All Things Agriculture!

As a young producer, I know that many producers and consumers have questions about issues in agriculture, myself being one of them. As a member of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association's Cattlemen's Young Leaders (CYL) Program, I was given the opportunity to attend meetings and listen in on many speakers and industry leaders in the Agriculture Industry. This was a great experience and it introduced me to many issues and topics in the cattle industry that I was not already familiar with. To be quite honest, it was somewhat overwhelming. In some of the meetings during the International Livestock Congress in Calgary, I was introduced to many acronyms involving a variety of issues in the agriculture industry, and without any background information on them it was pretty hard to understand. The information was so interesting and useful to the industry, but without much background in some of the issues, they were hard to understand. I want to change that. I want to give people a heads up and a little information guide to all things agriculture! 

So here it is! I plan to update something new, a new topic of discussion, a new issue in agriculture once or twice a week! I will take a look at different medications for cattle, topics in bio-security, traceability, cuts of meat, kinds of crops, finances for farmers and ranchers, soil types, and all sorts of topics and issues related to agriculture!

I invite you to stay tuned and learn with me! If there are ever any questions or issues that anyone would like to be discussed just leave a comment and I will look into it and try and explain as much as possible!!

My family lives on a commercial cow/calf farm.  When I say commercial, I mean that for the most part our cattle are not purebreds.  The only purebreds on our farm are the bulls and my Charolais  heifer.  As a commercial farmer we make a good portion of our income selling our calves to the auction mart in the fall when they are anywhere from 180 days to 210 days old.  These calves are then sent to a feedlot where they are fed until they reach the proper body condition and age to be slaughtered.

So what is castration?

As I discussed in the post "Mommy Mayhem" a bull is a male calf with his testicles intact, and a steer is a male calf who wasn't so lucky and no longer has his testicles.   
Castration- is the process of removal of the testicles in a bull calf.  This results in the formation of a steer calf which is raised for beef

Why do we castrate?

The fate of the calf after it is born is determined by a few different conditions, involving two different scenarios. 

On a purebred cattle farm, male calves are often kept to use as breeding bulls, or to sell to other farmers for their use of them as breeding bulls.  However, not all of the male calves are kept on purebred farms.  The farmer chooses which bulls that he feels are genetically and structurally superior to the others, and depending on how many he needs, he then decides how many and which bulls he will keep.  If there is a smaller male calf, or a calf that just is not doing as well as the other male calves, likely the farmer will decide not to keep the calf for a bull.  The calf will then be castrated and made into a steer.  

On a commercial cattle farm, most farmers never use their crossbred bulls as breeding bulls, so often on a commercial farm all of the male calves will become castrated.  After being sold the castrated steers are fed at feedlots and sent to slaughter houses along with older cows that can no longer produce calves, and heifers that do not meet the standards of the farmer.  Of course any cow could be sent to the slaughter house for various reasons, I am just giving you an idea of the majority that are shipped there.  

Castrated male calves- steers- have a different body mass placement than male calves with their testicles- bulls.  Bulls often use a great deal of the body mass up by their neck, whereas the prime cuts of meat such as your=- develop in the back half of a steer.  The beef from a steer is often more tender than that of a bull or an older cow, and more often than not, consumers want tender meat.

  • castrating stops the production of the male hormones and the semen which prevents the male calf from breeding any females
  • steers often have a calmer demeanor than bulls so historically castration was used to tame oxen for work on farms and other work
  • castration decreases the aggressiveness and the steers drive to mount other animals, which in turn decreases the frequency of dark-cutters at the slaughter house. (note: dark cutters are dark red meat which is caused usually by animal stress.  Although there is no difference in the meats taste, it has a shorter shelf life and often consumers won't purchase it because of the darker color.)
  • with steers farmers are able to avoid the discounted price that packers pay for a bulls carcass
  • and best of all, steers provide meat products of the quality that consumers demand
  • some farmers love the taste of prairie oysters (cooked bull testicles).  After castrating calves some farmers like to throw a party and fry the prairie oysters up.  They have even been known to be sold at some well-known public venues such as the Coors Field during Colorado Rockies games.

I recently attended a get together at a friend's house after they branded and castrated all of their cattle.  The main course at the party were the prairie oysters (left).  The boys soaked some of them in Frank's Red Hot sauce and passed them around for all in attendance.  The picture's below show the boys cooking them up, it is quite the process!

Castration - The Process

There are a few different methods that can be used when castrating calves.  My family uses a scalpel.  We call up the vet one day a year and she comes to the farm and castrates all of our calves for us.  The process can be read about just below! 
Castration can be done physically, chemically, or hormonally, but the physical methods are the most common.  
I am going to discuss three ways of doing castration.  If you have an sensitive stomach or don't really want to know indepth just how castration is done, you may want to stop reading now!! Sorry!

1) Elastic Band Castration

Figure 2. Elastic band at top of testicles.Figure 1 - Elastrator tool used to apply rubber rings.The elastrator tool is used to apply rubber rings to the testicles.  The Elastic band cuts off blood supply to the testicles and the scrotum.  A lack of blood supply kills the testicles and in time the testicles and the scrotum fall from the body.  The elastrator is more to be used on younger calves, up to three weeks.  The EZE and Callicrate are tools used to band older, larger calves.  These tools use a latex band instead.  The image on the right shows where the elastic ring will be placed when castrating with this method
Advantages and Disadvatages- This method is bloodless, and fairly easy to perform.  However, the wounds heal more slowly than those done surgically and there is always the risk that the band may break or not stop the circulation to the testicles, as well as a potential for a missed testicle.  

