“For the first 15 years, BQA was like an inverted triangle,” Dr. Griffin explains. “It focused on carcass defects and those producers closest to them.”

In this case, feedlots served as the foundation—the bottom of the triangle—trying to correct the defects caused in cattle feeding but also all those that flowed to them from cow-calf operators, stockers, backgrounders and seedstock producers; things feedlots producers couldn’t do much about.

“In the last decade the industry recognized the foundation to everything else is animal care. If you get that right, you don’t have residue problems, injection site blemishes and the other problems,” Dr. Griffin says.

For instance, genetics are key to removing the horns that were causing bruising. Genetics helped jack hammer the mountain of excess fat by reducing fat and increasing muscle. BQA protocols for where and how to administer vaccines and antibiotics got at drug residues and injection site blemishes.

Keener focus on preventive health management and whole herd health management meant there should be less need to treat cattle once they arrived at the feedlot. Low stress handling techniques in all sectors mean there are less carcass bruising, but also less cattle injury and more opportunity for animal health products to work. 

“The best way to eliminate injection site blemishes is by never having to use a needle on cattle to start with,” Dr. Bohlender says. BQA is a complete management system. It’s a tool to get where we need to go as an industry, which includes minimizing necessary cattle treatments.”

“The most important part of the foundation is having every calf born to a healthy mom. With that goes great care in the birthing process, vaccinating cows, reducing cow stress and getting colostrum into the calves,” Dr. Griffin says. “We need to get calves in the marketing channel that have had their immune systems prepared for life beyond the ranch, and that’s not preconditioning in the normal sense.”

Like much of BQA, Dr. Griffin explains, it all boils down to common sense.

For instance, Dr. Griffin says when calves receive a 4-way or 5-way viral along with a modified live for Pasteurella multocida or Mannheimia haemolytica at 60 to 120 days of age and then again seven to eight weeks before weaning, few of those calves will require treatment in the stocker pasture or feedlot. PI test and add another round of vaccinations to their heifer replacement peers and Dr. Griffin says, “We have calves entering the herd as young, healthy mothers.”

Dr. Griffin is quick to add, “We can’t build the immune response if the nutrition isn’t right and if the parasite burden isn’t addressed. It’s everyone holding hands and working together.”

Everyone is responsible

“BQA is not some high-minded veterinarian doing this, it’s everyone doing this,” Dr. Griffin says.

More to the point, Dr. Griffin says the real success of BQA at the outset stemmed from feedlot cowboys and feed crews. Though the decision makers recognized the need (the owners and managers choosing to implement BQA) Dr. Griffin says the cowboys and crews made it a reality.

In feedlots, for instance, it wasn’t the owner or manager standing there, able to stop a grain truck unloading when blue corn appeared, or when white fertilizer pellets streamed out because the truck had never been cleaned before being filled with feed.

“It was the pride of cowboys and feedlot crews that made the program explode,” Dr. Griffin says. “They were proud they were no longer ‘just working at a feedlot.’ BQA enabled them them to make a difference in total beef quality and allowed them to recognize their contribution.”

Though everyone is responsible for understanding and following BQA practices, it would be hard to argue that veterinarians and the producers they serve aren’t at the fulcrum.

“As soon as the program came out there was phenomenal support from producers,” Dr. Bohlender says. “Every time we’ve come up with another issue, the enthusiasm has been phenomenal for a self-policing, self-enforcing, industry-led, industry-controlled program.”

Because of how BQA was spawned, veterinarians had a seat at the BQA table since its inception. For the record, Dr. Bohlender remembers plenty of veterinarians were originally fearful that folks outside the professions were going to try to tell them what to do. When they realized that wasn’t the case, they became some of the program’s staunchest advocates.

“Beef Quality Assurance was what we should do as an industry and it continues to be the right thing to do,” Dr. Bohlender says.