De-Coding the Code -Chapter 3-Animal Health

The new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle was released in the fall of 2013. This is the industry's statement on how it collectively thinks cattle should be raised and handled. So if you are part of the industry, this is YOUR document and you should know what is in it. You can download a copy from Get over the fact that it is 60 pages long. Only the first half is the actual code, and that is laid out with a lot of space to make it easy to read. The second half contains references, a glossary, contacts and extension information.

When we break the Code down chapter by chapter, and work through it that way, it gets much easier to understand and put it into practice. It is not prescriptive about HOW we get to an outcome, but that we DO get there. Requirements that producers need to provide are highlighted in a yellow box for quick and easy reading. This is followed by some recommendations that almost always would be part of a Best Management Practices system (BMP's) for raising beef.

Chapter 3 is generally about Animal Health (3.1)

It states that "Pain and discomfort caused by health issues impact an animal's well-being such that good animal welfare requires good animal health". Disease prevention is extremely important. Herd health management and biosecurity protocols (consider taking the Beef Biosecurity course offered as part of GF2), can help prevent and contain diseases. Producers need to be able to promptly recognize and treat animal health issues in order to optimize animal welfare.

Veterinarians play a key role in helping producers meet these animal health obligations. Although the specific regulations vary among provinces, in order for veterinarians to prescribe some classes of medications and vaccines, they must have a valid Veterinarian/Client/Patient Relationship (VCPR)." This is the case in Ontario. An effective Herd Health Management Program also contributes to cattle well-being by providing a strategy for disease prevention, rapid diagnosis and effective treatment.

The desired outcome is that cattle are in optimum health. So in the case of Herd Health Management., the producer requirements are…


Establish an ongoing working relationship (VCPR) with a licensed practicing veterinarian and develop a strategy for disease prevention and herd health.

Recommended Practices

a. maintain accurate animal management and health records.

So that it is easy to understand, and makes sense if our goal is to have productive cattle that we are hoping to make a profit from.

Section 3.2 refers to Sick, Injured, and Cull Cattle

So the "requirements " say you will monitor cattle-or watch for any sick ones, provide appropriate care/treatment, and then continue watching to see if it works-and if it doesn't you will talk with your Vet again. Then if the animal isn't responding, isn't likely to get better and is experiencing severe pain and distress to the point, where it won't eat or drink then you will do the humane thing and euthanize it. If it is something really different that the animal has then you will check with the VET that it isn't a reportable disease. The recommended practices make a lot of sense as well!


Monitor cattle health on an ongoing basis to ensure prompt treatment or care.

Provide appropriate care, convalescence or treatment for sick, injured or lame cattle without delay.

Monitor the animals' response to therapy or care and, if the initial treatment protocol fails, then reassess treatment options or seek veterinary advice.

Euthanize (or cull*) without delay cattle that:

  • are unlikely to recover, or
  • fail to respond to treatment and convalescent protocols, or
  • have chronic, severe, or debilitating pain and distress, or
  • are unable to get to or consume feed and water, or
  • show continuous weight loss or emaciation.

*If culling, Requirements for transporting compromised animals must be followed (refer to Section 5 - Transportation). Suspicion of a reportable disease as defined by the Health of Animals Act and various provincial acts must be brought to the attention of a veterinarian.

Recommended Practices

a. consult a veterinarian to address new, unknown, or suspicious illness or death losses

b. consult a veterinarian if the incidence of a known illness suddenly increases

c. consult a veterinarian for the most appropriate treatment options when an animal is sick

d. monitor the progress of treated cattle

e. dispose of dead cattle according to applicable provincial/municipal regulations.

So if you don't recognize the illness, you will ask your Vet (you could ask George next Door, and he may know what the problem is) however your Vet probably will have the answer and also what you can treat it with-then you will watch to see if it gets better. If by some chance it doesn't get better, but dies then you will dispose of the deadstock according to Provincial and Municipal rules (after all if you have already taken the hit on the cost of losing the animal-the last thing you need, or want, is a charge and/or fine for improper disposal).

Section 3.3 looks specifically at Health Conditions related to Feedlot cattle.

It starts by discussing- Managing the Risk of Bovine Respiratory Disease. The Listed risk factors are:

  • Non-vaccinated cattle
  • Recent weaning
  • Transportation and handling
  • Sudden or extreme changes in weather
  • Commingling of cattle from various sources.

That sounds like a pretty typical fall for most feedlots! And then as early detection and treatment will decrease chronics and mortalities … the requirement is:


Monitor the behaviour of newly-arrived feedlot cattle to facilitate the early detection ofillness.

The recommended or Best Management Practices (BMP's) that follow out of this are:

Recommended Practices

a. categorize newly-arrived cattle according to risk for BRD and other illness and apply appropriate receiving protocols

b. whenever possible, buy calves of known source, vaccination history, and health status

Again, these are common sense ideas that should help feedlot operators keep more calves alive and thus have a greater potential for profit.

