It seems like nearly a lifetime ago, and for some it has been, that people in the beef business started talking about the need for a program of centralized information on animal health products and best management practices on how to use those products appropriately. The first attempt at such a program happened back in the late 1980s and how the industry’s Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program has grown since then is nothing short of remarkable.
However, it became quickly evident to those who were developing those early programs that understanding how to do things the right way is only part of the equation. Equally important, if not more so, is understanding why.
At a recent BQA training program for feedyard cowboys, Ted McCollum ran through the program that the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) requires its members to participate in. The TCFA program is unique in that respect—all employees at TCFA member feedyards have to be trained in beef quality assurance and must be retrained every year.
As McCollum, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service beef specialist in the Texas Panhandle, ran through the various best management checklists, he commented that a lot of what’s there is just old-fashioned common sense. For instance, on newly-received cattle, the program says the animals must be given clean water and feed when they’re unloaded, that the condition of those cattle will be evaluated upon arrival, health decisions will be made based on that evaluation and if animals need care, that will be provided for them.
“That’s common sense, is it not?” McCollum asked the feedyard cowboys. Even in a group not known for being demonstrative, some of them shook their heads in agreement, affirming the basic ethic of any stockman. Not doing that is simply not a consideration. Never has been.
“Why do we put that down on a sheet of paper and check the boxes off?” McCollum then asked. Answering his own question, he said, “Because these documents and this quality assurance program is also something we present to people outside the industry to demonstrate the lengths we go to in the care of animals we use to produce food.”
The TCFA program is just one of many state efforts in BQA. The beef business nationally has an outstanding BQA program administered by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). According to Chase DeCoite, manager of the NCBA program, BQA shows consumers the effort that cattle producers undertake to ensure the quality of the beef they produce. “And it’s the channel in which producers can have a direct impact on the beef supply and making sure those live cattle management practices improve the quality of beef. So that’s why it’s so important. It is how producers tell consumers this is good product and you should continue to buy it.”
Therein lies the challenge. How do we reach the average consumer—if such a person exists—with that message?
There is, of course, the beef checkoff, and it has done a great job over the years as the arm of the business that reaches consumers. We must continue to support and increase the ability of the beef checkoff to be the industry’s voice in the consumer’s world.
But we can do more and we must do more. The first thing to do, if you aren’t BQA certified, is to get that done. Then commit to taking retraining every year so you stay current with updated practices, thinking and philosophies.
Then talk about it to anyone who will stand still for 30 seconds to hear your story. This is one light that is much too important to keep hidden under a bushel basket.
You might also like: