Brian Weedon is prepared for the day that CBC or some other mainstream media outlet drops in to see how he raises cattle on his ranch north of Swift Current, Sask.
“Everything I do is written down,” he says. “I’m not hiding anything and I can prove it.”
It’s an attitude that Weedon has had for many years and one of the reasons he’s a long-time participant in the Verified Beef Production (VBP) program. “Everyone is watching our industry today,” he says, “and now more than ever we have to be able to say what we do, do what we say, and prove it.”
That makes sense as an industry, says Weedon, but he also believes it also makes good management sense that ultimately improves profitability for individual operators.
“When a farmer buys a half-million-dollar combine, you know because of what he’s got invested in it, he’ll follow the maintenance protocol that will maximize the life of that machine.
“Why would it be any different with your cattle,” he asks. “You have a herd with that much money invested in it so why wouldn’t you pay the same kind of attention to them?”
Records that work
Food safety, land care and production all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle in Weedon’s mind and records, such as the ones under VBP, tie it all together.
“With the VBP program, you build a running history of what’s happening on your ranch,” he says about his 360-plus commercial cow-calf and retained-yearling operation. “We’re a few years into this program on our place and we have a very valuable set of records to go back to. They include herd, group and individual animal protocols.”
An important part of those records is the due diligence of following label instructions and working with a veterinarian to prove you are using products as directed with food safety in mind, he says.
“Our records let us look at the success or failure of our vaccination and herd health program. We learn a lot from that and it isn’t always drug related. Sometimes it’s management, or weather related.”
Proof of that success shows up in operation results. “This past year we were at about four per cent morbidity, only treated about nine head and we lost one out of 367 calves. To me a wreck would be treating 10 per cent of my calves.”
Animal care is important. He’s found good cattle-handling systems make handling easier and safer, so fewer people can handle more animals. Less stress means animal health products have a better chance of doing the job intended and decreases the chances of a broken needle.
Weedon believes most beef producers understand they have an accountability issue to deal with today and that the pressures are going to get greater. “Like any industry you have to continually improve. I compare ourselves to the auto industry. Those that didn’t adapt and keep up with all the features such as safety are gone. I can’t think of an industry that goes backwards and is still around.
“People want to see rewards up front, but in my experience it takes some years to build that. Trust is earned not given. We’ve had lots of interruptions in the beef marketplace and I believe continuity of market is itself a reward.”