2) Burdizzo Clamps
Figure 4. Burdizzo castration sites.Figure 3.  A picture of burdizzo clamp.This method sounds a bit more gruesome.  With this method the blood vessels are crushed, stopping the blood supply to the testicles, thus killing them.  The hard part is that the Burdizzo needs to be held tightly in place for at least 10 seconds to stop the blood flow, and if a calf is acting up this can be quite hard.  
Advantages and Disadvantages- although this method is bloodless, it is also slow to perform and it requires expertise.  If you don't do it correctly then it may not be effective.

3) Surgical Castration
Figure 5. Scalpel.
This is what my family uses.  This method is the most certain method of castration because the testicles are removed completely.  The calves should be put out to dry land after the surgery to prevent infection.  It is better to do the calves at a younger age as usually they will experience less stress and less bleeding.  The vet does our castration for us, but some farmers are able to do their own.  There are two different kinds of incisions that can be made
Figure 8. Emasculator.
Figure 6. Incision method A.  Figure 7. Incision method B.

Advantages and Disadvantages-  There is blood, so bleeding now becomes a risk and it takes more time to perform than banding the calves.  There also becomes the risk of infection because of the open wounds, but these wounds heal more quickly than the wounds from the rubber ring.  This is the best way to be sure that the calves are castrated and that we have no nutty surprises.

In all types of castration, younger calves heal quicker and there are fewer complications than with older calves which is why many farmers tend castrate their calves at a younger age.  

I hope that this castration special has informed you about castration, why we do it and how it is done, and that any questions that you may have had have been answered, if not, let me know! I'd love to answer any questions that you have!! 

Thanks for reading everyone!!

<3 Sam

The other day while talking about agriculture with a few friends from the city, one of them asked me about feedlots. She said "we know about your farm, and how much you love the animals, and how well you treat them, but what about the places where you ship them? We don't know anything about them and how they treat animals!"
This is so true.  It just feels so natural to me to know where my cattle are going, and how they go from pasture to plate.  Had I not grown up on a farm though, I doubt I would know what happens.  So I want to change that for all the followers of my blog!  If you don't have a lot of time, scroll to the red writing and read the story from a vegan and his trip to the feedlot! 

Feedlots, backgrounding - What are they?

Feedlots are animal feeding operations which serve to feed cattle to a desired weight which will provide consumers with a healthy, tasty eating experience. 


As of July 1, 2010, there were 12.57 million beef cattle in Canada.  These cattle spend most of their lives grazing on pasture and range. Typically, young cattle are taken off pasture and transferred to intensive livestock operations (ILO), or feedlots, for a short period of time, where they are fed nutritionally balanced rations that ensure a high quality product for the consumer. - Canadian Cattlemen's Association

My family is the first step in the beef production.  We are the calf producers.  We breed our cows to calve anywhere from February to May, and then sell the steer calves and whatever heifer calves we don't want to keep for breeding cows in October.  At weaning time, the baby calves are usually 352 lbs on the low end to 700 lbs on the high end.  Obviously no one is going to want to butcher a calf who is only 600 lbs, so the calves need to be put on feed once they are weaned so that they gain sufficient weight, and produce good quality meat.  Raising calves for butcher requires feeding them grain and other cereal crop mixes in order for them to gain properly to produce the meat that consumers enjoy.  
At the time of weaning, many smaller sized calves will go to a backgrounding operation before they are sent to the feedlot; a larger calf will be sent directly to a feedlot.  
So let me break this down for you! 

Backgrounding refers to the growing, feeding and managing of steers and heifers from weaning until they enter a feedlot and are placed on a high concentrate finishing ration.  Backgrounding is used to increase the weight of calves up to 700 lbs, when they are then sent to a feedlot.  At a backgrounding operation, calves are fed at a slower rate, on grass or feed, allowing them to grow in their bones and their muscle, without getting too fat.
Some farmers background their own calves after weaning, using homegrown feed to bring the calves to a weight that is good for the feedlots, a weight that can handle the higher concentrated food.    
Backgrounding Cattle


Historically, cattle were finished in small farm feedlots. Today, highly specialized cattle feedlots feed most of the province’s cattle to market weight. Alberta’s natural resources and climate are especially suitable to the cattle feeding industry. There are now 4,000 feedlots in Alberta, making the province the fifth largest cattle feeding area in North America.
Although feedlots can range in size from a capacity of few hundred head to almost 40,000 cattle at one time, the larger-sized feedlots now finish the majority of cattle in Alberta. About 100 feedlots with capacities over 1,000 head produce at least 75 per cent of the finished beef cattle in the province. The feedlot system produces a consistently uniform and high quality beef product for the consumer. Alberta’s feedlot industry is primarily located in the south central and southern regions of the province, in close proximity to the beef processing plants located in southern Alberta.
Feedlot owners either purchase calves or feeder cattle from cow/calf and backgrounding operations, or they custom feed cattle for clients on a fee-for-service basis. -

Calves are shipped to feedlots when they around 700 lbs.  Feedlots work to bring the calves to the slaughter weight which is around 1100 - 1400 lbs.  I know this sounds terrible, but it isn't.  Terrible would be starving the calves or force feeding them, and this isn't what happens.  At feedlots the cattle are given better nutritional advice than most humans.  Specialists take into account many factors when they decide what kind of feed the calves should be on, and all of the calves are on a several step feed program. 
Feed lot

Calves are sorted into uniform groups for similar feeding and management.  These groups are sorted often by weight, age, color, and breed, and this helps to determine what percentage of forage, like hay and silage, versus grain, the calves will be on.  Lighter calves are started on a ration that has more forage than grain.  As they gain weight, the ratio of forage to grain continues to decrease as more grain is added.  But it isn't easy to figure out the food.  Specialists have to weigh out the exact amount, and the feedlot managers have to know exactly what ration to feed which pen.  Feedlot managers provide specially formulated diets to met the animals' nutritional needs and allow them to grow quickly and efficiently!  

