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Quality Starts Here – for Jan. 24, 2011


The cow-calf Good Production Practices manual offers four checklists of recommended steps at calving, breeding, spring roundup and weaning.


Standard calving protocols are developed and used by staff, who are trained in appropriate calving techniques to reduce calving injuries (e.g. non-ambulatory animals) as well as cow and calf mortality.

Make sure a sanitation program for calving equipment, facilities, calving assistance, and treatment of sick and scouring calves is in place.

Heifers, second-calvers and thin cows are fed separately prior to calving.

Calving records are maintained and include: calving date, cow and calf unique identification, calving ease, calf vitality, calf sex, breed, birth weight, sire, cow problems (e.g. maternal behaviour, milking ability) and any treatments or deaths.

Every effort is made to ensure calves receive 10 per cent of their body weight (4.5 litres) of colostrum in the first 12 hours after birth, either through suckling, stomach tubing or bottle feeding. Frozen colostrum is harvested from cows, preferably from within the same herd. The quality of the herd vaccination program is reflected in the quality of colostrum the cows provide.

All newborn calves are identified with a unique tag number at birth. A backup tag, preferably with the same number, or a tattoo is on hand. The national RFID tag is easily applied at this time.

Cows are checked frequently for calving difficulties and assisted early to avoid calving complications, e.g. non-ambulatory animals (e.g. nerve paralysis).

Foster calves are bought directly from reputable buyers with good production practices (avoid auction market calves). Historical data is obtained on the calf at purchase.

Bull calves intended for the feedlot are castrated, using a humane and approved technique by trained staff, prior to six months. If bloodless castration is used, a tetanus vaccination is given at least one week before castration. Sanitary protocols are followed and hands and equipment kept clean during castration procedures.

All calves are dehorned in an effective, humane manner prior to three months of age.

Adequate space and bedding is provided to ensure the animals’ well-being and to reduce risk of disease.


Carcass quality and reproduction information is obtained through formal communication and feedback. When selecting bulls, carcass expected progeny differences (EPD) are used when available for heritable quality traits (rib-eye area, marbling, tenderness, hot carcass weight). Bulls are selected to match the cow herd and reduce calving problems.

Bulls pass a breeding soundness evaluation and are trichonomiasis free or else they are culled.

Individual animal history records (including genetic history and progeny data) are obtained from the previous owner on all breeding stock.

Replacement heifers are selected for maternal and reproductive ability, carcass traits and production efficiency, depending on end use.

Replacement heifers are vaccinated subcutaneously in the neck or behind the top of the shoulder blade with a seven-or eight-way clostridial bacterin prior to breeding.

Reproductive vaccines, e.g. IBR, BVD, vibrio and trichonomiasis are given in the neck, according to label directions, using safe animal health product practices.

Breeding records are kept on all natural, A.I. and embryo transfer matings where possible.

Calves are dehorned before they are three months of age. The only exception is the purebred Horned Hereford.

If community or shared pastures are used, all parties involved are following good production practices. Written records are obtained from community and shared pasture users regarding breeding information and cattle management.

Suckling calf roundup

Bull calves not intended for breeding are castrated in a humane manner, prior to six months of age, by trained staff using hygienic techniques.

All calves are dehorned prior to three months of age. Those previously dehorned at birth are rechecked for scurs and stubs. If scurs or stubs are present, calves are dehorned again.

All calf vaccinations and treatments that must go intramuscularly (IM) are given in the neck. Products that can be given subcutaneously (SC) are given in the neck or behind the top of the shoulder blade, pulling the skin up in a tent shape before the needle is inserted. If products can go intravenously (in the vein) rather than in the muscle, they are given in the jugular vein.

All clostridial bacterins are given subcutaneously in the neck area or behind the top of the shoulder blade.

A standard vaccination protocol for calves and breeding stock is developed with a veterinarian.

Cows and bulls are vaccinated in the neck with vaccines against reproductive diseases prior to breeding, according to label directions.

Calves, cows and bulls are checked for ear tags that uniquely identify each animal. If the original ear tag is lost, a backup eartag is available to be used.

If possible, brands are avoided in calves. If brands are used, they are preferably placed on the shoulder, or hip, using a small brand. In general, rib brands are avoided.

An implant program is developed based on the herd’s goals. Prior to implanting, staff are trained in proper implant techniques. Implant histories are provided to buyers when calves are purchased. Records are kept on any implants used. Implants are checked regularly to ensure proper technique. Any negative side-effects are recorded and implant techniques are reviewed regularly. The goal is 95 per cent properly placed implants.

Calves are regularly checked for disease, body condition score and lice, and treated according to standard treatment protocols.

Cows are checked for body condition, disease, body condition score and lice, and treated according to standard treatment protocols.

A standard fly control program is developed prior to turnout.


Animal inventory (cattle count) records are verified at weaning.

Calves and cows are weighed and ear tags are monitored. If ear tags are missing, they are replaced to individually identify each animal. Records are kept on lost tags and new ID, if new tags are different from previous ID.

During pregnancy examinations, heifers and cows are body condition scored, and examined for disease and defects (e.g. cancer eye, lump jaw, lice). Cattle are culled, treated or fed appropriately.

Alternate management strategies for culls (e.g. feed culls and improve condition) are assessed annually.

A standard internal and external parasite program is used (grubs, lice, worms) for cows, bulls and calves, and reviewed periodically.

Calves are properly dehorned and castrated.

Retained and purchased feeder calves are handled according to the Good Production Practices for the Feedlot.

The goal is to make Canadian beef the best in the world in terms of quality and safety. Everyone has a role to play in this, for quality starts when a calf is born and ends with a steak on the plate. The material in this series identifies the weaknesses uncovered in the national beef audit and the steps we can all take to put Canadian beef over the top.



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