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Guest column: The cutting-edge role of technology in cattle feeding

February 28, 2024
By Gina Devlin, National Cattle Feeders Association

The National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) is an advocacy organization representing the interests of Canadian cattle feeders on a broad range of government policies and economic issues and serves as a unified voice for Canada’s fed cattle producers. Along with our membership, which is comprised of provincial beef organizations from Canada’s major cattle feeding regions, the NCFA strives to enhance the growth, sustainability, and competitiveness of the Canadian beef sector.

At the heart of this progress lies the embracing of innovative technologies by cattle feeders across Canada. Technological advancements are pivotal not just in improving production methods, but in ensuring the safety, quality and sustainability of Canadian beef.

One of the primary benefits of integrating production-enhancing technologies within cattle feeding operations is the ability to cultivate healthy and productive animals. These technologies play a fundamental role in optimizing animal performance while enabling cattle feeders to meet consumer expectations and demands regarding safety and quality. Moreover, the utilization of production-enhancing technology isn’t solely limited to ensuring the health of animals, it also maximizes operational efficiency and effectively reduces the resources required to produce each pound of beef. This not only has economic benefits, but can also contribute to a more environmentally sustainable approach to beef production. Strategic investment in a diverse array of proven and safe production-enhancing technologies holds the key to unlocking value across the entire beef production chain and enhances the international competitiveness of Canadian beef, elevating profitability and augmenting both efficiency and production rates.

Feeding systems present a significant opportunity for improving efficiencies, including feed additives such as antibiotics to combat infections, additives fostering accelerated cattle growth, and even components aimed at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. One technological advancement related to feed production is the introduction of micro ingredient feed systems, commonly referred to as “micro machines.” These systems formulate specific ration compositions based on individual ingredients which are mixed on-site at the feedlot, either on a per-load or per-pen basis, with a precision of up to 0.01 grams for each ingredient. This level of accuracy allows for meticulous control over the inclusion of various components in the ration, ranging from vitamins and minerals to feed-grade antimicrobials. In the context of antimicrobials, the precision achieved through this technology serves as a means for the beef industry to demonstrate prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials.


Another place where technology is constantly improving is at the processing chute, where cattle are administered animal health protocols including vaccinations and antimicrobials. Over the past two decades there has been an evolution from traditional paper record keeping, to record keeping software programs, to fully-integrated systems that not only capture the weight of the animals but also link it to their scanned RFID tags. These systems generate specific health protocols tailored to individual animals based on factors such as weight, age, body temperature, procurement source, and more.

One of the newest forms of innovation in the cattle feeding industry is automated dosing systems, which integrate with all of the above technology to ensure precise and accurate administration of veterinary products. An automated dosing system is a process that involves weighing the animal upon entry into the chute and linking that weight to the animal’s health record. Subsequently, an electronic syringe, linked via Bluetooth to a computer, receives the pertinent information and administers the precise dosage required for that animal. The individual at the chute then simply injects the needle, presses a button, and the system automatically administers the dose while simultaneously recording the amount used in the animal’s health record on the computer. This innovative tool contributes significantly to our efforts in ensuring the responsible and careful use of antimicrobials and other veterinary products by avoiding over- or under-dosing and ensuring products are used according to label. The dosing tool can be used for sub-cutaneous or intramuscular injections as well as for oral or topical dosing.

Modernizing beef production through technology doesn’t just benefit one aspect of the industry; it’s a win-win for animals, consumers, producers, and the environment. Through integration of innovation and tradition, the cattle feeding industry in Canada is poised for sustainable growth while consistently delivering on the promise of high-quality, safe beef products for the world.

As the NCFA continues to champion these advancements, the future of Canadian beef production is promising, fortified by technology and a commitment to excellence.

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