Cornerstone For Success

Beef Quality Assurance is a stamp of commitment to being the best from America's cattle producers.

Carolyn and Howard Davis, Image by Karl Wolfshohl

Cows, calves and bulls at Texas’s San Jacinto Ranch all get the same treatment, regardless of whether they’re part of the premium Akaushi herd, the registered Brangus herd or the commercial Brangus herd. If it’s got hooves here, it’s raised using Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) principles.

Based at Huntsville, San Jacinto is run by Carolyn and Howard Davis. It sits on land that belonged to Howard’s great-grandfather, going back to 1877. The Davises started ranching in 2007 and have enjoyed learning about this historic industry almost as much as raising cattle. Today, the focus is on using the land to produce cattle, while staying focused on environmental stewardship--but always with an eye to profits.

“As far as we’re concerned, proper nutrition is the key to success in the cattle business,” Carolyn says. “We only sell healthy animals, and that means they are gaining weight. It’s the name of the game around here.”

Quality Commitment. Keeping a healthy herd means following BQA guidelines, especially when it comes to vaccinations. Carolyn says this is a cornerstone of their program.

“Everyone thinks they have healthy animals, and you don’t want to spend the money it takes to vaccinate,” she says. “But, it’s just pennies per vaccination, and it helps you be sure you are caring for the animal correctly, and that it’s healthy. Vaccinations are cost effective because a healthy animal is an animal that gains.”

The Davis herd consists of around 150 head with 75 cows. The operation emphasizes multiple income streams. From their Akaushi cattle, they sell steers and heifers to HeartBrand Beef. They are breeding up to a pure-blood Akaushi, Howard adds, which is a 15⁄16 cross--93.75% pure. It takes four crosses to achieve this. Once there, they will be able to sell Akaushi bulls. They also market registered Brangus bulls, feeder calves and replacement heifers. Regardless of how an animal is marketed, the use of BQA guidelines remains a constant.

“BQA is a superior training program for anyone in the cattle business,” Howard stresses. “We are doing this with Akaushi, we are doing it with Brangus … we treat them all the same. BQA is for the benefit of the consumer, but it also gives me the tools to properly care for my animals.”

The pair takes advantage of BQA training nearly every year. Carolyn says, “There is always new material and new uses of tools and technology that help us. I enjoy giving myself the time to go and learn. And, in Texas, it’s always at no charge; that is amazing.”

Texas BQA. Stacy Fox is director of member programs at Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), in Fort Worth, and one of the state’s three BQA coordinators. She explains TSCRA helps run the program with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the Texas Beef Council. Sponsor of the state’s program is Boehringer Ingelheim.

For Fox, one of BQA’s biggest values comes in how it helps consumers understand the way their food is being raised.

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“BQA lets us hold up this example of what our industry is doing every day to show consumers we want to always do the right thing, and that we care about animal welfare,” she says. “Ultimately, it ensures consumers they always have a high-quality, safe product when it comes to beef.”

Cost Effective. What about cost? Producers sometimes question the economic return attached to BQA at the farm level. After all, it’s going to mean more handling, more trips through the chute, more time and expense. Jason Banta says within the first 10 minutes of every BQA training program, this is the question he wants to be sure to answer.

Banta, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, is another BQA coordinator here. He stresses: “Going through BQA training and becoming certified doesn’t mean when you sell calves at the local auction or through a video sale, you are going to magically receive a premium. But, because you follow the best management practices taught in BQA, you will make more money in your operation.”

He explains a producer who does a good job with the herd vaccination program is going to have fewer sick animals. That equals better performance and fewer lost animals.

“There are a lot of benefits to doing things the right way. It’s not a line on an invoice, but there are benefits,” Banta notes. “The key thing is that the management practices don’t really cost you any more money, but they have the potential to make you money.”

There are four areas the Texas BQA program emphasizes: food safety, beef quality, environmental stewardship and animal welfare. Banta says a big focus area now is around the use of antibiotics. The program looks at avoiding residue from treatment, as well as managing cattle in a way to prevent illness whenever possible.

Food Safety. “We talk a lot about residue avoidance, which most people think of in terms of antibiotics now. But, it also applies to petrochemicals, herbicides cattle may be exposed to … really anything our animals may come into contact with.” That would include dewormers, Banta adds.

A critical component of BQA training pertains to proper injection-site selection. Banta says to first check a product’s label to see if it’s to be given as an intramuscular injection or a subcutaneous injection. That determines where the injection goes to avoid blemishes. Any intramuscular injection goes into the neck, regardless of age or breed. Subcutaneous injections go under the skin in the neck, at the dewlap or in the elbow pocket. Subcutaneous is always preferred, he adds, as those injection sites, should they leave a blemish, will come off with the hide.

Avoiding foreign-object contamination is also important, and this isn’t just about broken needles, although that is a common concern. Banta says they also discuss bird shot, buckshot and darts, which can wind up in a carcass.

Caring For The Land. Environmental stewardship is a popular area of interest for cattle producers. Banta says this leads to discussions about forage management, stocking rates and grazing programs. The goal is to learn how to reduce deterioration of range or pasture, and avoid water-quality issues from erosion or runoff.

“We also talk about disposal of dead animals,” he notes. “We never want to lose any, but it’s a reality. There is an appropriate way to dispose of dead animals, and we have to do it in a way so as not to create air- or water-quality problems, or transfer of disease. We also don’t want to create a negative image in the industry.”

Genetic Management. Beef quality is an ever-changing topic, focused now on genetic management--something a generation ago most producers had never even heard of. Banta says the goal here can be as basic as having a defined breeding season or as detailed as carcass value improvement through genetic selection. They also talk about vaccine management and handling, as well as ways to best cull and market cows and bulls.

Animal Welfare. In most cases, animal welfare is simply about doing what’s right for cattle. These include low-stress handling, castrating young animals at less than 300 pounds, using genetics to remove horns or proper use of euthanasia for disabled or down cattle.

“Ultimately, our goal throughout that animal’s life is to reduce its stress, as well as things like bruising, which lead to defects on the carcass,” says Banta. “Less stress means a better product, and it’s also less stressful on people.”

Keeping Track. All of the best practices in the world don’t fully benefit producers if they aren’t tracked. Recordkeeping is a key part of profitable cattle operations, Banta stresses. Without a way to track expenses, breeding seasons, calf weights and income, it would be hard to know how any practice is working.

Carolyn Davis wholeheartedly agrees. She says they use the CattleMax software system to track everything they do. They’ve also added a Tru-Test scale at the chute for accurate weights. And, they use a Quicken financial package to help with accounting.

“CattleMax helps on the animal side,” she explains. “We can see weight gains, and we’re starting to use it for carcass values and yield data. Quicken helps us with accounting for the ranch. There’s a real value in knowing where you are at any given time.”

Because of all the positive the program has done for them, the Davises take a lot of pride in telling people their cattle are raised using BQA principles.

“We’ve used it as the foundation of our operation,” Carolyn says. “We want healthy animals and high survival rates. When we sell our animals, Howard always asks people if they know about BQA--we feel that strongly about it. We’d like to see everyone take the time to learn all they can, and BQA has just a great way to do it for us.”

For More Information:

Beef Quality Assurance

National Beef Quality Audit

Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association

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