SUTHERLIN, Ore. — Being proper stewards of animal health and still making a profit was the message Charles Estill presented to a gathering of livestock owners at the annual Douglas County Livestock Spring Conference.
Estill is the Oregon State University Extension Service veterinarian and is an associate professor for rural veterinary practice.
The veterinarian’s message to the group of about 120 people was not entirely new information, but was a reminder that some practices in handling livestock can ease stress on the animals who in turn will recover quicker from the situation and continue their growth, which means more pounds and more dollars. Estill emphasized that proper stewardship is not only good for the animal, but also improves the image of the producer with the consumer.
“It’s not just producing more pounds of calf and more pounds of milk,” he said. “You also need to have a satisfied consumer. There’s pressure from the consumer to do what is right and we need to be proactive in getting our stewardship story out to the consumers.”
Estill said consumers want a deeper understanding of the livestock production system and its practices such as the feeds that are fed, procedures that are performed such as castration and dehorning, and confinement versus free range.
“The consumer basically wants to trust us that we’re doing what is right for the animal,” the veterinarian said.
Estill said the responsibility to provide every need for an animal starts when the critters are domesticated and confined. Those needs include quality air, water and feed, and the removal of waste as it builds up. Shelter is also needed.
“Providing these needs provides emotional enrichment for the animal, good mental health,” Estill said. “They provide protection from disease and unnecessary suffering and that’s a great responsibility.”
Estill said the methods used to protect and promote animal well-being in the U.S. results in the safest food supply in the world.
But he added that castration of male animals and dehorning of bull calves and goats are two procedures that are getting the most concern from consumers. He said those concerns can greatly be eased by castrating within a day or two of birth and when dehorning a calf or kid goat, taking an extra minute or two per animal to give a shot of pain killer.
“There’s more weight gain with pain control,” Estill said. “Animals that receive pain medicine have lower incident of disease. If you can relieve pain, you can relieve stress and have less chance of disease.”
Estill said studies have shown these animals recover quicker from the ordeal and get back to growing and adding pounds quicker.
“Prices for beef, lamb and pork are at or near all-time highs and will likely remain there for a few years,” he said. “So just a few extra pounds is a significant profit opportunity. This is a good time to invest in facilities and training to incorporate the best practices, to learn some new skills, and some new methods. Take them back to the ranch and see if they work.”
Roger Holcomb, president of the Douglas County Livestock Association, said most of the information Estill provided was not new, but was knowledge producers needed to be open to and to continue considering if they weren’t already following it.
“If we can improve consumer confidence in what we’re doing, it’ll improve our bottom line,” said Holcomb, a cattle rancher in the Elkton, Ore., area. “I like those kinds of talks because those are concerns we definitely need to be aware of. I want to be open to change because eventually we may have to change, we may not have a choice. We need to know about the public’s perception.”
Scott Hendy, both a veterinarian and a cattle rancher in the Roseburg area, said using a pain killer for castrations and dehorning hasn’t become a trend here, but he noted that in England pain control is now mandated for those two procedures. He said the cost of less than 50 cents per animal is not the issue, but rather the time and extra element that’s added to the procedure.
“The first time may seem awkward and different, but after that each time of doing the procedure will be easier, more familiar and won’t take that much longer,” Hendy said. “We need to be more pro active rather than waiting for an uproar and then having it forced on us.”
Estill emphasized it does pay to be nice to the animals.