Since its inception 15 years ago, the national Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program has helped bring beef quality and safety issues to the industry's forefront. It's resulted in reduced residue levels and injection site lesions, and a better beef product for consumers.

The program has been successful largely at the ranch and feedlot levels, while HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) protocols have helped guide beef quality at the packer level. But, BQA proponents say there's one missing link — ensuring beef quality practices while transporting cattle.

“Working with the transportation industry is the next phase of quality assurance education because it plays an important role in end-product quality,” says Lynn Gordon, Nebraska Cattlemen's director of beef quality and safety. “BQA practices can be followed up until loading cattle on the truck, but incidents that compromise beef quality can occur during loading, hauling or unloading and negate the handling precautions taken at the ranch or feedlot.”

Gary Cowman, National Cattlemen's Beef Association executive director of quality assurance, calls the education of this sector “imperative.”

“The care and handling of cattle during transportation can have a significant effect on the physiological stress and potential bruising of animals,” he says.

In hopes of a continued reduction in the incidence of carcass quality problems, a Cattle Transportation Quality Assurance initiative will launch in February. Its purpose is to bring awareness of practical handling techniques when hauling livestock.

Funded by the Cattlemen's Beef Board, the program includes fact sheets and video training targeted at two audiences. These are commercial transporters with minimal beef industry knowledge, and producers who haul cattle in gooseneck trailers.

Practical matters

Dan Hale, Texas A&M University Extension meat specialist, ranks transportation among the most stressful events for cattle. He says most transportation guidelines rely on common sense, but adds, “Many commercial transporters aren't aware of the handling issues that can impact quality.”

To that end, the newly designed materials provide an overview of cattle behavior and low-stress handling techniques. The management recommendations include:

  • Starting, stopping and going around corners slowly when transporting cattle.

  • Considering weather conditions in determining when to haul cattle; for instance, driving at night or early morning to avoid heat stress. Or, if dealing with cold stress, plugging some ventilation holes in the trailer to minimize wind chill.

  • Minimizing overcrowding, “a big issue that can increase livestock stress and the potential for bruising, especially if cattle have horns,” Hale says.

    The new guidelines will recommend haulers not only load by weight, but consider the strength of the animals, frame size, muscling, if animals have horns, etc.

  • Identify injured or potential downer animals prior to loading. Hale says such animals shouldn't be transported. The guidelines also suggest weaker animals be transported near the rear so they're easier to unload if injured in transit.

  • Communicating with transporters.

“Ranchers and feeders should work closely with the companies and people transporting their livestock to create a vested interest among all segments of the industry,” Gordon says.

Additionally, the materials will offer more in-depth guidelines on facility design, biosecurity and post-transportation management to acclimate animals to their new environment.

For more information, contact Cowman at glcowman@beefchat.com.

Kindra Gordon is a freelance writer and former BEEF managing editor based in Spearfish, SD.

More BQA advancements

Initiated “by cattlemen for cattlemen” to improve the quality and safety of beef for consumers and preempt government regulation on animal handling and health issues, the beef quality assurance (BQA) effort has continued to advance nationwide.

The most notable accomplishment has been the industry's move of injections from the hip to the neck. Incidence of top butt lesions has fallen from 23% to just 2.3%.

Nebraska Cattlemen's Lynn Gordon says BQA also has made strides by providing producers and feeders with guidelines and training on effective recordkeeping, proper injection administration, knowledge on label and product use, cattle handling protocols, and managing feedstuffs.

She says Kansas and Nebraska recently collaborated to publish a Spanish BQA manual to help educate more feedlot employees about beef quality practices.

As testament to the success of these beef quality efforts, Gordon says several state and branded beef programs now require producers be BQA-certified to participate.