Beef Quality Assurance – Healthy Herds, Happy Consumers

Nineteen out of 20 beef products originating in the United States are raised within Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines. That’s quite a tribute to America’s cattlemen and their partnership with the agencies, experts, and animal health and beef production companies that make up the beef business. Even so, most consumers, and a fair number of producers, don’t know what BQA is. While the program isn’t always recognized by name, the BQA core principle, quality cattle care, is the foundation of healthy herds and consumer confidence.

In the 33 years since the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) established the program, BQA has become second nature for most producers. If you are a producer who is unfamiliar with BQA guidelines or how they relate to bovine respiratory disease (BRD), don’t worry. If you are following the label instructions on your medications, providing a nutritious food ration, keeping records and working your cattle in an environment that is as stress free as possible, you are probably doing it right.

Quality cattle care is a life cycle process that begins with the cow, and controlling BRD is part of a solid animal health program. Healthy cows have healthy calves, so the cow-calf herd is an especially important stage to ensure proper nutrition, immunity stimulation and stress management. Once a calf is born, BRD management typically begins around two to three months, at weaning time and any time an animal develops clinical signs.

At two to three months, calves typically receive their first round of vaccinations. Health programs should be developed by producers and their veterinarians, but some important BRD conditions to vaccinate against include: bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) and bovine parainfluenza-3 (PI3). The right mix of products can boost a herd’s immunity, protecting against these common illnesses with as few as two multi-way vaccines.

Weaning time strategies vary widely by region. Producers in some areas prepare calves with a second round of vaccinations. Other producers place particular emphasis on low-stress management to maintain strong immune systems before sending calves on to a finishing operation. BQA doesn’t have particular recommendations for this period, other than that producers work with their veterinarian to develop an appropriate strategy.

Animals that develop signs need to be treated and isolated as soon as possible to prevent spreading infection to the herd. Because these animals will not have the built-in four- to five-month withdrawal period from weaning to final sale, record keeping becomes especially important to make sure each animal is safe to enter the food system.  At final sale, or any time cattle move from one operation to another, complete treatment records – including dosage, treatment method and withdrawal time – must be passed on to continue the chain of care.

BRD management is a small but important part of the overall BQA mission. Working together with the government and corporate partners in the beef business, America’s cattlemen have created a voluntary program that keeps herds healthy and provides consumers the safe, high-quality beef they expect. On behalf of myself and my colleagues, thanks to producers for raising more than 95 percent of American beef to BQA standards. Our hats are off to your dedication to proper cattle care.

3 thoughts on “Beef Quality Assurance – Healthy Herds, Happy Consumers

  1. Excellent blog. Producers should also factor in that husbandry and nutritional decisions and programs have a time delay, i.e. decisions made today can impact the herd 6-9 months down the road – reproduction, immunity, performance. Anticipation provides greater realization!

    • Joe, in short, 19 out of 20 of US beef products means everything, steaks, roasts, hamburger or any other beef product. According to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service National Animal Health Monitoring System, more than 95% of all beef in the U.S. is managed under applicable BQA standards during the finishing phase of care.

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