving on green grass and near the summer pastures has been good. Since we market 800- to 900-pound yearlings, it has not affected our selling weight. 

In the feedlot, we are very attentive to freshly weaned calves. We work hard to make sure they get on feed quickly. The Padlock crew does an excellent job of this. Our vaccination program is coordinated from birth until the time we sell an animal. Whether we retain ownership or sell to others, the benefits carry through. We have really improved in this phase in the past 10 years.   Technology has helped us know what is going on, and we can make timely adjustment. Scales and computers in trucks and at processing sheds have helped us track results. Individual animal identification also helps. 

In the future, I believe that we will have gene markers and EPDs that will help us avoid genetics that might trend toward respiratory disease or high altitude disease, as examples. 

Fahsholtz is the former CEO of Padlock Ranch in Wyoming. He founded AgWin Group, LLC, a consulting business and can be reached at Wayne@agwingroup.com.

Jesse Larios

Historically in a feedyard, cattle are run in lots (groups/pens) that correspond with an ownership. Lot data (weights, sort weights, treatments, processing, implanting, etc.) are all kept as a total to the lot. I have looked into the dairy industry to learn what I can do to improve on the current system. As dairymen keep all data to the cow, I have decided to do the same. This is possible thanks to technology that is readily available. I am confident if hardware and software were available to our cattle forefathers, they would have made the transition. 

Upon arrival, I log individual weights, processing information, an electronic identification tag (EID) and visual number on bottom of the lot tag. Anytime an animal is touched or moved, it is logged into the system. If an animal gets treated (sick), all information (individual weight, temperature and diagnosis) is logged into the system and is linked to both the EID and visual number of that animal. Any data collected to that individual animal helps me make better decisions. Veterinarian’s treatments and recommendations are also logged in the system to aid the animal-health crew.

When the group is reprocessed, implanted and/or sorted, decisions can be made on each animal individually. Can he be marketed differently (natural vs. conventional), does he belong in a different pen (heavies vs. lights), or does he need to be culled? Information on each calf appears along with average daily gains (ADG). If an animal’s gains are too low, maybe it doesn’t belong in a natural marketing system. If an animal’s ADG are way too low, maybe he is better off sent to the sale barn. This is very similar to a dairyman’s decision on what happens to cows if milk production goes down. He culls the few that are producing less. He doesn’t make a decision as a whole pen. 

In the next five years I plan on using historical data based on origin, time of year, and birth/arrival/sort weights, etc. I also plan on looking into where the most opportunity to enhance efficiency appears — the rumen. It is estimated that currently the animal’s rumen is only being utilized at around 38 percent. Imagine if we could increase that by just 10 percent or 25 percent. The amount of inputs would drastically be decreased and/or days on feed. The animals’ conversions would help us feed an ever-growing world populations, making proteins more abundant and affordable. All these abilities are made available to us with the use of technology. The more data that is collected, the more ability one has to make good sound decisions. I compare it to the dashboard on my truck. The more gadgets I have, the more comfortable I feel. I can’t imagine someone operating a truck without a dashboard. How much fuel do I have? How fast am I going?  If we are going to fly a rocket ship, we need the information readily on hand to make those key decisions. We also need information to provide the best quality care for our cattle.

Larios is manager at Foster Feed Yard, a 36,000-head-capacity yard located in the Imperial Valley.

Dana Hauck

I am a partner in Innovative Livestock Services, part of the Beef Marketing Group, which was originally started as a marketing cooperative and remains such. Animal care and well-being has continually been a major focus to meet the evolving demands of the end users of our product. Our Progressive Beef management system has been in use for approximately 15 years. I believe all of us in the cattle business realize that consumers of our product have not only come to expect a safe, wholesome and nutritious product but also one that has come from production practices that can be measured and verified. We have worked with our industry partners in all segments, along with advice from some of the most respected experts in the country to put together the Progressive Beef program. When we talk about cattle care, we consider it to encompass all aspects of how the cattle are treated, including not just how they are handled but also the proper use of veterinary procedures, the improvement in design of physical facilities, the delivery of a proper well-balanced feed ration, a clean and adequate water supply, a safe system of transportation and any other aspect that can be managed in the environment the cattle are in. 

