This Thanksgiving holiday, my daughter Megan spent every morning with me at the feed yard. I love it when the girls have a break from school because it makes my day to have one of them tag along with me. I had a couple of new pens of cattle, so Megan got to help me exercise and acclimate them each morning.
I remember a few years ago when she asked me why I exercised new cattle at the feed yard. We had a really interesting discussion about mental and emotional fitness and how each ties in with physical fitness. In the 5+ years that I have used exercising sessions to help my animals transition into a life in the feed yard, I have become a believer in the importance of this holistic care.
While the low stress handling and the cattle acclimating protocols that I use at the feed yard are not mandated in the Beef Quality Assurance program, I believe that the HACCP (hazard analysis critical control point program) which provides the basis of BQA lends itself toward a philosophy of holistic care. HACCP dictates that protocols be in place on the farm to ensure that good consistent animal care is provided—This leads to a fewer number of challenges for the animals during their lifetime.
Quite simply, BQA is all about minimizing stress (challenges) and maximizing good health which ensures safe and healthy beef that comes from animals that have been raised humanely…
Apart from feed ingredient selection, two additional core BQA fundamentals related to animal welfare are processing/vaccination treatments and general animal husbandry. Animal husbandry does not mean that I try to marry my animals, it is simply another term for animal welfare!
Sending cattle off the farm/ranch of origin and into the feed yard is a bit like sending your child to Kindergarten. They will be exposed to new experiences and cattle outside of their birth herd which may cause transition stress. In addition, they may be exposed to new diseases that have the potential to compromise health.
It is incredibly important that my animals have strong immune systems that have been properly stimulated through routine vaccination paired with good nutrition. This begins on the home ranch and is continued once the animals arrive at my farm. I am a huge proponent of preventive care, and I trace the vaccination history of my animals throughout their lifetime. It is imperative that my ranchers and I both keep good animal health records so that this trace back is plausible. It is also imperative that these vaccinations be properly administered and given in a timely fashion. BQA provides templates and educational tools for this.
Outside of routine vaccination, another important component of preventative health is a good worming (or deworming) program. My animals spend most of their lives eating green grass in a field. There are many parasites that live in that grass who are happy to take up residence in the digestive tracts of the cattle. Routine worming is a very important part of good health—it needs to occur on the ranch of origin as well as upon arrival at the feed yard. We use an injectible wormer (given under the skin in the neck region) to take care of internal parasites and a topical wormer (spread across each animal’s back) to rid the animal of external parasites.
If you are interested in reading more about the Beef Quality Assurance program, you can find electronic documents for the program at http://www.bqa.org. You can even be like Megan (and the rest of my crew) and go through the training and become certified!
I am going to take a brief hiatus from BQA with the next blog post before transitioning into the food safety side of BQA. I am currently making some exciting management changes at the feed yard regarding food safety and will spend most of December talking about them.