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The Ins and Outs of Bull Sale and Calving Season

It’s no secret that calving time draws extra attention to keeping pathogens out of pens, but it’s also a time when there are more opportunities for them to come in.

On the latest episode of the Simply Verified Beef podcast, we sat down with three guests to discuss advice for producers who are out shopping for seedstock while calving at home.

Leigh Rosengren

Chief Veterinary Officer

Canadian Cattle Association

Ed Pajor

Director

WA Ranches

Heidi Bennett

Cow Boss and Activity Coordinator

WA Ranches

Of course, newborn calves are more susceptible to disease and calving cows are under more immune pressure than usual. However, we don’t always consider the human pressure at calving time.

“Calving season is such a critical time of year,” says Leigh. “It’s what sets us up for our production for the entire year. We double the population and quadruple the workload. So if you haven’t thought through ahead of time what you’re going to do to protect that herd, you’re certainly not going to be thinking about that during calving.”

Planning ahead with clear protocols for preventing disease in the herd makes executing those practices easier when the time comes. As Leigh puts it, “biosecurity is a mindset. We can think about it as this protocol that you write and put away, but biosecurity really works best when we think about it as a daily practice.”

Biosecurity can be intimidating, so it often helps to hear what other producers have had success with. Here’s what Leigh, Heidi, and Ed recommend when out looking for bulls or other breeding stock:

Of course, producers selling seedstock also need to consider the risks of having visitors who handle cattle come to their farm. Here are the group’s tips for sellers:

For seedstock producers, it can be hard to set expectations for visitors. A welcoming, customer-forward atmosphere is important for any production sale or for private treaty buyers. But as Leigh and Heidi point out, producers are looking to buy breeding stock from operations with solid herd health. “They’re protecting their program, which means you will protect your program as well,” says Heidi. Demonstrating attention to biosecurity could be a selling point.

In most cases, biosecurity is viewed as more about avoiding problems than promoting solutions. “Sometimes you don’t really know when you’re being successful unless you’re tracking things,” says Ed. Keeping good records and promoting the hard work you put in to protect your herd should be celebrated as success!

The Two-Legged Factor in Animal Welfare

Often in the beef industry, producers de-prioritize their own physical and mental health. It’s easy to justify sacrificing our own wellbeing for the sake of getting the job done. But what if leaving humans last on the list has an impact on more than just people?

Dr. Michelle Calvo-Lorenzo is the Chief Animal Welfare Officer for Elanco. With much experience in the feedlot realm, Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo gained an interest in how humans interact with livestock. Now, she has a wealth of knowledge surrounding the impact of human mentality on animal welfare.

Unfortunately, animal welfare is a term without a consistent definition and means many different things to different people. Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo prefers the definition used by the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH), which explains animal welfare as “the physical and mental state of an animal in relation to the conditions in which it lives and dies.”

“What I love about that definition is that it takes into account two important things,” says Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo . “One, that we have to use science-based evidence in order to determine the quality of life for an animal in different areas, including the mental state. But also, just as importantly, this definition is the first I have seen that  integrates and honors the importance of humane care for animals throughout their life.”

Often, we only think of animal handling as the times where we bring cattle through a squeeze chute. However, as Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo explains, animal handling encompasses every point of interaction that we have with cattle, including euthanasia, feeding or cleaning water tanks, or even something as simple as walking through a pen to check cattle. The goal must be to aim for positive human-animal interactions every time, Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo explains, and cattle caretakers can achieve this if they recognize that cattle handling encompasses every way we approach cattle through tactile, auditory, and visual interactions.

The VBP+ program has entire modules that focus on how to decide which animals are fit for transport or may need to be humanely euthanized. These are judgement calls that rely on human decision-making, and therefore can be influenced by how a person feels, acts, and thinks.

There are many theories about animal welfare out there, but Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo’s preferred model is the Five Domains (Nutrition, Environment, Health, Behavioural Interactions, and Mental Domain). This model is intended to provide a coherent assessment of animal welfare, including both the avoidance of negative outcomes and enhancement of positive outcomes relative to animal welfare status. In addition, it’s the first model that accounts for the animal welfare implications of human-animal interactions.

