Cow-calf producers should take a page from feedlot producers, says an Oklahoma State University Extension area veterinarian, and use Beef Quality Assurance practices has made a lot of progress with feedlot producers.
Dr. Dave Sparks says feedlots have made a lot of strides with fed cattle, but cow-calf operations have a ways to go. In feedlots, a few people handle a large number of cattle and the feedback from processors is fairly simple.
"In cow country, many more people are handling smaller numbers of cattle, and the feedback, while real, is not so obvious," Sparks said. "Injection site lesions are one measure of the care with which cattle are processed and medicated."
From1995 to 1999, the feedlot industry reduced these lesions from 12 percent of fed carcasses to less than 2 percent. At the end of this period, however, more than 40 percent of all cow and bull carcasses had lesions in the sirloin. Too often, cow operators see the cow as a calf production unit rather than part of the food chain.
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"The fact is, about one quarter of the beef consumed in our country comes from cull cows and bulls and it is not all hamburger," he said. "Today, the better cuts such as the round, sirloin, loin and rib eye allow the packers to pay better prices than we have seen in years past. Cull cows represent about one quarter of the gross income for most cow operators. If we, as an industry, could reduce the annual carcass losses due to bruising, injection lesions, excess fat trim and condemnation due to drug residues, what would be the cow calf operator's part of the extra one-billion dollars on the table?"
Cow buyers are aware of what waste costs and they know which herds, areas and sales are the sites of the greatest problems, he said.
"When your culls come through the ring you need as many hands in the ring as possible," he said.
Sparks encourages cow calf operators to be careful when handling their herds. He recommends they move quietly, use good pens and keep cattle as quiet as possible when handling them. He suggests ranchers should cull their cows and select replacements by gentle dispositions just as stringently as seeking good conformation and good gain DNA.
When giving inoculations, Sparks encourages ranchers to use the smallest needle possible and to change needles at least for every tenth head. He suggests all injections be given in front of the shoulder and when there is a choice, give injections subcutaneously rather than in the muscle. He encourages ranchers to cull cows before lameness and eye problems get severe or barren cows get overly fat.
Ranchers need to read drug and vaccine usage labels and adhere to directions.
"As Americans we have the safest and most wholesome meat in the world, but we need to constantly work to keep it that way," he said.