The newly released USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System’s (NAHMS) Feedlot 2011 study suggests that large (over 8,000 head) and small (under 7,999 head) feedlot operators are aware of Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) programs and believe the programs are an important aspect of running an operation.
The study indicated that over 50% of small feedlot operators were very familiar with BQA programs, and almost 70% of large feedlots were very familiar with BQA programs. Less than 5% of small-feedlot operators were not familiar with the BQA program, and only 0.3% of large-feedlot operators were unfamiliar with BQA. The BQA program was intended to improve beef quality and safety, and that includes everything from animal handling, injection sites, residue-avoidance and transportation issues.
“The Cattle Industry Guidelines for the Care and Handling of Cattle spearheaded by Bob Smith, DVM, was the turning point that pushed low-stress cattle handling to front of BQA,” says BQA pioneer Dee Griffin, DVM, MS, Great Plains Veterinary Education Center, Clay Center, Neb.
“Our care and handing guidelines are our testament to the public the importance cattle care has to beef producers,” Griffin adds. “Low stress cattle handling becomes the slogan that reminds all of us our kind, caring concern for cattle will be rewarded in less accidental defects. It’s important to take your time, give the cattle time and do what needs to be done as carefully and gently as possible.”
Griffin has seen a lot of changes and improvement in BQA over the last 10 years. He credits National Cattlemen’s Beef Association BQA Director Ryan Ruppert with influencing much of that success Griffin says Ruppert has established a working relationship with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association and from that the subsequent Feedlot Assessment Assessor’s Guide Manual was born, and is now also available for the stocker and cow-calf industry. “The assessment guides are critical to the concept of auditing that has come to the forefront,” Griffin says.
Most important BQA practices
The Feedlot 2011 study reports that operators on over nine of 10 feedlots, regardless of capacity, indicated that each of the following BQA practices was somewhat or very important:
• Location used for administration of injectable products (e.g., in neck, shoulder, side, or leg)
• Route used for administration of injectable products (intramuscular, intravenous, subcutaneous)
• Implanting strategy
• Antibiotic selection to manage disease (e.g., type of FDA-approved antibiotic used or duration of action)
• Residue avoidance
Griffin says these areas of emphasis have worked on the feedlot. “It should be noted the residue rate as determined by random samples in the latest USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) report in finished fed beef is zero and in cattle that have a ‘high residue risk’ the rate is 0.00009%.”
The non-fed problem
While large and small feedlots seem to be in the game when it comes to BQA, there are still issues in non-fed cattle such as beef cows and dairy animals. Because of that, the Dairy Beef Quality Assurance program was born and the Dairy BQA Manual was released in 2009. “The growing inclusion of the Dairy BQA program is, in my mind, the next most important accomplishment,” Griffin says.
And there’s reason to be concerned about non-fed cattle, including beef cows to a lesser degree. Out of 211,733 tissue samples tested in 2010, the FSIS reported 2,043 residue violations in 1,609 animals. In bovines, beef cows (85), bob veal (776) and dairy cows (700) were particularly problematic, indicating more work needs to be done in that area.
The constant frustration of drug residues in culled beef and dairy cattle makes Griffin crazy, especially since the majority of the residues are from penicillin and sulfa drugs, both over-the-counter medications that, according to diagnostic laboratory data, have virtually no therapeutic value.
“The most important areas in front of us are documenting training and we still have so much improvement that can be done with low-stress cattle handling at all levels of production,” Griffin says.
BQA training and veterinarians
Seven of 10 smaller feedlots had formal training programs for employees on one or more of the listed BQA practices, compared with nearly all large feedlots (96%). The Feedlot 2011 study indicates that this difference could be due to the smaller number of employees on the lower-capacity feedlots, leading the operators and owners to assume that a formal BQA training program is unnecessary.
Griffin believes veterinarians have a distinct and important role in BQA training and certification on feedlots. “Veterinarians multiple themselves through producer and employee training, not just for medication use, but all area of cattle production management,” he says. “BQA is nothing more than an outline of good management practices aimed at quality cattle care and proper product use, both of which will help minimize costly mistakes and cattle blemishes. Therefore, BQA can be the tool veterinarians use to accomplish the multiplier objective.”
Griffin says the concept of “formal” in his mind is more about following a list of training objectives than the training setting. “Training is best if kept short, focused, and simple,” he says. “The BQA Assessment Assessor’s Guideline Templates are the best ‘on-site’ formal training tools I have used. They are short, focused and simple. After covering the template, we tack it up so it will be handy to review. Eventually, we will have these templates tacked up all over the operation. The use of the BQA Assessment templates can be done for all production classes and sizes.”
There is a lot of difference in the way veterinarians interact with feedlots. Some focus only on vaccines and medications, says Griffin. “They may fuss about other areas but not in a credible way. Other veterinarians become an integral part of management, not only focusing on vaccines and medications, but all of the interactions between health and management decisions that affect growth efficiency.”
Griffin says it’s this group of veterinarians that has had BQA as an integral part of their activities. “They have used it as part of their cattle care training, product use training and residue avoidance. To remain relevant, all veterinarians need to migrate toward this service model. I’m not sure how a feedlot can afford you if you can’t reasonably impact their production management.
“Veterinary medicine is about more than vaccines and drugs,” Griffin states. “BQA offers good production management practices that tie veterinary medicine to animal husbandry and production management.”
To see the NAHMS Feedlot 2011 study as well as its special reports, visit www.aphis.usda.gov and search for “Feedlot 2011”.
History of BQA
More than 30 years ago the precursor to the formal Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program were started in the 1970s to target real and perceived beef safety issues. In the early 1990s, formal beef checkoff-funded programs began in some states.
BQA programs encompass animal handling, residue avoidance, food safety, dairy BQA, transportation and hauling, and more.
The BQA website (www.bqa.org) says that BQA links all beef producers with livestock production specialists, veterinarians, nutritionists, marketers and food purveyors interested in maintaining and improving the quality of cattle and the beef they produce.
BQA principles are based on good management practices (GMP) that are standard operating procedures (SOP) designed to meet the United States food production system’s needs.
BQA programming focuses on educating and training cattle producers, farm advisors, and veterinarians on the issues in cattle food safety and quality. It also provides tools for verifying and documenting animal husbandry practices.
Read more at www.bqa.org.