On June 17, 20 local 4-Hers and parents had the opportunity to tour a sector of the Alberta beef industry near Brooks, Alberta. Most 4-Hers are familiar with local cow/calf production, but rarely see the rest of the process and the goal was to provide this education to the 4-H members.
We were fortunate enough to tour MCF Feedyard which was feeding nearly 63,000 head of cattle on Monday, the largest feedyard in Canada. Following the tour, we met with two representatives from JBS Canada which processes 4,200 cattle/day at their plant in Brooks. As we finished up with pizza in Taber, a consulting feedlot nutritionist, Joe Buntyn, met with us and explained his role in feedlot nutrition and management.
At the feedlot our group was very impressed with the scale of the operation and the number of Holstein steers on feed. The Holsteins are being shipped up from the U.S. to be fed in Canada. They are much less efficient than a beef steer and are typically on feed for over a year due to not eating as much feed as a beef steer and being slower gaining. Our tour guide said their death loss in the feedlot is around 0.1 percent, which we thought was quite impressive! Any cattle that die are diagnosed through a post–mortem exam and/or through sending pictures to a consulting veterinarian to ensure they know the correct cause of death and can correct anything if needed.
While we weren’t able to tour the processing plant in person due to the age of our members, the plant’s representatives shared lots of pictures and videos from the plant with our 4-H group. The 4-Hers were especially impressed to learn about all the byproducts that are used from cattle such as gel bone used in pharmaceuticals, bone meal used in chicken feed, tallow used in soaps and cosmetics, blood meal used in pet food, and much more that allows nearly 100 percent of the animal to be used. They shared about the variety meats, such as liver, kidney, tongue, oxtail, tendons, cheek, etc. being exported to other countries that enjoy those types of meats. Their process of recycling water used throughout the plant from cleaning equipment to soaking hides to using it for irrigation for crops was very interesting as well.
One comment from the nutritionist that stood out is that while his role is technically as a feedlot nutritionist, he said about five percent of the work he does is related to cattle nutrition and the other 95 percent is related to people and management techniques. We thought this point tied in well with how we try to prepare our 4-Hers communication and leadership skills. A couple examples of communication we saw were that in the feedlot they tie different colored flags on the pens to indicate if cattle will be shipped within six weeks or within a couple days. This helps the cowboy crew checking animal health know how to best treat any sick animals. In the processing plant, they have employees speaking 60 different languages, so said they use lots of videos, pictures and hand signals to train their employees!
Overall, it was a great educational opportunity and we appreciate the financial support of the Montana 4-H Foundation for helping make this trip possible, and to Cut Bank schools and Art Rooney for the transportation.