A study performed by Texas A&M researchers determined that employees like pen riders and doctors who work more frequently with cattle tend to perceive beef cattle more poorly (Ridge, Gill, & Daigle, 2019). Processors had poorer satisfaction with their jobs and less comfort with euthanasia. Despite high levels of knowledge and experience, the study noted that staff were typically underpaid and overworked.

Working conditions impact how stock people feel about their jobs and the animals they work with. Texas A&M researchers have also noted that investing in more than skills training, such as reinforcing the value of an employee’s work, positively impacts their attitude towards livestock and in turn, animal welfare outcomes.

“Attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions about the animals you work with all motivate behaviour,” explains Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo. “And the behaviours of people are what is imposed on the animal. So, if you have a person that believes that animals should be treated with respect, then that will influence the way they approach the animals.”

Of course, taking the time to offer training and maintain a positive workplace takes time and sometimes money. But as data shows, when employee attitudes change, not only do livestock fear states decrease, but productivity increases – that’s a positive to your bottom line.

Today’s labor gap is a challenge, and keeping skilled workers on your operation is key. Training a new employee after losing a good worker is costly, and is another reason why worker mentality matters to the bottom line.

“The culture of an operation is incredibly important,” says Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo. “With the right culture in place, not only will people do things right, but they’ll be motivated to do things better and better every day. And this enhances the culture, which feeds into a positive cycle where worker morale isn’t low, people aren’t going to cut corners, there’s loyalty to the operation, and turnover rates are reduced.”

While in an ideal world, every producer and their employees would have a small, manageable workload and a high budget for salary, bottom lines are tight and it can be tough to find experienced workers. But salary isn’t everything. “In the US, we’ve met people who are willing to work for slightly less per hour at an operation if the workplace culture is a better fit,” explains Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo.

Workplace culture is easy to picture in a formal business model, but what about in a scenario where staff is family, like so many Canadian beef cattle operations? “My advice for this scenario is to prioritize expectations for maintaining a professional workplace and treating each other with respect as professionals,” says Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo.

In the VBP+ standard, a code of ethics and training for people on the operation are encouraged. For many producers, these elements seem like something meant for the corporate world and feel too structured and rigid for the family feel we are used to. However, a positive and professional workplace culture can take the form of an unspoken atmosphere of respect and value in the work being done.

Creating a team of people committed to doing their jobs to the best of their ability can make a real difference to the viability of your operation. This approach makes managing healthy, content, and productive cattle the priority, with the added benefit of keeping your people healthy, content, and productive too.

 

Sources

Ridge, E. E, Gill, R., and Daigle, C.L. (2019). Evaluation of the Texas Feed Yard Workforce: Survey of Stockperson Attitudes and Perceptions towards Euthanasia, Animal Care and Employee Value. American Journal of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, 14(2), 139-150. https://doi.org/10.3844/ajavsp.2019.139.150

The Cost of Certification: Where Do Audit Costs Come From?

A producer’s bottom line is their most important consideration – after all, an operation can’t run if it isn’t financially viable. So, it’s important for producers to understand what they are paying for when it comes to getting certified with VBP+.

We often get asked why the cost of the audit is what it is, and we feel this is a question that many producers might have. As a non-profit, we work on a cost-recovery basis. Just like our producers, our focus is efficiency and minimizing costs.

When you get certified with VBP+, you are signing up for five years of certification. While you can pay a fee for all five years up front or pay annually, you commit to the full five year price up front. The reason for this becomes clear when the cost of the first year is broken down.

Note: This article will break down average costs for a Level 1 operation (i.e. a cow-calf, grasser/stocker, or short-term backgrounding operation).

Phase of Certification Cost to VBP+ Delivery Services Inc. Description
Year 1 – On-Farm Audit $750 Costs for the auditor to visit the farm, carry out the audit, and complete reporting
Year 2 – Records Assessment $100 Costs for reviewers and assessors to evaluate records submitted and address corrective actions
Year 3 – Self-Declaration $100 Costs for reviewers and assessors to evaluate responses and address any concerns
Year 4 – Records Assessment $100 Costs for reviewers and assessors to evaluate records submitted and address corrective actions
Year 5 – Records Assessment $100 Costs for reviewers and assessors to evaluate responses and address any concerns
Administration $100 Costs for VBP+ Delivery Services Inc. to maintain producer database to get producers value back
Total $1250  Total cost over the 5-year certification cycle

For a Level 1 operation, the cost of getting certified is $1250, or $250 per year for five years. This value equals the average cost to Verified Beef Delivery Services Inc. to carry out the certification of one operation. This means that VBP+ does not profit from certification.

