A significant percentage of operators of small feedlots are not familiar with the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program, according to the new feedlot report from the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS). The numbers suggest opportunities for further education, particularly as cattle feeders who are familiar with the BQA program appear to place more importance on BQA practices than those unfamiliar with the program.

Based on the NAHMS survey conducted in 2011, just over half of the feedlot operators with 1,000 head capacity or less have some familiarity with the BQA program beyond having heard the name only. Operators on 29.0 percent of feedlots are not familiar with the BQA program and another 19 percent are familiar only with the program’s name.

The survey indicates operators at the higher end of the size range within this group are more likely than the smaller operators to be familiar with the program, so 66 percent of the cattle in feedlots with less than 1,000-head capacity are on operations that are familiar with BQA. That leaves 34 percent of cattle on operations unfamiliar with the BQA program.

Among feedlots with capacity for fewer than 500 head, 20 percent had send a representative to a BQA training session within the previous five years, compared with 44 percent of feedlots with 500- to 999-head capacity.

The researchers asked cattle feeders to rate the importance of several practices related to BQA, and compared the responses of operators familiar or unfamiliar with the program, Among those familiar with the program, 89 percent rated injection location as important or very important, 88 percent provided the same rating for route of injections, 58 percent for implant strategy, 77 percent for antibiotic selection and 81 percent for residue avoidance.

Among feedyard operators who are unfamiliar with the BQA program, the percentages rating those same practices as important or very important dropped to 63 percent, 58 percent, 24 percent, 59 percent and 62 percent respectively.

Other key points from the report on smaller feedlots include:

  • About 8 percent of cattle placed in these feedlots were managed for purposes other than slaughter. Half of those were beef animals being developed for breeding. Other groups included dairy replacement heifers and beef animals moved to grazing programs.
  • Many of these small feedlots are run by owners who also have cow herds, and 57 percent feed cattle that were born on the same operation or an operation under the same ownership. Most of the remaining cattle were sourced through auction markets or direct sales. Less than 2 percent of these small operations custom-feed cattle for other owners.
  • About half of these feedlots process cattle as a group within 72 hours after arrival. Though 40.0 percent of feedlots did not do any initial processing of cattle, only 16.6 percent of cattle placed in feedlots were not processed.
  • The two most common initial processing management practices were treatment for parasites at 85 percent of feedlots and vaccination for respiratory disease at 77 percent. Overall, 42 percent of feedlots gave some cattle an injectable antibiotic during initial processing.
  • Overall, a relatively small percentage of feedlots modified antibiotic or vaccination decisions based on factors such as arrival weight, distance travelled, cattle source, preconditioning or treatment history.
  • However, a higher percentage of feedlots with a capacity of 500 to 999 head modified their antibiotic or vaccination procedures compared with feedlots with a capacity of 1 to 499 head.
  • Less than 30 percent of feedlots used feed additives such as ionophores, coccisiostats or beta agonists.
  • Approximately one-third of feedlots use a nutritionist, typically provided by a feed company.
  • About half of feedlots with a capacity of 1 to 499 head checked cattle by pen-riding or walking twice a day, while only about one-third of feedlots with a capacity of 500 to 999 head checked cattle twice a day. Fewer than 16 percent of all feedlots observed cattle less often than once a day or had no standard procedure for checking cattle.
  • Overall, 58.8 percent of feedlots used the services of a veterinarian, usually a private veterinarian called as needed.
  • Nearly three of four feedlots – 74 percent – did not include any antibiotics in feed as a health or production-management tool.
  • Average reported death loss among these feedlots is 1.2 percent.

The full report is available online from NAHMS.

For information on Part I of the study, which focused on feedlots with greater than 1,000-head capacity, read NAHMS reports indicate informational opportunities.