6.22.16 / ADMIN
Grill with Confidence: 3 Ways Ranchers Raise Healthy Beef
By Teresa Dvorak
Teresa is a fourth-generation rancher in North Dakota. She and her husband raise alfalfa, barley, canola, corn, oats, wheat and beef cattle along with their four young daughters.
The air smells like charcoal, and the sizzle of burgers and steaks can be heard in the distance. These signs can only mean one thing: summer has arrived at last.
Along with swimming and baseball, grilling is clearly one of America’s favorite summer pastimes. People from all walks of life gather together to enjoy beef prepared just the way they like. For some, that means burgers piled sky-high with toppings. For others, it means steaks cooked medium-rare.
No matter your preferences, we can all agree that we want cattle raised responsibly on the ranch before reaching our plates. As a rancher and mom, it’s my job and passion to ensure our cattle are kept healthy so the beef they produce is safe to eat.
Here are three ways ranchers like us are ensuring you can grill with confidence this summer.
Our veterinarian focuses on prevention.
Our overall herd-health program starts with a strong vaccination protocol.
Before we think about treating illnesses, we want to do everything we can to prevent our animals from ever getting sick. We work with our veterinarian to develop a vaccination protocol suited to our particular cattle. Typically, our cattle will receive two to three shots per year, vaccinating them for more than 20 diseases that they could contract in their natural environment.
We also reduce their stress as much as possible.
Like with humans, times of stress can weaken cows’ immune systems, increasing their chances of getting sick. For many calves, common stressful times coincide with weaning (separating calves from their source of milk around 6-7 months of age) and transportation from the pasture to the feedlot, where they are finished for market.
We want to keep their transitions smooth and comfortable to help keep them healthy.
For example, because harsh weather can make weaning even more difficult, we wait for the conditions to be ideal before making the change. And when moving cattle to the feedlot, we prepare the area with clean, warm bedding and alter their diets slowly once they arrive.
These little practices make a big difference in keeping our cattle healthy, preventing the need for medication.
We treat our cattle with medication only when necessary.
I’m sure each of us, at some point or another, has caught a bug when it was going around. Even if we get enough sleep, drink enough water and munch on those daily apples, sometimes it just happens – and we get sick.
The same can be said for our cattle.
We care for the health of our animals, so they are observed several times each day for any signs of sickness. Whenever an animal is showing signs of sickness – lethargy, decreased appetite, lack of weight gain – we have access to our veterinarian who determines the proper diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes, the animal needs an antibiotic.
Like your family doctor, our veterinarian does not take prescribing medications lightly. Our vet is only going to recommend an antibiotic when it’s clear the cow is in distress.
We take the responsibility that comes with treating our cattle very seriously. We understand the risk of antibiotic resistance and we don’t want any of our antibiotics (for humans or cattle) to become ineffective. The cost of medication is also a factor. Antibiotics aren’t cheap, so we only use them when they are actually needed.
Each illness is looked at individually, and we consider all the factors – our vet’s recommendation, animal comfort, cost – before making a decision.
We keep track of treatments.
When a cow or calf gets sick, we follow a strict protocol.
This begins with ensuring that the proper dosage was given to the animal – no more, no less. Then we take notes throughout treatment, including:
- Symptoms shown
- Diagnosed sickness
- Antibiotic received
- Amount of antibiotic received
- Withdrawal period
The withdrawal period – the number of days that must pass between the last antibiotic treatment and before the animal can enter the food supply – of a given antibiotic may be 14 days, even if the antibiotic is only effective for seven or less. And even though not all of our cattle will go directly to be processed, we won’t sell the animal until that withdrawal window is complete.
For more information on the care that’s taken in processing your beef, check out this video of the ranch owned by a couple of my fellow CommonGround volunteers.
If you have more questions on how your beef is raised, the women of CommonGround are here to help. Add a question or comment below or visit us on Facebook. We’d love to hear from you.