Questions about animal and food production – answered!

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Food Care Saskatchewan

 

I was really excited to take part in Farm and Food Care Ontario’s twitter party a few weeks ago to promote the launch of their latest venture – ”Real Dirt on Farming”.  This is a booklet designed to answer all of your questions about farming and food production in Canada.  It is the real dirt so to speak on everything from livestock to crops to horticulture. It was great to see so many questions from all of you and how interested you were in how your food is grown.  The sad part was that it ended way too soon, and there was so much more to share!  On that note I would like to answer some questions about food production to make your decisions about food purchases easier.

Eggs with darker coloured yolks are healthier.  There are actually no nutritional differences between eggs with different coloured yolks.  The colour of the yolk is dependent on what a hen eats.  Any diet for hens that includes a compound called xanthophylls will result in a darker yolk. A hen that eats a wheat-based diet (more common in western Canada and low in xanthophylls) will produce an egg that has a pale yellow yolk. Hens that eat a corn-based diet (most common in Ontario and higher in xanthophylls) will produce eggs with darker yellow yolks.  This is also why free range eggs tend to be darker in the summer because hens will eat grasses or alfalfa which have higher xanthophyll levels.

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

Eggs with brown shells are better because they are more expensive!  Ummm, no.  There are no nutritional differences between eggs with white shells and eggs with brown shells.  Eggs with brown shells come from different breeds of chickens.  But then why do brown eggs cost more?  Well that’s because the breed that produces brown eggs is a larger bird and requires more feed to lay one egg.  Brown eggs are more expensive simply because it costs more to grow them.

Conventional milk produced in Canada is raised with hormones.  Not so!  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle.  It regulates growth and lactation in cattle and has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST otherwise known as rBST is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10 to 15%.  The problem however is that it may also increase the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows which is why Health Canada has not approved it for use in dairy production here.  So what that means for you is that no milk, cheese or yogurt (conventional or organic) comes from cows given rBST. Continue reading

Wondering about antibiotics in cattle feed?

 

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

 

There has been much discussion on antibiotics that go into livestock production and their influence on antibiotic resistance.  Antibiotic resistance is so incredibly complex that not even the scientific community fully understands all of the causative factors.  We don’t have the space to tackle that topic here but I would like to chat about antimicrobial use in cattle production – in particular a group of medications called ionophores – as they are a widely used tool by cattle producers and wildly misunderstood by the general public.

Rumen diagram

The rumen is the main digestive center.

So let’s start from the beginning.  Cattle are considered “ruminants”, a class of animals which have not just one stomach but four (yes you read that right – 4 stomachs!).  Of the four compartments, the Rumen is the first and largest, and the main digestive centre.  The rumen is filled with billions of bacteria that are able to break down grass and other coarse fibrous materials (such as hay and straw) that animals with only one stomach (including humans, chickens and pigs) simply cannot digest. Continue reading

Recalling one barn fire story during Fire Prevention Week

By Patricia Grotenhuis, 6th generation farmer

The heifer barn before the fire.

The heifer barn before the fire.

Waking to pounding at the door at 1:45 a.m. one June morning, we struggled to open our eyes. Nothing could have prepared us for the sight of flames shooting out of our barn. As my husband raced outside yelling a thank you to the girls who were at the door, I rushed for the phone to call for help. We already knew the barn could not be saved, but were immediately aware that the other buildings were in danger if the flames spread.
We had no idea if all of the heifers were outside on pasture. With our setup, they have the freedom to move back and forth between the barn and pasture as they please. We had to make sure the ones who were on pasture did not return to the barn, though. Continue reading

I think we need to talk…

Jean L Clavelle
Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

Growth hormones.  Dirty nasty words aren’t they?   I’m sorry to bring this up but I think it’s something we need to talk about.

Many of us in Canada, well North America, are so extremely fortunate we live in a place where getting enough to eat is not generally a problem and where we have the choice to make decisions on what we consume.  We have the opportunity to choose where our food comes from and how it’s produced regardless of cost.  Fortunate indeed.

