Twenty years ago, we just did our job, and that was enough. Today, people outside the industry want to know that we’re doing our job according to a standard,” says Clayton Huseman, executive director of the Kansas Livestock Association’s Feedlot Division.

As Dan Thomson, DVM, Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology at Kansas State University (KSU) explains, “Activist groups depicting animal agriculture in a negative light woke us up as an industry to the fact that they were doing a better job reaching our consumers than we were.

“We realized there are more people today who know nothing about production animal agriculture than there are those who do.”

In response, individuals and organizations within the industry launched dynamic advocacy programs that are still picking up steam.

Some of the most familiar include the checkoff-funded Masters of Beef Advocacy program; Stacy and Troy Hadrick’s Advocates for Agriculture (2010 BEEF Trailblazer Award honorees); Trent Loos’ syndicated radio show and public presentations; and Amanda Radke’s BEEF Daily blog on www.beefmagazine.com.

“Now that we’re talking the talk, we must go to the next phase,” Thomson says. In simple terms that boils down to documenting not only how well individual operations conform to industry standards, but the training individuals receive in meeting those standards.

First, the industry has to define how normal animal welfare will be defined by measures such as mortality rates, morbidity rates, conception rates, etc. Next come on-farm standardized self-assessments or third-party audits that identify areas for improvement. Finally, individual training allows for improvement among everyone working with the cattle.

“Producers are excited about learning; they want to be as advanced and as knowledgeable as possible,” Thomson says. That’s where programs like Animal Care Training (www.animalcaretraining.org) come in. Nearly 8,000 producers have already accessed online animal care and food safety training available on this site managed by KSU’s Beef Cattle Institute.

Online training & certification

The site includes more than 150 learning modules – more than 200 hours of training – for cattle producers. Through it, you can become certified for Beef Quality Assurance (BQA), as well as provide employees with training in basics such as low-stress cattle handling, sterilizing syringes, managing non-ambulatory cattle and routine cattle surgery techniques. The training also focuses on why the practices are important.

The program began with a grant from USDA in 2005 to develop training in best management practices for feedlots. It’s blossomed into a national effort with key industry partners focusing on multiple sectors.

For instance, Animal Care Training partners with the Cattlemen’s Beef Board to provide BQA training. There’s a partnership with the Livestock Marketing Association to provide training in specific areas for its members’ employees. There’s also another partnership with the American Association of Bovine Practitioners that provides continuing education for veterinarians. Other partnerships and training areas are in development.

“This gives the industry the opportunity to put so many training programs in front of producers and their employees,” Huseman explains. “The response has been really positive. Our producers who have used it like it because they can register all their employees for training. And, training can be done when it’s convenient; no one has to leave the operation for a day to go somewhere and be trained. Everyone using it has been impressed with the content and ease of use.”

In the case of a feedlot, for example, some managers have established virtual training centers where employees can go to view training videos and complete the online quiz that accompanies each. Others show the videos to groups of employees. In both cases, managers can easily document the progress made by each employee.

The videos from Animal Care Training are offered in both English and Spanish. As for effectiveness, when beta-testing the concept, Thomson says knowledge in a specific training area increased by 27% after viewers watched a single five-minute video, no matter the topic or the language. Most of the training videos for beef producers range between four and 15 minutes.

It’s cost-effective, too. BQA training, for instance, consists of 23-25 modules depending on the sector. The cost is $25/registrant. Some states, like Oklahoma, are even underwriting part of that nominal cost.

Jeff Jaronek, director of industry relations for the Oklahoma Beef Council (OBC), explains that online training and BQA certification through Animal Care Training is simply another option they offer producers. OBC is paying $10 of the cost for producers who go the online route. OBC continues to offer traditional BQA training as well. “We want to give producers as many options as possible to become BQA-certified,” Jaronek says.

“We’re trying everything we can to provide every producer with access to BQA training,” says Ryan Ruppert, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) BQA program director.

Through the partnership with Animal Care Training, national BQA training and certification is available online. Ruppert says 17 of the 43 states with active BQA programs utilize the online program to certify producers.

If you’ve never checked it out before, you can also find a bevy of resources at the national BQA website (www.bqa.org). In addition to things like BQA guidelines for transportation and auction markets, you’ll also find self-assessments by industry sector.

