February 8, 2017
Over the last 30 years that I have been in veterinary practice, there have been significant changes for the better in the beef cattle industry. There is no doubt that both the purebred and commercial cow-calf producer have faced numerous challenges and found solutions to improve both the welfare and health of their herds.
I have observed the following impacts:
• Genetics. When I graduated from veterinary school, we were right in the middle of “exotic” cattle sires that were to produce larger, stronger calves. The industry faced a large number of calving problems due to lack of selection for birth weight and even calf newborn vigor. The purebred industry responded with increased pressure on calving-ease bulls, and over a period of years, the occurrence of calving difficulties became almost nonexistent.
Another breeding focus has been the selection based on milking ability and mothering ability. The selection of calving ease combined with milking ability in the dam has led to higher-than-ever survival rates and growth rates that were thought unattainable. I expect the genetic gains to be even greater and more predictable in the future due to genetic mapping and gene selection.
• Nutrition. Every veterinarian and producer in the country should be thankful to the individual that figured out feeding late in the evening resulted in 80% of the calves born during daylight hours. This made a major change in my lifestyle. Early on in my career, I could count on a call between 11 p.m. and midnight just about every night.
The feed companies and industry magazines have done a great job in educating producers on proper condition scoring of the heifer and mature cow herd prior to calving. This results in easier calving and more milk production.
Today, most producers can tell you what level of mega-cal rations their herd is on and how many pounds they feed per head. This was a rare occurrence 30 years ago. The use of scales on feed wagons and balanced total mixed rations have helped fine-tune the nutrient requirements of the herd.
• Health. The number of companies that supply health products to the beef industry has shrunk over the years due to mergers and acquisitions. The level of products available and the quality of these products are the best they have ever been. Producers have become more invested in understanding every aspect of their herd health. They are more sophisticated in their questions, and they expect more from feed sales representatives and their veterinarians. Products for the newborn calf to help control scours and pneumonia that are widely used are well-developed and researched.
We have the best “toolbox” of antibiotics and vaccines in the history of the industry, thanks to research and manufacturing companies. Still, every producer should challenge their source of information to keep refining their program.
• Gadgets. I like this category. Two things at the top of my list are wireless barn cameras and warming hutches. Both are pretty nifty inventions, especially when you raise cattle in the Northern Plains. The barn camera allows the producer to keep an eye on the barn and close-up pen without putting on three layers of Carhartt coveralls and braving the trip to the barn.
The warming hutch has helped save many a calf that was born in a cold, damp environment. The combination of warming up a calf and tube-feeding it with colostrum once it is able to swallow has saved calves on every farm that uses the practice.
The beef industry is constantly evolving and adapting. We are blessed to be able to make a living doing what we enjoy and also believe in. I am sure the next generation will see even more challenges and change to our industry. And they will meet those challenges and make improvements the same as their parents did.
Bobb is a veterinarian at Pipestone Veterinary Service. Contact him at [email protected] or 507-825-4211.
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