Animal Welfare Research Needs for Beef Cattle

Following is a list of research priorities gaps identified during the beef cattle Code development process. Click here to visit the beef cattle Code web page for the Scientific Committee report and to view the full Code.

List compiled: September 2013

Castration, Dehorning and Branding

  • Development of practical, cost-effective methods of objectively quantifying and mitigating pain and stress in beef cattle under production conditions.
  • Develop practical, cost effective methods of objectively quantifying the additive effects of beef production practices on pain, stress, immunity and health.
  • Research using farm based beef calves. Almost all the existing work is done using dairy calves weaned at or near birth that are handled daily. This may confound the findings in stress levels of the procedures, the handling and in recovery. Dairy and beef cattle have been selected for different traits over time (particularly temperament and mothering ability), which may also affect responses to handling and restraint.
  • Compare methods of castration to quantify the different effects (pain, recovery, behaviour, performance) of different methods and timing of castration using beef calves in farm settings.
  • Practical methods to mitigate pain during branding.
  • Development of practical, permanent, easily detectable cattle identification that can replace branding as a means of indication of ownership.

Bovine Respiratory Diseases

  • Overcoming the industry barriers to implementation of preconditioning programs (industry structure and cost recovery – both unrelated to the efficacy of preconditioning) would be useful.
  • Optimal timing for preconditioning procedures, to define which preconditioning components are most important and to examine the synergism between multiple stressors (weaning, transport, comingling, feed/water interruption, changes in feed and water sources) will provide information to develop cost-effective programs that benefit all segments of the beef industry. This will encourage industry acceptance and promote change.
  • Practical methods of early detection of sick cattle so that timely treatment can minimize the effects of disease.
  • Quantify and clarify the role of pain in relation to BRD and whether pain medication is beneficial to recovery and welfare.


  • Risk factors, prevalence, characteristics, and management of lameness (including toe-tip necrosis) in Canadian feedlots.
  • Foot rot prevalence rates in relation to frequency of pen cleaning. Economic analysis of the benefits and practicality of different frequencies of pen cleaning.

Nutritional Disorders associated with High Energy Feeding

  • Prevalence of acidosis in Canadian feedlots and further definition of how ruminal pH influences animal welfare, such as quantification of pain due to acidosis and/or sub-clinical acidosis.
  • Continued research to:
    1. identify optimal feedlot transition strategies;
    2. identify differences in feeding behaviour, ruminal physiology, metabolism and genetics that lead to individual variations in susceptibility to acidosis; and
    3. develop practical modifications to high energy feeding programs that reduce the incidence of metabolic diseases in feedlots.
  • Economic analysis to compare the cost of reduced final weight to the cost of nutritional diseases associated with high concentrate feeding (i.e. drug treatment costs and carcass value losses).

Weaning Methods

  • The effect of weaning strategies on calf health, in particular the influence of weaning method on the incidence of respiratory disease at the feedlot, and the effect of different weaning strategies on calf growth rate.
  • Clarify the interaction of weaning method on cow health and welfare, including: 1) reproductive health; 2) udder health (e.g. development of mastitis); and 3) the effect of parity and distress from weaning on cow welfare.


  • Define what conditions constitute excessive mud and quantify the physiological effects.

Extreme weather – Cold

  • Quantify the welfare benefits of providing shelter and bedding to outdoor housed beef cattle in Canadian production systems.
  • Quantify the effect of wide temperature and wind fluctuations during winter on cattle welfare.
  • Quantify the relationship between body condition score, energy requirements and cold weather. Recent studies do not look at weather as cold as it gets in Canada.
  • Quantify the effects on cattle welfare of shelter at various temperatures and wind velocities in dry and wet conditions.
  • Quantify the comparative welfare and performance impacts of using snow as a water source relative to providing water.

Extreme Weather – Heat

  • Quantify the effect of providing shade on beef cattle productivity and health in Canadian production systems.

Following is a list of additional priority research needs that were identified by the Code Technical Panel during the 5-year review of the beef cattle Code.

List compiled: October 2018

  • Effectiveness of antibiotic alternatives to effectively prevent or treat production limiting diseases (e.g. BRD, liver abscesses, lameness, acidosis, etc.)
  • Impact of antibiotic-free production regimes on the health and welfare of feedlot cattle
  • Treatment of animals being removed out of organic programs
  • Quantifying the availability and adequacy of water in the feedlot and analyzing potential health and welfare outcomes
  • More emphasis on pregnant heifers in feedlots including looking at incidents, abortions, and best management, recognizing this is a current welfare issue.