The national Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program is a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based program that has been funded by beef producers through the Beef Checkoff program since 1986. The original intent of the program was to develop a beef safety program to prevent antimicrobial residues and improve beef safety by also avoiding residues from other compounds associated with farming and ranching.

About five to ten years after the BQA program had launched, BQA program researchers, packers and ranchers started to study the physical damage of beef products due to improper injection site locations and administration of injections. This program stimulated a national injection site producer education effort. Many states developed their own BQA programs and some states still support BQA state coordinator positions to provide outreach to farmers and ranchers.

In 2006, the BQA advisory board decided to sync up the individual state programs and develop a national BQA program to provide consistency between state programs, as cattle are traded across state lines on a daily basis. While developing the national BQA program, it was clear that food safety and antibiotic residue avoidance would be staples, but the movement was made to involve animal welfare measurements and best management practices (BMP).

Today’s national BQA program offers producer and practitioner education in face-to-face meetings or through a national online BQA program, which has already had over 10,000 beef producers enroll. The latest expansion of the BQA program was the development of the cow-calf, stocker and feedlot self-assessment tools for operation level implementation.

The combination of individual education and the assessment tool follow through has been greeted with open arms by producers, while serving as an instrument to assure the beef consumer that we are advanced in our practices and implement them to provide a safe, wholesome beef product from humanely raised cattle. All of these programs can be found at www.BQA.org or the online training can also be found at www.AnimalCareTraining.org

Animal welfare is animal husbandry

Many people have tried to define animal welfare. Animal rights groups have tried to confuse consumers, producers and lawmakers by using animal welfare, animal rights and animal abuse as interchangeable terms—they are not.

Animal welfare is animal husbandry. Animal welfare is providing nutrition, shelter, preventative medicine and doing what is best to raise a healthy, well-cared-for animal in an ever changing environment. These practices are not one size fits all. Animal welfare practices are a farm-by-farm, rancher-by-rancher and animal-by-animal decision. Receiving continuing education and documenting practices on the farm and ranch are important for us all as we continue to improve our industry.

The heart and soul of the BQA program starts with a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship. Whether involving castration methods, dehorning techniques, herd health, or nutrition recommendations, the beef veterinarian is central to helping producers and ranchers continue to stay abreast of animal health and well-being practices.

Many groups are trying to capitalize on animal welfare and BQA programs. However, this producer-funded program that has been around for 25 years, combined with a veterinary relationship, is what the consumer desires for assurance of our farm animals’ well-being and safety of our food. BQA started out as the quality assurance of beef products and has evolved into the assurance of quality beef for the consumer.

BQA Training Is For All

Rural food animal practitioners used to hire a new veterinary associate, provide them a truck and some tools and say, “Go find new clients and grow our business.” That model no longer works today because the number of clients or beef producers is decreasing as we see consolidation of beef herds across the country. Providing the same service to more people has developed into the business model of providing more services for less people involved in beef production.

BQA education and on-farm assessments can be a service incorporated into veterinary visits. On the education side of things, BQA makes for great information for veterinary newsletters and producer meetings. Also, veterinarians are often called on to present information to 4-H and FFA groups. BQA education is for all involved in the beef industry.

Furthermore, guiding your producers to the online BQA training can be a service that allows producers to self-pace their BQA education, while decreasing the time spent leaving the farm or ranch. The online BQA training programs include versions in English, as well as Spanish, for producers looking for tools to bridge the language barrier gap with their employees.

Assessment tool is valuable

The new BQA assessment tool has been a great device for practitioners to work with their clients. It involves the development of the BMP that you and your client think are best for his or her cattle operation. These BMP are provided in the back of the assessment guide manuals, and can be used as a template for you and your client to develop specifically to an operation.

As we have conducted the assessments on beef operations, the lack of BMP has been glaring. Documentation of the BMP is important when dealing with people who might question the care of animals on a farm. It can also be used positively as a marketing tool when selling cattle to other ranchers or cattle feeders.

The assessments also observe the training and education given to people responsible for castration, dehorning, euthanasia and other practices. It is important to document how people are trained on the farm to make sure we are using the procedures best suited for the animals. It is also important to document employee training to protect the farm if the employee does not execute practices in a humane way. Farm owners are responsible for their employees’ training and understanding.

The assessment also has a “hands-on” portion where a veterinarian watches cattle being worked through a chute, as well as a facilities inspection. The facilities inspection involves the evaluation of feeding and watering equipment/accessibility, handling facilities and other areas in which cattle are housed.

The cattle handling assessment is easy for veterinarians to implement when pregnancy checking the cows or working with a feedyard processing crew on a consulting visit. These evaluations are great educational tools for producers and increase the level of awareness of improving facilities or handling practices for their cattle.

We have worked with the Kansas Beef Council and the Kansas Livestock Association over the last year and have conducted BQA assessments on more than 80% of the fed cattle capacity in the state. I have yet to conduct an on-farm BQA assessment where the producer did not think it was valuable for their employees, their cattle and their profitability.

BQA Is A Natural Fit

The veterinary profession should embrace BQA and provide this as a service to their clients. Veterinary colleges are starting to incorporate BQA certification as a part of their beef production medicine curricula and are using the assessment tools in their teaching hospitals. BQA education and BQA assessment on the farm are great tools and services that veterinarians can provide their beef clients.

United States beef producers have invested one dollar per head for every animal they sell in order to provide funding for the development of the national BQA program. This allows a framework from which beef producers and veterinarians can work together to provide our consumers a safe, wholesome, nutritious beef product from cattle raised humanely.

Nobody cares more about beef cattle welfare than the beef producers and the veterinarians who serve them. This program is a natural fit for a proactive practitioner.

Dr. Dan Thomson is a third-generation veterinarian who was raised in Clearfield, Iowa, and is recognized internationally as a leader in beef cattle production and health management. He delivers many lectures around the globe on topics surrounding the contemporary issues in veterinary medicine and animal agriculture. He completed his MS in ruminant nutrition from South Dakota State University, a PhD in ruminant nutrition from Texas Tech University and received his BS in animal science and DVM from Iowa State University. Dr. Thomson is the Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology and the Director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He served as the OIE chair and member of the Beef Cattle Production and Welfare committee. Dr. Thomson also teaches cow-calf, stocker and feedyard production medicine, welfare and nutrition at K-State, and is the host of DocTalk with Dr. Dan Thomson on cable television’s RFD-TV.