And with this providence, it seems to have become almost admirable to deride those who do not choose foods of a certain variety ie “natural” “ethically raised” “antibiotic free” and  “hormone free”.   Now I would like to assure those of you who can’t or don’t make these food choices despite pressure from your peers or social media, that the food grown in Canada is safe and healthy including beef produced with the use of hormones.  Here’s my attempt at explaining why.

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

First what are growth hormones and how do they work?  Growth hormones are tiny pellets inserted into the back of the ear of a beef animal which slowly releases synthetic hormones over a period of several months.  These hormones mimic the natural reproductive hormones manufactured by the animal.  To make a long physiology discussion short, they encourage protein deposition and discourage fat deposition. This improves both weight gain and feed conversion (the amount of feed required to deposit muscle). Fat deposition requires more than twice as much feed as protein deposition does.  Muscle tissue contains about 70% water while fat contains less than 30% water.  This means that for every ten pounds of muscle gained, about three pounds comes from dry feed and seven pounds comes from water. This ratio is the reversed for fat growth – roughly seven pounds from dry feed and three pounds from water.   So you can see, that with slight increases in protein deposition and slight decreases in fat deposition that there are pretty big differences in the amount of feed required. Continue reading

Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of the Beef Cattle Research Council. To see the full article and others go to BeefResearch.ca

Jean L Clavelle

 

Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Antimicrobial resistance has become a highly charged issue.  Headlines appear in the news on a regular basis suggesting that antibiotics are becoming less effective in humans and farmers are to blame.

Some concerns have been raised that antimicrobial use in livestock leads to antimicrobial resistance and that some of the products used in food animals are closely related to antimicrobials that are important in human health. It’s also been questioned whether antimicrobial resistance can be transferred among bacteria, which may reduce effectiveness of drugs used in human medicine.

Of course the Canadian beef industry is also concerned about antimicrobial resistance.  Cattlemen depend on the effectiveness of animal health products, and on consumers’ confidence in how beef is raised and the safety of the beef they consume.  And just like the rest of the society, farmers need human drugs to be effective too.

We’re all in agreement on the seriousness of antimicrobial use and resistance.

Several nations around the world have surveillance programs in place to monitor trends in antimicrobial use and resistance.  In Canada, this is led by the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS). In the United States, surveillance is conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).  These programs test for antimicrobial resistance in healthy animals arriving at slaughter plants as well as retail meat samples. In addition, various groups including the Beef Cattle Research Council and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada collect more detailed antimicrobial use and resistance information in a broader range of microbes and locations (e.g. feedlots, manure, soil, water).

To date, scientific surveillance has indicated that:graph 1 antibiotic resistance PIC

  • Resistance to antimicrobials that are most important in human health is extremely uncommon in healthy North American cattle and beef.
  • Multi-drug resistance is similarly low, and is not increasing.
  • In cattle, the vast majority of antimicrobials used are not used in human health at all.

Let’s look more closely at the last point. The vast majority of antimicrobials used in cattle are ionophores.   Ionophores act on rumen microbes; they selectively inhibit methanogenic bacteria and allow beneficial rumen bacteria to make more feed energy available to the animal, thereby improving feed efficiency and weight gain.  Ionophores also prevent diseases like coccidiosis.

Ionophores have no benefit to, nor are they licensed for use in humans. Even if microbes developed resistance to ionophores, this would not make them resistant to classes of antimicrobials that are used in human medicine.

Eliminating antimicrobial growth promotants, including ionophores, in cattle production would substantially reduce the overall use of antimicrobials, but would that reduce concerns about antimicrobial resistance?

Denmark phased out the use of those products in livestock production between 1994 and 1999.  Since 2001, we can see a clear trend of increased use of prescribed veterinary antimicrobials. The decrease in antimicrobial use has happened in the “medium importance” category, antimicrobials rarely used in human medicine anymore.  Without the use of growth promoting antimicrobials, the need for antimicrobials that are important to human health increased. In addition, there has been no clear trend towards decreased antimicrobial resistance in Danish cattle or beef.