If the feedlot managers didn't care about their animals, why would they spend so much time making sure they are healthy and being fed the proper meals?
As the calves continue to grow closer to the slaughter size, the amount of grain that they are eating is increased.  Increasing the amount of grain increases the rate of gain of the calves. 

The video above shows a family farm, a dairy farm, as well as a feedlot.  Each of the people are just as concerned with maintaining animal health as one another.  Feedlot's care also.

As I have been made aware, what bothers people about the idea of a feedlot is the idea that all of the cattle are cramped into small pens, without sufficient food, water, shelter and bedding.  This is wrong.  In Canada, there are many regulations given to feedlot owners which control the number of cattle per pen, the amount of food to be fed per amount of cattle, the amount of wind that should hit the cattle, the way that the ground should slope, the distance from the waterer to the bunks, the height of the feed bunks, and so, so much more.  The pens in many of the feedlots are slanted down away from the feeding troughs to allow any water run off to run away from the feed bunks, as well, to provide dry spots for the cattle at all times.  Usually in the center of the pen is the high spot to make sure that all cattle have dry spots to live.
There are regulations set in place which set rules for handling of waste, the amount the cattle should be fed, the number of head per pen, and so many more which are all decided based on individual feedlots.  Dr. Temple Grandin put in place a critical welfare guideline which is followed by numerous feedlots in Canada.
Beef Feedlot

  1. Heat Relief - Panting cattle are heat stressed. The need for shade or sprinklers will depend on the geographic area. Heat stress reduces weight gain. More likely to occur in cattle fed beta-agonists such as Zilmax (Zilpaterol) or Optaflexx (Ractopamine).
  2. Mud Control - Mud over the top of the hoof is a welfare concern. Stress from mud reduces weight gain. Muddy cattle have a higher pathogen load. Score cattle for soil and mud on their bodies.
  3. Cattle Handling Practices - See feedlot audit form for scoring system for handling.
  4. Clean water troughs - Required for both welfare and food safety reasons.
  5. Euthanasia of disabled animals per American Association of Bovine Practitioner's guidelines. Non-ambulatory cattle should be euthanized at the feedlot with captive bolt, gunshot or other approved method.
  6. No dehorning or cutting of horn tips at the feedlot.
  7. No knife castration at the feedlot. Knife castration on extensive pasture operations is acceptable. Knife castration in the feedlot causes santiary problems. If castration is required use the high tension bander. Bands must be checked for tightness. If possible calves should be obtained from suppliers who will castrate them at an early age.
  8. Non-slip flooring in all handling, processing, sorting and loading areas.
  9. Branding - No branding at the feedlot unless required by law.
  10. Abnormal elongated hooves from feeding too hot a ration are not acceptable. Double the normal hoof length. If more than 1% of the cattle in any single pen in the feedlot are lame, stiff, or reluctant to move there is a problem that must be corrected. These lame animals often have feet that look normal.
  11. No aborting of heifers in the second half of pregnancy at the feedlot.
  12. Bellowing calves are an indicator that the animals were not preweaned at the ranch. If possible calves should be obtained from suppliers who will prewean and vaccinate them 5 to 8 weeks prior to shipment from the ranch of origin.
  13. Lameness caused by beta-agonist feed supplements such as Zilmax (Zilpaterol) or Optaflexx (Ractopamine). The feet will look normal and in extreme cases the outer hoof shell has detached. Lameness regardless of the cause should be scored and measured. Lameness should not exceed 5% of the cattle.

In Canada, our feedlots have many rules and regulations that are put in place by which they must abide in order to continue production.  These rules take into consideration the health, safety, and comfort of the animals, the humans who work with them, as well as the humans who will be consuming the product after it is processed into meat products.  
An example of a feedlot set up

Animal Care - Beef Cattle is a website that links consumers to various other websites showing the rules and regulations that have to be followed when caring for and handling beef cattle.  These rules should be comforting for anyone who is worried about the safety and well-being of cattle, both at the feedlots, as well as at the packing plants. 
An example of Temple Grandin's feedlot cattle handling system

Dr. Temple Grandin is responsible for safe animal handling systems all over the world.  A professor and Doctor of Animal Science, Dr. Grandin has designed livestock handling facilities and written about reducing animal stress.  Many of her practices are used worldwide.  
Dr. Temple Grandin

An autistic woman, Dr. Grandin has struggled through many battles in her life, with one main goal, to improve animal welfare.  She has spent her entire life trying to improve animal safety and researching cattle temperament, environmental enrichment for pigs, reducing dark cutters and bruises, bull fertility, training procedures, and effective stunning methods for cattle and pigs at meat plants.  Times Magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and Dr. Grandin has worked hard to make feedlots and meat packing plants animal safe.  It is because of her hard work that I know that my cattle are treated properly and safely when they leave our farm.  
I had the opportunity to personally meet Dr. Grandin in Denver, Colorado this year.  She is such an inspiration, and she honestly cares about the animals.  She is one of the most knowledgeable people I have ever met, and meeting her was a highlight of my life this far.  She is an amazing woman and I encourage all of you to check out some of her work, or even google search her!
For more on Dr. Grandin, please check out this site Temple Grandin.  There has also been a movie made about her which I would highley recommend called "Temple Grandin".

