Sunday, February 6, 2011

Standards of Care

We vaccinated the heifer calves for brucellosis this week. It is state mandated and must be done by a vet, so once again white-headed Doc Higham spent the day with us. He’s been practicing for over 50 years and works with a quiet rhythm that calms the cattle. I hope we all work that way. There’s a cadence to chute work – forward and back, single file, one after another.  

Jesse administered the pour-on insecticide, Mark weighed each calf, and Doc gave the vaccine followed by the required ear tag and tattoo. It was a good day to audit ourselves against our marketing cooperative's animal welfare standards.  

Country Natural Beef, with help from well known animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, and in response to consumer wishes, designed a set of "Raise Well Principles." These principles include measurable standards that apply when cattle are individually treated, including the number and percentage of cattle that slip and fall, if they call out (vocalize), and whether they leave the processing gate at a speed faster than a trot. We also record the number of times an electric prod is used and whether the crew worked quietly. We know that calm handlers beget calm cattle, so tracking the above behaviors helps us improve our skills while complying with audit requirements. 

These standards also gauge whether the ranch is selecting for calm temperament in their herd and selling those individuals that are naturally high-strung and could be dangerous to own.

We did fine on all guidelines, but we can always improve. I made note to ask Temple about the vocalizing and running from the chute standards. It’s hard to gauge and something other co-op members will have questions about as well. Our little hand held hot-shot was used just a few times when nothing else seemed to work; slipping was eliminated by a dump of sand in front of the chute.

Mark and I were raised with respect for the animals, but are keen to learn from folks like Grandin with special insight on low-stress methodology. It’s added an enjoyable dimension to our business to see how well we can work with each animal’s natural instincts to accomplish a task, whether it’s moving a large group of cows and calves to the mountains, walking a sick cow to the barn, or helping a newborn calf suckle. We know calm quiet handling means a better meat product, healthier cattle, and safer working conditions for the cowboys. To learn it’s becoming more important to the consuming public only endorses our enthusiasm.


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