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BCRC’s Producer Survey Helps Check-Off Dollars Go Further and Supports Consumer Confidence 🎙️

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on BeefResearch.ca with permission of the publisher.

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beef calves outside lot

January’s column talked about the Canadian Cow-Calf Survey that the Beef Cattle Research Council is running to help focus our research priorities and extension efforts. But the information from this survey also helps us demonstrate the value of research to government funders and helps support efforts to improve consumer confidence.

The government angle is important because the BCRC stretches the research portion of your Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off dollar as far as we can by matching each Check-Off dollar with one or more government research dollars. Governments are much more likely to (co)fund our projects when they have confidence that industry will use the results, when it makes sense to do so.

The consumer confidence angle is important because consumers enjoy beef – but they don’t want to feel guilty about eating it. Some groups try to reduce or eliminate beef consumption by undermining consumer confidence. These days, “cows produce greenhouse gas” is a prominent guilt strategy to discourage meat consumption, but animal welfare concerns – like the pain experienced during castration – are also popular.

All beef producers understand that castrating bull calves early heads off worse welfare problems (like fighting, injury and unwanted pregnancies) down the road. But castration is still painful, no matter how you do it. Surgical castration is mostly acute pain – it hurts a lot during and immediately after the surgery. The longer-term (chronic) pain diminishes as the wound heals. Band castration may cause less acute pain when the band goes on, but is followed by more chronic pain, then a resurgence of acute pain when the scrotum sloughs off.

Generally, the earlier calves are castrated, the better. Castrating calves in the first few days of life leads to a smaller wound, faster healing and less profound impacts on growth compared to castrating older calves at spring processing, weaning or in the feedlot. There’s also some evidence that newborn calves feel less pain than older calves. Castrating calves as young as possible is generally best for animal welfare, but small, cuddly baby calves also tug at the heartstrings more, if you’re trying to make a consumer feel guilty about eating beef.

Producers couldn’t do much to practically alleviate castration pain until injectable meloxicam was approved for use in Canadian cattle a few years ago. This was followed by even more user-friendly anti-inflammatory drugs, including pour-on banamine and an oral meloxicam developed by a Canadian company (Solvet).

At the same time, industry-funded research demonstrated that meloxicam reduced surgical or castration pain in calves at weaning, spring processing and even shortly after birth (although weaning weights didn’t improve). This independent science supported the efforts of extension experts, veterinarians, industry groups (and, of course, the drug companies) to encourage the adoption of these products. Industry surveys then tracked how producers adopted them across the country over the years.

What We’ve Learned

The 2018 Adoption Rates Report found that the adoption of pain control for castration increased from 4% of Western Canadian producers in 2013 to 28% in 2017. Adoption had reached similar levels in Ontario (26%) but has been somewhat slower in Atlantic Canada (10%).

charolais calf red tag in straw

How We’ve Used It

We have used this example to demonstrate to government funders that Canadian beef producers are clearly willing to modify long-standing traditions and adopt new practices that are supported by science.

Understanding how adoption of pain control varies among regions helps us to understand where adoption is taking hold, and increased producer communication may be helpful.

Seeing how readily Canadian cow-calf producers are adopting pain control for castration is also a good message that supports consumer confidence – even with tight economic margins, cow-calf producers have been willing to spend money to help their calves feel better – even without any obvious economic or weaning weight benefits.

So What Does This Mean…To You?

Solvet, the Canadian company that developed oral meloxicam, has now developed a castration band impregnated with a slow-release anesthetic to help alleviate both acute and chronic pain. Lidoband is already approved for use in the US and continues to wind its way through Canada’s regulatory process. If you’re interested, ask your veterinarian.

2023-2024 Canadian Cow-Calf Survey

Bottom Line: When research generates a product or practice that fills a real need, producers will adopt it. Tracking producer adoption helps us prioritize and focus our extension efforts better. But tracking adoption also brings indirect benefits. When we can demonstrate that producer-funded research leads to adoption, government funders have more confidence that our projects are also a good investment of their taxpayer dollars. This helps us fund more research and gets you more bang for your Check-Off buck. And demonstrating that “when producers can do better, they will do better” supports consumer confidence.

The Canadian Cow-Calf Survey is open until the end of March. Thanks to everyone who has already completed it. If you haven’t participated yet, please take a few minutes to do so. It will help us refine our research and producer extension efforts so that we can help you and our industry more effectively. You can find it at www.BeefResearch.ca/survey.

Complete the survey & share!

Read some of the recent comments about the survey on X (Twitter):
Cow-Calf Survey comments

The Beef Cattle Research Council is a not-for-profit industry organization funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off. The BCRC partners with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, provincial beef industry groups and governments to advance research and technology transfer supporting the Canadian beef industry’s vision to be recognized as a preferred supplier of healthy, high-quality beef, cattle, and genetics. Learn more about the BCRC at www.BeefResearch.ca.

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