For operations that require a Level 2 or 3 audit, the cost increases to $350 or $400 per year, respectively. These operations are generally larger, manage cattle closer to slaughter, and typically have more complex records in greater volumes. As a result, it takes an auditor or a VBP+ Delivery Services Inc. staff member a longer amount of time to complete an audit or review a renewal. This added time is reflected proportionally in the additional cost.

Understanding what each year of certification costs is interesting, but raises questions about what kinds of costs go into each year. Obviously, the on-farm audit accounts for the greatest portion of the cost of certification. When an auditor actually visits the farm in person, they incur travel costs. As well, the time it takes for an auditor to fully assess an operation on-farm and then compile all of the results into a format that is useable by a producer takes longer than the average renewal event. The audit year also requires processing by staff (for example, to assign an auditor to the operation, obtain all relevant information for certification, etc.).

For renewal events, VBP+ Delivery Services Inc. has to pay renewal coordinators, reviewers and assessors to keep track of timing of renewals, send out reminders, provide assistance, review documentation, and approve renewals. Administration encompasses the time that renewal coordinators use to help producers find answers to their questions in between renewals, manage the database, and handle other administrative tasks, like accounting.

VBP+ is committed to helping producers yield maximum value from the program. We welcome questions about the certification process and what VBP+ Delivery Services Inc. does as the third-party verification arm of VBP+. To reach out to us, head to our Staff Contacts page on the website.

Preparing to ship safely during the fall run

The fall run is not just a busy time of year for auction marts. For cow-calf and feedlot producers, fall is a mad dash of buying and selling. At times like this, it becomes hard to remember some key points related to food safety and animal care that become relevant when shipping calves or other cattle. Luckily, this problem can be easily solved with the help of a shipping record.

The VBP+ Shipping Record template is a single checklist that producers can go through when preparing a load of cattle for shipment. By filling out the document completely, producers can rest assured that they have done their part in ensuring high-quality animal care and food safety. Transportation and entry into the food chain are the points where consumers who are not connected to agriculture have the greatest chance to observe what producers do. So, it is important to make sure that what the public sees is Canadian beef producers’ commitment to these principles.

The top of the shipping record includes three important pieces of information. The year helps producers keep shipping records organized over time. Since the document has several rows, most producers can use only one or two of these sheets per year by recording all of their loads on one document. The premise ID is important for traceability purposes. In the event that an issue is discovered with an animal later on in the food chain, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency can use this record to trace the issue back to the premises of origin and prevent further hazards from entering the food chain. Finally, while the ranch/producer name might seem obvious to the recorder, this identification helps make this document useful proof of attention to the checks included in the record.

The next three columns help the producer associate the checks contained in the record with specific animals from their herd. The type of cattle column allows the producer to indicate the general class of cattle being shipped. This column is useful for quick reference when looking back on the record. For example, writing “weaned calves” in this column would help the producer remember that they had completed the shipping record when shipping their calves in the fall after weaning.

Similarly, the cattle identification column lets a producer narrow down which cattle they are referring to in the record. This specificity is important because it ensures that the three important checks in the last columns of the record are actually associated with the cattle being shipped. This identification can apply to single animals in the case of small loads or refer to groups of cattle using the producer’s own identification systems. The number of head allows for verification that the number of cattle that end up on the truck matches the number of cattle which were confirmed for safe shipment using the shipping record.

Recording the destination and trucker further aids in traceability in case an issue arises down the line. This column adds another pin on the map of where cattle move in their lifetime, helping officials track down the source of a problem should one come up. The trucker information is important for this same reason, as well as to have a record of the verification of a safe shipment before transferring care of the livestock from producer to trucker.