The Government of Saskatchewan has a great page that breaks down all parts of cattle handling with diagrams and ways that it should be done! Check it out! Safe Cattle Handling!

The Alberta Feedlot Management Guide will show you diagrams and information about just how cattle safe the feedlots are! I would love to include it all on my blog, but the link has it so wonderfully written out and easy to understand I am sure that you will benefit from it! 

If you have anymore questions, I would gladly answer them for you!
Check this story out! I got the article from and I thought it would be great for everyone, city folk, vegans, meat lovers, everyone!! 


I swiped this article from Wife of a Dairyman.  I'm sure she will not mind.  Check out her blog

I thought it was really interesting because it gives an outsider, non-meateater perspective on a feedlot he visited.

Cattle Feedlot: Behind The Scenes

by Ryan Andrews, June 23rd, 2010
Ryan Andrews is a nationally ranked bodybuilder from 1996-2001, Registered and Licensed Dietitian, Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach, A Masters in Nutrition, A Masters in Exercise Physiology, John’s Hopkins trained expert coach, PN Lean Eating coach.
My trip to Magnum
My day at the cattle feedlot got off to a rough start. Maybe it’s because I wore my “Have You Hugged A Vegetarian Today Shirt.” Bad move on my part, I guess.
No, I’m just kidding. I didn’t wear my vegan shirt.
And my day at the Magnum Feedyard in Wiggins, Colorado got off to a great start.
It all began at a restaurant in Hudson, Colorado, called the Pepper Pod. That’s where I met two new friends: an animal science instructor and a student from Colorado State University, who escorted me up to Wiggins to get an exclusive tour of the Magnum Feedyard.  During the 75-minute drive, a lot was going through my mind.
For starters, this visit had been 6 months, and quite a few emails/phone calls, in the making.
You see, very few people in the nutrition world are ever allowed to visit feedlots. In fact, some of my favorite authors have written entire books about feedlots without ever being granted permission to see one in person. So I had to “work it” pretty hard to get this kind of access. And was really excited.
However, despite my enthusiasm for the opportunity, I was a little worried. I mean, everything I’d read about feedlots suggested that they’re horrible, dismal places where thousands of sick cows are crammed in tiny pens, being force-fed corn while standing in steaming piles of their own feces.
As someone concerned with animal welfare, what would I do if faced with this sight? Would I run for the gates, throw them open, and let those poor cows free? Was I man enough to do that? Would I just go home with my tail between my legs? Or would I see something totally different, totally unexpected?
Arriving at Magnum Feedyard
With all these emotional and philosophical thoughts running through my head, I wasn’t prepared for the first thought that hit me when we arrived at Magnum – one of the 14,000 beef cattle operations in Colorado.
“Oh, god, the smell.”

Yes, the first thing I noticed when I arrived was the smell. And no, it wasn’t fear. I smelled manure. I guess I should have expected it. After all, I was standing among 20,000+ steers and heifers. Duh, welcome to farming, Ryan!

The Magnum farm
In the U.S. there are 2.2 million farms. 98% of them meet the USDA definition of a “family farm.”
The USDA considers a “family farm” any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and his/her relatives. Steve Gabel, president of the Colorado Livestock Association, owns Magnum, and runs it with his family.

So, Magnum fits this criterion and is thus considered a “family farm”
This is me and Steve Gabel, owner of Magnum.
So if Steve’s is a “family farm,” what’s a “factory farm”?
Well, the term “factory farm” isn’t actually used in the agricultural community. So, in essence, it’s slang that was coined by skeptics of the cattle industry.
The agricultural community actually calls large animal feeding units “CAFOs.” CAFO means Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. A CAFO has more than 1,000 animal units, and 1 beef cow = 1 animal unit.
For the record, 75% of all beef in the U.S. comes from CAFOs.
And, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, CAFOs “congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.”
So, Magnum fits the criterion of a CAFO. When it started in 1993, Magnum had 4,500 cattle. Now they have 22,000. And operations are managed with 8-13 employees (depending on the time of year).

Magnum houses 22,000 cattle
But, wait a minute! Magnum is a family farm. And Magnum is a factory farm. How can it be both?
Well, they were started and are run by a family. But they also congregate more than 22,000 beef cattle. So, they meet the definition for both categories.
Of course, that makes clean and tidy, black and white judgments about cattle operations harder to make. Trust me it’ll get harder in a minute.
What Magnum cattle eat
When animals arrive at Magnum, they are usually 7 – 9 months of age. During their first four days, they receive 100% grass feed to help maintain rumen health.
Wait a second! Don’t all feedlot cattle get 100% corn? With maybe a sprinkling of soy mixed in?
Uh, nope.
There are five different rations used at Magnum, comprised of seven ingredients, including corn, soy, alfalfa, straw, and wet grain distillers (by-products of the ethanol industry). And these feeds range from 0% corn to 50% corn.
Here are a few pics of the different feeds:

A wet distiller, corn-based.

One of the rations is corn-based.

One of the rations is grass-based.
Feed is delivered by a truck three times each day. And, interestingly, as noted above, corn doesn’t comprise more than 50% of any of the feed ration.
Wait, wait. What about all those reports of sick cows being stuffed with corn?
Well, folks, at Magnum anyway, there’s no such thing as an “all grain” cattle diet. In fact, the diet of the cattle at Magnum never exceeds 50% corn. And often, it’s much, much less.
This is the feed truck that makes its rounds three times per day.

