Feedlot Health Management

The success of a feedlot is greatly dependent on the health of the cattle. One of the keys to keeping the animals healthy is to control disease in the feedlot. This begins with the purchase of healthy animals. In general, feedlots attempt to purchase cattle that will perform well and provide maximum economic return.

During the first days at the feedlot, cattle are processed by way of vaccination and any other medical protocols developed in consultations with herd veterinarians. Other steps may be needed such as dehorning or castrating but those steps are generally performed before arrival at feedlots. These procedures ensure the cattle are healthy, well-managed and will not bring diseases into the feedlot or injure other cattle.

Another key to successfully managing cattle health is keeping accurate production records that detail an animal’s health and vaccinations.

Antibiotics

Cattle may be exposed to different kinds of diseases throughout their lifetime. Cattle are not naturally immune to some illnesses and must receive vaccinations in order to develop a resistance. Feedlot operators consult with specialized feedlot veterinarians to develop animal health protocols that best serve their feedlot.

Antibiotics are used in cattle production to treat disease. Antibiotics are one type of antimicrobial or medications that fight bacterial infections in both humans and animals. Antimicrobials made for cattle are used to help an animal regain or maintain superior health and produce safe beef.

Health Canada categorizes antimicrobials as low, medium, high or very high importance in human medicine. The antimicrobials that are of high or very high importance in human medicine are not used for growth and feed efficiency in Canadian cattle.

The majority of the antimicrobials used for feed efficiency belong to a class of antimicrobials known as ionophores, and are not used in human medicine.

In addition to being an important and necessary tool in protecting animal health and well-being, antimicrobials may also be added to the feed of food producing animals to increase feed efficiency, as well as preventing infections.

These products go through the same rigorous testing as antimicrobials used for humans.   The Veterinary Drug Directorate, Health Canada, must approve all veterinary drugs before they can be sold in Canada. A drug is approved for use only if it:

  • does not pose a risk to humans
  • is safe for animals
  • is an effective treatment
  • follows strict manufacturing guidelines


Residues of antimicrobials in beef are extremely rare. In fact, the most recent results of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) retail residue testing program show 99.9% compliance.  If residue levels were detected, the meat or meat product would be prohibited from sale.

Antimicrobial resistance happens when an antimicrobial is no longer effective in killing or slowing down the growth of particular bacteria. When antimicrobials are used, susceptible bacteria are killed, while resistant bacteria survive and reproduce. Inappropriate or excessive antibiotic use (in livestock, humans or pets) speeds this process up and encourages the growth of resistant bacteria. 

In 1994 representatives from government and industry developed a producer driven, on-farm food safety program to ensure the production of safe, high quality beef in a responsible manner. The Verified Beef Production™ program includes requirements on the proper selection, use and disposal of antibiotics.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has been doing surveillance of antimicrobial resistance in food animals since 2002 through the “Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance.” The program does surveillance on farm, in abattoirs and on retail meat. The agency reports their finding in annual reports which are public. Results to date suggest that the degree of resistance to antimicrobials used in the beef industry is not increasing, especially for antimicrobials that are the most important in human medicine.

The Compendium of Medicating Ingredient Brochures

The Compendium of Medicating Ingredient Brochures (CMIB) is the document that lists those medicating ingredients permitted by Canadian regulation to be added to livestock feed. This document specifies the species of livestock, the level of medication, the directions for feeding and the purpose for which each medicating ingredient may legally be used, as well as the brand of each medicating ingredient that is approved for use in Canada. All medicated feed manufactured, used, or sold in Canada must be prepared in such a way as to adhere to the specifications of the CMIB, in order to comply with the Feeds Regulations. The sole exception is feeds prepared according to a veterinarian's prescription.

Cattle Hospital

Cattle health in feedlots is of utmost importance. As such, every feedlot has a cattle hospital where ill animals are examined and treated.  Cattle are checked daily for any symptoms of sickness. Pen checkers check the pens regularly and assess the health of the cattle. Any animal showing signs of an illness is taken from the pen to the cattle hospital. Careful records are kept of each animal’s health treatment history.