Beef Quality Assurance is much more than ensuring injections are administered properly and in the right location. Though correct injection-site protocol is critical, cattle producers need to keep in mind there are a whole host of often-overlooked quality measures that they can take to improve beef for consumers.
“BQA is a manufacturing philosophy that impacts every area of management in a production system,” says Dr. Bill Mies, a Texas A&M University extension researcher who recently joined eMerge Interactive. “The concept of quality management starts with the design of the product, such as genetics, and continues through the marketing of the final product. In the cow-calf industry, the producers must first design the genetics with both the final consumer as well as the rest of the industry in mind.”
This means producers need to know what their final product looks like at slaughter and how well it fits industry standards, adds Mies. This requires considerable effort and tracking on the part of producers, but it is information that is vital if changes are to be made in a breeding program that will insure the producer of a place in the market in the future.
“The production of the calves during their stay on the ranch must be managed with the final consumer in mind as well,” Mies says. “This means that implants, injections, brands and body composition are all keys to producing a high-quality product. In addition, the calves themselves must be uniform and predictable in their performance when they leave the ranch no matter who owns them in the next phase of the production chain. Unless the calves are predictable in their performance and composition, they will not be a high quality product on grass, in the feedyard, the packing house, or in eating satisfaction on a consumer's plate.”
To produce a high-quality product, cow-calf producers must look beyond their ranch in order to determine if they have produced a quality product, says Mies. They must follow their calves through the system and determine if their calves were considered to be high quality at each phase of the production chain. Deficiencies that show up in this type of evaluation can then be corrected with changes in genetics or management or both.
Producers should begin their individual BQA programs by decreasing the length of their calving seasons, Mies says. “If we cull cows that are either open or habitually late in the calving season and only put the bulls out for 60 days, we can narrow the calving season in a cow herd dramatically in one year. The decreased calving season not only makes sense in terms of labor and other costs, it will produce a set of calves that are more uniform for weight at weaning. If we can then select our early-born heifers, we will be selecting for females that will breed early and continue to fit the window.”
Next, Mies encourages commercial producers to implant the youngest half of their heifers with a calf implant. “If you are only selecting heifers from the oldest half of your calf crop, then you can implant the remaining heifers and cause them to catch up with the rest of your calf crop for weight,” he explains. “Since these younger heifers will not be held for breeding, there is not issue of delayed fertility to be concerned about as a result of using implants on them.”
In addition, producers should castrate early and implant all steer calves. “Research shows that castrating calves at a young age has a positive effect on the tenderness of our product,” he says.
Third, producer should consider creep feeding their calves. “Creep feeding calves can add pounds to the sale weight of your cattle when every pound is important,” Mies says. “In addition, the calves from lower-milking mothers will tend to catch up to the calves from the high-milking mothers. This will bring the calf crop closer together at sale time. How much creep feeding you can afford, you have to make that decision based on your own environmental and financial situation.
And Mies's fourth management tip is to stimulate immune systems by vaccinating while calves are still on cow. “This allows calves with mothers to provide either a few maternal antibodies or a large amount of maternal antibodies to react more the same to post-weaning vaccinations,” he says.
From a genetics management standpoint, Mies has five steps to improve consistency in the cow herd. And he believes production of a more uniform calf crop starts with visual selection.
First, “use visual selection to remove your very largest-framed cows and your smallest-framed cows to even up your herd with females that are more uniform,” he says. “By doing this, you simply take the extreme ends off. You want to do the same with the extreme-muscle cows and the cows that don't have enough muscle.”
Second, Mies advises commercial producers to use one type of bull from one breed. “Pick a bull, any bull, but a bull of one breed — and stick with him,” he says. “Many producers commonly use two or three breeds of bulls on a given set of cows. These random matings produce very non-uniform calf crops. A single breed of bulls will also produce calves with differences, but if you have selected bulls of similar type, you will move toward uniformity more rapidly.”
Third, producers should select the type of bull based on his EPDs, frame size and muscling. “In order to try to use one type of one bull in your herd, use visual indicators of frame size and muscling,” he advises. “The majority of commercial producers are not able to find enough sires with data so they need to do the next best thing, which is visual selection for correctness, frame and muscle. The appropriate frame size and muscle needed in a bull will vary depending in where those traits are in your cows.”
Fourth, “try to get the color of your calves uniform,” Mies says. “If calves are all one color, or color pattern, they look more uniform than they really are. Since perception and appearance sell most feeder cattle, it is important to have the calves colored as much alike as possible. And, if you set out to color them the same, inadvertently you make carcass quality more uniform.”
Finally, Mies advises producers to gather as much data as possible on calf performance in feedlots and the packing house. “The ultimate decisions concerning consistency and uniformity can only be made with data,” he concludes. “Producers need to obtain this data through opportunities made available to them through steer feeding tests with their universities or state cattle associations. This information will help producers narrow the window of consistency and uniformity.”
BQA and the stocker operator
For stocker operators, the challenges of implementing BQA are similar to those of cow-calf producers, says Mies. “Stocker operators make a business out of the utilization of forage,” explains Mies. “The technology that has been passed along to has always been how to create more. This meant more pounds, more performance and more efficiency. But quality wasn't always part of the equation. Today, quality must be considered. In order to produce a quality product, producers must adopt correct use of injections, implants and brands are just as important by stocker operators as anywhere else in the industry.”
The challenge for stockers is that the genetic design of their cattle has been set prior to the time that the stocker operator buys the calf. “In the past, the stocker operator has simply bought cattle that were light in weight and fleshing to try to achieve maximum average daily gain,” Mies explains. “The stocker operator did not get very concerned about whether his final product fit into the needs of the current industry.”
This was brought home to the industry in 1991 when stocker operators bought heavy weaning weight calves and put them on grass, says Mies. Many of these calves did not reach the feedyards until they weighed 900 to 1000 pounds. They then weighed 1400 pounds or more before they had achieved a minimal number of days in a feedyard prior to slaughter. Two undesirable things then occurred. The beef tonnage on the market was unacceptably high and carcass weights were so high that merchandising the resulting product was very difficult. Both of these occurrences adversely affect prices.”
The lessons to be learned from these occurrences is that stocker operators must decide at the time of purchase what type of final product is appropriate for them to produce and then find the calves that will feed to those endpoints.
“This will mean that stocker operators will likely try to find calves that are medium in frame size, and light in weight to place on grass and then deliver to a feedyard at a weight that will allow the feedyard to feed the calf for at least 100 days to try to insure quality in the finished product and still market at a weight that fits into a packer box and a consumer plate,” says Mies.
The final area of concern for stocker/backgrounders is in body composition. “The stocker operator has sold weight in the past to the feedyard,” Mies says. “As feedyards try to produce a quality product with a predictable and appropriate composition, they will ask stocker operators to provide them with a beginning product that can be used to hit their targets.”
A BQA Refresher
National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Beef Quality Assurance National Guidelines
Remember all the details of the BQA workshop you attended? If not, listed below are NCBA's BQA standards and guidelines for production of quality cattle and beef.
Maintain records of any pesticide/herbicide use on pasture or crops that could potentially lead to violative residues in grazing cattle or feedlot cattle.
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 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.
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
Follow 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 (as determined by the veterinarian within the context of a valid VCPR) 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 preferably be administered SQ in the neck region.
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 Husbandry 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 two years (three for Restricted Use Pesticides).