Dee Griffin, DVM, says the key components of beef quality assurance can be written on a 3x5 index card.
Producers in every segment find benefits from beef quality assurance
"I’m not a philanthropist," is how Dee Griffin, DVM, remembers Ladd Hitch describing why he wanted his cattle feeding customers to apply the principles of beef quality assurance (BQA). "Mr. Hitch (the late patriarch of Hitch Enterprises, Guymon, Okla.) told his employees to encourage their cow-calf suppliers to adopt quality assurance practices because it made money for both of them."
Griffin, formerly the staff veterinarian for Hitch Enterprises and now the feedlot production management veterinarian and professor at the University of Nebraska’s Great Plains Veterinary Education Center, says the cattle industry’s BQA program has proven a huge success at every industry level, but the education process is ongoing.
BQA is a national program that provides guidelines for beef cattle production and raises consumer confidence through offering proper management techniques and a commitment to quality within every segment of the beef industry.
Involved with BQA education since its inception, Griffin says the early emphasis was at feedlots. "When we started BQA, it was to address antibiotic residues. In 1982, USDA identified antibiotic residues in 1.8% of carcasses. Today, that rate is zero."
But BQA involves much more than residue avoidance, and the results of implementing quality assurance can provide benefits and profits for cow-calf and stocker operators, too.
"Mr. Hitch was correct when he said, ‘If (cow-calf) producers don’t make the little mistakes that make cattle sick, then they are going to gain all the growth that an animal is genetically capable of producing, and that in turn produces improved feedlot efficiency and decreased cost of production.’" Hitch had a vested interest in improving quality and animal health because his company owned 1,200 cows, as many as 20,000 stockers and two feedyards with a capacity of 111,000 head.
"BQA does not require a 200-page education manual," Griffin says. "We can write the key components to BQA on a 3x5 index card that you can stick in your pocket."
"Nothing is more defensible than showing our detractors we’re BQA certified," says Dan Thomson, DVM, director of the Beef Cattle Institute.
From the ground up. While industry leaders focused on feedlots two decades ago, the current emphasis is on educating cow-calf producers to the benefits of BQA. Funding for BQA education programs comes from the beef checkoff, and both state beef councils and state extension personnel are part of producer education.
Kansas State University’s Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) has taken producer awareness and BQA training to a higher level. The BCI annually conducts training sessions at numerous locations around the state. This year, more than 900 Kansas producers completed BQA training at local auction markets.
"Considering the many pressures today’s beef industry faces—from anti-meat groups, animal welfare activists, food safety and environmental groups—BQA is how we show that producers care about all of those issues," says Dan Thomson, BCI director. "Nothing is more defensible than showing our detractors we’re BQA certified."
Industry leaders agree that the emphasis on BQA is critically important, and Thomson has built a model program that Griffin calls "the league leader." Founded in 2007, BCI’s goal is to provide beef producers with the most current education, research and outreach available.
"We work with local auction markets to use their facilities and to help promote the training sessions," Thomson says. "Our first year, we had about 300 complete the training, last year about 600 and this year more than 900."
In the coming months, BCI will also launch an online training course for producers, courtesy of a grant from Boehringer Ingelheim.
- November 2013