This is where all the feed ingredients are mixed in the back of the truck.

As many animal nutrition experts know, too much grain in a cow’s diet can result in rumen acidosis. That is why, at Magnum, the animals’ diets are formulated by nutritionists bi-weekly. This helps them maintain the correct feed for a given pen of animals.
Of course, the goal at Magnum is to feed cattle efficiently. They want the biggest weight gain for the fewest pounds of feed, in the most economical way. And, at Magnum, they do a good job of efficiency. Cattle are normally kept on the feedlot until around 12 to 15 months of age. This means they’re kept for between 150 and 240 days. During this time they gain 500 to 600 pounds.
Per day at Magnum, the cost per head of cattle is $2.10. Grab you pen and paper folks, multiply $2.10 by 22,000 cattle. Lots of money, every day.
Growth-promoting hormones are used in feedlot cattle as it increases efficiency. These are naturally occurring hormones that are regularly metabolized by the body. Most cattle don’t get antibiotics. And if they do, they need it. Further, they won’t be sent to slaughter until 21 days after antibiotic administration, since it takes that long for the antibiotic to clear the system.
Organic feed
According to Magnum, organic feed doesn’t seem to increase meat quality or safety. Research doesn’t really support the idea either. But, organic feed does allow consumers another option (i.e. organic meat vs. non-organic meat). And organic farming practices may have some benefits for the planet.
Of course, in today’s farming climate, less than 1% of American cropland is certified organic. If a lot more was, it would require a lot more composted animal manure. Fortunately, Magnum is on the right track (with composting) if this pattern were to take hold.
Grass-Fed, Free-Range
Sure, some folks think grass-fed, free-range is better. But, as any good PN reader can attest, it’s a heckuva lot more expensive. And, at the end of the day, Magnum is competing for the protein food dollar. Mainstream America is currently buying conventionally fed meat from cattle, so, feedlots keep producing it.
It’s also important to know that if we continue to eat 200+ pounds of meat per person per year in the U.S., grass-fed isn’t really an option. There’s not enough land.
But it would be an option for meat eaters if we reduced overall meat consumption. Is that something our nation is willing to do? Maybe. In time. Right now, however, it doesn’t look like it.
What about E. coli?
E. coli (or Escherichia coli O157:H7) is a natural occurring pathogen in the digestive tract of cattle, but can be minimized through production practices, i.e. clean living conditions.
E. coli serogroups O26, O111, O145, and others have become a public health problem, accounting for 37,000 illnesses and 30 deaths in the U.S. alone.
Among critics of the “factory farm” model, there’s a large concern about E. coli contamination. Many suggest that feeding cattle a high grain-based diet can increase e-coli in the gut. And cross-contamination with meat makes for, not only sick animals, but sick people.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a relationship between feed and harmful E. coli contamination. Indeed, studies reveal no difference in E. coli O157:H7 prevalence or numbers between cattle fed grain vs. grass. And there are no studies that show superiority for one system vs. the other.
So it seems like this concern is more of a cleanliness issue, not a feed issue.
Cattle care
Speaking of cleanliness, Magnum wants the cattle to be clean and comfortable.
I know, I know, I can see my animal welfare comrades shaking their heads – - but think about it. From a profit standpoint, if animals aren’t comfortable, they aren’t going to eat. If they don’t eat, they don’t grow. If they don’t grow, they won’t be much use to the dude wanting to buy a big steak.
Lots of feedlot cattle were males born on dairy farms. You can tell them by their black and white color.
Also, technology is improving the way cattle are treated. Many cattle are tagged with identification and tracked.This tracking allows farmers to know a host of things like: the length of time the cattle have been there, their health history, their previous feed, their current feed needs, their current health, and any notable health or welfare concerns.
Magnum even has guys riding on horses around pens called, well, “pen riders,” who check cattle for problems. An animal nutritionist even comes on site every couple weeks to check how the cattle are feeding. If anything looks out of the ordinary, a session with the vet is likely. Sick animals are taken to a “hospital” pen and given care.
Newsflash: Let’s face it, most people in North America haven’t been to a doctor since their mom took them before high school graduation. Further, most humans acquire “feed” from the Cocoa Puff and Pop-Tart aisle.

My health care is better than yours.
Yes, what I’m trying to say is that Magnum Feedyard cattle receive better health care than many North Americans. They get regular vet appointments and a simple diet that is nutrient dense.
Ok, I think we can all agree the living conditions are debatable. But before you rag on feedlot health care, how do your habits compare?
Waste at Magnum
Magnum recently started composting manure and mortalities (i.e. cattle that don’t make it). It’s gotten more expensive to send deceased cattle to processing plants that manufacture pet foods, so this was the next best option.
Plus it’s more sustainable. And the cattle don’t end up standing around in piles of their own feces. Whew!
The Holiday Inn
Have you ever been to a Holiday Inn? That’s kind of like Magnum. They are a hotel for cattle. Profit increases as occupancy increases.
But there’s a slight difference. Upon checkout from the Holiday Inn you get a free newspaper, a mint, and a shuttle to the airport. When you checkout from Magnum, you get a one way shuttle to the slaughterhouse.
Nearly every week, a truck picks up cattle and transports them to a meat packing plant. This is where cattle are harvested and the carcasses fabricated. It’s important for the cattle to be transported quickly and calmly. The more stressed the animal, the lower the quality the meat.
95% of the steers and heifers from Magnum are sold to two packers, both in Colorado, JBS Swift in Greeley and Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan. The meat from these cows makes its way nationwide.
I was tired of talking about, reading about, and hearing about feedlots. Especially when many of the accounts were from people who had never been to a feedlot in their lives.
So, when I was given this sort of rare access, I jumped at the chance to check one out for myself.
The sign you see when leaving Magnum.
And, I have to say it. If my experience at Magnum is representative of other cattle farms, all those accounts of the dismal, depressing, disastrous cattle conditions seem to be exaggerated.