The final three columns are the “meat and potatoes” of the shipping record. These columns provide proof that a producer has done their due diligence in three key areas of responsible production. Firstly, indicating withdrawal check completed with a check mark shows that the producer has reviewed other records to confirm that the cattle in the shipment are not in a withdrawal period for an animal health product. While checking treatment records for the animals in the shipment is an obvious step, it is also important to think of other records linked to withdrawals, such as documentation of herbicide or pesticide usage. If animals grazed on pasture with a particular chemical, they may be subject to withdrawal for this reason as well. For cow-calf producers, it is important to note that animals may be shipped to a feedlot while still on withdrawal provided that their withdrawal information is sent to the feedlot operator along with them. This step will allow the feedlot operator to assume responsibility for ensuring that residues will not end up in carcasses.

The broken needle record check column is similar to the previous column in that it directs the producer to refer to a different document. The producer checks this box to indicate that they have reviewed records of broken needle occurrences on farm and confirmed that none of the animals in the shipment were involved in a broken needle incident. If cattle have broken needles, they should be retained for own consumption and the processor can be made aware of the location of the broken needle.

The final column verifies the fit for transport evaluation. This section requires the producer to observe the cattle in the shipment to verify that each individual can be safely transported without risk to animal welfare. In short, an animal is fit for transport if it can be expected to arrive at its destination in good condition. Lameness, injuries, and disease are all factors that can classify animals as either compromised, requiring transport with special provisions, or unfit for transport. Animals that are unfit for transport cannot be transported unless for veterinary diagnosis or care. The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle contains a decision tree to help producers distinguish between these classes. This resource is also available within the Vulnerable, Distressed, and High-Risk Cattle section of the VBP+ Producer Reference Manual.

Shipping records are one of the key critical control points for producers to attend to in protecting food safety and animal care standards. This sample record, as well as a blank template for producer use, can be found under the Producer Resources section of our website.

Navigating change: Keeping VBP+ up to date on changes to your operation

Change is inevitable. But when beef operations make big adjustments, management changes as well. Keeping VBP+ up to date on your operation is key to staying current with the program.

While an audit is a great assessment of an operation, it can only capture a snapshot of the operation in time. Record assessments and self-declarations provide regular points for VBP+ to check in with producers and see what has changed, making sure everything is still on the right track.

It is important to remember that the VBP+ is a five-year audit cycle. The on-farm audit is an important first assessment, but the records assessments and self-declarations are in themselves annual assessments as well as important points to update information. Five years is a long time, it is very possible producers are making operational decisions that make sense during those five years.

Sometimes beef producers make big changes that have equally big impacts on management practices. VBP+ needs your help to know when those changes are made so we can continue to help you be as efficient, accurate, and sustainable as you can be.

One of the biggest changes an operation can make is adding or removing enterprises. As producers know, managing a cow-calf operation is drastically different than a feedlot. Deciding to background or finish your own calves adds additional complexity to your operation, particularly the aspects of management that are highlighted in the VBP+ standard.

Changing enterprises also means changing audit level. The table below outlines the three types of audit that VBP+ offers, which are defined by the production phases that the operation is involved in.

The three audit levels defined by VBP+ differ by production phase, affecting price
The three audit levels defined by VBP+ differ by production phase, affecting price.

With more production phases involved in an operation, more time is required by auditors and staff to review records, management practices, and documentation. Therefore, the annual cost of an audit is higher for a more complex audit level. However, by offering a combined audit at a slightly higher cost, the producer does not have to perform the same paperwork, audit, and other tasks for each enterprise they are involved in.

An ideal time to inform the renewals team of a change is when submitting the annual information update. However, if a major change is occurring outside the time frame of your annual renewal event, notifying the VBP+ renewals team as early as possible is the best practice. Ideally, a producer will reach out before a change actually occurs. Advance notice will let the VBP+ team reflect these changes to both maximize potential qualification and minimize disruption to any incentive programming as soon as possible. For renewals team contact information, go to the Staff Contacts page on our website and scroll down to VBP+ Delivery Services Inc.

Whether informing the renewals team of a change before or after it occurs, producers should provide a brief summary of what the change is. Key details could include major changes in the number of head managed, added or removed enterprises, and additional facilities. After this initial conversation, the renewals team will send the producer an operation change form to gather more details that will inform the next steps.

The required actions following a major change on a certified operation are handled on a case-by-case basis. For example, a producer deciding to finish their own calves using the same facilities and staff will require different actions than a producer purchasing a new facility, designing a new management system, and hiring new staff to finish their own calves. Follow-up actions can range from an enhanced record assessment, a trigger of an on-farm audit, and a brand-new certification starting a new five-year audit cycle.

