Keeping track of livestock records doesn’t need to be complicated.
A simple school binder is all Sue Giles uses to keep track of health records for their southern Alberta ranch and ensure it meets EU and VBP+ certification.
For three years, Giles has kept track of the health information for their almost 1,000-head Black Angus cow herd in a three-ring binder. It’s a simple, effective way to manage the herd’s health records and meet the record requirements for the Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) program and EU certification.
“We were already keeping track of treatments and withdrawals, but I just needed to put it on paper for the verified beef program,” says Giles, of Brooks.
“It’s a simple system. For me, it’s easier if it’s on paper.”
The Verified Beef Production program was launched in 2003 as a way to increase food safety and therefore consumer trust in beef. The original focus was strictly on-farm food safety — ensuring broken needles did not enter the food chain, and cattle were not sent to slaughter before withdrawal times were met.
In 2016, the program expanded to include wider production practices, with a recognition that consumers want to know more about how beef is raised. The expanded program is called VBP+ and includes environmental stewardship, animal care and biosecurity.
During the busy calving season family members text Giles any treatment information and she writes it in the binder.
“When things are busy, this book sits on the kitchen table. When someone texts me I can quickly go write it down.”
For the Giles family, the decision to join the Verified Beef Production Plus program was simple. The ranch was already keeping records on vaccination for their EU certification and it was only a bit more work for added financial benefits.
“In my mind it is worth it for the little bit of extra paperwork because it is bringing a bidder to your herd. It ties into everything. We’re mentally keeping track of it and I can put it all on paper.”
For Giles, the benefits are clear, especially at sale time. Their 400 steers are sold through the Cudlobe Influence sale in October by Foothills Auction.
“It brought more bidders to the sale. The more bidders you have, the more competition you have for your cattle,” she says.
There are more than 400 operations in Alberta that are audited through the VBP+ program, representing more than one million head of cattle. More than half of the feeding capacity in Alberta is part of the VBP+ program.
Feedlots are keen to buy the Giles cattle because the health records are clearly documented, she says.
“They know the vaccines the cattle are on, they know the health of these cattle coming in. If they want to know the treatment records, we have that. For them it is a benefit knowing the vaccine program — they know what to boost the cattle with when they come into the feedlot.”
The Giles heifers are sold in the spring, and also attract buyers who want to add VBP+ animals into their herd.
Written on the livestock manifest of all the animals leaving the ranch is: “Cleared of all withdrawal dates.”
Giles’ binder is separated by a few tabs. In one section is information on age verification and RFID numbers. In another section Giles writes treatments and lists the withdrawal dates. In another section she lists the vaccinations and the dates they were given.
Semen tests and pregnancy tests are recorded in another section.
While individual tag numbers are written down for antibiotics, for most of the information, Giles records group records. If a group of 200 calves is vaccinated in one day, Giles records the number of animals and the treatment. This group vaccination record information satisfies the information for the program and doesn’t overwhelm the rancher.
At the end of the day, their simple system adds a lot of value to the Giles family operation.
“It is a little bit of work, but you have all the records for food safety.”