Most consumers are concerned with the quality of the products they buy. Regardless of what the product may be car, microwave, toilet paper the consumer generally wants to be assured he or she is getting the most value for their money. This is especially true in the food, and for our purposes, the beef industry. In the high dollar steakhouses that are becoming more popular, where it's not uncommon to see a steak sell for $20.00 to $30.00 or more, quality and consistency are of top concern. But it's not just limited to these situations. The demand for quality has become consistent through out the industry.
In the last issue we began a discussion of Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) and it's importance to the beef industry and this market. We focused on the background and also on implementation of the program in larger scale operations. An important fact needs to be emphasized here: the need for a BQA program is not just for the big guys. It is also required demanded of the smaller producer as well. Maybe even more so. Here's why: The largest number of cattle which are produced every year and ultimately end up as an entrιe somewhere are produced on ranches of less that 200 head of cows. In fact the average cow herd on a national basis is somewhere between 30 and 40 head. This means that a lot of smaller producers are involved in the production of beef that ends up in the meat case and in the resteraunts. By and large the majority of these cattle are sold 2 or 3 at a time through an auction facility somewhere and eventually are commingled more and more until they end up in a feedyard somewhere. How these cattle are handled up to the point of sale at the auction is totally at the discretion of the small producer.
As the intensity of production increases in the cattle industry and as more focus is directed to BQA, smaller producers are going to feel the pressure of handling their cattle in similar means as do larger producers. If they do not, the market for these smaller numbers of cattle in sale facilities may likewise be pressured downward since cattle coming out of these situations may develop a reputation for not having been managed or treated as well. This is the last thing the smaller producer needs. Subsequently, it becomes necessary for smaller producers to adopt BQA techniques as well. The down side is that it takes a bit more time and more attention to detail. The upside is that it forces the implementation of good management practices from which the smaller producer will undoubtedly benefit.
Implementing a BQA Program on a Smaller Scale
The first thing the smaller beef cattle producer has to realize is that BQA is as important for him and it is the bigger guys. Maybe more important. Secondly, as with the larger operations, he must become committed to the cause of producing a better quality product. Finally, he needs to assess his operation and determine how to go about setting up his BQA program and how detailed he wants to become. Let's look at some of the steps.
1) Setting up a record keeping system. Initially a record keeping system should be devised to track animal performance as well as handling and processing. Entries should be made for each cow which shows breeding (if known) and calving dates. It should record the bulls used and what pasture(s) she was in. It should reflect the grazing, feeding and supplementation program and finally should record all health data including a record of vaccinations, dewormings, other treatments and veterinarian calls. Calves' data should include birthdate, sire and dam, birth location (pasture), sex, anticipated usage (replacement heifer, etc.) and subsequent treatments such as ear tagging, deworming, implanting, castration, dehorning, branding, etc. Records of supplements and feeds used including any medications, medication levels and feeding periods. Data should be recorded concerning marketing date, weight and methods.
2) Evaluate pastures and facilities. Do any areas exist where the animals can injure themselves. This might include loose wire, piles of old lumber or metal, old rolled-up fencing, etc. Walk through working facilities and determine if the structure is sound, no protruding nails or wires, no loose or missing boards or pipes what a calf could hurt itself on or try to crawl through or stick an appendage through. Eliminate any sharp points or edges that could scrape or break the skin. Make sure squeeze chutes are functioning properly and in good working order.
3) Evaluate handling practices. Make sure injections are given precisely as directed mostly subcutaneously in the neck. Needles and syringes need to be cleaned regularly and disinfected. Make sure implants are properly administered ONLY under the skin at the back of the ear in the middle third. Pay attention to withdrawal periods on medications. Do not place animals into the production chain if the withdrawal period has not been passed. Document all injections date, type, dosage. Use only low-stress handling techniques no hot shots, no whooping and hollering. Move cattle in a quiet, calm manner. Use appropriate dehorning, castrating and branding techniques. The younger cattle can be dehorned and castrated, the lower the degree of stress will be.
4) Feeding and supplementing should be accomplished using an appropriately balanced formulation for the purposes you are trying to accomplish. If medications such as CTC, Rumensin, Bovatec or other similar products are to be fed, follow feeding directions implicitly and pay close attention to withdrawal periods of any medications. Document feeding period, medication type, feeding level.
5) Work with your veterinarian to determine what drugs and medications you will need for your particular operation and learn the proper handling of each.
6) Carefully plan working periods, what is to be done, materials needed and dedicate an appropriate amount of time. When you are in a hurry, attention will not be given to detail and you will invariably take shortcuts that will compromise your program.
Whether you are a small or large producer, BQA principles apply to you. The following are some good guidelines to follow in setting up your overall program regardless of the size of your operation.
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP)
A good starting place in taking a close look at what could go wrong (Hazard Analysis), and building in practices that allow cattlemen to check or verify that these problems did not happen (Critical Control Points). Design all the everyday working techniques to avoid having anything go wrong in the first place.
