The livestock industry has seen significant changes in the nearly 40-year career of Jo Bek, a recently retired animal sciences professor at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, Curtis, Nebraska.
Significant developments from quality assurance programs, including low stress handling procedures, as well as new vaccines, antibiotics and changes in nutritional programs have helped livestock producers.
Bek praised Temple Grandin, an animal science professor at Colorado State University, and the late Bud Williams with their research and teaching techniques. Bek also credits veterinarian Tom Noffsinger as another leader in teaching producers how to provide a low-stress cattle atmosphere.
Among the nuggets she gleaned, was that cattle naturally walk in a straight line until something stops them and they need to see who is pressuring them and where they need to go. Providing the cattle with ample sight lines and staying away from blind areas is a must. It is important for cattle to exercise, just like people, to stay healthy and build vigor, she said.
“In a way livestock are like kids, you have to work with them and train them to work for you,” Bek said about providing a low-stress environment.
Like children, an unexpected loud noise can scare or agitate them. For cattle, human noise has the same impact.
“What upset the cattle most was a human voice,” Bek said, adding the low-stress technique has changed conventional teaching and learning at colleges and at farms and feedlots.
Another pearl of wisdom Bek shares with her students is that, “Although gentle cattle are a goal, you never want to take the drive out of your cattle.”
Getting cattle acclimated into new environments helps them get off to a good start, which can improve the producer’s bottom line.
Ed Brokesh, an instructor in biological and agricultural engineering at Kansas State University, said innovation in the livestock industry has been exciting to follow. The equipment designed to help farmers and ranchers has met diverse needs in the field.
“Equipment and systems to handle livestock in greater numbers, with greater ease and safety, with better profitability have been developed and adopted,” Brokesh said.
Health conscious customers who recognize meat as an important source of protein have driven another major change, Bek said.
“Consumers are wanting to know what is in their meat and from where it comes, whether it is beef, pork or lamb,” Bek said. “I think food safety and quality will continue to be driven by consumers and the producers themselves.”
She said a strong possibility for the future of the meat industry is finding breeds that provide fatty acid levels desired by consumers.
Bek sees a continued push for antibiotics that can be used in the cattle with one application. Draxxin, Micotil, Zuprevo and Zactran, new bovine respiratory disease protection products, are brand names that producers and veterinarians have found that work in their operations.
Finding ways to reduce stress is the best defense, she said.
By instinct, cattle will put their adrenaline and cortisol into fighting off a perceived predator. There are countless stories of pen riders who check a seemingly healthy group of cattle one day only to return a few days later and find them very sick or even dead. The cattle perceived the pen rider to be a predator instead of a leader.
Prey animals always hide signs of sickness from predators. They will show signs of sickness to those they perceive to be leaders.
Research has led to the development of placing sensors on an animal that can track the animal’s blood pressure. There are now remote ways of taking temperatures as well. Drones can even be used to check cattle.
In Nebraska, a byproduct of the growing ethanol industry is providing higher quality feed for feedlot operators.
“The wet distillers by product has been a big addition to our area,” she said, noting the quality of the feed and close proximity of the ethanol plants and feedlots provides high quality feed at a reasonable price. It will always come back to price and quality.
Genetics will continue to be another area of growth, Bek said.
“I think we will see much more ahead on the study of genetics,” she said. “Today’s seedstock producers have so many genetic tools available to use. You can certainly pick the specific genetics in individuals that will work for you in your operations and the industry.”
Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or email@example.com.