No, I’m not going to start eating meat again.
However, if I did eat meat, my visit to Magnum would have made me feel great about eating non-organic, non-grass-fed beef. Seriously. I can’t imagine the quality of meat would be substantially better with organic and grass-fed. Nor can I imagine the living conditions would be substantially better for the cattle.
Now, to be clear, we don’t require meat in our diet. And I don’t think we should be using cows for food, doesn’t matter if the cattle are kept on a feedlot or chilling in a waterbed listening to John Tesh. But that’s my own value system and I’m well aware that 97% of people in the U.S. eat meat on a regular basis.
However, considering the amount we procreate in the U.S. (there’s a birth every 8 seconds and a death every 12 seconds); and the amount of meat we eat (222 pounds per person, per year – not including marine life); and the small amount of money we’re willing to spend on food (we spend 9.6% of our disposable income on food, the lowest in the world. India spends 53%, Venezuela 34%, Italy 26%, Japan 19%, France 16%); feedlots have it right.
People want meat. And Magnum’s feedlot system is dialed in. They’re producing safe and cost-effective meat in, arguably, the most cattle-conscious way (short of opening up those pens and letting them run free). Rock on Magnum."

I really appreciate this story, and I think more people need to hear his story! Just like he said most of the people who are telling consumers that the feedlots are terrible and not humane for the animals have never even been there.  
My mom always told me not to judge a book by its cover, so how is this any different?  Those who don't really know what goes on behind the gates of a feedlot should not be the ones speaking poorly of the treatment of the animals in them.  

Hope you enjoyed! Sorry for the length, but I think that it is important that everyone knows where their beef are coming from!  If you have any questions, let me know!!


If you have ever wondered how the farmers know which calf belongs to which cow in the field, or which calf belongs to which farmer at the auction mart, this article will help explain everything!

As a Canadian farmer, we have to be very presice and careful when it comes to traceability of our cattle.  The traceability works to protect cattle, farmers, but most of all, to protect the consumers and make sure that we are giving our consumers the safest product possible.

 So What Is Traceability?

To explain things simply and brief, I turned to Wikipedia to give the complete summary of just what traceability means, and it had a great summation!

Traceability- refers to the completeness of information about every step in a process chain

In the Canadian cattle industry, farmers are expected to keep complete records on their cattle, so that if ever needed, a cow could be quickly traced back to it's last location, and eventually traced back to the original owner. 

What Does Traceability Look Like In Canada

In Canada, there are three main divisions to our traceability systems: 

  1. Identification of animals or products
    • Under the Canadian Cattle Identification program, CCIP, and the Canadian Sheep Identification Program, CSIP, all bovine, bison and ovine animals must bear a registered ID tag before they leave their farm of origin.  The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, CCIA, stores this information in a central database.

  2. Ability to follow animal movement
    • import and export of cattle, bison and sheep has to all be reported to a database
  3. Identification of departure and destination premises, (knowing where the animals are coming from and going to)
    • provincial governments have been working to identify all agriculture and food properties which better allows for the tracking of cattle and livestock to work
In 2009, the Canadian federal agriculture minister, as well as most of the provincial ag ministers, decided that by 2011 there would be a mandatory nationwide traceability system for livestock.
Organizations such as the Alberta Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alberta Beef Producers, Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, Canadian Beef Breeds Council, and the Beef Industry Alliance and Livestock Inspection services, all recognized the need for traceability in order to strengthen our world class animal health and food safety system.
The Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA) developed a set of principles that clearly stated their position in traceability.  These principles helps to guide the federal government as they move to a national beef cattle traceability system. 
The principles - explained

  1. Traceability will support industry standards for commerce
    • in other words, the technology that they use for traceability will be able to be broad enough, and fast enough to process thousands of calves a day at the auction marts, as well, to work for the many various locations that cattle are handled at.
  2. The traceability system for the beef cattle industry will enhance the competitive position of the industry
    • Internationally, traceability is inportant in the animal health and food stafety system.  The would progressively implrement the system as the technology becomes affordable and the benefits can be identified without huge costs, to make sure that that the industry is getting what is best for it.  They also say that everyone benefiting form the system should pay costs to the system so it isn't only the primary producer.
  3. Traceability will expand as the appropriate technology to support initiatives is available
    • they say that tage readers need to be able to work quickly so that they do not slow down the normal speed of commerce, example, the normal speed of moving cattle through a weigh scale
  4. Industry standards will drive tolerance ranges for tag readability and retention 
    • they understand that they won't have 100 percent tag retention, so they haev to be practicle with enforcement policies
  5. Producer information must remain confidential
    • unless there is consent for disclosure or it is necessary for safety of food or animal health
So there you have it.  The policy.  I know it is confusing, and really, if you don't have cattle, you don't really need to worry about this part, the stuff you are definitely more interested to know comes next!

So, This Means That Farmers Have To Record Each Time They Move A Cow To A Different Pasture?

No.  This would be far too tedious, and would require many farmers to have technology and expensive equipment that they don't already have.  There is no saying that this won't happen in the future as technology once again advances, but for right now, tracking and data exchange only has to happen when the animal is moved to an area controlled by a different owner or operator. 
For example, if a farmer were to take a yearling steer to the auction mart, data on the steer would be submitted upon arrival of the animal at the auction mart.  
If the farmer were just moving the steer from one pasture to another, no data would be required, as long as the calf was being moved on the producer's own operation.

