Animal Health & Welfare

Major production limiting diseases can be costly, even devastating for an individual herd, and have the potential to harm the entire beef cattle industry.  Applied research works to develop effective and economical management practices, and diagnostic and treatment tools.  These reduce costs and losses associated with animal health and production limiting diseases in primary production sectors.

Further research is needed to improve prevention and surveillance of production limiting disease and welfare issues, and improve understanding and management of pain and stress in beef cattle.


Cattle and other ruminants are able to digest grasses and other fibrous material because of the billions of bacteria, fungi and protozoa in the rumen. Each of these microbes has a preferred food source. For example, some prefer fibrous materials, whereas others prefer starch. Regardless of their preferred feed source, all bacteria beak down simple sugars to volatile fatty acids such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate. These volatile fatty acids are absorbed through the rumen wall into the bloodstream and provide an important energy source for cattle.  Read More...


Anthrax is a highly contagious and infectious soil-borne disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a relatively large spore-forming bacteria that can infect mammals. Anthrax is primarily a disease of herbivores, particularly bison and beef cattle. Anthrax infections are rare in humans.  Read More...

Antimicrobial Resistance

Antimicrobial resistance occurs naturally when the genetic make-up of microbes is altered in a manner that makes them no longer susceptible to antimicrobials designed to kill them or prevent their growth. In Canada, surveillance indicates that resistance levels in cattle and beef are extremely low and have not increased over time. Research and surveillance evidence suggests that eliminating antimicrobial use in beef production would have clear negative health consequences for cattle with no obvious benefit for human health. Read More...

Basic Immunology
Body Condition Scoring

What is body condition scoring?

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a low cost, hands-on method to determine the condition (amount of fat cover) of cattle. This easy hands-on method is much more accurate than just looking at the animals since hair coats can be deceiving.

In Canada, body condition is scored from 1-5, with 1 being extremely thin and 5 being obese. A score of 2.5-3 is ideal.

Bovine Respiratory Disease

Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) is the most common and costly disease affecting the North American beef cattle industry. In the broadest sense, BRD refers to any disease of the upper or lower respiratory tracts. BRD is commonly associated with infections of the lungs causing pneumonia in calves that have recently been weaned or recently arrived at the feedlot (which is why it is often referred to as shipping fever). BRD is most prevalent within the first weeks of arrival to the feedlot, but it can occur later in the feeding period and is also seen in calves on pasture.


Castration is the removal or inactivation of the testicles. In earlier times, castration was used to help control cattle used to pull plows and wagons; oxen are tamer than bulls. Castration is now used as a management tool in modern agriculture for many reasons, including to:

  • Cease the production of male hormones
  • Prevent mating of genetically inferior livestock
  • Decrease aggression to enhance on-farm safety for handlers and animals
  • Decrease costs of managing bulls (larger, stronger facilities)
  • Avoid price discounts from feedlots and meat packers
  • Produce meat with a quality acceptable to consumers (higher grade, more marbling, more consistent)


Horns consist of a shell made of keratin and other proteins over a core of living bone.  Removing horns allows cattle to be handled more safely and reduces injury to other cattle, which can also result in financial losses due to trimming of bruised carcasses.

According to the latest National Beef Quality Audit, fewer than 11% of non-fed cattle and fewer than 13% of fed cattle processed in Canada in 2010-11 had any type of horns, and fewer than 3% had full horns, but the few horns that remain are costly. The economic loss to the industry caused by bruising is estimated at $2.10/head processed in addition to $0.06/head due to extra packing plant labor costs to remove horns from the carcass before skinning. Horn levies in Saskatchewan ($2) and British Columbia ($10), which are intended to encourage the dehorning of cattle in order to reduce injuries and economic impacts, add additional expense.


Disposal of Cattle Mortalities

Cattle mortalities need to be disposed of within forty-eight hours after death to control the spread of disease, prevent contamination of air or ground water and for the cattle producer to avoid the risk of prosecution. How best to dispose of dead cattle is an important question. After the advent of BSE in Canada, disposal through traditional channels such as rendering has become more expensive and in some cases less available.

Alternatives for disposal of cattle mortalities, along with their pros and cons, are listed below. Because regulations differ across provinces, it would be wise to check local regulations before adopting a particular method. Be aware that legality of disposal is subject to interpretation by local authorities who may restrict the use of a particular method if too many complaints are received.


Distillers' Grains

Distillers’ grains are a by-product from the process of grain-based ethanol production and can be used as an economical commodity in feeding cattle. As long as bioethanol production continues at current levels, the feedlot industry in Canada will feed distillers’ grains in order to produce beef as efficiently as our trading partners. Most distillers’ grains in North America come from corn with some from sorghum and wheat. Corn distillers’ grains are sold produced in Eastern Canada and the U.S. Wheat distillers’ grains, or a mixture of wheat and corn, are produced in Western Canada. Read More...

Impact of Oil and Natural Gas Production

Raising livestock adjacent to oil and gas production facilities is a reality for cattle producers in many parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and northern British Columbia. These herds can be exposed to emissions due to routine production activities and accidental releases of volatile products such as H2S, SO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It is also possible for cattle to be exposed to liquid products such as crude oil, drilling mud, frac fluid, high salt produced water, and a variety of products used to assist in production or movement through gathering systems. Read More...