Canadian research has repeatedly shown that antimicrobials are used responsibly by Canadian beef producers, and resistance to the most important classes of antibiotics in human medicine remains extremely rare in beef cattle. Antimicrobial resistance will continue to be a research priority in Canada’s beef industry to maintain or improve current prudence.

Continued use of antimicrobials of no importance to human health in Canadian beef production will be critical to the future competitiveness of and reduced environmental impacts by Canada’s beef sector due to improved feed efficiency and reduced animal disease.  Furthermore, the consequences of a ban on ionophores in Denmark suggest that discontinuing the use of such products would not lead to lower antimicrobial resistance, and may increase the use of antimicrobials that are important in human medicine.

To learn more about antimicrobial use and resistance in Canadian cattle and beef, visit http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/antimicrobial-resistance-11

Even Livestock are Getting in on the Tech Craze

Jean L Clavelle

RFID 2 PICAccording to StatsCan as of January 1, 2014 there are over 12 million beef and dairy cattle, almost 900,000 sheep and lambs, and nearly 250,000 bison in Canada.   Which is a lot of animals.  Bet you didn’t know that each and every one of those animals can be identified by its own unique number (much like our own Social Insurance Number).  The next question might be why…?  Why would livestock need to have their own number?

Well it is simple really.  With individual animal numbers we are able to easily track where any one animal came from in Canada.  The ability to identify animals and their origins during an animal health or food safety emergency is paramount to the success of the response operation and the protection of human and animal health.  Meaning it gives us the ability to prevent the spread of disease and further, to eradicate disease as it arises – to protect not only Canadian livestock but consumers and customers as well.

It was initiated in 1998 by beef and dairy industry leaders who recognized the importance of protecting our national herd and assuring consumer confidence which lead to the establishment of a national identification program.  On January 1, 2001 the Government of Canada passed regulations for compulsory animal identification for both cattle and bison. The Canadian Sheep Identification Program (CSIP) followed suit with its own industry-led trace-back system introduced in 2004 applicable to all ovine animals in Canada. Continue reading

Calving: when and how to help

The following is a CattleFACS brochure reprinted with the permission of the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan.  (FACS represents the Saskatchewan livestock industry in advancing responsible animal care and handling practices in agriculture.)

Jean L Clavelle

CALVING: WHEN AND HOW TO HELP

The basis of a cow–calf enterprise is a healthy cow with a healthy nursing calf.  Knowing when and how to help is an important part of responsible calving management.winter calving PIC

A cow or heifer is having difficulty when:
• the cow actively strains for 40 minutes with no progress
• 90 minutes have passed since the waterbag first appeared
• the legs emerge with the surface of the hooves pointing up
• only the head or tail emerges
• an uncalved cow is mothering another calf
• a cow has demonstrated greater than 5–6 hours of anxiety, e.g. walking about, tail extended, apparently looking for something Continue reading

How to Manage Calf Scours

The following is a CattleFACS brochure reprinted with the permission of the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan.  (FACS represents the Saskatchewan livestock industry in advancing responsible animal care and handling practices in agriculture.)

Jean L Clavelle

Calf Scours Overview:

Calf Pic 2

GENERAL PRINCIPLES

1. The Importance of Colostrum

The major factor influencing survival of calves is the level of immunity at the onset of diarrhea. The calf must get colostrum! The level of immunity required for calves born and confined in a farm yard is much higher than for calves born and “mothered” out on the range.

2. Hypothermia:

Often calves that have “crashed” are hypothermic (low temperature). If calves feel cold, have no sucking reflex but are not dehydrated, these calves are probably too “cold.” This could be confirmed by taking their temperature with an inexpensive digital thermometer. Newborn calves with a temperature less than 35˚C (96˚F) are considered hypothermic and should be treated. They will not warm up on their own.  These calves must be “warmed up” before they will absorb fluids given orally. Continue reading

Colostrum: It’s important

The following is a CattleFACS brochure reprinted with the permission of the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan.  (FACS represents the Saskatchewan livestock industry in advancing responsible animal care and handling practices in agriculture.)

