New D.C. animal group poses danger for ranchers

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By Mike Mehren
Oregon Feed and Grain Association

This little beauty will be quite a bit different than any of my columns. This is about an organization calling itself ‘Global Animal Partnership’. The organization is headquartered in Wa D.C. Members of the Board include Wayne Pacelle of the H.S.U.S. and Steven Gross from P.E.T.A. Neither of these groups represented on their board have been friends of animal agriculture. The Ag Marketing Service of the USDA reported that their 5 step approach was a natural extension of the Organic Standards. Some of the standards that I consider ridiculous are: no cattle shall go through an auction barn, no cow shall be hauled within 12 weeks of calving, no rodents in the barn…I can’t seem to keep them out of my house!

Their stated goal is to facilitate and encourage improvement in animal agriculture. Sounds something LIKE the government man that stops by the ranch and says ‘I’m here to help you’.

They are signing up supermarket chains that will only purchase your animals if you qualify as a partner. So when Super-Duper Supermarket Chain puts in their order for beef, part of their specs will be that all meat purchased must come from G.A.P. certified producers. I hope you get a huge premium, because you’re going to need it!

They have different levels of cooperation for their beef producer partners. The more a ranch complies with their goals, the higher level they achieve. Whether these goals are realistic, beneficial to the animals, or achievable remains to be seen.

I will try to confine my comments to issues that pertain to feeding, nutrition or areas where the animals are fed. However, that isn’t a solemn promise; I may slip off the edge of the cliff and mention some other areas! You need to study the plan to see how you could fit them in to your ranch management. If you use the internet, type in Global Animal Partnership on your search engine and it will take you to their website.

Give an appropriate amount of feed to meet nutritional requirements. Who decides what an appropriate amount is? Must you feed cows all they want to eat? What an animal will eat and what it needs to meet the nutrient requirements are not the same. What are nutrient requirements based on? The National Research Council produces a book called ‘Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle. It is revised every ten years. This tells me that nutrient requirements are a moving target. As we learn more about animal metabolism, age, breed and environmental effects, the requirements are changed to reflect this. Another grazing concern notes that the ground must have at least 50% coverage by forage plants. Get ready to move off the desert range. On a normal year, desert coverage is about 50% to begin with! So no grazing could be allowed. Where does forested range fit into that puzzle?

The body condition score of all animals must be maintained at BCS Score 4 or above. This is a great idea, but sometimes excellent cows lose body condition because they are producing a lot of milk. Separating them from the rest of the cows is not very practical when experience has taught us that she will gain weight rapidly after her calf is removed. If a large percentage of the cows have lost enough weight to be in BCS 3, it’s pretty evident that feed quality and/or quantity needs to be addressed. Any good manager does that. Is your BCS 4 the same as theirs? I have a tough time between 4+ and 5 when cows have a nice long winter coat.

A minimum weaning age of 6 months is required. There is an exception for a situation that affects the health of the cow or calf. Where did this 6 month figure come from? Does that mean 6 months from the first calf born, or 6 months from the birth of the last calf? I thought things like feed, market, or weather were considerations for weaning time, rather than 6 months. Natural weaning is required. In nature the cow will wean one calf around the time of the birth of her next calf. Some will even allow a yearling and a calf to nurse at the same time. Fortunately the organization goes on to mention alternatives to natural weaning that are acceptable.

Cattle are to remain on range or pasture their entire life. Hopefully that doesn’t mean that they must have grass or forage on the range or pasture all year. It doesn’t always work that way in nature. Snow may last for several months, or it may rain so much that the pasture becomes a shallow lake for several months. Cattle could be fed on snow if they can’t dig through it for feed, but good management would seem to require that the cattle be taken off the lake for the good of the pasture and the cattle. These circumstances don’t qualify as ‘extremes’ but are rather norms in the Pacific Northwest. If cattle are to remain outside for their entire life then some means of finishing them while on pasture must be developed unless they are being raised as grass fed. Pasture feeding requires equipment and labor that is not typically available on a ranch.

When cattle are confined they must have access to a resting area that is not composed of concrete or mud. This definitely would benefit the cattle. It is easily accomplished with straw or other bedding. I have to agree with this idea. Some feedlots don’t do a good job of bedding. This hurts feed efficiency and gain.

Cattle are to be slaughtered on the ranch or at a location they can reach by walking. This effectively changes the entire U.S packing industry. I guess their idea is that everyone will have their own little slaughter plant or that there will be a number of mobile slaughter plants. USDA Meat Inspectors will have to number in the hundreds for each state, running from ranch to ranch. I don’t think the federal government is going to accept that. Have you ever visited a large packing plant? The efficiency, skill, and sanitation is amazing. This has nothing to do with cleanliness or skill of a small plant or a mobile one; there just is no comparison when it comes to cost and efficiency.

One state has already taken a proactive step in this area. The State of Ohio is creating a Livestock Care Standards Board. This group is to be composed of three family farmers, two veterinarians, (one State Vet, other Private Practice Food Animal) a food safety expert, a member of the local humane society, a Dean of a State College of Agriculture, two members from state farm organization, and two member representing Ohio consumers. This seems to be a more logical way to address animal care, and should bring compromises that are sound biologically, politically, and economically.

Groups of cattlemen that have joined together in a ‘natural beef’ program, or a Certified Breed Program have established care standards for their members. They have had these programs designed by nationally recognized animal welfare experts. Their programs are designed to provide best care practices that protect the animal, the producer, and the consumer.

Michael J. Mehren, Ph.D. is a livestock nutritionist from Hermiston who’s partner lets him make all the really big decisions. She just tells him which are the really big ones.
He may be contacted by Email at [email protected]