*Krissa Welshans holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from Michigan State University and a master's degree in public policy from New England College. Welshans has long been involved in agriculture and has worked with numerous agricultural groups, including the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
A RECENT study by Kansas State University's Beef Cattle Institute indicated that most Kansas feedlots, after utilizing a new Feedlot Beef Quality Assessment tool, are handling cattle in a low-stress, humane manner and have protocols in place to ensure beef safety.
"Last year, the Beef Cattle Institute and the Kansas Beef Council partnered to host seven meetings across the state, which resulted in nearly 1,200 beef producers and veterinarians becoming Beef Quality Assurance certified," said Dan Thomson, a professor in the Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Beef Cattle Institute.
During the sessions, participants were trained in areas of low-stress cattle handling, antibiotic residue avoidance, cattle comfort, food safety, non-ambulatory animal care, preconditioning practices and other areas of feedlot, cow/calf and stocker cattle production. The participants also took part in a necropsy wet lab, which led to discussions on disease control and treatment programs for cattle.
After the training sessions, a team of scientists and graduate students from Kansas State's College of Veterinary Medicine and department of animal sciences and industry conducted a follow-up "on-farm" assessment of animal welfare and food safety practices on Kansas feedlots.
The goal of the study, which was funded by the Kansas Beef Council, was to use the new Feedlot Beef Quality Assessment tool developed by veterinarians, animal scientists and producers to assess activities related to cattle handling and comfort, antibiotic residue avoidance, employee training and other areas of cattle feeding with respect to food safety and animal welfare.
Kansas State experts visited farms to assess how they handled those activities, including the condition of feed bunks and water tanks, protocols for emergency preparedness and issues surrounding food safety such as accurate treatment records and drug residue avoidance programs.
In the study, the research team evaluated feedlots on 18 best management practices, including whether feedlots had protocols in place for such practices as drug residue avoidance, maintaining a veterinarian/client relationship, cattle welfare and handling during inclement weather, pen maintenance, personnel training documentation, individual animal health records and others.
The feedlots evaluated have the capacity to provide feed and care for a total of almost 2 million animals at one time, which represents about 85% of the entire one-time capacity of all feedlots in Kansas.
"Overwhelmingly, 98% of the assessments found that Kansas feedyards do a great job of low-stress cattle handling," said Thomson, who also serves as the animal welfare adviser to McDonald's and the Food Marketing Institute and has chaired the World Organization for Animal Health's Beef Cattle Production & Animal Welfare Committee. "The thing people should understand is that feedlot managers, pen riders, processing crews and other people in the feedyards are working hard day to day to assure the proper care of the cattle. Cattle care is critical to the health, the well-being and the performance of cattle, which is directly tied to the profitability of the feedyard."
Thomson said he was pleased to find that cattle handling practices were in line with what notable animal behavior specialists teach.
"We've spent a lot of time in the beef industry on low-stress cattle handling," he said, noting that through the observation of more than 5,000 head of cattle being worked through the chute in Kansas feedyards in the study, a usage rate of less than 4% of a "hot shot" driving aid on cattle was observed. "This is outstanding when up to a 10% usage rate is considered acceptable (in the industry)."
All feedlots in the study had a valid veterinarian/client/patient relationship, according to Thomson. This is important because the veterinarian works daily with feedlot operators in activities such as a clinical definition for sick or injured cattle, preventative medicine, proper drug handling, employee training on castration and dehorning procedures, low-stress cattle handling and other food safety and animal welfare practices.
One area in which feedyards can continue to improve, Thomson said, is documentation of their production practices at the level of the cattle operation.
"Situations vary somewhat from industry to industry, farm to farm, season to season," he explained. "Cattle feeders in Hawaii, for instance, face somewhat different challenges from those in Montana. Therefore, the (Beef Quality Assurance) assessment tool comes with formats for 18 best management practices for cattle feeding operations. These protocols can be taken by the farmer or rancher through consultation with their veterinarian, nutritionist or other animal production specialist to develop these protocols for the individual farm or cattle population.
