There was a time when you could raise your cattle, carry calves to the auction market and aside for general preferences by the order buyers and general principles of supply and demand, there weren't a huge number of factors that effected the price you received for your cattle. Well, order buyers and basic economics still weigh on cattle prices but we live in a whole new world where the consumer is in the driver's seat. As a food producer, your livelihood depends on establishing the trust of your consumers and each and every one of us plays a role in developing and maintaining this trust. Food safety – or the perception of it – plays a major role in the buying decisions of health-conscious Americans all across the country. Fortunately for cattle producers, in general the public perceives beef as a safe and wholesome product although questions always emerge on things such as antibiotic and use of growth promotants. Additionally, there is no such thing as “too” safe when it comes to the food consumers buy for themselves – and their children. After all, the beef you produce is a product that somebody will put in his or her mouth and is part of their overall diet.
The beef industry is becoming increasingly complex if the producer wants to remain in business for the long haul. We are looking at issues such as County of Origin Labeling (COOL), potential reductions or eliminations in sub-therapeutic use of certain antibiotics, increased presence of beef production and marketing alliances and so on. On one hand these issues make the beef cattle producers life more complicated and production potentially more expensive. On the other hand these changes are designed to increase the production of safe food products which will increase the consumers trust and strengthen our overall market.
Over the next few issues we'll examine a number of these issues and how they will affect your operation and production system. If we look 5, 10, 15 years down the road, the successful cattleman will be that individual that adopts many of these concepts and effectively incorporates them into his or her program. Time to read the hand-writing on the wall – the future is here – now!
Basic, Sound Beef Production – Consumer Perception
Other than someone living on a mountain-top in Tibet, everyone has heard about the various issues of concern to the consumer. As mentioned food safety is one of main ones. Concerns over BSE (Mad-cow disease), Foot and Mouth disease, e. coli contamination, antibiotic and growth promotant use are all issues that the consumer is concerned with in one way or another. In the last couple of issues we discussed bio-security and how you can keep your operation safe and free from disease and other challenges to the overall health of the animals in your operation. Some of this was related to maintaining a safe food supply, some to simple good health management.
In addition to safety, factors affecting cattle quality – and food quality – are also important. At the consumer level, quality attributes such as tenderness, flavor and portion size are important. At the production level, we are concerned with things like performance, health and predictability all through the system. In both cases, these quality factors can be affected by management decisions throughout the production chain – including your management decisions at the cow-calf or stocker level.
Furthermore, consumers have become more environmentally conscious. They are more closely scrutinizing agricultural practices that affect air and water quality and animal welfare. Although these factors may or may not directly affect the safety and quality of beef, they impact public perceptions of the beef industry, which may alter consumer acceptance of beef products.
How Does an Individual Producer Contribute to this?
Regardless of how big or small your operation is, you have a role to play in enhancing consumer confidence and producing a better food product. Obviously, many cattlemen will never adopt quality assurance principles simply because they disagree with the concept or are too set in their ways. However, a desire to be more productive, more profitable, produce a better product and simply support the beef industry will drive many producers to incorporate many of these principles into their day-to-day operation.
Let's start by looking at some things that a cattleman can do to play a role in these efforts and produce a better quality product. The following is a set of guidelines developed by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association for beef quality assurance.
Feeds, Grains and Supplements:
•Maintain records of any pesticide/herbicide use on pasture or crops that could potentially lead to violative residues in grazing cattle or feedlot cattle.
•Make sure adequate quality control program(s) are in place for incoming feedstuffs. Program(s) should be designed to eliminate contamination from molds, mycotoxins or chemicals of incoming feed ingredients. Supplier assurance of feed ingredient quality is recommended.
•Suspect feedstuffs should be analyzed prior to use.
•Ruminant-derived protein sources (ruminant derived blood meal, meat and bone meal, etc. cannot be fed per FDA regulations.
•Feeding by-products ingredients should be supported with sound science.
Feed Additives and Medications:
•Only FDA approved medicated feed additives will be used in rations.
•Medicated feed additives will be used in accordance with the FDA Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regulation.
•Follow 'Judicious Antibiotic Use Guidelines'.
•Extra-label use of feed additives is illegal and strictly prohibited.
•To avoid violative residues -- withdrawal times must be strictly adhered to.
•Where applicable, complete records must be kept when formulating or feeding medicated feed rations.
•Records are to be kept a minimum of two years.
•Operator will assure that all additives are withdrawn at the proper time to avoid violative residues.
Processing/Treatment and Records
Following all FDA, USDA, EPA guidelines for product(s) utilized.
All products are to be used per label directions.
Extra-label drug use shall be kept to a minimum, and uses only when prescribed by a veterinarian working under a Valid Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR).
•Strict adherence to extended withdrawal periods shall be employed.
•Treatment records will be maintained with the following recorded:
1. Individual animal or group identification
2. Date treated
3. Product administrated and manufacture's lot/serial number
4. Dosage used
5. Route and location of administration
6. Earliest date animal will have cleared withdrawal period.
When cattle are processed as a group, all cattle within the group shall be identified as such, and the following information recorded:
1. Group or lot identification
2. Date treated
3. Product administered and manufacturer's lot/serial number.
4. Dosage used.
5. Route and location of administration.
6. Earliest date animal will have cleared withdrawal period.
•All cattle (fed and non-fed) shipped to slaughter will be checked by appropriate personnel to assure that animals that have been treated meet or exceed label or prescription withdrawal times for all animal health products administrated.
•All processing and treatment records should be transferred with the cattle to next production level. Prospective buyers must be informed of any cattle that have not met withdrawal times.
Injectable Animal Health Products:
•Products labeled for subcutaneous (SQ) administration should be administered SQ in the neck region (ahead of the shoulders).
•All products labeled for intra-muscular (IM) use shall be given in the neck region only (no exceptions, regardless of age).
•All products cause tissue damage when injected IM. Therefore all IM use should be avoided if possible.
•Products cleared for SQ, IV or oral administration are recommended.
•Products with low dosage rates are recommended and proper spacing should be followed.
•No more than 10 cc of product is administered per IM injection site.
Care and Animal Management Practices:
•Follow the ‘Quality Assurance Herd Health Plan' that conforms to good veterinary and animal management practices.
•All cattle will be handled/ transported in such a fashion to minimize stress, injury and/or bruising.
•Facilities (fences, corrals, load-outs, etc.) should be inspected regularly to ensure proper care and ease of handling.
•Strive to keep feed and water handling equipment clean.
•Provide appropriate nutritional and feedstuffs management.
•Strive to maintain an environment appropriate to the production setting.
•Bio-security should be evaluated.
•Records should be kept for a minimum of 2 years (3 for Restricted Use Pesticides)
Yes, adopting a program of this nature will require more effort and more paperwork. Unfortunately, this is the way of the future. But remember that every business, every industry has to adopt a quality control program to insure not only efficient production but also the production and delivery of the best product possible. Once again, remember that your beef operation is a business and should be managed accordingly.
Dr. Steve Blezinger is and nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs Texas. He can be reached at Route 4 Box 89 Sulphur Springs, TX 75482, by phone at (903) 885-7992 or by e-mail at email@example.com.