At the feedyard level, one integral part of the program is the Cattle Care Guide, which has a list of standard operating procedures focused on cattle care and handling. All of our yards work with their consulting veterinarians to make sure these requirements are being met. Personally, I believe the real key is that all employees, not just the processing and cowboy crew but everyone, including feed and maintenance crews, are trained in these procedures. Everyone must feel it is important to do their part. The real key that makes the system work though is that there is the verification process in place to record and measure what is being done. All feedyards in our group have two internal audits and one independent third-party audit annually to verify the standard operating procedures and animal-handling practices. These audits are scored and used as a tool to measure progress and improvement, and it is gratifying to see an individual yard improve and move up the scale.

My observation would be that not only do all of us need to do the right things, but it shows our commitment to the people who are sitting down to enjoy our beef at a restaurant or buying it at the meat counter that we are meeting their expectations of how we care for our animals.

Looking to the future, we will change as the demands of our consumers change. This should give us the opportunity to become increasingly efficient and more profitable. I think we have learned that working with all of our industry partners to deliver this beef to the end users, that we have found they are willing to pay for it.

Hauck ran a stocker cattle starting and backgrounding operation in north-central Kansas. He currently serves as a board member of Innovative Livestock Services, Inc.

Erika Kenner

Within the last year, we made numerous changes to our operation that affect animal care, well-being and efficiency. We recently built a new feeding and processing facility because our former one was not built to handle the numbers we have now, and they were not very user friendly for the animals or the people. By carefully designing pens and alleyways with proper animal handling in mind, this has increased the ease of moving and working the animals. It has caused less stress on the cattle and the people and allows us to get more done in the same amount of time. Cattle perform better in less stressful environments, and employees and owners are happier too. In the future, we plan to examine our other facilities to see how we can make them better.

Animal health is also important. We take advantage of a full vaccination program and are always looking at preventative ways around sickness. For the past three years, we have Johne’s-tested our whole cow herd during pregnancy testing in the fall, and we BVD-PI-test every calf at weaning. The whole herd was BVD-PI tested three years ago, so now we only have to do each set of calves every year. We also use a new needle for every injection that is done. We feel herd health management is critical, especially because we sell seedstock bulls to other producers. We do not want to cause any problems for others, so we try to eliminate potential risk the best we can.

Biosecurity is something our industry needs to think about. We are careful to wear either different boots or wash them thoroughly if we travel to someone else’s ranch and go through their cattle. We also require visitors that look at our cows to wear plastic boots over their boots if they are going to walk through our cows.

Another area we have worked on at our ranch is water. The past many years, our area has had an abundance of water, but everyone knows how quickly that can change. Many of our pastures do not have great water sources in average to dry years, so we took advantage of the USDA Environmental Quality Incentive Program cost-share incentives and installed water tanks in many of those areas. Even in wet years, it offers clean water to the cows in those pastures.

For the future, we will be looking at more ways to decrease stress, increase prevention and be mindful of biosecurity issues.

Kenner partners in her family’s seedstock and farming operation in North Dakota and serves on the American Simmental Association Board of Directors.

Aaron Amstutz

Animal well-being is an interesting and important topic. I don’t think animal caretakers get enough credit for their efforts. I recently went to the doctor for my asthma and was asked many questions about how I take care of myself.  I said honestly I know more about taking care of my livestock than I do myself. The doctor laughed and said, “typical farmer.” 

First, I make sure my cattle have plentiful clean water sources. In feedyard situations I prefer open-top energy waterers. This allows more head space and are easier to clean. I like to clean waterers often. Cattle drink water in the heat to stay cool — sort of like a radiator in a vehicle. The requirement is 1 inch of perimeter space per head.  So if you would measure the inches around the top of an open-top waterer, that would be how many head it could handle in hot weather. Water in pasture ponds is fenced, with water tanks behind the dam. 

Second, we read bunks every day and my cattle receive fresh feed daily. We breed our cattle for performance at all levels so whether it is clean water, shade, wind breaker, vaccinations or good nutrition, this all affects performance. Animal well-being affects performance. Performance affects the bottom line. So if we want top performance, then we best do our best to provide our animals with high-quality care.

In the future, I think EID tags will help to provide better records. I am continuously working to stay educated on the latest technologies and practices to improve and do better. Also if we as producers do not do a good job of animal care, there is always the threat of more government litigation and control over our industry. 

Amstutz owns and operates a cow-calf and cattle-feeding operation in southeast Iowa.