Quinn on Nutrition: Caring for beef cattle

May 27, 2014

What a scene. Bolts of sunshine setting into dark clouds on the vast horizon of western Nebraska. Newborn black calves ó some with faces splashed with white ó romped and played over acres and acres of pasture land while their moms grazed and kept watch on their babies.

I sat in a ranch vehicle and watched my son-in-law maneuver his giant red tractor through several gates to deliver huge "rounds" of hay to these new moms and their little ones. Late spring snow storms were brewing and Tom wanted to be sure the herd was well-supplied with food.

I "helped" by zooming over the bumpy landscape in a fun little all-terrain vehicle to open and close gates. But mostly I admired Tomís hard work caring for his land and cattle.

When the last load of hay was delivered, Tom hopped into the driverís seat of the ATV.

"What are we doing now?" I yelled as we zoomed around and through the herd of cows and calves.

"Weíre looking to make sure everyone is healthy," he yelled back. "If babies donít jump up or run away when we get close, or arenít nursing, or have diarrhea Ö those are signs that they may not be well."

Tom should know. Besides raising beef cattle, he and his dad are doctors of veterinary medicine. And when it comes to animal welfare, they practice what they preach.

"Ranchers care about their animals," Tom says. "We know that stress is no better for animals than it is for humans. A happy cow is a productive cow. So we really strive to keep our animals healthy and happy because if our animals are not healthy and happy, they take it directly out of our pocketbook."

Everyone looks happy and healthy today. Rarely do these cattle get sick. But if they do, they are separated from the herd to be treated.

"Food safety is a large part of our job when it comes to food animals," he tells me. "If I have a sick cow and I give her an antibiotic and she gets better, we know exactly how long it takes for the body to metabolize that drug and eliminate it completely from the body. So none of the meat from the animal has antibiotic residues in it. If there are, that is called adulteration and there are massive fines. Itís a big deal."

"Currently, the FDA has made it so that no antibiotics can be sold for use in animals without a prescription," he continues. "And in order to get a prescription you have to have a valid relationship with a veterinarian ó someone who is educated and trained in the workings of animals and food safety."

With the sun setting and the clouds darkening, Tom jumped back into his big red tractor and I zoomed ahead to open and close gates on our way back to the house. Wonder whatís for dinner?


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services