Changes to the National Beef Code of Practice, which took effect earlier this month, place new requirements on producers to provide pain control for dehorning and castration in cattle that are older than nine months.
“A lot of producers do these procedures earlier on so it won’t have a huge impact on them, but for others it will mean a conversation with their veterinarian to look at the best options,” said Melinda German, Manitoba Beef Producers general manager.
According to Wayne Tomlinson, extension veterinarian with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, producers have a few options in carrying out the new requirements.
“Producers can learn to administer these pain control products themselves, contract their veterinarian, use polled genetics to get rid of the horns or look at performing these tasks earlier,” said Tomlinson.
Performing castration earlier on in the animal’s life doesn’t require pain mitigation as the tissue area is much smaller and the blood supply is less developed.
The same can be said for dehorning, as the cow’s horns do not actually attach to its skull until it reaches three to four months old.
“At the stage where the horn bud is not attached to the bone, we do not have to use pain medication, you are welcome to, but it is not required according to the Animal Care Act,” said Tomlinson.
Tomlinson said there are a number of benefits to making these management changes. Calves are more comfortable and easier to handle, they travel better, suckle more and typically recover faster because of reduced stress levels.
“There are certainly some economic benefits and reasons why we should be doing this,” said Tomlinson. “Stress caused by pain affects the animal’s cortisol levels and that causes a decrease in immune function, lowering the ability to fight off infection, it also decreases weight gain and has an impact on reproductive hormones.”
Additionally, having these standards in place aids in addressing consumer concerns over animal welfare and provides sector groups with more material when talking with the public about production methods.
“By and large, producers are the best stewards of the land and the best people to care for those animals, but a lot people don’t see that or don’t understand what we do. So, they ask questions around these painful procedures and around the management of pain,” said German. “The code is a really important document, not only because it helps producers see the goalposts but it is also a document that other groups look at. It helps us tell the story of what we are doing in our management practices to those outside of the sector.”
The age requirement to provide pain control for dehorning and castration will be adjusted again, from nine months to six months, on January 1, 2018.
“As you can appreciate there was a side of the table that really pushed for these changes and pushed for them to happen now. The other side of the table, those who are involved in the industry, know the limitations,” said German. “The conversation around that table was that we understand and we hear what you are saying, but we don’t have the tools in place to be able to do that. And even if we did, the cost would be too great.”
The age requirement has been staggered specifically to give the industry time to develop better products, adjust production methods and ease financial repercussions.
“The Beef Cattle Research Council has acknowledged that there is a lack of information around this and has initiated a research project which will evaluate the age, technique and pain medication required when we are performing these procedures,” said Tomlinson.
“This will give us some science-based data that will tell us how much pain medication we really need in these calves. We certainly need more research on this and there is also a need to develop more user-friendly medication options.”
The Beef Cattle Research Association has also released a video explaining the new requirements, which also includes information on various pain control products.