Problems in beef production have the domino effect. It is not hard to correct a problem with quality or production, but as more production problems continue to occur, defects in performance and quality will be noticed. Defects include injection site damage, residues, poor feed conversions, lowered daily gains, and inconsistent packer yields and grade.
Start With Some Basic Understandings
Animal performance can be optimized only if the people managing the animal respect the animal, themselves, and the people they work with. Cattle that are treated with patience and tender loving care are less likely to get sick or perform poorly.
Animal handling techniques can be the pivotal points for animal stress. Stress leads to performance problems which leads to quality defects. Regardless of experience, every operation's employees can benefit from a review of cattle psychology.
BQA is everyone's job; there are no "most valuable players." Everyone needs to watch for mistakes and take every opportunity to recheck the production techniques used. Finding ways to lower animal stress and improve the application of production techniques is everyone's responsibility.
Specific Control Areas
General: All suppliers must know that your operation has a BQA program and the quality of service they offer will be included in BQA monitoring. Record all lot and serial numbers for products received. Retain samples of all products that do not have lot or serial numbers, including feedstuffs. Everyone who uses products with a potential residue hazard or carcass defect risk must be trained in the proper use of the products. Training should include proper disposal of product remnants.
Animals: Antibiotics and agri-chemicals are the two residue risks to consider, but it is impractical and not economically feasible to test every animal that enters your operation if you are buying them from outside. Most cattle will spend over four months in a feedlot, which far exceeds the withdrawal time for all but two classes of compounds: long half-life organophosphates and aminoglycoside antibiotics. Animals that are potential residue risks for these compounds are often poor performers in a feedlot. Poor performing cattle are often sold before the routine sale of their pen mates. The antibiotic residue risk far exceeds the risk of organophosphate residues. Screening poor performers prior to sale for antibiotics is an important control point.
Not using intramuscular (IM) injections will eliminate injection site damage to edible tissue. Never give IM injections in the rump and round muscles. Never give more medication per site than recommended by the manufacturer.
Medications: Follow all label directions and use only government approved products. Identify treated cattle with individual identification ear tags. Keep records for products used and check them to ensure that all cattle have met the prescribed withdrawal times before releasing them from the feedlot. For injectable products, never use a larger needle than necessary and change needles frequently. Keep a map of injection sites that identifies the location where each product was used and the person giving the injection.
"Extra Label Drug Use" (ELDU) refers to the use of a product in a manner other than as directed by the product label. This includes changing the dosage, route of administration or duration of product usage. ELDU is approved only in cases in which the disease will not respond to approved label recommendations, the animal is individually identified, treatment records are maintained, and if the treatment is under the supervision of a veterinarian. The potential for residues can increase in this situation and the withdrawal time for the product must be extended; however, the length of the withdrawal time needed to ensure that no violative residues remain in the animal is very difficult to establish. Random screening and assigning a prolonged withdrawal time should be done by the cattleman's veterinarian for all cattle that fall in the ELDU category.
Feed: Cattle are exposed to a single source of feed for only a short time due to the diversity of grain supply at most cattle operations. Feedstuffs such as fats, and other low volume usage feed ingredients do pose a potential hazard. These products may contain concentrated contaminates or may be a single source if fed over a long period of time. For fats, the risk can be minimized by feeding tallow, which is monitored for contamination by the government. A sample from each shipment of such feeds should be retained for possible future testing.
Feed Processing, Mixing and Delivery: Quality assurance in these areas affects daily cattle performance. Care must be taken to ensure feed ingredients are not contaminated during processing. Following mixing and delivery specifications will ensure feed and feeding consistency. Developing a daily evaluation of feed mixing and feed delivery will ensure that specifications are being met.
Feed Medications: Following the rules and keeping accurate records of feed medication usage will avoid all residue risks. Feed medication usage should be audited daily. Feed medication use records must be checked to verify that the proper withdrawal time has been met for each animal, or group of animals, before being released for sale.
Pesticides: Using only government approved pesticides and following the label directions will avoid a pesticide residue problem. Pesticides must be stored properly and accurate records kept of their use. Employee training is critical for safe proper use of pesticides.
Monitoring BQA Production
In larger operations, managers should ask each person responsible for an area of cattle handling, feeding, or treatment to document and initial their work. The crew foreman should verify each member's work activity. Get the office employees involved in monitoring inventories, invoices, and records. Monitor cattle and their records to ensure the BQA plan is being followed.
Implementation of a sound BQA program not only improve the quality of the product you produce, it will also help improve overall management of the operation. Whatever a producer can do to improve his grasp of the day-to-day functioning of his operation will improve his ability to make better decisions in a more timely fashion. Above all, BCA programs will go a long way to improve the food that goes on our table.
Dr. Steve Blezinger is a nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached at P. O. Box 653, Sulphur Springs, TX 75483, by phone at (903) 885-7992 or by e-mail at email@example.com.