If you’re unfamiliar with BQA, there are two primary tools. First is the training and education that enables certification. Next, are sector-specific assessment tools that can be downloaded for free at BQA.org.

Assessments are the tool that can transform BQA best management practices into a total quality management system by which improvement is an ongoing journey rather than a static destination.

“For cow-calf producers, I think the assessment is crucial for continuous improvement,” says Ryan Ruppert, BQA Senior Director. He speaks from his position overseeing national BQA efforts. But, he also speaks as a producer who has seen the transforming potential of BQA in his family’s Nebraska cow-calf operation when the veterinarian is a partner.

“Twenty years ago, we bought vaccines from our veterinarian, and he might come out to do a C-section. But, I don’t remember ever getting a lot of information from our veterinarian until we started working with Bob Bohlender,” Ruppert says.

Dr. Bohlender, a veterinarian at the Animal Clinic in North Platte, NE, is a BQA pioneer and firebrand who has long championed the synergy available when veterinarians, clients and other professionals work together to improve animal care and production.

“He became our herd consultant,” Ruppert says. “He didn’t come out to do C-sections or cut open deads; he was there to manage the health of our herd.”

When Dr. Bohlender began shifting some of his workload, the Rupperts began working with Kent Pieper, DVM at Farnam, NE.

“Here’s a guy who says to a client, ‘You need to work on cattle handling,’ as an example,” Ruppert says. ‘Do the BQA assessment. I’ll come back in six months and do the same assessment and look at your records. Then, we’ll see how closely our assessments match and where improvements can be made.’”

“I’ve yet to conduct an assessment where the producer didn’t say, ‘This is a good deal, let’s continue doing it,’” Dr. Thomson says.

Even before formal assessments, Bob Smith, DVM, a consulting feedlot veterinarian based at Stillwater, OK, explains, “Veterinarians have unique involvement with dairy and beef producers in that they are at client operations for a variety of reasons, which allows them to conduct informal assessments about how BQA is being employed.” Dr. Smith has also been at the forefront of BQA leadership. Among other things, he was chairman of the committee that developed the industry’s Cattle Industry Guidelines for the Care and Handling of Cattle.

“As veterinarians, we have to serve as teachers, mentors and role models for BQA,” Dr. Smith believes. “I look at assessments as an additional service we can provide to clients. The veterinarian should be poised to help clients implement and improve BQA. How many producers even know these assessments are available? Assessments provide an opportunity to look in a systematic way at everything that might impact animal care on their operation.”

Although producers are encouraged to conduct assessments themselves, never including outside expertise means leaving lots of opportunity on the table.

“If you do the assessment and it says you’re doing everything right, then you didn’t assess yourself correctly,” Ruppert says. “There’s always something you can be doing better.”

Part of the ill-founded confidence of self evaluation stems from the blindness spawned by familiarity. Reach for the jug of tea in your ice box long enough and chances are you’ll lose sight of the handsome fuzz growing on the leftovers from last year’s Christmas party.

Part of it stems from experience. No matter how good individual producers are at what they do, few have intimate knowledge of operations besides their own.

Speaking again from his family’s experience, Ruppert explains, “If you do the assessment yourself every time, you’ll miss things. You don’t have the breadth of experience of your veterinarian who hopefully has a couple dozen other clients.”