Section 3.3.2 deals with LAMENESS whether from injury, nutrition, or infection. Although this is under the feedlot section, it still applies to cow herds and backgrounders. Requirements are:


Design, implement, evaluate and adjust your feeding program to reduce the risk of nutrition-induced disorders, and consult your veterinarian or a nutritionist when needed.

Transition cattle from high-forage to high-energy rations gradually to avoid abrupt dietary changes.

Recommended Practices

a. see Appendices D, E and F to assist in decision-making around culling and euthanasia

b. manage pen conditions to minimize mud and standing water

c. work with your veterinarian to identify and resolve sudden increases in the incidence of lameness.


Provide appropriate care, convalescence or treatment for lame cattle without delay.

Monitor the animals' response to therapy or care and, if the initial treatment protocol fails, then reassess treatment options or seek veterinary advice.

Promptly cull or euthanize lame cattle that have a poor prognosis for recovery, or that do not respond to therapy or care (See Appendix E).

Section 3.3.3 looks at Nutritional Disorders Associated with High Energy Feeding

Recommended Practices

a. monitor feed bunks to assess prior consumption and adjust feeding accordingly

b. include forage of effective particle length in all diets to reduce sub-acute ruminal acidosis

c. consider adjusting rations to prevent digestive disorders when cattle feed intake is interrupted (due to storm, power outage, machinery breakdown, etc.)

So again, a big-dose of common sense - cattle are expensive, feed is expensive, and profit lies in making the best of both, to create weight gain.

Section 3.3.4 deals with the feedlot problem of Buller-steer Syndrome.

Buller-steer syndrome is an occasional behavioural problem among feedlot steers, where one steer (buller) is repeatedly mounted by a group of other steers (riders). If not promptly removed from the pen, the buller steer can become exhausted, have reduced feed and water intake, and develop traumatic injuries .


Bullers must be promptly removed from their pen.

Recommended Practice

A. monitor closely for relapse if bullers are re-introduced to their home pen

Section 3.3.5 looks at Managing Pregnant Heifers in the Feedlot

This problem is a creation of the cow-calf herd-but has to be dealt with by the feedlot industry. It's another good reason for knowing the cow-calf producer and their operation if you are buying and feeding heifers. However, once you have the problem in the feedlot, you may choose to create a program to terminate pregnancies or create a suitable calving area (your Vet will be a great resource for either). However, it is YOUR Feedlot so it is YOUR Problem!

The recommended Practices are directed toward the cow-calf producer as they create (and thus can solve the problem!)


Consult with your veterinarian to develop a program for managing pregnant heifers in a feed lot.

Recommended Practices

a. prevent pregnancy in heifers destined for feedlots. If possible, inform feedlot buyers if there is a chance that heifers have been exposed to a bull

b. consult a veterinarian if considering spaying to prevent pregnancy in heifers destined for the feedlot. Spaying is a very infrequent practice; however, if done, it should be carried out by a Veterinarian using appropriate pain management.

Section 3.4 deals with Safety and Emergencies

Emergencies may arise, and can compromise human and cattle welfare. Some pre-planning will assist producers in responding to such events in a timely and effective manner. The thing with emergencies is that we think (and hope) they will never happen. But sometimes they do and are weathered easier if we have done a little pre-thinking and preplanning. For many in Eastern Canada we only need think back to the Ice-Storm. Water became the BIG PROBLEM. Even if you had feed, the cattle wouldn't eat if they did not have water. So first you make sure that the people are alright, and then you start to think about the cattle. Many fire departments would deliver water to farms -but many producers found they had no method to hold the water. This is when having a couple of empty water troughs up in the hay mow became pretty cheap insurance (again, hope you never need them-except perhaps to hold some ice and cool-ones at a summer Bar-B-Q!). Likewise a supply of small square bales (that could be man-handled to where needed -can sit for years if under cover but be invaluable if Mother Nature takes a swing at proving SHE IS BOSS!


Have a current emergency response plan to provide feed, water and care for cattle in caseof emergencies. Review this plan with all responsible personnel so it can be implemented.
Ensure emergency contact numbers are readily accessible and current.

So for ALL beef Producers …

If, as a beef producer, these Requirements and Recommendations seem new or extreme to you, then you need to be having a conversation with your Veterinarian, Provincial Beef Association or local Beef Extension folks. That conversation needs to focus on how you can change the operation around, to provide what is asked for in the Code. Both your farm and the whole industry will be judged by your compliance.

So that concludes Chapter 3 of the Beef Code of Practice, and nothing in it is too extreme. It essentially breaks down to observing or watching your cattle-if there is a problem, talking with your Vet, and then taking some action! Most beef producers in Ontario and the rest of Canada are already implementing these practices. The challenge for most will be to have a paper trail, or to create one, that can prove to our consuming public that we are providing quality care to our cattle.

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