Proven Returns

Farm to Feedlot, BQA Pays

Low-stress handling and good vaccination protocols help beef producers boost profits. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Sam Wirzba)

Using Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines, E. B. Harris, said he has sent 2,500 animals from his farm in eastern North Carolina to feedlots in Kansas during the past five years. The Warrenton producer added that in all that time he hasn't lost a single head to respiratory disease.

"If you sell finished animals based on quality grades, you'll make more money on animals that stay healthy and don't have bruises or blemishes caused by injections given in the wrong area," said the veteran cattleman. "Cattle that handle easily will also be cattle that gain weight better and make producers more money."

Harris said the following BQA practices have been especially valuable management tools for his operation:

* Castrate and dehorn at birth, or when the calf is very young and weighs less than 350 pounds.

* Use the right vaccine at the right time, adding a fresh needle every nine animals.

* Give the shot in the neck area and keep a record (brand, expiration date, lot number and date of the vaccination).

* Keep vaccines out of direct sunlight. That, along with temperatures over 90ºF, reduce effectiveness.

* Mix only the amount of modified live virus (MLV)vaccine that can be used within two-hours. After this, it loses effectiveness.

* If you use antibiotics, make sure they are given correctly, and observe withdrawal times.

* Market cull cows when they are in good condition; don't wait until they are lame or weak.

* Transport animals in clean, uncrowded trailers under moderate temperatures. A 50,000-pound trailer, for example, should hold no more than 50 head of 1,000-pound cattle. A smaller, 20- x 6-foot trailer should hold no more than 15 head of 600-pound cattle.

* Select breeding animals with genetics for easygoing dispositions.

* Use low-stress handling techniques. Simple things make a difference. No loud talking. Close gates quietly. Move slowly. Don't shout or wave your arms. Leave the hotshots in the truck.

CONTINUING EDUCATION

Harris pointed out that he and two of his employees have attended workshops to learn more about reducing stress on animals during handling and transportation.

"Consumers want to know how our animals are treated. My cousin from Raleigh recently asked me if the animals on our farm are raised humanely," Harris said. "As beef producers, we must do everything we can to let the public know our animals are well cared for and to make sure consumers come back and buy a good product from us."

Rob Eirich, director of BQA for Nebraska, added there's a growing sense of urgency to have all beef producers and key employees become BQA certified.

"Today's consumers want more information about how their food is raised, and they want verification that animals are humanely treated," he said.

To learn more about the BQA program or to find your state coordinator, visit www.bqa.org.

(VM/CZ)