Single-animal scale reduces stress for animals, producers

Verified Beef Production program aids in purchasing of equipment

Having a single-animal scale on the farm makes it easier for producers to track the weight of each animal - and now Growing Forward 2 is making the equipment more accessible.

Growing Assurance - Food Safety On-Farm offers up to $12,000 in funding towards traceability, biosecurity and food safety initiatives for producers who are participating in the Verified Beef Production (VBP) program and have been audited. This includes a single-animal scale, used to accurately and easily measure the weight of each animal.

Producers who have participated in VBP and have been audited have access to up to $2,000 in cost-share funding for a scale.

For Ralf Deppe, who has about 60 head on his cow-calf farm in Emerson, this means access to equipment that can reduce stress on the animals and improve the speed of production.

"Before installing the scale I would have to guess the weight of every animal," said Deppe, "It's much more accurate this way."

Deppe, who has been raising cow-calves for the past 12 years, originally signed up for VBP to learn about the RFID reading equipment and decided to invest in a scale when he found out it would also be cost-shared through the program. He was eligible to have 65 per cent of the cost covered through VBP.

"Now when I go to the auction I can double check with my own scale to see what they should be selling for," he said.

Accurately providing medication

Gilles Ricard and his partner Mary Scheger purchased a single-animal scale to accurately dose medications, to have accurate weights of calves they ship and to track the rate of weight gains of their herd.

Scheger, who also works as an animal health tech in Notre Dame, and Ricard now have about 200 breeding stock on their farm in Mariapolis, which Ricard purchased in 1990. The pair have done most of the work by themselves for the past nine years. Since purchasing the single animal scale last year production has been faster and less stressful on the animals and on them.

"It has definitely helped us to be more efficient and enjoy what we do," Scheger said. "It's a good medical practice to keep the current weights of each animal. This way we can quickly identify mild weight loss, which could indicate a problem, and provide early treatment if needed."

This is important, especially when it comes to medication dosage.

"It's about food safety," said Wayne Tomlinson, extension veterinarian for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. "When you give an animal antibiotics, you need to know the animal's weight to ensure the product is out of the system before the animal is sent to be processed."

Tomlinson said each medicine absorbed into an animal's system has been tested and has a specific time it takes for the animal to clear the product from its body. When cleared it is safe for the animal to be processed. He added that the scale also helps to avoid under dosage of medicine, which can reduce the efficacy and prevent proper treatment of the disease.

VBP builds a name for producers

About 2,700 producers have attended workshops about the program. About 423 producers are now registered under VBP, extending the program to about 55,000 head.

"One of the first things people always ask me is 'why should I do this' - they feel like they're already doing what is required under VBP so why sign up?" said Betty Green, provincial co-ordinator for VBP in Manitoba. "And I say why wouldn't you want to be recognized for that? If you're already doing what is required you might as well be recognized."

Green said consumers don't always understand that farms are following food safety practices. Being a registered VBP operation gives producers and consumers peace of mind that the practices are checked and being done to a professional standard.

"Cow and calf production is very different than it used to be," said Scheger. "This program is helping farmers understand how their on farm practices will affect them as well as the industry long after their calves have been sold off farm. The public demand for safe, well treated beef will determine where large restaurant chains and feedlots will source their beef. VBP will give producers the tools they need to provide the market what they're looking for."

A commitment to following practices

To maintain the VBP status a producer must complete an assignment each year. The first year is the initial on-farm audit, which the producer pays for and can be cost-shared under the Growing Forward 2 - Growing Assurance program. In the second year a producer sends a record assessment, listing individual treatments, vaccinations, medicated feeds and any other information to ensure compliance with VBP standards. In the third and fourth years the producer provides a self-declaration that their farm is up to VBP standards. The process repeats until the program is renewed with an on-farm audit in year nine.

"At any time a producer could be randomly selected for a complete on-farm audit to make sure everything is up to the standards they say it is," said Green.

According to Ricard and Scheger, being part of the program not only opens opportunities for funding, but also education.

"Farmers might participate in the program because funding is available to purchase equipment and in turn they are learning about the importance of things they may not otherwise," says Scheger. "I believe all farmers should participate in this program, as there is so much to learn and resources to help people become more aware. It will build our industry and make the economy stronger, which is good for everyone."