Above all, VBP+ wants to help producers take advantage of the benefits to certification. Keeping the renewals team up to date on major changes to your operation will ensure that they can keep you accurate and current on your certification status, maintaining your access to program benefits.

New resources available for producers seeking certification

VBP+ has been working on some new resources to help make it easier for producers to prepare for certification. The Self-Assessment Field Guide and two new online courses guide a producer though the VBP+ audit criteria to help ensure success.

self-assessment-field-guide-cover

The Self-Assessment Field Guide is a document that is intended to be taken out onto an operation to help a producer understand how they are performing in the areas of assessment for an audit. The guide lists each area assessed during an audit, with the scoring descriptors for each topic.

The minimum score is highlighted on each question as either a VBP+ Standard or VBP+ Required item. VBP+ Standard items have a minimum score of 1, requiring an understanding and awareness of the area. VBP+ Required questions have a minimum score of 2 and are considered Critical Control Points, meaning records will be requested.

In each scoring table, there is a blank column for a producer to check off their own assessment of how they are performing. Once the producer has gone through the guide, they can review their responses and decide where they might need to make changes or review the VBP+ 2.0 training before scheduling an audit.

The Self-Assessment Field Guide is available on our website on the Producer Reference Manual page.

Going hand in hand with the field guide, VBP+ has created an online Pre-Certification Self-Assessment course through the Canadian Cattle Learning Center. This course offers the same list of required areas and their corresponding scoring, but in a convenient online format that delivers a producer with a summary of their results.

Finally, the VBP+ Certification Process online course is a quick online module on the Canadian Cattle Learning Center that goes over all the steps that a producer must go through to get certified. This is a great resource for producers who are still considering the program and want to know what they are signing up for, or for producers who have started the process and need direction for next steps.

cclc-dashboard-screenshot

Both the Pre-Certification Self-Assessment and the Certification Process courses, as well as other VPB+ training material, can be accessed by creating a free account in the Canadian Cattle Learning Center. From the Dashboard, scroll down to Featured Courses to find the Pre-Certification Self-Assessment. These two courses are offered at no cost.  

All of these resources will be available in French. For more VBP+ resources, explore our website and stay tuned to the VBP+ blog and social media!

Certification Recognition Credit: How Cargill is recognizing the efforts of VBP+ certified producers

Cargill and the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) have announced a pilot project offering up to $400 for producers maintaining CRSB certification from 2022 into 2023. Since VBP+ is a delivery agent for CRSB, VBP+ certified operations who agree to information sharing and provide their Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS) information are automatically included in this program. If you have any questions about your opt-out status, please contact VBP+.

The intent of the Certification Recognition Credit program is to recognize producers who have made the investment of time and money to become certified with CRSB (VBP+ audited) but have not received at least $400 in credits for qualifying cattle processed at Cargill in 2022. For example, a producer who only received $60 in credit payments in 2022 would receive a payment of $340 under the new Certification Recognition Credit.

VBP+ is pleased that stakeholders have listened to concerns from certified producers and have taken steps to make sure that incentivization recognizes all producers investing in certification. It was supporting data from VBP+ producers around uneven incentivization that was integral to the creation of this program. We thank our VBP+ producers for remaining committed to certification and are pleased with this initiative from stakeholders!


“With this funding, we want to recognize the commitment of Canadian producers in ensuring the viability of this program and making Canadian beef even more sustainable,” said Jeffrey Fitzpatrick, Sustainability Program Lead, Cargill. “Only in supporting programs like the CRSB Certified Sustainable Beef Framework will we be able to more accurately create and sustain the highest standard of sustainability practices across the Canadian beef supply chain.”

This quote is from the CRSB press release on this program. Read the full release here.


Here is how the program will work according to different producer scenarios:

Financial Credits Received for Qualifying Cattle in 2022 Payment through Certification Recognition Credit
Producer received $0 in financial credits for qualifying cattle in 2022 Producer will receive $400
Producer received less than $400 in financial credits for qualifying cattle in 2022 Producer will receive a “top up” payment for the difference between their credit payments and $400 (for example, if you received $60 in 2022, you will receive $360)
Producer received $400 or more in financial credits for qualifying cattle in 2022 Producer will receive $0

Frequently Asked Questions

*Please note: Producers

When can I expect my payment?