Newborn calves have virtually no immunity of their own.  Antibodies are transferred from the cow to colostrum (first milk).  These antibodies protect the calf from disease for the first two months until the calf begins to make its own antibodies.

Significant absorption of antibodies only occurs in the first 12 hours of life.  After that time most antibodies are digested, although some can act locally in the gut.  It is essential calves receive colostrum within a maximum of 12 hours to develop immunity to infectious agents they may meet in the first two months of life. Continue reading

Feeding in a Cold Snap

by Jean Clavelle, Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

(The following is a CattleFACS brochure reprinted with the permission of the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan.  FACS represents the livestock industry in advancing responsible animal care and handling practices in agriculture. )

The critical temperature below which an animal must increase heat production to keep warm (i.e. Eat more energy, reduce performance or use body reserves), is about -20°C for a mature beef cow on maintenance rations IF:

  • She is in good condition (BCS 3.0).
  • She has a dry winter hair coat.
  • She is sheltered from the wind (and rain or wet snow if it is a regular occurrence).
  • She has bedding to lie on.

Anything less than these “ideal” conditions means that the animal will be cold stressed at higher temperatures, -10°C or even 0°C.  coldsnap

However, regardless of condition, cattle need extra feed to get through a cold snap with a minimum amount of stress.  This is absolutely critical for thin or moderate condition cows (BCS 2.5 or less) as they have little or no back fat to keep them warm.

Have your consulting nutritionist or Extension specialist, with information from a laboratory analysis of your feed or a program like Alberta’s CowBytes, balance rations for whatever is considered “normal” winter temperature, e.g. -20°C.  Then be prepared to feed extra energy during cold weather by feeding additional grain or pellets (range or screenings) or even high quality hay.

Remember it takes time for cattle in the early part of winter to adjust to col.  A cold snap in November or December when normal temperature is around -10°C will be felt more severely than a cold snap in January when normal temperature is around -20°C.

Thumb Rule

Increase energy at a rate of 1lb (0.5 kg) grain or pellets for every 5°C drop in temperature at mid-day below -10°C, (or -10°C, depending on your “normal” maintenance ration) to a maximum of 5lbs. (2.5 kg).

For example if the temperature drops overnight from -20°C to -35°C, increase grain by 3lbs (1.5 kg).  If the temperature drops overnight from -10°C to -35°C the cattle need an extra 5lbs (2.5 kg) of grain to help maintain body temperature.

Be careful of any sudden increase in grain.  Make sure that it is spread out so every cow has opportunity to eat.  If temperature drops dramatically, divide the extra grain into morning and night feedings which will get the cows moving around and help avoid over consumption by few.

If a cold snap is anticipated, begin feeding a little extra grain (1 or 2 lbs; 0.5 or 1 kg) a couple days in advance.  Continue feeding reduced amounts of extra grain two to three days after the temperature returns to “normal”.  This will avoid sudden large changes in feed and present a more even flow of energy to the animal.

Watch for Rumen Impaction

Digestion of roughages in the rumen creates heat, which in the summer “goes to waste,” but in Canadian winters becomes an important part of animal maintenance, i.e. it is used to keep the animal warm.

Cattle will tend to sharply increase feed intake in cold weather in an attempt to maintain body temperature.  They may consume more low quality roughage such as straw or chaff, especially if ground or chopped, than they can digest, which could result in rumen or omasal impaction.

DO NOT grind or chop low quality roughages too fine (3/4” or 1” screen max).  It costs money and can create impaction problems.  Feeding extra energy during a cold snap will reduce cold stress, maintain animal condition and reduce potential for impaction.

If you want to see this original CattleFACS brochure go to facs.sk.ca.