Dakota Fleming came early to the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. She was a senior in high school when she gave a presentation on proper injection sites for beef cattle at one of Texas' largest agricultural conferences. Not long after that, before she owned her own cows or was even old enough to vote, she passed the BQA certification course.
Her dad Robert Fleming is a long-time Bell County farmer and cattle raiser. He urged her to make the same BQA presentation at the 2010 Blackland Income Growth Conference in Waco. The annual meeting attracts hundreds of farmers and ranchers, as well as the state's top agronomists, researchers and professors.
Dakota gave her 10-minute talk on the importance of proper injection sites, touching on related topics like changing needles, keeping vaccines in a cooler and what happens when a producer inserts a loaded syringe into an animal's muscle instead of the skin.
"It causes a reaction in the muscle and creates lesions," she told the audience. "People think the lesions will go away, but they're with those cows for life. You might get a gristle-type lesion or a pus pocket. That's not the kind of experience we want the consumer to have."
EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY
Not long after she became BQA certified, Fleming signed up for Masters of Beef Advocacy, a free, self-directed program founded by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (www.beef.org) and funded through checkoff dollars. Along with six one-hour courses on beef safety, nutrition, animal care and other topics, participants write essays and share their stories online, in the media or through public speaking.
"It's similar to BQA training, but it also shows you how to talk to people about how you treat your animals, how you're affecting the environment … and things like feedlots and why we use them to finish cattle," Dakota said. "It's an educational and an advocacy program."
Dakota, who works with the Texas Farm Bureau at Waco, follows in her dad's footsteps when it comes to advocacy, speaking to elementary school students each year about agriculture as part of her job.
"My dad is a spokesman for agriculture in our area, and by listening to his media interviews, I realized early on that no one really knows anything about agriculture anymore," she said. "The kids I talk to are three, four or five generations removed from farms. They really don't know what farmers do. My boss says these kids are like a feather -- not on the positive or negative side of agriculture. What we try to do is push them toward the positive side."
Halfway between Dakota's job in Waco and her current home in Bell County is a piece of land in Falls County that she bought early in 2014. It's home to nine first-calf commercial heifers, eight that she bought herself, one she received as a present from her mother and father.
Dakota weaned and sold her first calf crop last year and is raising her second crop now. The spring-born calves are marketed at 700 to 800 pounds. She runs some of her father's cattle on her 177-acre place, helping to keep pastures stocked until she can afford to purchase more cows of her own. In the meantime, Dakota practices what she's been preaching with regards to BQA.
"One of the main things you learn from the BQA course is cattle handling," she said. "You use animal psychology to work your cattle, whether it's knowing their pressure points or how taking one step can move cows in the right direction. You learn what cattle react to, how they react and why they react that way."
The larger benefit, she said, is understanding how practices affect everyone in the food supply chain, which brings her back to proper injection sites and techniques.
"It may not affect your own personal bottom line right away, but it affects the feedlots, the processing facilities, all the way to the consumer," she said.
"If the product has bruises or lesions and winds up in the grocery store like that, it's not going to be desirable to the consumer, which decreases demand, which affects all of us."
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