March 2023

Do I need to apply for the credit?

There is no need to apply or take any extra steps to ensure you receive this credit. Cargill will work with CCIA, VBP+, OCFB and PBQ to verify eligibility and determine amounts, then distribute these rewards via the same channels as the Qualifying Cattle Credit. 

Do I have to have at least one animal processed at Cargill to be eligible? 

You do not need to have a minimum of animals processed at Cargill in order to be eligible. This Recognition Credit was established to recognize the upfront investment that many Canadian producers have made to become CRSB Certified, even when they aren’t guaranteed a clear, financial payback for that effort at this time. 

Cargill realizes producers do not always have full control over where their cattle are ultimately processed, and while the existing Qualifying Cattle Credit payment rewards producers whose qualifying cattle supply Cargill directly, this new Recognition Credit distinctly rewards the upfront investment instead. 

Is this an annual program? 

Cargill, the CRSB, and partners are committed to long-term recognition for operations who maintain their CRSB Certified status. This pilot will help inform what that future state could look like. The incentive may be structured differently in the future but, in principle, this recognition will remain in place in future years. 

Cargill will continue to thank producers for directly supplying Cargill with qualifying cattle via the Qualifying Cattle Credit. In fact, this credit payment will shift from quarterly to monthly in early 2023 based on the status of cattle processed the prior month. The pilot Recognition Credit is incremental to the ongoing financial recognition within our implementation of the program. 

Who do I contact for further questions about the program? 

For questions about the CRSB Certified Sustainable Beef Framework or this pilot Recognition Credit, contact Dayna Cameron at CRSB. 

For questions about Cargill’s existing Qualifying Cattle Credit payments, contact Emily Murray at Cargill or Jenn Taplin at CCIA (or J-S Roy at PBQ). 

For questions about getting or maintaining your CRSB Certification status, contact a representative of VBP+ with the information listed here. 

Apply for the FCC Sustainability Incentive Program

Last year, Farm Credit Canada (FCC) launched an initiative to recognize the efforts of producers certified with the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB).  On May 2, 2023, applications for the program will reopen!

FCC will provide a payment to FCC customers who are CRSB certified through one of the CRSB’s certification bodies, including VBP+. So, VBP+ certified producers can take advantage of this opportunity.

“FCC is happy to be reopening applications for our sustainability programs. We are in a unique position to work with individual sectors in the agriculture and food industry on their sustainability goals,” explains Curtis Grainger, FCC’s director of sustainability programs. “The progress we’re seeing looks different depending on the sector and on an individual’s operation. That’s why the established, verified initiatives at CRSB and McCain Foods are important partnerships that allow us to support producers with their individual needs.”

Producers can receive up to $2,000, calculated as a portion of your lending with FCC, excluding operating credit. Producers can reapply annually.

“VBP+ appreciates FCC’s investment in certified producers through their Sustainability Incentive Program,” says Shannon Argent, VBP+ Business Manager. “Financially incentivizing producers who take the time and effort to participate in certification shows the commitment shared by both producers and stakeholders to advancing sustainability in the Canadian beef industry.”

If you are already certified, you can apply through the FCC page here. You will need to provide the following:

  • Contact information
  • FCC customer number
  • Certification body used (i.e. VBP+ if you are certified with us)
  • Copy of certificate

Note that you must be an FCC customer in good standing with an amount owing on current lending, and your CRSB certification must be current.

If you aren’t yet certified but want to join the program to be eligible, contact your VBP+ provincial coordinator using the info here to learn more. The provincial coordinator can set you up with an in-person training session or direct you to our online Canadian Cattle Learning Center to get started.

After training and pre-audit prep with a coordinator, contact VBP+ Delivery Services Inc. (the certification branch of VBP+). Find contact info here.

For an overview of the certification process and five-year audit cycle, click here.

Value added: How VBP+ is using data to drive benefits back to the producer

Getting involved with certification programs and supply chains takes commitment from beef producers. The time, effort, and money required do not go unnoticed, and Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) is committed to advocating for producers to receive value back in return for their investment.

