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Column: What’s new in pain mitigation and carbon storage

Last weekend I took time out from the workaday activities on the ranch to attend the Annual Meeting of the BC Cattlemen’s Association.

Last weekend I took time out from the workaday activities on the ranch to attend the Annual Meeting of the BC Cattlemen’s Association.

I am trying to put more volunteer time into working with our industry to encourage research to fill knowledge gaps we have and to document and organize older research that has relevance to today’s world.

One of our initiatives is to conduct sessions for ranchers on what the latest research tells us about issues we are confronting. We held a half-day session with a number of researchers in advance of the meetings.

The turnout for our research forum was extremely encouraging. Our industry leaders want knowledge.

One main speaker spoke on animal welfare initiatives going back decades. “Animals should have a reasonably good life for their entire life.” That about defines what animal care/welfare is about.

When castrating, disbudding horns, or branding we need to take care to mitigate the pain to young cattle. Drugs that can be administered orally or by injections exist for use by ranchers.

The reduction of pain and discomfort, apart from being the right thing to do for the animal, is good for the marketing of our cattle and results is greater growth and health of the animals.

Most people using pain mitigation say that the calves are up on their feet and continuing gaining much more quickly, returning to normal. So the cost of the medications pays for itself.

Anyone interested can view a video on the Beef Cattle Research Council website. This is the emerging law: The Beef Cattle Code of Practice.

The other major topic reported on, was the status of carbon sequestration under different pasture management practices.

Much has been written about agricultural practices that release carbon into the atmosphere: cultivation, animals giving off gases, burning of fossil fuel etc.

One of the mitigation strategies is to sequester more carbon in the soil by encouraging range and pasture soil health.

For a measure of importance of range practices consider this: grasslands store 34 per cent of terrestrial carbon, while forests store 39 per cent.

In addition to the satellite remote sensing of stored carbon, researchers  use a hand held multispectral radiometer that measures carbon in the soil by sensing the colour of the range  plants with 79 per cent accuracy. Now researchers are putting cameras and other devices on drones so much more ground can be measured.

We know the agriculture industry uses GPS to calibrate the application of seed and fertilizer when farming (precision farming). Now range managers can use drones to monitor range condition.

There is a relationship between how much carbon is stored and how much soil moisture there is. For example in the upper grasslands (cooler and wetter) there is more soil carbon.

We think that if there is more soil moisture by litter retention and irrigation that more can be stored on the lower (drier) grasslands.

Another interesting finding is that with an intermediate level of biomass on grasslands, there is the most species richness (biodiversity).

Interesting stuff

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.