Putting animal welfare into practice

Author: Kristy

Whether you’re a cow-calf producer in Georgia, a cattle feeder in Washington or a stocker in the Flint Hills of Kansas, it’s a safe bet that your operation adheres to specific plans or programs guiding your cattle business. There’s a feeding protocol, a breeding program and, likely, a marketing plan. In recent years, there is another type of program that is being implemented throughout each segment of the beef production chain, and that’s an animal-welfare plan. A relatively new science, the animal-welfare arena is becoming more prevalent in today’s cattle business as producers and those who do business with producers, academia, and consumers are raising their animal-care and well-being expectations.

Dalebanks Angus Ranch, Eureka, KansasAccording to Dr. Janice Swanson, chair of the Department of Animal Science and professor of animal welfare and behavior at Michigan State University, what began as long, complicated and sometimes ambiguous animal-welfare assessments are now developing into narrow and meaningful programs, both in terms of the science guiding the programs and in very practical application and implementation for producers. Further, she says while the industry as a whole has done well with regard to promoting low-stress animal-handling practices, as beef and cattle production changes, science evolves, and food retail and consumer demands increase, animal-welfare programs will become more sophisticated and continue to improve.

Starts with a plan
Animal-welfare programs are not one-size-fi ts-all — some come in the form of specific programs led by industry groups or other partners, like the animal-welfare component of the Progressive Beef program led by Zoetis, or Tyson’s FarmCheck program. Some are voluntary guidelines and some are established by government regulation. Others are established by food retail outlets as a condition of doing business, like animal-welfare standards established by Safeway, Harris Teeter, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Whole Foods Markets, to name a few.

Swanson says a good place to start with an animal-welfare program is taking advantage of resources available through commodity or producer organizations and choosing to participate in voluntary quality-assurance programs, like the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. BQA equips beef producers with science-driven best practice guidelines to raise and care for cattle. “They have to have the motivation and the drive to do that piece themselves. It doesn’t always have to be at the imposition of a food retailer. It can be self-driven by taking advantage of the programs that have been carefully constructed to help them,” she adds. READ MORE

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