Producers can get involved with the VBP+ program in two ways. Getting trained allows producers to stay up to date on best management practices supported by current research, Canadian regulations, and modern experience from efficient and profitable ranches. For those seeking further involvement in the program, certification follows naturally.

To get certified with VBP+, producers gather six months of production records and make changes on their operation to match the requirements of the VBP+ Standard. A provincial coordinator will go through a pre-audit preparation process with each producer to ensure successful certification. Then, a third-party auditor, who is often a producer themselves, will come out to visit the farm to verify that required practices from the VBP+ standard are being implemented. Producers will not fail an audit if they do not meet all requirements. Instead, a corrective action request will be issued with a timeline for change to be made, encouraging continuous improvement.

Once a producer has successfully completed their audit, they are responsible for maintaining the management and record-keeping requirements of the VBP+ program. Each year, the operation must complete a renewal event to demonstrate continued adherence to the VBP+ Standard. In years two and four of the five-year audit cycle, producers submit records to be assessed according to the requirements of the program. In years three and five, producers self-declare that they are maintaining the Standard on their operation.

For many producers, getting involved in VBP+ training or certification has inherent benefits. Changing management practices often increases efficiency and can aid your bottom line. For example, making sure that animal health products like vaccines and antibiotics are delivered effectively can reduce time and money spent on treating sick cattle. Many VBP+ producers also report that record-keeping indirectly increases efficiency on their operation by keeping track of management decisions so that they can be changed in the future to optimize efficiency and profitability.

However, VBP+ training and certification clearly require a time commitment from the producer. Making changes on an operation, keeping records, and completing administrative work to maintain certification all require time – something that beef producers are short on. As well, training and certification both involve a financial commitment from the producer. Like time, money is not something that most beef producers can easily offer.

VBP+ recognizes the investment that producers make into the program and sees the benefits that producer participation offers to public trust and sustainable beef supply chains. Therefore, it is a major goal of VBP+ to seek tangible value that can be offered back to producers for their investments.

A major avenue that allows VBP+ to seek out producer benefits is transformation of producer efforts into data. To producers, the database of certified operations may seem like nothing more than a list. But to sustainable beef supply chains, this information is a lifeline.

In order to make label claims about sustainable beef, sellers need to construct a verifiable chain of custody that tracks animal movements from farm to farm. The data regarding which beef operations are certified and when their certification is active is integral to making this chain of custody viable.

Without producer participation in certification programs, sustainable beef supply chains could not exist. VBP+ leverages producer data to access these supply chains, and in many cases, secure value for primary producers.

For example, in 2017, Cargill piloted a project with the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) and other partners, including VBP+, to validate a certified sustainable supply chain and allow product to be sold with the certified sustainable label claim.  Cattle that made their way through the supply chain entirely on CRSB certified operations can produce beef that is eligible for this program. In return for being certified, retailers, through Cargill, provides an incentive per head back to each producer involved in the life cycle of the animal. Since VBP+ is a delivery agent for CRSB, producers certified with VBP+ are automatically certified with CRSB and can receive payments through this program.

Other stakeholders see value in producer certification even without being directly involved in the beef supply chain. Last year, Farm Credit Canada started offering the Sustainability Incentive Program, delivering a payment to clients certified with CRSB.

Programs like these are examples of stakeholders recognizing the investment required from a producer to be involved in programs like VBP+. These programs all require data from VBP+ for verification. By leveraging the value of producer data, VBP+ can secure tangible benefits for producers.

This opportunity is not limited to certification. In the past, provincial governments (such as the Government of Alberta) have offered incentives to producers trained with VBP+ in the form of funding to purchase new farm equipment related to the program. For example, until March 15, 2022, in Saskatchewan, VBP+ trained producers can apply to receive up to $2,500 to cover 50% of costs for equipment such as new cattle handling systems, calving cameras, or vaccine coolers. Certified producers can apply for up to $15,000. This program also requires VBP+ producer data to verify eligibility.

Value arising from the VBP+ program can come in many different forms, but the universal factor tying producer incentive programs together is the value of VBP+ producer data. Without producer participation and investment, beef sellers could not make label claims and financial institutions could not show commitment to encouraging sustainable production.

