Risky Business

Throughout my experiences with agricultural education, perhaps my favorite topic is beef production. I have raised six steers throughout my 4-H experience and have learned quite a bit about the beef industry.

Since I feel so closely tied in with it, I like to keep up on the happenings of the industry as a whole. On agweb.com, an agricultural news website, an article titled “Removing Risk From a Risky Business” discusses the risk that professionals in the beef industry face on a daily basis. The article went on the assess the risk that feedlots face when it comes the the well-being of cattle. As it turns out, cattle can be categorized as “high risk” or “low risk” in terms of disease before they even arrive at the feedlot. A couple examples of high risk cattle are a freshly-weaned ranch calf or commingled cattle. They are at a higher risk to have contracted disease. Low risk cattle would be: yearlings, preconditioned calfs and Mexican cattle.

In a perfect world, 100% of cattle would live through the feedlot process. Realistically, however, that just doesn’t happen. Disease kills off a certain percentage each year and it is vital to the sustainability of the rancher that the percentage remains as low as possible. In order to prevent unnecessary casualties, the cattle are treated with antibiotics. The antibiotics are preventative to most diseases, but in the event that a calf is infected before being treated, antibiotics will not help much. Some calves had been treated multiple times in hopes of curing them of their disease. In one case, a single calf had been treated 28 times. It did not recover. In a case such as this, the ill calf must be euthanized to prevent disease from spreading to the healthy cattle.

Professionals made a revision to feedlot protocol that serves to prevent over-treating cattle. The sick cattle were separated into special segmented areas and were treated a maximum of three times. If the calf did not recover, euthanasia was used.

The beef industry is a business. A business is run for the purpose of generating money. Although some people do not believe that the euthanization of animals is ethical, sometimes it is necessary to keep the rest of the herd healthy. It is done humanely and the animal does not suffer. Ranchers do not benefit from this either because a single head of cattle is worth between $1,000 and $2,000. They lose cattle- they lose money. If they catch the problem at its source, the business can continue to grow and be healthy.

The limited number of treatments will save ranchers money and headaches in the long run. Although they might lose more cattle initially, the herd will eventually flourish with all healthy members.

*Below are the two steers that my family is currently raising. They are both an Angus cross breed and their names are Harry and Lloyd.

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