BEEF industry leader Zanda McDonald's vision for increased animal welfare and resulting production benefits across the northern Australian cattle industry continues to grow.
Mr McDonald, who tragically died in 2013, initiated extensive trials starting in 2011 involving Tri-Solfen, a pain relief product first developed for the sheep industry, which has gone on to become widely used in the beef industry.
Nine years later Tri-Solfen is now routinely used in many cattle operations, particularly for dehorning and castration as well as branding. In fact, the bulk of corporate enterprises including the McDonald family's MDH, CPC and the Australian Agricultural Company have made pain relief mandatory for all surgical procedures.
Those initial trials at Devoncourt, Cloncurry, looked at not only the level of pain relief delivered, but also the best method of delivering distinctive blue gel. Early trials included assessments of an aerosol spray, a paint brush, and gel soaked pads. Eventually an applicator gun was found to be the most effective.
Speaking in 2011 (click on the video link above), Mr McDonald said pain relief was a big step forward.
"We can show the rest of the food chain of Australia the northern industry is taking a very positive step on something that will become a big problem," Mr McDonald said.
"(Tri-Solfen) certainly provides pain relief for 24 to 36 hours. It should be a big part of beef supply chain right around the world in the future.
"It's a great opportunity for Australia to market its beef.
"Welfare is going to become a big global issue and if Australia can lead the way its a big opportunity for us push home another price point."
Zanda's wife and MDH chief financial officer, Julie McDonald, said the use of pain relief recognised MDH's philosophy of treating livestock more humanely, in addition to obvious production benefits.
"Pain relief is helping the calves get straight back on their mums, and there is no interruption to gains," Mrs Donald said.
"There are certainly production benefits, but that is not the basis of the decision to use pain relief. It starts with treating cattle more humanely."
In addition to the use of Tri-Solfen on calves, MDH also used the injectable Flunixon as part of any procedure carried out on older cattle.
"The use of pain relief is part of our company, it's an important part of the story we have to tell about how we care for our cattle," Mrs McDonald said.
"There is also now an expectation from not just consumers, but also the wider industry, that pain relief has an important role to play."
Tri-Solfen is currently registered in both Australia and New Zealand as well as Laos in South East Asia, where it is used as an effective treatment for foot and mouth disease. The product is also being trialed in a number of African countries as an FMD treatment.
MDH is a vertically integrated beef supply business that involves breeding, backgrounding, lotfeeding, live cattle export and marketing its own branded beef domestically and across the world.
MDH is currently running about 145,000 head of cattle on 11 properties, finishing many animals at the company-owned Wallumba feedlot on the Darling Downs. The herd is down about 30,000 head following a reduction in numbers because of the drought.
Tri-Solfen contains two local anaesthetics, lignocane and bupivivaine, plus adrenalin to stop bleeding and an antiseptic to prevent infection.