Pen checking is one of the single most important jobs in the feedlot as it identifies the condition and overall health of the cattle. The following Recommended Operating Procedures (ROP) for pen checking are offered in the Quality Starts Here manual for feedlot animal health.
Cattle assessment procedures
Train staff to spot the onset of sickness, and ensure they are knowledgeable about the common diseases that infect cattle. Assess the pen overall before entering and deciding how deep to pull cattle. Train feed-truck drivers to keep an eye out for suspected problem cattle in the pens and notify the animal health staff.
Assess animals for:
Depressed appearance Locomotion
Breathing rate (coughing) Stance (stiffness)
Movement (or standing still for long periods)
Appetite (or lack of) Fever
Watery or crusty eyes
Assess the manure of individual animals and of the pen as a whole. Watch for digestive upsets brought on by changes in the ration. If the manure is:
Tall and firm (the cattle are not being pushed)
Flat and brown (feed intake is correct)
Flat and grey (cattle are being pushed too hard)
Bloody and grey in colour (check for coccidiosis)
Before an animal is pulled apply a diagnosis and alert the hospital crew. Communication between pen checkers, hospital and feeding staff leads to quicker action in dealing with sickness.
Monitor the performance and training of the pen checkers. One method of assessing performance is to divide the feedlot into areas, and assign pen checkers to specific areas. Then the foreperson or general manager can monitor death loss, pull rate and time usage in each group of pens.
From time to time the pen checker should be accompanied by the manager, area foreperson or veterinarian to provide ongoing training. Pen checkers can monitor their own performance by assessing pull rates from time to time in terms of the percentage of the cattle in their pens that are treated, repulled, diagnosed as chronic and the number of deads.
Pen assessment procedures
Check for overcrowding.
Check for cattle that are mixed up in pens either by sex, by owner or by type.
Accumulations of ice, snow, mud or water on the bunk apron or waterer that keep animals from eating or drinking when they wish, or cover them in mud as they make their way to the mound to lay down.
The condition of mounds to be sure they provide some protection to the cattle during cold weather or relieve heat stress in summer.
Excessive amounts of dust or flies resulting in eye or lung irritations.
When the cattle eat, they look comfortable.
Repair boards or gates that can cause injury to an animal, or impede getting sick cattle out of the pen.
Develop operating procedures for feedbunk management in consultation with your nutritionist. Before pen checkers begin in the morning, have them review the previous day’s feed records and check the feedbunk to see what has been consumed and how much has been left to clean out. Erratic feed consumption is an early indicator of disease. Instruct pen checkers to check for proper rations in the bunk, cattle going down on their knees to get at the feed, or hair rubbed off the neck from reaching too far across the bunk. Other indicators are the numbers at the bunk in the morning, how many cattle come up to the bunk when the feed truck arrives and the number that remain hunched together in a pen. With the advice of your nutritionist be sure the ingredients going into rations are routinely sampled, analyzed and stored for future reference.
Check waterers daily for freezing in winter and for cleanliness throughout the year. Brush and flush watering bowls weekly to keep ahead of algae or feed. Check the float tank for leakage, and monitor the water flow and pressure to ensure the cattle are getting enough to drink.
Water quality should be tested at least once a year for total solids and contaminants.
Bedding also needs to be regularly monitored, more often after snow or rain. Bedding has a bearing on the health of cattle. Consider using wood chips in muddy conditions and straw in cold weather, when available. If the cattle eat the straw in significant amounts, recheck your ration and perhaps switch to a less appetizing bedding such as wood chips. The best indicator of the need for bedding is the amount of mud and manure or tag on the cattle.
Assess tag on cattle regularly, but especially before they are shipped. ADG losses can run from seven per cent in mud that is dewclaw deep to 35 per cent when the mud is belly deep.
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.