"Cattle, farms, people, climates and resources for cattle raising are not cookie-cutter," he added. "Cattle are raised all around the world in many different systems. We cannot simply write best management practices once and expect them to fit all operations within the same county, let alone for operations nationally or globally. We're encouraging feedlot, stocker and cow/calf operations to set up protocols and systems for their specific needs, location and system."
Thomson gave the example of "an adverse weather event: Who will be in charge of identifying cattle at risk? Who will handle the activities that need to occur in such a situation?"
He noted that one producer had set up a best management practice protocol for heat stress and followed it; he estimated that following the plan not only saved lives of cattle but also saved the feedlot $350,000-400,000 in that one event.
"A couple of key reasons why these plans are important are, first, to have a checklist to make sure that we get the cattle care job done appropriately so we don't duplicate effort and we don't skip effort," Thomson said. "The second reason would be (that) if anyone made a claim of abuse or neglect against the feedlot, cow/calf or stocker operation, the farmer or rancher can go directly to his or her notebook or file to show the exact procedures that employees have been trained to follow by veterinarians, nutritionists and others. (Cattle producers) have excellent cattle care practices. We just need to document what we do."
Thomson believes that the kind of assessment the Kansas State team did will help reinforce best management practices in feedlots not only in the state but across the country.
False auction invoices
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) is continuing an 18-month-long investigation into schemes to falsify the selling price of livestock at livestock auction markets across the country, which is in violation of the Packers & Stockyards Act (PSA).
PSA is a fair trade practice and payment protection law that promotes fair and competitive marketing environments for the livestock, meat and poultry industries.
Through Dec. 12, 2012, GIPSA found evidence of fraud in 12 separate cases, including seven livestock auctions and five dealers, and assessed more than $200,000 in civil penalties.
"Federal regulations require that livestock auction markets and individuals who buy on commission for someone else keep and provide true written accounts of the transaction to the sellers and buyers," GIPSA Administrator Larry Mitchell said. "We continue to investigate evidence of fraud and any allegations of anticompetitive behavior in the livestock, meat and poultry industries and aggressively enforce (PSA) when we find them."
GIPSA recently assessed a $75,000 civil penalty against New Holland Sales Stables Inc. in New Holland, Pa.
GIPSA filed a complaint on Aug. 24, 2012, alleging that New Holland manipulated the price of livestock it purchased for its customers by producing false market invoices showing inflated prices. In its complaint, GIPSA alleged that during a three-month period, New Holland issued 109 false invoices to approximately 21 different buyers.
On Nov. 8, 2012, United Producers Inc. (UPI), in a consent decision, agreed to pay a civil penalty of $110,000 to resolve a complaint GIPSA filed against UPI on Sept. 14, 2012.
GIPSA's complaint alleged that personnel at UPI's Marysville, Mo., facility created false invoices for livestock sold to two dealers. The dealers requested that UPI create invoices with inflated prices and, in turn, presented those false invoices to their customers, who purchased the livestock.
GIPSA is investigating additional cases.
Ear tag system
University of Kentucky researchers are close to completing a study that could significantly change herd health management systems for cattle and possibly other species.
According to BusinessLexington, by using a radio frequency ear tag transmitting system, researchers have identified the presence of illnesses through motion in cattle and have done it sooner than a handler could. Earlier detection of the illnesses means earlier treatment, which could result in lower veterinary or treatment costs and, thus, higher returns for producers.
The Animal Monitoring & Tracking System uses an accelerometer, temperature sensor and radio frequency transmitting antennae packaged into an ear tag that is not much larger than the ear tags currently used for visual identification of cattle.
Craig Carter, director of the University of Kentucky Veterinarian Diagnostic Laboratory and professor of epidemiology in the College of Agriculture, said the tag was used on groups of about 100 steers each, and the data could be detected from up to two miles away. During the study, the information transmitted from the ear tags was logged around the clock on a computer server.
Carter said the research showed a significant difference in the activity level depending upon the health of the animal. Additionally, he pointed out that the logged information could result in a lifetime of medical records for each animal. This could be used in a carcass value assessment or for traceability purposes.
The university has filed for patent protection and plans to test the product on larger-scale feedlots.