Keep in mind that BQA certification is about much more than the efforts to eliminate injection-site blemishes, which symbolized the program for many a decade ago. Though producers learning to utilize subcutaneous injections in the neck, rather than intramuscular injections in the shoulder and the hip, have virtually eliminated such blemishes, BQA has a much larger focus. Today, training covers everything from best management practices for feedstuffs, feed additives and pesticides, to segments on residue avoidance, vaccinology and marketing cattle.

“As an industry we have to take BQA and other documented training more seriously,” Ruppert says. “No one has an excuse not to be BQA-certified; the tools are available.”

For instance, Animal Care Training partners with the Cattlemen’s Beef Board to provide BQA training. There’s a partnership with the Livestock Marketing Association to provide training in specific areas for its members’ employees. There’s also another partnership with the American Association of Bovine Practitioners that provides continuing education for veterinarians. Other partnerships and training areas are in development.

“This gives the industry the opportunity to put so many training programs in front of producers and their employees,” Huseman explains. “The response has been really positive. Our producers who have used it like it because they can register all their employees for training. And, training can be done when it’s convenient; no one has to leave the operation for a day to go somewhere and be trained. Everyone using it has been impressed with the content and ease of use.”

In the case of a feedlot, for example, some managers have established virtual training centers where employees can go to view training videos and complete the online quiz that accompanies each. Others show the videos to groups of employees. In both cases, managers can easily document the progress made by each employee.

The videos from Animal Care Training are offered in both English and Spanish. As for effectiveness, when beta-testing the concept, Thomson says knowledge in a specific training area increased by 27% after viewers watched a single five-minute video, no matter the topic or the language. Most of the training videos for beef producers range between four and 15 minutes.

It’s cost-effective, too. BQA training, for instance, consists of 23-25 modules depending on the sector. The cost is $25/registrant. Some states, like Oklahoma, are even underwriting part of that nominal cost.

Jeff Jaronek, director of industry relations for the Oklahoma Beef Council (OBC), explains that online training and BQA certification through Animal Care Training is simply another option they offer producers. OBC is paying $10 of the cost for producers who go the online route. OBC continues to offer traditional BQA training as well. “We want to give producers as many options as possible to become BQA-certified,” Jaronek says.

“We’re trying everything we can to provide every producer with access to BQA training,” says Ryan Ruppert, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) BQA program director.

Through the partnership with Animal Care Training, national BQA training and certification is available online. Ruppert says 17 of the 43 states with active BQA programs utilize the online program to certify producers.

If you’ve never checked it out before, you can also find a bevy of resources at the national BQA website. In addition to things like BQA guidelines for transportation and auction markets, you’ll also find self-assessments by industry sector.

Keep in mind that BQA certification is about much more than the efforts to eliminate injection-site blemishes, which symbolized the program for many a decade ago. Though producers learning to utilize subcutaneous injections in the neck, rather than intramuscular injections in the shoulder and the hip, have virtually eliminated such blemishes, BQA has a much larger focus. Today, training covers everything from best management practices for feedstuffs, feed additives and pesticides, to segments on residue avoidance, vaccinology and marketing cattle.

“As an industry we have to take BQA and other documented training more seriously,” Ruppert says. “No one has an excuse not to be BQA-certified; the tools are available.”

Sidebar: Code of cattle care

Beef cattle producers take pride in their responsibility to provide proper care to cattle. The Code of Cattle Care below lists general recommendations for care and handling of cattle:

• Provide necessary food, water and care to protect the health and well-being of animals.
• Provide disease-prevention practices to protect herd health, including access to veterinary care.
• Provide facilities that allow safe, humane, and efficient movement and/or restraint of cattle.
• Use appropriate methods to humanely euthanize terminally sick or injured livestock and dispose of them properly.
• Provide personnel with training/experience to properly handle and care for cattle.
• Make timely observations of cattle to ensure basic needs are being met.
• Minimize stress when transporting cattle.
• Keep updated on advancements and changes in the industry to make decisions based upon sound production practices and consideration for animal well-being.
• Persons who willfully mistreat animals will not be tolerated.

Source: BQA Feedyard Assessment and BQA Stocker Self Assessment, www.bqa.org.