Internal Parasites

There are many different parasites that cause production impacts and disease in Canadian beef cattle. Parasite control is an important part of maintaining health, welfare and production and different parasites require specific control measures. Internal parasites, such as roundworms and coccidia, live inside the gastro-intestinal tract whereas external parasites, such as lice and flies live on, or around, the animal. It is important that all parasites are not considered as a single group when planning control measures. Instead, each should be considered separately within an overall integrated parasite control program.  Read More...

Johne's Disease

Johne’s disease (pronounced “Yo-knees”), also known as paratuberculosis, is a long standing  infection that causes a very gradual thickening of the intestines reducing the nutrients the cow can absorb, resulting in weight loss, diarrhea and eventually death.  Johne’s disease primarily affects cattle and other ruminants, but has also been reported in pigs. Read More...


Lameness is leg or foot pain that affects how cattle move. There are many different kinds of lameness, with many different causes, such as genetics, environment, injury, nutrition, and a variety of infections. Lameness can negatively affect both animal welfare and growth performance, because animals may be reluctant to eat or drink if standing or walking is painful. Read More...


Mycotoxins are often hidden hazards – a group of harmful toxins produced by certain types of fungi including mould. They can create a variety of problems for beef cattle including reduced health and productivity.

It’s important for beef producers to understand the threat represented by mycotoxins and to adopt appropriate prevention measures. By minimizing risk producers can safeguard the health of their animals and ensure productivity is not derailed. Everyone doing their part can reduce the risk for Canada’s beef industry as a whole, helping to uphold high standards of quality, safety, animal care and animal health.

This page provides an overview of what mycotoxins are, the threat they represent for Canadian beef production and how to implement best practices to protect beef cattle.


Neonatal Disease

One of the most important production factors influencing the economics of the beef cow calf farm is the calf crop percentage. This is defined as the percentage of cows exposed to the bull that raise a calf to weaning. In order to achieve this, a cow must become pregnant, successfully carry the calf through to term, give birth to a live calf and raise it to weaning age. Many factors can influence the calf crop percentage including reproductive management as well as calf losses through abortions, stillbirths, and other mortalities. A number of studies have demonstrated the importance of perinatal and neonatal losses in beef cattle in affecting the calf crop percentage. Read More...

Pain Mitigation

Consumer pressure to avoid painful practices on cattle when possible, and to reduce pain when castration, dehorning, or branding are necessary, is building. The new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle also makes strong statements about pain control.

The knowledge of pain in livestock has advanced steadily over the past 22 years. Behavioural and physiological indicators of pain have been identified, and researchers’ ability to measure animal responses associated to painful procedures have improved. Research has developed new pain control drugs that are registered for use in cattle in Canada, and knowledge is building on the appropriate dosage, routes of administration and synergy between anesthetics and analgesics.



Preconditioning is a management method that prepares calves to enter the feedlot and can really pay off in a retained ownership or direct marketing system. Preconditioning was developed to reduce large economic losses associated with high morbidity and mortality due to acute respiratory disease in highly stressed weaned and transported beef calves (Radostits, 2000). Calves are typically vaccinated at least 3 weeks prior to sale or shipment and are at least 4 months of age prior to being vaccinated. They are also castrated, treated for parasites and dehorned at least 3 weeks prior to sale (Radostits, 2000). A preconditioning program also requires that calves be weaned for a minimum of 45 days and have some experience eating from a feed bunk prior to leaving their place of origin. Read More...

Reproductive Failure

Reproductive failure is extremely costly for producers. However, the exact cause of loss is often very hard to determine as the problem is usually not identified until many months after the breeding season. Reproductive losses can occur as a result of any of a number of factors that limit the percentage of females that are cycling at the start of the breeding season or factors that interfere with conception or cause loss of the fetus.

The most commonly recognized causes for reproductive failure are poor cow nutrition (energy and micronutrients); venereal diseases, such as trichomoniasis (trich) and vibriosis (vibrio); other infectious diseases, such as BVDV, IBR, and leptospirosis; bull infertility, disease and injury; and changes to breeding season management (length of the breeding season, bull-to-cow ratios).

Reproductive failure is the most common reason associated with culling cows from the breeding herd. In addition to cows failing to become pregnant or aborting, other cows may take longer to become pregnant and calve late.  Calves from these cows will have significantly lower calf gains on pasture. There is also greater chance a late calving cow won’t become pregnant the next year.

The expense of an open cow to a producer is not only the lost value of a calf, but also the cost of maintaining the cow for a year without a calf being produced.  A cow that calves in the third cycle rather than the first cycle can produce a calf that is 50 or more lbs lighter at weaning.



Transportation is a critical element of modern cattle production and marketing. Nearly all cattle are transported several times in their lives. Successfully hauling livestock poses particular challenges and requires particular skills. Read More...


Calves are weaned to make sure that cows can recover their body condition before heading into winter, and to allow for specialized feeding of those calves. The abrupt separation of calves from their dams is the most common approach to weaning, but it’s also the most stressful, and calves that experience a lot of stress underperform. Read More...

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