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And the 2019 BQA award winners are …

Gilda V. Bryant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 April 2019

The Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program has developed best management practices to ensure cattle are healthy and productive while providing safe, wholesome products for consumers. BQA standards encompass most segments of the beef industry, including cow-calf, feedyard and marketing.

The 2019 BQA awards recognized Matador Cattle Company, Buffalo Feeders and Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association.

Matador Cattle Company

Matador Cattle Company

Matador Cattle Company, the recipient of the 2019 BQA Cow-Calf Award, was founded in 1952. This company annually raises more than 12,000 head of cattle on three different ranches located in Kansas, Montana and Texas. All three locations have adopted BQA cow-calf practices, working diligently to implement them in the overall management scheme.

J.D. Russell, manager of the Texas facility, reports the ranch managers and employees practiced many of the BQA principles for years, especially when it came to proper animal husbandry.

“The BQA has allowed us to report in a concise format that’s consistent across the rest of the industry,” Russell shares. “It allows us to tell our customers and ultimately the consumer, what steps we have taken at the ranch level to ensure a safe, nutritious, wholesome product. It has also enabled us to standardize a format to convey our expectations about animal care to our employees while providing a quality product to our customers.”

Matador Cattle Company employees have observed many of the BQA concepts for some time, including vaccine-handling documentation. Working together, these ranch managers continually seek ways to improve their operations. The BQA standard offered an opportunity to evaluate ways to improve in additional areas.

Adopting BQA standards beefed up the company’s bottom line by sharing knowledge and developing consistency among the three ranches. Russell says they evaluated processes and protocols to become more efficient in many areas, adding to their profits. Being BQA-compliant has helped build stronger relationships with confident customers who believe in the quality and safety of Matador Cattle Company products.

It has also encouraged employees to prioritize proper animal handling. Today, cattle are more productive due to reduced stress, which leads to less shrink. And that equals more pounds of beef produced.

“We’ve worked on improving animal-handling systems for a number of years,” Russell explains. “The BQA program helped pull that into one format. Then we took steps to have all our employees BQA-certified. We’ve worked with our consulting veterinarians to conduct third-party evaluations of our processes and animal-handling practices across all three ranches. Then we identified areas for improvement. This is unique since our ranches, mainly due to their sizes, still operate in a traditional fashion by working almost all our cattle on horseback.”

Although adopting BQA standards may seem intimidating to cow-calf operators, Russell encourages them to address it from a proactive viewpoint.

“The BQA process and standards gives you a benchmark,” Russell concludes. “If you can measure it, then you can improve it. That’s the way we approached it. Once you get to that point, then you see new opportunities for growth and improvement in your operation. The BQA also provides experts, information, material and resources to help accomplish your goals while telling a positive story about beef production.”

Buffalo Feeders

Tom Fanning, manager of Buffalo Feeders

The 2019 BQA Feedyard Award was granted to Buffalo Feeders, a 30,000-head, custom feedyard located in Buffalo, Oklahoma. A member of the Pratt Feeders Group, this operation focuses on individual animal care, including comprehensive cattle identification and record-keeping system. It tracks the health and progress of each animal from arrival to shipping.

Tom Fanning, feedyard manager at Buffalo Feeders, says his organization adopted BQA standards 18 years ago.

“BQA practices are the foundation of every practice we have, whether handling or processing cattle, receiving commodities or mixing feed,” Fanning explains. “It’s the way we manage our pens, feedbunks and water tanks. This isn’t something in addition to the job we do. It’s part of our job – part of our DNA.”

Fanning stresses becoming a BQA facility means they are doing the right things right. What is best for cattle is usually best for profitability and for the company. Employees always put cattle first, using the best handling techniques, the best programs for pen cleaning, checking sources of commodities and verifying feed ingredients.

Additionally, video surveillance covers all receiving and shipping areas to validate head counts moving on and off the trucks. Video is also used for safety and training purposes to show haulers or employees when an activity can be performed better.

This company utilizes individual ID tags on each animal, as well as innovative ultra high-frequency tags, which has improved efficiency. When 40 steers are ready to ship, for example, the electronic reader verifies each animal’s identity, enabling Fanning to confirm these particular animals are safe to ship. This is a third check on the safe-to-ship verification.

