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BQA’ing your herd and spring cattle work

Shannon Williams for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 April 2018
All injections should be given in the neck

Every time you process your cattle, you have an opportunity to impact Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) for good or for ill. Your goal as owner and manager should be to impact it for the better.

The 2016 National Beef Quality Audit of steers and heifers has some key points for beef producers. The good news was: 99.5 percent of carcasses had no visible blemishes. This is only accomplished by producers utilizing good stockmanship and low-stress livestock handling techniques when processing cattle.

This means you have replaced the hot shots and sorting sticks with sorting flags and rattle paddles. This also means you have trained your crews how to properly move cattle up the alley to the chute.

Just because the audit indicates things are better, it is not time to stop educating your processing crew. You need to be clear about your expectations regarding BQA practices and how you want your cattle handled and processed. Remember, they are your cattle and, if defects show up on the carcass, it will be your name tied to the defect, not the person moving cattle up the alley.

Before you start processing any cattle, take some time to talk with the crew and include the following:

  • Cattle should be handled quietly and in a calm manner.

  • Cattle should not be thumped across the loin or round.

  • All injections should be placed in the neck.

  • Review all vaccines and medications to be administered, double-checking the dosage amounts and injection method (subcutaneous, intramuscular, etc.).

  • Remind the person giving the injections to change needles every 10 to 15 head and make sure you have enough needles.

  • Review how to mix modified live vaccines and how much to mix at a time.

  • Stress the importance of storing vaccines and medications in the cooler if label requires it.

  • Process cattle on “cattle” time, not “human” time.

  • Check all animals for overall health and, if one needs treatment, be sure and document treatment date and withdrawal time.

Observe before you market

The National Beef Market Bull and Cow Audit has some good news for beef producers too. Of the carcasses surveyed, 97.9 percent had no visible knots or swellings as a result from an injection. This is super news, but don’t expect every member of your processing crew knows where and how to give an injection. Review this with them, including with your veterinarian and A.I. technicians.

The audit also noted 50 percent of the carcasses were bruised. While most bruises were less than 1 pound of trim, this is still an opportunity for improvement. The highest number of bruises were located on the sirloin or round. Locations of the bruises indicate they were the results of handling practices and facility design 24 hours prior to harvest. So what can you as the owner/manager do?

  • Check all alleys, gates, chutes and other processing areas for hazards.

  • Ask your crew to make sure when they are pushing cattle, they utilize good stockmanship techniques.

  • Remind those running gates not to “slam” or drop gates on cattle to get them to move.

  • If you have a crew member who is not following BQA practices, move them to a different job.

As you process your cows and bulls, analyze each one and decide if it is time to market them. One of the final conclusions of the audit is appropriate management of cows and bulls to increase muscle condition before harvest. If you have a cow losing muscle, you need to note that.

While you may not market her immediately, you may want to keep her home and market her earlier than the rest of the culls.

Another conclusion made in the audit was: Animals need to be culled before physical defects are too severe and cause animal welfare concerns or carcass condemnations. Evaluate each animal as you process them. Look at their records and, if they have repeatedly been on the treatment list, you may want to cull them sooner rather than later provided all withdrawal times have been met.

You may decide to not vaccinate them if you are going to cull them immediately.

Keys for the cow-calf sector

While the audit was written based on the “final product,” there are things to be applied at the cow-calf production level. As a cow-calf producer, you are the very beginning, the base, of the final product. You have influence over five of the six quality challenges noted in the audit.

Eating satisfaction, lean fat and bone, weight and size, and visual characteristics are all influenced by the genetics in your herd. For this reason, choose your bulls and replacement females wisely, keep BQA in mind and what areas you need to improve upon. If you can get carcass data on your cattle, take it.

It will give you valuable information. If you can’t get information from the feedlot or packer, but sell some junior livestock show animals, ask for the data from them. Any information you can gather is better than no information.

How and where cattle were raised was also noted as one of the top challenges. We live in a world of social media and everyone has a camera in their pocket. Within minutes, a picture of you processing your cattle could be viewed by thousands. Images of good stockmanship and best management practices are fantastic for the industry.

One bad social media post, and the entire industry pays the price. Health records that are accurate, current and sent with the cattle show how they were raised, where they were raised and that BQA best management practices were utilized.

BQA is applicable at every phase of beef production. It is appropriate every time cattle are processed. It is relevant to every person who helps with processing cattle. Great strides have been made in the industry, but we still have opportunities for improvement, so don’t miss out on those.  end mark

PHOTO: When processing cattle, all injections should be given in the neck. Staff photo.

Shannon Williams
  • Shannon Williams

  • Extension Specialist
  • University of Idaho – Lemhi County