“It’s extremely important that the cattlemens’ association is demonstrating so strongly they are behind us on this project,” said Andrew Van Kessel, head of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science, adding that it speaks to the track record of the university’s beef program in producing valuable knowledge and highly qualified graduates.
“The industry sees a return on investment in terms of future leaders and practical knowledge that is relevant to their operation,” he said.
The new beef facility is needed to replace the current 700-head operation on the east side of the river north of Circle Drive. Beef production has changed substantially in the five decades since it was built, making it more challenging to conduct research relevant to the industry, said Van Kessel.
As well, the older facility no longer meets Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) standards, largely due to poor drainage in the pens during spring runoff and other wet times of year. Van Kessel said CCAC inspectors praised the efforts of the feedlot manager and staff to mitigate problems but the ultimate solution is a new research facility.
“We need to ensure our health and welfare practices are acceptable to the consuming public,” he said.
Van Kessel explained the cattlemens’ contribution will allow the project team to leverage other sources of funding, from government to feedlot supply companies to other related industries with a stake in beef production research.
The new facility is very much a collaborative effort, he said, supported by the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Engineering and the Global Institute for Water Security.
Plans for the new facility include a segregated pavilion area where researchers can demonstrate the latest animal handling and management approaches to students, industry professionals and farmers. A metabolic unit will house animals for detailed physiology and metabolism studies and “from there, we can take what we learn into the research feedlot and scale it up.”
The facility itself also will feature three different sizes of pens, designed to answer different research questions: nutrition pens of up to 15 animals each will be used to compare different feeding strategies, feed ingredients and additives; genetic pens with up to 30 animals each will allow for studies of diets to get the best performance from animals with different genetic traits; and health resource pens of up to 200 animals each will mimic commercial feedlot conditions.
A unique aspect of the new facility is designs to allow analysis of runoff from selected cattle pens and extensive monitoring of local surface and ground water. This will be used to study environmental impacts of intensive cattle feeding operations and to develop mitigation strategies for best management practices.
Van Kessel stressed the beef industry’s research interests reach far beyond traditional concerns of animal nutrition and health to include issues such as welfare and environmental sustainability.
“As a University we will continue to provide controlled studies which fill gaps in existing knowledge and support informed science-based decisions on management and regulation.”