Cattle handling facilities don’t have to be fancy to be good

Certification for sustainable beef requires having proper handling facilities, but most ranches have those

Thinking of producing certified sustainable beef, but worried your cattle-handling equipment is not up to standards?

Don’t fret.

Stephen Hughes.
photo: Supplied

“At entry level, if you have cattle it’s pretty hard not to have facilities that are working,” said rancher Stephen Hughes.

The third-generation Longview, Alta. rancher has been part of the Certified Sustainable Beef Production (CRSB) initiative right from the start. A 2003 winner of Alberta Beef Producers’ annual award for environmental leadership, Hughes was quick to sign up for McDonald’s sustainable beef pilot, the forerunner of the new Canadian sustainable beef program.

“It’s something I’m pretty proud of,” said Hughes, adding most producers who have participated have found it’s not hard to meet the standards.

“If you are of the mindset to be involved in CRSB as a means of promoting our industry, you are likely doing most things correctly already,” he said. “It’s to get everybody moving in the direction of best practices to instil consumer confidence.”

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The part of the program for producers is called the Sustainable Beef Production Standard (there’s one for processing, too) and it outlines the requirements for certification. The system uses an “outcomes-based” approach — which means there’s a variety of ways to achieve specific standards.

When it comes to handling facilities, the goal is to have “facilities that are conducive to normal cattle behaviour in feeding pens and pastures, access to feed and water, and that appropriate facilities and practices are used to minimize animal stress,” said Andrea White, the community engagement manager for the CRSB program.

How it works

The program uses ‘indicators’ to measure progress towards goals and certification requirements. For example, one of the indicators for cattle facilities is: “Unnecessary Animal Stress is Minimized.” Obtaining a score of 1 (also called the ‘achievement’ or basic level) requires a producer to meet the requirement set out in the Beef Code of Practice, namely having “access to equipment or facilities for the safe handling, restraint, treatment, segregation, loading, and unloading of cattle. Provide traction in handling areas to minimize cattle slips and falls.”

Complying with these sorts of standards isn’t onerous, said Hughes.

“These terms should be nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “It is expected that most beef producers are already fulfilling the majority, if not all, of the requirements (of the standards),” added White. “It is not anticipated that significant upgrades will be necessary for those producers already following the Beef Code of Practice.”

The handling system Hughes employs on Chinook Ranch is fairly typical of most operations. He doesn’t have a crowding tub or a hydraulic squeeze chute, but when it comes to working cattle through it, he said it works quite well.

On the other hand, if your facilities are rundown; are difficult for cattle to move through or cause them stress; or create hazards for people, then it’s time to conside

sr an upgrade, he said.

“It’s for your own benefit and the benefit of the industry at large,” said Hughes. “It’s encouragement. If you want to get this indicator area into current practices, this is what you are going to need to do.”

‘Part of the job’

If you need to upgrade, there’s no rules spelling out exactly what you have to do — again, it’s the end result, not the path you take to get there.

“How certification is achieved will depend on the operation,” said White.

The CRSB standard is not prescriptive in terms of how the facilities need to be designed. There is not one standard type and design of handling system a producer has to own.

“If the producer is not meeting the outcome, then they need to make the adjustments and show the certification body before they can get certified.”

However, certifiers will typically request certain corrective actions and ask for a timeline so they can complete the certification process.

This approach doesn’t just apply to how you raise cattle, it’s also about building trust with consumers, said Hughes.

“It’s like, ‘I have good facilities, but now somebody is saying so,’” he said. “So the consumer can feel good about how my cattle are handled and they are low stress.

“It’s positive suggestions to move you forward. It isn’t a demand because it’s not being forced on you.”

The indicators for good cattle-handling facilities are very logical, he added. The pro-cess was quick and his facilities hit the achievement level or better for all the indicators. There were some other parts of his operation that required a few improvements, but best practices are nothing to be concerned about, said Hughes.

“This is part of our job now,” he said. “It’s marketing. It’s marketing what we do right and what we do well. That’s how I look at it and why I’m happy to be involved.”

To find out more about the standards and how to prepare for certification, go to www.crsbcertifiedsustainablebeef.ca and click on the Resources pull-down menu.

This article first appeared on the Alberta Farmer Express.

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