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 few days upon arrival at the feedlot, cattle are ‘processed’ where they are given vaccination and any other medical protocols developed in consultations with their consulting 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.
Cattle may be exposed to different kinds of diseases throughout their lifetime. Cattle, like humans, 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.
Antibiotics are used in cattle production to treat disease. Antibiotics are one type of antimicrobial that fight bacterial infections in both humans and animals. Antibiotics made for cattle are used to help an animal regain or maintain superior health and produce safe beef.
Health Canada categorizes antibiotics as low, medium, high, or very high importance in human medicine. The vast majority (>88%) of the antibiotics used in feedlots are category IV (low importance) are not used to treat bacterial infections in human medicine. The next largest segment (10.42%) is category III (medium importance), which are usually not the medications of choice in human medicine. The categories II and I most commonly used in human medicine (high or very high importance) collectively account for less than 1.5% of total use in feedlot cattle.
Antibiotics are used in cattle production go through the same rigorous testing as antibiotics used for humans. The Veterinary Drug Directorate of 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 antibiotics 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 is prohibited from sale.
Antimicrobial resistance happens when an antimicrobial is no longer effective in killing or slowing down the growth of a particular bacteria. A process that has been going on for millions of years. When antibiotics are used, susceptible bacteria are killed, while resistant bacteria survive and reproduce. Inappropriate or excessive antibiotic use (in livestock, humans, or pets) can expedite this natural process.
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 Plus™ 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 publicly available. Results to date suggest that the degree of resistance to antibiotics used in the beef industry is not increasing, especially for antibiotics that are important in human medicine.
The CCA has long supported the responsible and judicious use of antibiotics. In 2019, CCA approved an official Statement on Antimicrobial Stewardship at its annual general meeting in Ottawa.
A member of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), the CCA statement reflects the GRSB Antimicrobial Stewardship Statement of 2018 and its principles regarding what should be done by the beef value chain to manage antibiotics responsibly. Leading Canadian experts in animal health and veterinary medicine contributed to the development the GRSB statement to ensure its principles are both globally accepted and applicable to Canadian beef cattle production. More information on antibiotic resistance can be found here.
In Canada, the use of drugs in livestock feeds is regulated under two sets of legislation: the Food and Drugs Act and Food and Drug Regulations, which are administered by Health Canada’s Veterinary Drugs Directorate, and the Feeds Act and Feeds Regulations, which are administered by the CFIA. Livestock is defined as cattle, sheep, horses, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, swine, rabbits, fish, mink, and foxes.
The Compendium of Medicated Ingredient Brochures (CMIB) is a listing of drug premixes that have been approved and assigned a Drug Identification Number (DIN) by Health Canada. These premixes can be used without veterinary oversight in livestock feeds, as long as they are used in accordance with the CMIB (I.e., for the approved species, at the approved level). 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. The sole exception is feeds prepared according to a veterinarian’s prescription.
Cattle health in feedlots is of utmost importance. As such, every feedlot has a cattle hospital where sick animals are examined and treated. Cattle are checked daily for any symptoms of illness. Staff check the pens regularly and assess the health of the cattle. Any animal showing signs of an illness are taken from the pen to the cattle hospital. Careful records are kept of each animal’s health treatment history.