Ah, branding … set to coincide perfectly with the start of the wedding season. As if the blindingly white legs of a farmer in a skirt aren’t nearly distracting enough, they must also be embellished with bruises. We held our branding on the last weekend of May, and I’m still thinking about pain mitigation for calves (mine, mostly).
By now you likely know National Farm Animal Care Council has drafted a new version of the Beef Cattle Code of Practice, which outlines welfare strategies for branding. For the most part, we’ve always followed these guidelines. We chose not to band our calves this year, instead castrating when the calves were still under two months of age (maximum being three months, as suggested by NFACC). We also ensure jobs are assigned to qualified individuals, and/or train people to do the work correctly, particularly those handling branding irons.
With welfare, efficiency and pain mitigation in cattle always on our minds, I wonder if we sometimes neglect our own. Often, in an attempt to do the job well, we injure ourselves.
Even after a week, I am still sore from branding, and my shins are as tender as the barbecued ribs we ate.
So, I have been pondering about the importance of pain mitigation for producers. How do we cope in situations like this? How should we prepare?
- Personal Protective Equipment – Now, I’m not saying you should go out and buy a bubble suit or anything. Just stop thinking you’re too tough to don PPE! In this case, even a simple shin pad would have helped prevent bruising and pain in my leg, and I could have focused more on work, and less on whining.
- Work Out – We seem to get by on this notion that farming is physically demanding enough; we don’t need to do any other exercise. The Public Health Agency of Canada suggests adults (18-64) exercise for a minimum of 2.5h/week. Sorry, but getting in and out of the tractor to check seed depth won’t suffice. Consider taking up a hobby like cycling or running, maybe with a friend or family member. Not only will it help your over all health, it will also increase your energy levels during the day, improve sleep and give you a break from everything else.
- Eat Right – Easy. Ignore fad diets. Everything in moderation. Eat your veggies alongside that delicious t-bone. Don’t consume more calories than you’re going to use. Done, and done.
- Be Safe – If I had a dime for every time I hid under the tractor this spring, to avoid being trampled by angry mama cows, I’d have at least 30 cents. Try not to put yourself in harm’s way. Again, you’re not as tough as you think you are.
- Painkillers – This is always a last resort for me. Your call. But, do try a massage, ice pack, sling or whatever other basics your injury/pain may require.
- Respect Colleagues – Don’t just look out for your safety, look out for theirs too. I’ve had friends who were kicked, electrocuted, branded and needled— though no castrations that I know of. Many of these injuries involved third-party mistakes. Be aware of your surroundings.
In the aforementioned Beef Research School on pain mitigation, John Campbell explained that prey animals are good at hiding pain. Apparently gingers, of which I am one, though subjected to all kinds of torment, are not prey animals. Pain is tiring, and hinders efficiencies in work. Do your best to avoid it now, and you’ll be less likely to suffer later.