Beef Quality Assurance Program Helping Ranchers across Montana

2010 is shaping up to be another successful year for the Montana Beef Quality Assurance Program (BQA). With several educational “Twilight Trainings” across the state this summer, many Montana ranchers have learned valuable tools to ensure that their cattle are handled in a low-stress manner—which benefits not only the cattle, but also the ranch’s crew and its bottom line.

“BQA is all about increasing beef demand by making sure all beef is produced with the best management practices possible,” said Clint Peck, BQA director for Montana.

Twilight Trainings
Attendance is up at the BQA Twilight Training sessions so far this year. To date, nine BQA training sessions have been held across the state from Dillon to Sidney. Five more sessions are scheduled through the middle of September.

“We’re already at double the participation from last year and we’re only half way through the season,” Peck said. “Through these BQA sessions we’re addressing contemporary issues facing the ranching business. Ranchers throughout the state are responding to the messages we are sending to consumers; that we’re here to produce high-quality beef and do so in a manner that gains consumer confidence in us as producers and as an industry.”

Stockmanship
A key element of the BQA Twilight Training sessions has been a demonstration of stockmanship skills conducted by Ed and David Fryer, managers of the Castle Mountain Ranch in White Sulphur Springs. The Fryers use their experience and understanding of cattle behavior to help other ranchers recognize that cattle work does not have to be a stressful event for the cattle, or for anyone on the ranch crew.

Plus, these efforts go beyond the ranch gate. As consumers nationwide show increasing concern about how cattle are treated on the ranch and ask more questions about practices used by ranchers in handling cattle, this issue takes on added importance in BQA programming.

“We’ve got a great image as long as cattle are in the pasture or out on the range,” says Peck. “It’s when we get cattle in a corral that things can fall apart from both a ranch management standpoint and in how consumers perceive us.”

Enter the Fryers with their messages and demonstration.

“It’s both ethical and economical to handle cattle in a low-stress manner,” says Ed Fryer. “It takes less labor, results in fewer accidents and increases cattle productivity. But, low-stress cattle handling really has more to do with a mindset than it has in developing skills.”

David Fryer says a key is to be in the “right position” when handling cattle. His message:
• Slow down, don’t get in a hurry. “Slower is faster” when handling cattle.
• Let your horse (or your feet) put you in position to get a cow to do what you want her to do, and make it become her idea.
• Be an animal “trainer” not an animal handler. Cows do have a memory!

Antibiotic Use
One of the hot-button issues in the cattle industry today is the use of antibiotics and antimicrobials in livestock production. This issue is discussed at each Twilight Training session.

“The federal government under the present administration has been ramping up surveillance for violative antibiotic residues in all meat, including beef,” Peck says. “We have to do everything possible at the ranch level to be sure we don’t misuse our animal health products.”

John Clifford, the USDA’s chief veterinarian announced in mid-July that he believes it is likely that the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of antimicrobial resistance among humans and in animals themselves.

“We advise working closely with your attending veterinarian and your health products suppliers to be sure each and every dose of medicine you give your cattle is administered prudently and properly,” Peck adds. “And be sure to follow all drug withdrawal recommendations.”

The Bottom Line
While the lessons learned through participation in BQA programming help the cattle industry spread a good message to consumers about issues such as cattle care and antibiotic use, they can also help a rancher’s bottom line. A Stockman Bank ag lender recently penciled out what he sees as the economics of applying the BQA practices that have been demonstrated across Montana. For example, a Montana cow-calf outfit selling 300 calves could expect:
• 5 lbs of extra gain/calf because calves were handled quietly at $1.10/lb market price is $5.50/head for a total of $1,650.
• 5 lbs of extra gain/calf because vaccine was handled and administered properly at $1.10/lb market price is another $5.50/head for another $1,650.
• 2 extra weaned 600 lb calves per year because both cows and calves were handled and vaccinated properly and therefore didn’t lose a calf before or after calving is another $1,320.
• $.15/lb improvement in price on a couple of 1200lb cull cows that were sound at time of sale rather than crippled from rough handling is another $360.
• 5% decrease from annual repair costs on $2,500 worth of equipment because cattle aren’t crammed and jammed through a working facility is another $125.
• 5% decrease in annual work comp and medical expenses of $5000 – because people aren’t getting injured from livestock handling wrecks is another $250.
That’s $5,355 total annual savings or increase in income–with no significant cash outlay.

The BQA Twilight Training sessions are supported by grants from the Montana Beef Council managed through the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA). The two grants, “Keeping BQA Alive” and “Ranchers Care” couple what BQA programs are demonstrating in low-stress cattle care with a consumer message of stockmanship and animal stewardship.

MSGA is already gearing up to support another round of BQA programs through next year, says Errol Rice, Helena, MSGA’s executive vice president.

“BQA benefits everyone in the cattle industry,” Rice says. “And, we want all ranchers to feel welcome at BQA events, whether they belong to MSGA or not.”

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