Beef Quality Assurance principles have evolved over the past 50 years. Animal scientists continue to gather more information through producer audits and research projects. Armed with this information, they are better able to help cattle producers ensure the health, safety and welfare of not only their livestock, but also their employees.
BQA also assures beef consumers that cattle producers are doing the right thing, and those consumers can feel good knowing they are purchasing a product that’s been cared for every step of the way. Protecting that customer demand for beef is worth real dollars in the pockets of everyone in the beef supply chain.
To many, BQA principles only matter at the feedyard and transportation end of the supply chain. But, as Justin Gleghorn explained at the BQA Producer Forum in Houston in February, those principles need to begin at the very start of the calf’s journey, and follow them from the pasture to the plate.
Gleghorn is the director of value management at Cactus Feeders in Amarillo, Texas. His task — a monumental one — is to manage Cactus’ breakeven projections for more than half a million head of cattle over all of Cactus’ locations. For Gleghorn and the Cactus team, cattle that come to them without the benefit of BQA principles starting from calfhood wind up costing time and money in lost efficiency and animal health concerns — and, ultimately, in lost consumer confidence in beef.
“These programs, at the end of the day, are assuring our customers that the product we’re producing is safe, affordable and meets the needs in line with their expectations,” Gleghorn said. “Right now, demand is strong for our product. The consumer has told us over a number of seasons now they’re willing to pay for our product at various price points.” BQA has built that confidence, he added.
For Gleghorn, and feeders like him, healthy feeder calves mean more efficient animals in the feedyard with fewer health concerns, better feed efficiency and reduced mortality in the yard. Feedyards do all they can to reduce mortality because those cattle lose them money.
“In general, you put an animal on feed for 108 days, every point of mortality that we don’t project correctly is going to cost all the other animals in the group $20 a head,” Gleghorn explained. “So at six-tenths of a point of unexplained mortality, you’re looking at $12 a head.” That can not only hurt a feedyard’s bottom line, but it also doesn’t do well for consumer perceptions.
So how can BQA principles help?
Gleghorn said there’s quite a few ways that cattle producers up and down the beef chain can help each other have healthy cattle that ultimately match consumer expectations in the beef case.
- Labor. The labor force in the cattle industry is very mobile and not prone to staying on one operation for a long time. BQA training and retraining are paramount to ensure that labor knows proper cattle handling for animal and human safety.
- Caretakers. It takes a keen eye to watch for signs of animal morbidity, and to pull animals for treatment before their conditions get too bad for animal health products to work. BQA training can help caretakers spot signs of trouble before it’s too late.
- Trucking. Transporting livestock requires more than someone to fill a seat behind the wheel, Gleghorn said. The trucking industry already has challenges in filling openings, but it’s imperative that cattle truckers are trained in BQA, and proper animal handling and transportation.
- Weaning. Unvaccinated, 600-pound weaned calves with underdeveloped immune systems contribute to mortality rates in the feedyard. Using low-stress handling BQA principles when vaccinating, castrating and weaning heavier calves makes a difference when they get to the feedyard and are placed on rations.
At the end of the day, Gleghorn said BQA principles and training are valuable tools to protect livestock and drive consumer demand for beef. To learn more about BQA training tools and opportunities that are available in your area, visit bqa.org.