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Animal Health Notebook

Problems and forecasts for the next 10 years

elenabs-iStock-GettyImages artwork of virtual meeting
Recent discussion on beef industry problems started the author thinking about some of the issues.
Discussion group piques author’s predictive juices.

Recently I read and reread some interesting comments by bovine practitioners, cow doctors and university and dairy-company people about problems and concerns.

The guys presently outnumbered the girls but that won’t happen in 2030. Probably, there are more women large animal clinicians than men under the age of 45. Dee Griffin from Texas A&M was likely the only respondent older than yours truly. Griffin has feedyard practiced more than four decades and has been in academia for 30 or more years.

The issues in this veterinarians’ discussion included:

  • Labor
  • Food borne illness
  • Marketing savvy
  • Increase of consolidation & industrialization
  • Close margins
  • Toxic waste
  • Husbandry moving to science
  • Increase in speed and mobility of diagnostics
  • Medication changes
  • National ID program
  • Land investors and cow/calf operations (changes in land ownership)
  • Steers vs bulls in marketing channels
  • Urbanization of agricultural land

Labor stood out as topic No. 1. My thoughts and beliefs are that everyone involved in an operation needs to be in training at low cost or liability, ideally subcontracted for their own business or a partner in the business. I am not interested in grunts. I’m not necessarily talking about 50:50 partners, either.

Less than 2% of our population has real farm agricultural experience. The only people any of us actually need are key personnel and we might need them a bunch. I’m looking for self-starters. I’m a bit of a steering wheel but that’s about all. I’ll find a private contractor regularly. I’ll use part-time high school and college people if they’ll work. I’m not against a team but every member has got to be a team player and they need some skin in the game.

I take our business seriously. I need people that have skills, energy, honesty and integrity. Loyalty is a must. I love and believe in fun and enjoyment. But I’m looking for motivated people. My job is not to be the motivator with the exception of friends and clients. If you are on my team you need to be self-motivated. My job is to not bust your balloon, but you need a balloon.

The take home here is involvement with key people. Include skills, honesty, energy, integrity and especially loyalty. A veterinary practice requires loyalty. Multiple checks and balances and nearly constant audits is most often due to lack of the above. Thieves are most always intelligent and most are talented and charismatic. They can be very expensive and there is always something or somebody that wants your space.

Food-borne illness was brought to the table by several of our colleagues. This is a big deal to those of us that are close to the end of the food chain especially if the end can be traced back. Most of the food industry is against “trace-back.” Veterinarians seldom have any option as the truth is that when we doctor and treat or cut and sew the buck stops with us.

Now when I have a local niche marketer the deal changes again. When an eater buys my steak it is easy to trace if high satisfaction fails to result.

Several vets in that discussion I referenced spoke about animal ID and traceability. With 80% of beef being harvested and processed by four huge corporations I doubt that we’ll see accurate ID/traceability. If we do, the least profitable part of our industry (cow-calf operations) or the taxpayer will pay for it. Veterinarians might make money on an ID program but I’ll not hold my breath.

Gut microbiome and immunity was addressed by four or more veterinarians as well as other environmental, nutritional and genetic issues they thgouth would increase in importance during the third decade of the century. It was interesting that gut microbiome and immunity was not spoken of with any relationship to several factors that I consider essential, which are mostly soil and forage and birth.

A few of us have noted and written on the close relationship of genetics, immunity, epigenetics, and health to land management. Land management includes soil health and life, plant life and health, as well as the cattle and wildlife. Calves are programmed in utero long before birth. The last six weeks have long proven to be very important. The calf learns what to eat starting weeks and months before birth. Calves born following four to eight weeks after the green-up of diverse plant life positively programs the future calf health. We all realize the importance of colostrum

But there is much more. Ruminant health is highly dependent on time and timing and environment. Calves born onto highly diverse pastures in the late spring or early summer have few immunity or disease issues. Soil mineralization, soil health and plant diversity and maturity have proven to be very important to the immune system development and function. Most pastures and plants require 70 or more days to clean up.

Age is another factor that much of the cattle industry continues to neglect. As veterinarians we need to learn the natural model and its importance. The longer the calf stays in the herd the more functional the immune system and competence becomes. The cow-calf business needs to move toward what I would call the cow-yearling business. Yearling health vastly exceeds calf health and yearling health is best developed at home or near the house. Long rides are cushioned by age and health.

A doctor up in Canada made the statement that the art of veterinary practice needs to move to science. This is incorrect since the truth is that good science seldom does more than prove good husbandry, much of which is experience and art. An example would be the science behind SPF pigs that had high cost every time a pathogen showed up. And pathogens are a part of all natural systems.

Health status monitoring will be a big deal. Management that includes a daily update will be a plus. Presently there are remote cameras being used that report to smart phones every quarter hour. Veterinarians need to be and will likely be involved shortly.

Antibiotic usage will drop tremendously when and if the industry moves from the feedlot to the pasture. Antibiotic usage will likely drop tremendously even if this does not happen. As we learn the connection of genetics, soil life and health, plant health and diversity and the ensuring cattle health new horizons will arise. Zero antibiotic cattle with healthy livers and organ function finished with a little supplement on pasture are now possible and veterinarians need to be heavily involved in this arena.

Personally, I believe the cattle industry and the veterinary profession need to move away from consolidation. Remember that we are or should likely be in the health promotion not the doctoring business. We can help eliminate disease, stress and provide welfare. Everybody wants quality cattle that work. Everybody in their right mind wants beef that builds people’s health.

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