COLUMNS: Why should everyone care about animal care?

Recently, I attended a field day and workshop put on by the BC Cattlemen’s Association.

Recently, I attended a field day and workshop put on by the BC Cattlemen’s Association. It is part of a project to see what are the best ways to serve the needs and wants of ranchers with respect to getting new or updated technology and knowledge.

The buzzword is “technology transfers.” Really knowledge, both new and traditional, is part of the technology we use in our ranching businesses.

This particular session was at the Bar K Ranch near Prince George. The manager of the ranch is a young man in his 30s, Taylor Grafton, who is following in his father’s footsteps as ranch manager. He is working on his Masters of Science degree from Texas A and M University, which is a reputed institution in agriculture education. He hosted and presented.

This university is part of an extensive network of colleges and universities in the U.S. set up to serve the needs of farmers in their catchment areas. Taylor was lucky enough to find faculty members who would work with him as he stayed at home and continued his studies.

The workshop was on the topic of maximizing your forage.  The two other presenters were researchers from Agrifood Canada and the Western Beef Development Centre, both in Saskatchewan. A lot of good information was presented based on work done mostly in Saskatchewan but applicable here.

Taylor had just recently — before the first snow — harvested some green feed: green oats planted late, so not mature as grain but nutritious. Because the frosts had come and quick froze his crop, they would be able to be like oat hay, only fresher, like food in a deep freeze. It was cut into a windrow, much as hay would be for baling.  The cattle would do the rest of the “harvesting” by picking it up in the windrow and eating it directly.

Saving on fossil fuel you would say. Yes but there is another reason, according to Taylor for serving up all the cow’s winter feed on a platter so to speak.

That reason is found in Taylor’s field of study and the topic of his thesis: Ethology, the study of animal behaviour.

If the cows are happier, being foragers by nature, they will be more content out there foraging.

Remember the adage “contented cows give more milk?” Well, happier cows out foraging on their own are “happier” and are less stressed, and are healthier. It is not just nutrition that drives our “feeding practices,” says Taylor, it is letting cows be cows, not just some penned animal destined to be food.

We have many European visitors who come to help on the ranch.

When they see North American cattle out on bio-diverse pastures, those with lots of different grasses, forbs (flowering plants), shrubs and trees, the first thing they say is happy cows. I guess they are.

Of course the market place (consumers) also want to know their food was well cared for during its life.

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