Healthy farms in Manitoba

New catalogue items to improve biosecurity and animal welfare in Manitoba

Beef producers in Manitoba will soon be able to apply for funding items to help enhance animal welfare on their farms.

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) has added five new items to the Growing Assurance - Food Safety On-Farm program which focus on animal welfare and biosecurity. These items are available to beef producers in the province as a cost-share incentive.

"The industry is changing. These new items will help producers advance the tools and techniques they use to help take care of their animals in a good and healthy way," said Melinda German, general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP). "What producers do now and in the past has always been humane, but there has been more of a focus from consumers as to how all animals are treated."

The new catalogue items are meant to help producers meet the standards outlined in The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle, which was released in 2013 by the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the National Farm Animal Care Council.

The new items are:

  • livestock guardian dogs
  • tilt tables, hoof trimming chutes and cradles
  • on-farm veterinary training for the administration of pain blockers
  • calf catching pens and portable calf carts
  • remote surveillance of calving and calf pens and barns

According to Carlyle Bennett, manager of livestock industry development for MAFRD, beef producers in Manitoba will be interested in applying for these items because they are not yet commonly used in the province.

"We spoke to the industry members on our beef advisory group and these items were brought up," he said. "Several different commodity groups have asked for welfare items, so this is a continuation of providing options for animal welfare. Beef, sheep, goat, dairy and bison will all have welfare components available in the catalogue by 2017."

Turning sideways

One item that is relatively uncommon in the province is a tilt table. Most designs allow for the animal to be strapped in around the belly and have their legs restrained. They can usually span the entire chute, making it easy to secure the animal.

It's especially useful for examining the feet of a lame cow, according to Wayne Tomlinson, extension veterinarian for MAFRD.

"It gives you the advantage of lifting that foot up or lifting the entire animal. That way you can see if the foot has a crack, an abscess or if it's simple foot rot," he said.

Less pain in medical procedures

Using a table with restraints is also a good idea when performing minor procedures on calves. In addition, one of the items in the Growing Forward 2 catalogue includes on-farm training from a veterinarian to administer pain blockers during those procedures.

"If the procedure doesn't hurt there's less chance of the producer causing a negative reaction," he said. "Without these, when you castrate an animal and cause it pain you run the risk of being kicked."

Tomlinson said although animals do recover without a painkiller he would recommend using one for each procedure - be it castration, dehorning, branding, or any other small operation - it should be handled as humanely as possible.

Calf catcher easy on producers, easy on animals.

"When we use some type of painkillers the animals typically get back on their feet and gain weight sooner, so there are multiple benefits to doing so," he said.

The new code of practice states that starting in January, 2016 producers will have to provide pain control in consultation with their veterinarian when performing procedures after certain ages. For example, pain management is required when dehorning calves after horn bud attachment or typically after two to three months of age. Pain blockers are one of the options for pain control that producers can use.

Calf catcher easy on producers, easy on animals

One of the items that isn't commonly seen on Manitoba farms is a calf catcher, which Melissa Atchison and her family have been using on their Poplarview Stock Farm, 10 miles east of Pipestone, for the past six years.

The small cage mounts to the side of their quad and allows them to corral a calf on the pasture without taking the animal away from its mother. The front gate of the cage is open until the calf is caught, and then once the vehicle stops a producer can get into the cage with a calf to perform procedures or tagging.

"Momma can see the calf, and you can see her, but you're not in direct contact with her if she protests the situation," she said. "It gives you more time for proper tag placement and proper castration - you're not going to get run over by a cow, so you can take your time."

Once the procedure is done they drive the calf slowly, with the cow following, to fresh grass.

"It cuts the labour in half," said Atchison. "It becomes a one man job because you don't need a spotter to keep you safe from the cow - there is a lot less stress."

In addition to a portable calf catcher, producers may want to consider calf handling equipment for their calving barns. Some livestock equipment manufacturers are marketing a calf-sized head gate incorporated into a paneled enclosure that keeps the calf secure and allows the producers to work with the calf without interference from the mother cow.

The one new item in the catalogue under biosecurity is livestock guardian dogs.

"They are useful in that they cut down the interaction between wildlife and cattle. It prevents diseases that could be spread and also protect from coyote and wolf pressure," said Bennett.

Benefits of VBP

Funding for the new items will be provided on a first come first served basis. Items in the beef catalogue are available only to producers who are registered under the Verified Beef Production (VBP) program.

The province has 423 producers registered under VBP, extending the program to about 55,000 head.

For more information on the Verified Beef Production program, contact Manitoba Beef Producers, your local MAFRD GO Office, or Betty Green at 204-803-4536.