Dr. Dave Sjeklocha carries out the BQA Feedlot Assessment with processing crews at four feedyards and one calf yard owned by Cattle Empire, LLC near Satanta, KS. The only staff veterinarian, Dr. Sjeklocha is the operations manager for animal health and welfare here, overseeing some 240,000 head of cattle.

Dr. Sjeklocha is very passionate about animal welfare. He claims that misconceptions about our industry being passed around by animal rights groups is one reason he got “fired up” about this issue. “One of the big issues we’re faced with is getting the message out that we do care for the livestock we are raising,” he says.

“I have to give Cattle Empire a lot of credit; in my opinion, they’re some of the most visionary people I’ve ever met. They see down the road that it’s going to be more important to relay this message to the end consumer.”

Cattle Empire is one of the largest family-owned commercial cattle feeding operations in the U.S., with Paul Brown starting the tradition in 1978. When this family decided to bring on a staff veterinarian, they desired to hire someone who had a real interest in animal welfare, and Dr. Sjeklocha, who already served as their consulting veterinarian, was a good fit.

“The Browns have been very supportive of allowing me to implement a lot of these programs,” he says. With processing crews, Dr. Sjeklocha has really focused on handling cattle on arrival through revaccination and reimplant processes.

Dr. Sjeklocha reports the assessment has been “very exciting” to put to work in the feedyard. “You can tell progress and you can see regress. It’s a great tool, and they (employees) like to see it.”

With the electric prod, for example, his crews were initially nervous about decreasing its use to less than 10%. He reports, however, that most of their crews have gotten to where it’s no longer needed. “They had to put away some of the paradigms they had in their mind, and figure out a new way of working cattle.”

The cattle are quieter now and he can tell the crews talk amongst themselves. “They just figured out how to work around cattle. When they discovered they weren’t going to be able to use the electric prod as a crutch, that’s when it began clicking for them.”

He adds, “There’s more job satisfaction, I’m convinced of that. The people enjoy their work a lot more.”

Dr. Sjeklocha first started working with crews and carrying out assessments while in a southwest Kansas consulting practice. His take is, “There are a lot of bad habits that people pick up over time. A lot of this is just developing good and breaking old habits.”

Crews are scored when carrying out the handling portion of the assessment, and afterward they discuss how to match or beat it, Dr. Sjeklocha says. Through this whole process, he’s also seen other benefits such as improvements in implant scores because cattle are calmer in the chute.

“If you make good animal handling a habit, it just comes natural,” Dr. Sjeklocha says. He adds, “There’s many things I appreciate about Cattle Empire and what they do, but one thing I really do appreciate is they are serious about wanting their employees to handle their cattle properly.”

He notes that in order to make welfare assessments work, clients need to have a general interest in animal welfare, too. But veterinarians can advocate for welfare, he suggests, by offering value-added services like these.

Dr. Thomson suggests adding in the BQA cow-calf assessment as a tool during pregnancy checking. Body condition score, animal handling and the general welfare of a farm or ranch can be reviewed all at one time by the veterinarian.

Dr. Sjeklocha believes, “BQA is one of the greatest success stories in the beef industry.” Articles authored by Dr. Dee Griffin about the responsibility we have for our food was one of the things that inspired Dr. Sjeklocha to return to college at age 25 to complete both an undergrad and a DVM at Kansas State.

Prior to this, he had several years of hands-on experience of pen riding and cattle treatment in a southwest Missouri starter yard. He took a real interest in both the welfare and food safety aspects of this.

Today, he says, “One of the issues we have in the feedyard and agriculture, in general, is finding people who want to stay in it and work. A lot of the workers we do have need training.” The animal welfare training that is provided through the BQA feedyard assessment is both structured and streamlined.

Dr. Sjeklocha also “really enjoys” working with these people, teaching and showing them how they need to do things. “Most of them have a pretty good idea of what the end product needs to be if they know how to get there,” he says.

Given his background and expertise, Dr. Sjeklocha and veterinarians like him are the right fit to, for sure, drive this bus.