Buffalo Feeders adopted BQA standards simply because it was important for the industry, customers and employees. It has become an integral part of Pratt Feeders’ business plan, directing daily standard operating procedures.

“We have annual BQA training with all our employees in every department,” Fanning explains. This includes all new employees and long-term personnel. Fanning admits most employees are seasoned workers, so repeated reviews reinforce the standards, making them second nature. By keeping standards in front of employees, they are reminded not to deviate from them. And when new BQA recommendations are posted, they become part of the training and audit procedures.

“Third-party auditors, in addition to our consulting veterinarian and consulting nutritionist, audit each department and follow up if necessary,” Fanning explains.

“This BQA program ensures the safe, wholesome beef supply for my family and yours,” Fanning concludes. “We are blessed to have great employees who take ownership of this program. It’s from the ground up, not from the top down. Training and buy-in at the individual level allows each employee, ranging from the mill operator to the cowboy, to implement the program daily. We’re honored to be chosen as the 2019 BQA award winner for feedyards. It’s a testimony to our crew, our staff and their dedication to what they do every day.”

Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association

Tod Fleming, CEO  (left) and Curt Larson, president of the Altonna, Wisxonsin Equity Co-op location.

Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association, also known as Equity Co-op, won the 2019 Marketer BQA Award. Working with Wisconsin producers since 1922, Equity Co-op is the Badger State’s largest livestock marketer. With 14 locations and more than 300 employees, this company has a laser focus on BQA best practices. Every employee undergoes thorough training to follow BQA principles which, in turn, build consumer confidence in Wisconsin’s beef industry.

Janice Schyvinck, director of public relations for Equity Co-op, says becoming BQA-compliant has allowed the company to be more consistent in both animal-handling and employee training at all of their locations. This company believes in BQA practices and even encourages suppliers to become BQA-certified.

For example, Equity Co-op recently notified customers two of their largest buyers will only purchase cattle from suppliers who have been certified in BQA programs, effective Jan. 1, 2019, for one and Jan. 1, 2020, for the other. This encourages suppliers to become BQA-certified, improving their employee safety, as well as their animal health and handling.

“Equity Co-op decided to adopt BQA standards because as a responsible livestock marketer, it was the right thing to do,” Schyvinck recalls. “Practicing BQA protocols makes the workplace safer for livestock and employees. We feel it provides a better service and increases the value of livestock for both producers and buyers.”

According to Schyvinck, the company has not seen an increase in profitability for the cooperative. Instead, BQA actually enhances the value of the animals it sells for producers and increases buyers’ interest in livestock. It also puts consumers’ minds at ease knowing livestock are handled in a humane manner by utilizing the industry’s best practices.

Why did Equity Co-op implement the BQA program? Schyvinck says since the livestock industry is moving toward more accountability to the consumer, Equity Co-op evaluated all industry best practices. The company incorporated the BQA program in animal handling, policies and procedures. In fact, Equity Co-op designed a program which is administered consistently across all 14 locations.

Schyvinck advises marketing organizations to seriously consider accountability and responsibility to their consumers, producers and buyers in animal-handling protocols.

“Equity believes the success of our producers and quality beef products starts at the farm and continues through the marketplace,” Schyvinck concludes. “By staying committed to our efforts in BQA practices, we are helping our producers become BQA-certified while remaining active in the education of animal-handling practices. We feel this adds value to producers and to the industry as a whole.”

Congratulations to these 2019 BQA winners. They improved their operations by providing the best possible care for their animals and employees while earning consumer trust. Best of all, they are terrific examples of what companies can accomplish with BQA education, planning and commitment to higher standards.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Matador Cattle Company ranches, such as the Matador Ranch (Texas), Spring Creek Ranch (Kansas) and Beaver Head Ranch (Montana), work cattle on horseback. Photo courtesy of Matador Cattle Company.

PHOTO 2: Tom Fanning, manager of Buffalo Feeders in Buffalo, Oklahoma, talks with an employee at the feedyard. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Feeders.

PHOTO 3: From left to right: Tod Fleming, CEO, and Curt Larson, president, are pictured at the Altoona, Wisconsin, Equity Co-op location. Photo courtesy of Equity Co-op. 

Gilda V. Bryant is a freelancer based in Amarillo, Texas. Email Gilda V. Bryant

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