Stakeholders need producers, and VBP+ transforms the hard work of producers into a usable tool for partners. Using this tool to leverage incentives for producers is key to ensuring that producers maintain participation in the program, and to expanding buy-in moving forward.

Producer part in prevention: Helping mitigate FMD in Canada

By now, you’ve likely heard of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), a disease known for being extremely contagious and extremely severe. In the news right now, FMD strikes panic in the Canadian beef industry. That’s why it’s key that each and every one of us does our part to prevent the introduction of FMD into our Canadian cattle herd.

Fast Facts About FMD

  • Occurs in livestock and wildlife with cloven hooves – cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, bison, elk, deer, wild boars, etc.
  • Many animals recover, but are left in a weak state
  • Found in 77% of the global livestock population – Africa, Middle East, Asia, and some parts of South America
  • Spread by contact with bodily fluids from affected animals, contaminated animal products, food, feed, equipment, clothing, footwear, or hands
  • Can be spread long distances by the airborne virus
  • Humans can carry the virus for up to 36 hours in the throat
  • There is no treatment

Source: Foot and mouth disease | Alberta.ca

Signs of FMD in Cattle

  • Sores and then blisters/ulcers on feet, nose, mouth, udder, scrotum
  • Excessive saliva and drooling
  • Lack of desire to move
  • Fever
  • Low appetite
  • Reduced milk yield
  • Loss of body condition
  • Occasional abortions

Source: Foot and mouth disease | Alberta.ca

What to Do If You Suspect a Case of FMD

FMD is a reportable disease and must be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Whether a case is suspected or confirmed, report it to the chief veterinary office in your province within 24 hours.

Source: Foot and mouth disease | Alberta.ca

Tips for Travellers

  • Declare all meat and other animal products brought into Canada (includes semen, embryos, and hides)
  • If coming from a country with FMD, avoid farms, parks, zoos, feed mills, equipment, and livestock for 14 days
  • If you must come into contact with an above area:
    • Clean and disinfect footwear, or ideally, dispose of footwear worn abroad
    • Dry clean clothing worn abroad
    • Thoroughly shower and clean under fingernails
    • Disinfect all personal belongings
    • Follow all biosecurity procedures at the facility
  • If you live on a farm, avoid going home for 36 hours by staying at an alternative residence where someone can bring you clean clothing and footwear to wear home

Source: Foot and mouth disease | Alberta.ca

What Happens If FMD Reaches Canada

If FMD was identified in Canada, the CFIA would identify exposed premises, cull exposed and high-risk potentially exposed livestock, and decontaminate the environment. Disposal would occur by incineration or burial.

The Canadian beef industry is continually advocating for the development of an FMD vaccine bank. However, routine FMD vaccination is not allowed in Canada for several reasons. Primarily, routine blood tests cannot distinguish vaccinated animals from infected ones, making vaccinated livestock ineligible for export with Canada’s trading partners. If Canada did widely vaccinate, we would lose “FMD-free without vaccination” status. Many of Canada’s trading partners, including the US, restrict imports from countries that vaccinate for FMD, even for animals that are proven to not carry the virus.

However, if prevention and disease control fail, Canada may vaccinate for FMD to reduce widespread culling. To regain “FMD-free without vaccination” status, Canada would have to wait 3 months after the last case, or in the case of vaccination, 3 months after the slaughter of the last vaccinated animal.

If widespread culling occurs, producers will be compensated for the market value of their lost animals.

Source: Questions and Answers – Response to Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) – Canadian Food Inspection Agency (canada.ca)

Tips for Preventing FMD Introduction to Your Farm

  • Prevent visitors from accessing your livestock
  • Prevent livestock contact with wildlife
  • Regularly disinfect footwear, clothing, and equipment
  • Keep records of people, livestock, feed, supplies, and equipment moving on and off your farm
  • Keep new animals separate for an initial quarantine period (at least 5 days)

Source: Questions and Answers – Response to Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) – Canadian Food Inspection Agency (canada.ca)

More Information

To learn more about FMD and biosecurity preparedness, check out the following resources.

VBP+ Producer Reference Manual – Vulnerable, Distressed & High-Risk Cattle, Biosecurity and Emergency Response Plan modules in particular

VBP+ Training 2.0 on the Canadian Cattle Learning Center