An inscription on the wall of the Lexington, Nebraska, 4-H Building reads: "It is not what the 4-H member does to the calf that really matters, it is what the calf does to the 4-H member.”
4-H/FFA programs are about little successes in a project, which lead to bigger successes in life. In some way every year, I cite the importance of daily chores for project successes and animal care. It really does not matter whether you have 20 broiler chickens or a lamb, goat, calf, dog or cat, if you do not enjoy daily chores, you should not be entrusted with animals.
Commercial farms with hundreds or thousands of animals have to enjoy daily chores to be successful. The animal has to be successful before the farmer or rancher can be successful.
The same premise is used in the cattle industry to promote the "five freedoms" of cattle welfare in the raising and care of animals.
Dan Thomson, DVM at the Beef Cattle Institute, Kansas State University, says that the five freedoms were determined by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) as things we need to be sure to provide for farm animals under our care.
"They are a statement of common sense in animal care," Thomson says.
Developed in 1983 by the United Kingdom FAWC, the “Five Freedoms for Farm Animals” are:
- Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition;
- Freedom from environmental challenge (discomfort);
- Freedom from disease, injury and functional impairment;
- Freedom to express normal behavior; and
- Freedom from anxiety, fear, pain and distress.
"We do a great job providing these for beef cattle," Thomson says. "The Beef Quality Assurance training and the self-assessment tools for feedyards, stockers and cow-calf operations were founded on these principles."
The Beef Cattle Institute assessed approximately 80% of the fed cattle capacity in Kansas and found that producers are doing a fantastic job of providing these five freedoms.
"Our cattle-handling practices in feedyards are outstanding."
But there's always room for improvement. Thomson says a couple of areas of animal welfare interest in the future of the beef industry include examining cattle comfort from environmental stressors such as heat stress or mud, decreasing stress associated with castration/dehorning and preventing respiratory diseases through preconditioning cattle prior to entering the marketing system.
Recurring droughts point to the breadth of work involved in assuring animals are cared for well. Pastures are drying up, requiring water hauling, alternate feed options or drylotting cattle. Handling heat stress for confined animals is essential. Planning for alternate options for cattle feed is a major task requiring creative tasks—far from routine work.