Decoding the new National Beef Code of Practice

Animal Environment list of requirements

For the Canadian Beef Industry the National Code of Practice is new. But for beef producers, dealing with the environment isn’t! The first chapter of the new code looks at Animal Environment, followed by Feed and Water, Animal Health, Animal Husbandry, Transportation, and Euthanasia. It makes a logical progression for explaining the industry practices to the consuming public. This article deals mainly with the first chapter.

Some producers have been a little scared off by comments about the code such as “it’s a 60 page book”! However, if you take a look at the code, the summary of the six chapters and producer requirements fits on six pages. The rest of the book is made up of an easy to read lay out (where the producer requirements are highlighted in yellow boxes), a glossary, a list of good industry contacts, and some recommended Best Management Practices.

So start at the beginning of the code and work through it one chapter at a time …

Under Animal Environment the list of requirements are:

1. Cattle must have access to areas, either natural or man-made, that provide relief from weather that is likely to create a serious risk to their welfare.

Promptly assist individual cattle showing signs of not coping with adverse weather (see Sections 1.1.1 and 1.1.2 for lists of signs).

Cattle usually seem more comfortable outside but given the temperature challenges of the last few months, most producers will have been actively achieving this requirement. In many cases producers will have been moving portable windbreaks to shelter cattle or moving the cattle to shelter via bush lots, barns, or bale windbreaks. Providing bedding or more of it in extreme cold will also help cattle cope. It may be hard to imagine right now, but come those really hot days in summer producers may need to be active in providing more water-trough space, perhaps shades, and water sprinkling or misting in some situations.

2. Provide additional feed to meet animals’ increased energy requirements when facing cold stress.

Again, I suspect that many producers have changed the diet being offered over the last few months, from providing grains, silages or just better quality hay and perhaps more of it.

3. All beef operations must have access to equipment or facilities for the safe handling, restraint, treatment, segregation, loading, and unloading of cattle.

Design or manage indoor and outdoor cattle facilities to provide well-drained, comfortable resting areas.

Provide traction in handling areas to minimize cattle slips and falls.

All cattle in a group must have sufficient space to adopt normal resting postures at the same time.

Cattle kept in groups must be able to move freely around the pen and access feed and water.

Stocking density must be managed such that weight gain and duration of time spent lying is not adversely affected by crowding.

Maintain indoor air quality and ventilation at all times (ammonia levels < 25ppm).

Provide cattle housed indoors that do not have access to natural light with supplementary lighting to allow natural behaviour patterns and monitoring of the cattle.

This looks at having the proper equipment for the safety of cattle when working or moving them. The good side of this requirement is that by having the right equipment to move or work cattle safely, generally means that the producer is also safer. Dry comfortable resting areas, with no slip flooring may take a bit of adjustment on some setups but will generate benefits in gain. The air quality and stocking densities will also pay dividends in cattle comfort and gain for the producer.

4. Provide an environment that is safe and clean for calving and that promotes calf survival.

Again this requirement is very much in the self-interest of the producer. If calves don’t live there isn’t anything to sell but rather bills to pay. It doesn’t say you need a sterile hospital pen, but rather a safe and clean environment. If you are calving the cows on grass, on a nice sunny day in May you have more than exceeded the requirements. However, if it is -35 C and the wind is howling then certainly shelter and bedding is required.

From the Alberta Farmer Express website: Dead cattle found near Killam, SPCA investigation underway

Overall, when you look at the requirements in this first chapter of the code, they seem pretty reasonable. They all work toward cattle being more comfortable, thus gaining better and creating better returns for the producer. They are not prescriptive on how you do it, but that you do achieve the desired outcome. Some accommodations will be short term while some changes may be a long-term solution to meeting the code. Examples of this will be the very cold weather in Dec-Jan.-Feb. In the short term this year it may have meant you put out extra or better hay. Or maybe you just rolled an extra bale out on the snow. You may also have provided more bedding or moved the herd to a bush lot.

In the long term, however, you may be taking a look at the selectioncriteria you have for your replacement heifers and new herd sires. Are they the cattle that are best suited to your farm or area? How about the temperament of the cattle? Easy keeping, quiet cattle, which lay down lots of fat in the fall, go through the cold a lot better. Have you ever wondered what the R-value is for cows that have snow on their backs that isn’t melting? How much insulation is between core body temperature, a layer of fat, a thick hide, a thick hair coat and the snow on top? The calving season may be another long-term adjustment on your farm. If you are staying with winter calving to reap the benefits of large calves for the fall sales, you will need to consider extra facilities, windbreaks and lots of good quality feed and bedding. Moving to spring calving will require less facilities but will mean your marketing will need to change. All these decisions need to be decided through the lens of the whole farm economics.

Work through the code one chapter at a time. When you decode it into manageable pieces it isn’t nearly as daunting. Much of it you may already be doing or can easily achieve. The rest you can plan for how to implement. Then try to use those changes to improve your returns by lowering your cost of production or getting more for a welfare-managed branded product.

The beef industry itself will continue to change as the code gets implemented. Proactive producers will use this code to help market their beef to consumers, with an assurance of how much we care for our animals, and how we do it.

Nancy Noecker is a cow-calf specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture.

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