The Benefits

When BSE struck, they were able to trace the cows back to the farms that they came from, all because of their identification

  • if there is ever a disease outbreak or food stafety emergency, the origins of the animals can be traced, and hopefully anymore infected animals can be stopped from being shipped and the problems can be dealt with.  This allows Canada to take more of a prevention stand against problems, rather than just a treatment of the problems.  If you prevent a large outbreak from occuring it is better than waiting to try and fix an escalated issue.
  • With a trace back system we are able to safeguard our national herd, as well as assure consumer confidence at home and in our export markets. 

The Problems

As is always a problem when new technology is brought into an industry, not everyone has it. 

  •  Some farmers were unhappy with the fact that they would have to pay $3-$4 a tag for the RFID tags, compared to the $1-$2 of the bar code tags.  This had some farmers in a panic.  However, there is currently 97% of Canadian farmers that have switched to the RFID system.
  • Some farmers have had some problems with keeping the buttons in the calves ears.  Sometimes tag retention is a problem when cattle are pulling their heads in and out of feeders.  

So How Are The Cattle Traced?

If you have ever seen a picture of a cow, you will probably have noticed an eartag in one of their ears, as well, you may have noticed a small button in the ear. 

The bar-coded eartag gives the farmer an idea of which calf belongs to which cow.  
On our farm, we tag our baby calves with their eartag within 3 - 24 hours of being born.  This ensures that we don't confuse which baby belongs to which cow.  As a newborn calf, we also give them some shots to make sure they stay as healthy as possible, so the eartag accompanies these shots.  
The RFID button that you see on the left also gets put into the ear.  
RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification.  The RFID tag is similar to a bar code, but instead of using a scanner to get the data, they use radio waves, the actual tag doesn't need to be seen in order to read its stored data.  A great thing about the RFID tags is that they work even in extreme weather conditions, or dirty environments.

In Canada, the RFID tags became mandatory for cattle after the outbreak of BSE.  It took so long to trace the source of the disease that a more effective way of tracing was sought out.

Not every single farmer uses the same button tags, there are six different types shown above that can be used all serving the purpose of tracking cattle.  
On July 1, 2010, it became mandatory for all cattle to have RFID tags before they could be moved from their farm of origin.  All of the CCIA RFID tags have a 15 digit id number beginning with the 124 country code and the CCIA logo, the three quarter maple leaf with the letters CA embedded in it.
The RFID tag technology is great because:

  • the tags don't fall out very easily so they are easily retained
  • accurate trace back information can be stored and quickly accessed through the tags
  • instead of reading the ear tag numbers of every calf passing, electronic readings of the numbers can now be taken without a direct line of sight, allowing to movement of cattle to be quicker and more efficient
  • the tags help Canada to have an accurate age verification system of our cattle
  • it helps Canadian's to have full tracking of animal movement
  • they allow packing plants to information of individual animals, such as the grade of the meat to farmers. Before the RFID tags they gave back information but from the average of the herd.  If you had a calf that came out with a grade of AAA beef, you may want to continue mixing certain breeds or using the same parents to produce more calves, in the hopes that they will all have the great quality beef! By being able to tell individually which calves do the best at the packing plants you can have an idea of what to mix on the farm!
In the video, you can see just how we put in our ear tags, as well, you can see where this farmer puts in his RFID button.  Not all farmers place the tags in the same spot.  As for pain, just like the video says, if you have ever had your ears pierced, you will know what it feels like for the cattle.

At many feedlots and auction marts, there are panels that scan the ear tag as the cattle pass through.  There are also hand held tag readers that can be used to scan the bar code on the eartag of a calf.
Just an example of how a handheld scanner would work.  It picks up the  radio frequency waves from the tag and allows the farmer to store the information on that calf.

These pictures are from the Ontario Stockyards Inc.  As you can see, the scanning panels allow for many cattle to be moved at the same time while still getting all of the information on each individual calf collected as they pass the panels.  This is just one of the ways that the program has been developed as not to slow down the regular commerce. 

The bar-coded tags have one of three prefix character sets which identify that Canada is the country of origin.  These are: 124, 0124, or CAN.  They also have a nine digit animal identification number assigned by CCIA.  This nine digit number follows the country code prefix.  The nine animal id numbers are readable for humans, but the country code is not.  On the tag below, the number that the farmer uses is the large number and the small number is the animal id number.

Branding!  Why brand?

Branding cattle is just another way to identify the original owner of the cattle.  As crazy as it sounds, there are still cattle wranglers out there who round up cattle from various pastures late at night and take them for themselves.  It is quite simple for these theives to remove an ear tag from the calf, but it isn't very easy to get rid of a brand in the hide of the calf.

On our farm, my family uses a hot iron brand.  This is the way that branding has always been done, but with recent technology people can brand using a freeze brand.  On our farm we have two brands, my grandfather's and my father's.  My grandpa's is a rafter MH and my father's is a rafter JS. 

