Responsible Beef

Here at 3B Cattle Company, we take our job of raising beef cattle (and broiler chickens) very serious.  My dad and I have been through Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) training to ensure we are doing everything correct on our end.  We keep records when we process (vaccinate, castrate, deworm, etc.) cattle and work closely with our veterinarian to maintain a strong herd health program.

Do we give our cattle antibiotics?

Yes.  We do administer antibiotics when the need arises.  Our cattle are not given an antibiotic unless there is a need such as sickness or disease.  If we do give an antibiotic, we follow the label carefully and adhere to strict withdrawal times (the amount of time it takes for the antibiotic to leave the cow’s system).  We also keep a record of the cow’s ID, type of antibiotic used, who gave the antibiotic, serial number, lot number, and why the antibiotic was given.  In the past 5 years (maybe even longer), we have treated two cows with antibiotics.  One had pinkeye and the other had pneumonia.  We work closely with our veterinarian to determine the best antibiotic to use for the given situation.

It is not a common practice for beef cattle producers to “pump” their cattle with antibiotics every day.  This type of antibiotic use is frowned upon and strongly discouraged.  I feel like beef cattle producers do the right thing and want to minimize the number of cattle that need to be treated by raising healthy cattle from the start.  That is our number one goal…to raise healthy cattle.

Click here for a complete guide that we (and other beef cattle producers) follow when it comes to antibiotic use.

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Do we castrate bull calves?

Yes.  We are in the business of raising high quality replacement heifers, not breeding bulls.  Therefore, all bull calves born are castrated.  Calves are castrated for a variety of reasons:

  • Prevent inbreeding from occurring (bull calves can breed at an early age)!
  • Breeding Selection- not all bull calves need to reproduce.
  •  Change the focus from breeding to growing- steer calves will grow and produce a more consistent, flavorful beef product than a bull will.  Bulls tend to be more lean with less fat, which equals less flavor and different texture in most cases.
  • Steers are less aggressive than bulls- when you take away testosterone, their attitude changes completely.  Bulls can be aggressive towards each other and people.  Castration reduces bruising and injury, which leads to a healthier animal and a better beef product.

We follow BQA guidelines and castrate by 90 days of age.  We choose to castrate calves using the surgical method because it is fast and calves tend to recover quicker than calves that are banded.

Do we use added growth hormones in our calves?

No.  We do not feel like it is necessary at our segment in the beef cattle cycle.  We do not raise enough calves to benefit from the added gain per pound when calves are sold.  In addition, almost all of our heifer calves are sold as replacement females and added hormones can have possible negative effects on reproduction (this is not a concern if heifer calves are going to be finished for beef production).

However, you should not worry- the amount of added hormones given to growing calves is very small and the concern is low when compared to other foods.  You may be wondering, why are hormones given to beef calves?

  • Hormones given to beef calves are called implants.  An implant is given to increase weight gain which can increase feed efficiency, especially in the finishing phase.
  • Implants are given to steers to help replace hormones taken away at castration.  This allows the steer to grow at the same rate a bull calf would but without all the bull features.
  • Implanting is economical both for the producer and the consumer.  Implanted calves eating the same grain and grass as non-implanted calves will be more efficient in the long run.  This is positive when you consider how precious water, feed, and land resources are.

Still concerned?  Check out the photo below that demonstrates how little of hormones we are talking about:

“About 90% of feedlot cattle are given added growth hormones to improve the rate of growth. The added hormones add about 3 extra nanograms (a billionth of a gram) to a 3 oz serving of beef. For comparison purposes, the amount of estrogen that naturally occurs in 3 oz of the following foods is: potatoes (225 nanograms), peas (340 nanograms), cabbage (2,000 nanograms), soybean oil (170,000 nanograms).” – Oklahoma Farm Report 

In addition, check out the tables below for more comparisons:

Table 5. Estrogenic activity of common foods.
Food Estrogenic activity in
nanograms/lb of food
Soybean oil 908,000
Cabbage

10,896

Eggs 15,890
Milk 59
Beef from pregnant cow 636
Beef from implanted cattle 10
Beef from non-implanted cattle 7
Adapted from Preston, 1997.
Table 6. Estrogen produced, nanograms per day.
Item Estrogen produced,
nanograms/day
Pregnant woman 90,000,000
Non-pregnant woman 5,000,000
Adult man 100,000
Pre-pubertal children 40,000
3 oz beef from implanted cow 1.9
Adapted from Preston, 1997.

The reality is, we are made up of hormones and so are plants and animals.  There is no such thing as a hormone-free piece of beef or chicken.  There is such thing as no added hormones meat and milk products.  Just realize that added hormones are very minimal and completely safe!  If you still do not want to eat beef from an implanted calf, I respect your opinion but at least now you know the facts and can make better informed buying decisions.  Some producers choose to implant and that is 100% okay by me!  It is a decision they make and if they follow BQA guidelines, I feel confident in the beef product that be produced from those calves.

I hope that my answers to a few production questions were helpful in your understanding of how beef cattle are raised responsibly following BQA guidelines!  We value our cattle at 3B Cattle Company and know that other beef cattle producers value their cattle as well!  Stay tuned for future posts that tackle burning questions that consumers have about beef cattle and livestock production.

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About Lauren Langley

Co-manager at 3B Cattle Company, Livestock Extension Agent at NCSU/Alamance County, NCSU Alumni
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