As with anything, there are also rules to where the brands can be placed!  When my father chose  our brand, he had a few different ideas of what he wanted so he had to send them all in and the Brand Registrar chose for him where it would go.  Ours are on the right shoulder, and my grandfathers are on the right hip.  Cattle can have brands on their shoulder, ribs or hip, on either side of the body

Hot Iron Brand -  An iron is heated up over a fire, or electrically just like a curling iron.  My family has an electric brander.  The brand is then brought into contact with the hair of the animal.  The goal is to burn away the hair follicles, but not to burn through the hide of the animal.  Once the hair follicles are destroyed, the hair will not regrow in that place, and the brand with usually be pretty clear to see, especially in the summer.
Hot Iron Brand

Freeze Branding- Freeze branding is a great way to identify cattle, horses and dogs.  With the freeze brand, the brand is easily visible at any time of the year.  A really cold branding iron is dipped in dry ice or liquid nitrogen and is applied to the hide of the animal.  This kills the color pigment producing cells in the animals hair, so the hair is white, or colorless.  In the video below you can see just how well the freeze brand works on this horse!

Cows get tattoos too!

Tattooing cattle is also another form of identification.  Purebred cattle have tattoos in their ears.  The tattoos just let people know the original owner of the cattle, as well as the age of the cattle.  This form of identification matches the registration papers of that animal.  Sometimes tattoos fade and it is hard to read what they say.  When I bought my first purebred Charolais heifer I got to choose my own tattoo design through the Canadian Charolais Association.  Now all of the purebred calves that I own, that are born on my farm will have the tattoo SJC.  When I registered my herd, I had to pick a set of three letters that only I have in the Canadian Charolais Association, no other breeder in the Charolais breed will be allowed to use the same letter sequence as me.  When the purebred calves are born it is up to me to tattoo my herd letter in their ear.
Tattoos consist of a special sequence - herd letters, number designation and year letter.

  • herd letters- my special sequence - SJC
  • Number designation - from 1 upwards.  Some farmers use 1 for the first calf born that year, 2 for the second and so on, but any system of numbering can be used, but no animals can have the exact same tattoo.
  • year letter - the year letter represesnts the year the calf was born.  The code uses a specific letter for each year, following alphabetical order.  They don't use the letters I, O, Q or V because they can be misinterpreted or difficult to read.  

                                                  Y 1989     G 1997       R 2005      A 2013
                                                  Z 1990      H 1998      S 2006       B 2014
                                                  A 1991      J 1999       T 2007      C 2015
                                                  B 1992     K 2000      U 2008     D 2016
                                                  C 1993      L 2001     W 2009     E 2017
                                                  D 1994     M 2002      X 2010     F 2018
                                                  E 1995      N 2003      Y 2011    G 2019
                                                  F 1996      P 2004       Z 2012     H 2020

So, the only portion of the animal’s tattoo that you must chose differently for each animal in any given year, is the identification number.
Tattoos read as “letter sequence” [your personal registered herd prefix]
                         “number”             [your pick for each animal]
                         “year letter”         [must correspond with the year of birth.]
Example:  My heifer is from SanDan Charolais, and their tattoo is SDC.  My heifer was born in 2010 and her tattoo is SDC 73X.  SDC is their letter sequence, 73 is her individual number that they chose for her when she was born, and X is 2010, the year she was born in!  Simple as that!

So, now you know just how we keep track of all of our critters!  Hopefully this helped you figure it all out!!

Thanks for checking in everyone!



    Number one spot for all things agriculture! It is hard to believe animals are treated with care when I keep getting bombarded with stuff from the media.
    This has totally changed my opinion on farming and agriculture.
    I WILL EAT MEAT. Because I know you're raising it!

    Thanks again! This was helpful.

  2. No problem girl! If there is ever any questions that you have, just let me know, I would be more than glad to help you out and try and answer them!

  3. Wow this is very informative and enjoyable to read. It's the first blog I've ever followed and I am loving it!

  4. I'm glad to hear you are enjoying it! Thanks so much for following, and for the awesome comment! I really appreciate all the feedback! I try and write the blogs with the intent on answering any questions that I myself have had, as well as questions from friends, so I try to explain it in a way that would have helped me to understand! Some of the posts are a bit lengthy, but with the "All Things Agriculture" posts I try to go indepth on topics relating to agriculture!
    Thanks again! If you ever have something you want me to write about, let me know, I am totally up for suggestions! Happy reading!!

  5. The story about the guy visiting the feedlot is super good. When I read thru your all things agriculture posts i always feel like I am learning something, and you write it in a way that even a city slicker (myself) can understand. The pictures really help the blog and I love how you have videos from your own farm on your other posts. keep writing and I will keep reading! - Jeff K.

  6. I loved the story about the feedlot as well! It really shows just how people unfamiliar with the industry think, and it is simply because they have never been informed. That is what part of the purpose of this blog is, to inform and educate the world about agriculture and where their food comes from. I am glad you enjoy the videos, it is always more fun watching videos than just reading I think!
    Thanks for the comment, and for checking out my blog! Happy reading!

  7. RADIO FREQUENCY TRANSMITTERS IN THER EARS!?!?!!? wow so high tech! who knew that Canada had such a system to moniter and know all the cows in our country from Birth to Death ... wow the cool things im learning (which probably r like common sense to you!) lol Thanks for sharing Sam!!

  8. The traceability system in Canada is starting to become very technologically advanced and as I mentioned in the post it is because we want to be able to quickly identify where problem or disease are coming from the minute that one is found. By tracing the movement of the cattle, we have an idea of where the disease started and what cattle and properties have come into contact with the infected calf. It is also great for farmers, because we can see how each individual calf is doing as for as meat grading at the slaughter houses!
    We are leading North America with our system, and hopefully someday the large agriculture nations can a complete system that works together. That's wishful thinking right there!

  9. Thanks for sharing good information about cattle feed lot. One thing attracted me on fed yard is that cattle are fed a specially formulated diet that is highly palatable, and are fed on a regular schedule.