Beef Quality Assurance & Transportation Quality Assurance
- We care about animals and know that animal care is an obligation, not an option. Through programs like Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) and Transportation Quality Assurance (TQA), we provide education and training for those responsible for caring for cattle throughout their life cycle.
- Beef farmers and ranchers employ programs such as BQA to provide them with training in proper animal handling, castration methods and pain control, record keeping and the administration of vaccinations and antibiotics. These procedures are industry approved and scientifically proven to be safe for the animal and the farmer or rancher in order to maintain high-quality herd health.
- The BQA program provides guidance for injection procedures based off of the type of vaccination and the mode of action. For example, injections should never be given in the hip or thigh, regardless of the age of the animal – injecting into these areas could damage the sirloin or round cuts of meat.
- Many feedyard owners require employees to complete low-stress animal handling training or complete the BQA program so that all employees who come in contact with cattle are practicing low-stress management and are ensuring a healthy environment for the cattle.
- Many semi-truck drivers who pick-up and deliver cattle to and from the yard have completed TQA, which is a program designed to provide training in the areas of biosecurity, animal handling, unloading and loading cattle, weather and truck and trailer maintenance.
- Humane treatment at slaughter begins when cattle arrive at the slaughter facility. In accordance with TQA, cattle should be unloaded in a timely fashion in order to keep the amount of time they are on the truck at a minimum.
- Thanks to hard work, effective use of natural resources and science-based improvements in breeding, animal nutrition and growth enhancement technologies, U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers raise 20 percent of the world’s beef with 7 percent of the world’s cattle in order to help sustainably feed a growing world population.
- Beef cattle, like other ruminants, possess a digestive system that includes a multi-compartment stomach that can digest fibrous materials such as grass, corn stalks, cottonseeds, alfalfa and grass hays, etc. But unlike most other animals, cattle can consume coproduct feeds like corn gluten, distiller's grains, brewer's grains, potato chips, soybean hulls, citrus pulp and other products that would otherwise end up in a landfill.1
- Animal nutritionists, whose sole responsibility is to ensure the animal is receiving all of the necessary nutrients, formulate the rations for cattle in the feedyard, which consist of grains, roughage and vitamins and minerals. A variety of feed ingredients are used to help optimize cattle nutrient intake and maintain their natural muscle building ability, leading to leaner muscle composition instead of fat.
- When cattle arrive in the feedyard, they are fed a receiving diet that is very high in forages, which helps the cattle’s stomach transition from a primarily grass diet to a diet that contains higher grain content.
- Following the receiving diet, cattle will gradually be stepped up to a higher concentration of grain and other feedstuffs such as corn, distiller’s grains, barley, soybean hulls and other concentrates. Similar to how a child’s diet changes as they grow from toddler to teenager, this diet provides higher energy levels cattle need to keep growing at this stage of their lives.
- A typical finishing diet may include high percentages of grains which serve a critical role in the development of nutritious beef. And a higher concentrate diet enables cattle to convert feed into pounds of muscle and develops a high level of marbling.
- While cattle may consume larger amounts of grain in the later stages of finishing, they are still receiving several pounds per day of forages such as grass hay, silage or alfalfa; all of which provide ample amounts of roughage in the diet.
Vaccines and Antibiotics
- Farmers and ranchers work closely with veterinarians to develop a comprehensive health program, which may include nutritious diet, proper housing, hygiene, vaccinations and antibiotics.
- Herd health programs typically include vaccinations for calves to protect them from common diseases and boost their immunity. One shot as a calf can help an animal live a healthy life. Vaccines have been developed to help prevent a wide variety of common cattle illnesses and to decrease the presence of bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli.
- The primary goal for farmers and ranchers is to prevent illness in the herd, but it is natural for some cattle to become sick. Antibiotics, also known as antimicrobials, are medications that fight bacterial infections, and antibiotics made specifically for cattle are used to help an animal regain or maintain superior health.
- Farmers and ranchers work with veterinarians to promptly diagnose illnesses in cattle and make every effort to return sick or injured animals to good health because it is the right and humane thing to do. When antibiotics are necessary to maintain cattle health or treat sick cattle, farmers and ranchers believe in using the smallest and most effective dose of antibiotics made specifically for cattle.
- Cattle in feedyards are monitored constantly by trained personnel for potential health and wellness concerns. When an animal is sick, they are removed from their pen, taken to the feedyard hospital area and properly treated under the care of the attending feedyard veterinarian until they are deemed healthy enough to return to the herd. Treating each animal individually ensures that animal health is at the forefront.
- Some of the most common uses of antibiotics in beef production are for respiratory issues such as bovine respiratory disease, which is also called shipping fever or bronchial pneumonia.
- In some cases, antibiotics may be used to prevent illness. Preventing illness may result in less antibiotic use than if cattle get sick and require antibiotics to treat the illness.
- The health of U.S. cattle herds, as well as the continuous supply of safe beef, relies on the long-term effectiveness of antibiotics. Therefore, cattlemen follow the producers guide for judicious use of antibiotics, which call for:
- Avoiding the use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine;
- Using a narrow spectrum of antimicrobials whenever possible;
- Treating the fewest number of animals possible;
- Limiting antibiotic use to disease prevention or control; and
- Not using antibiotics if the principle intent is to improve performance.
- Before an antibiotic may be used in beef cattle production, it must go through a comprehensive, multi-step review by the U.S. Food and drug administration (FDA) to ensure animal health and human food safety.
- Anti-animal agriculture activists commonly distort antibiotic use figures to sway consumers against the use of antibiotics in the safe production of beef, claiming that 70 percent of all antibiotic use in the U.S. is in livestock. While the number may seem large it may help to point out that it takes a larger dose of antibiotics to treat a 1,200 pound animal than a 120 pound person, the same way an adult needs a higher dose than a child.
- The animal agriculture community is also working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to voluntarily phase out certain uses of antibiotics including antibiotics that are most important to human health. The most commonly used class of antibiotics in animal agriculture, tetracyclines, is the least used antibiotic in human medicine. Building upon that, the second most commonly used class of antibiotics in animal agriculture, ionophores, are not used in human medicine at all.
- When antibiotics that are medically important to humans must be used, cattle farmers and ranchers work closely with their veterinarians to determine when to use them.
- Another critical component of responsible antibiotic use and administration are withdrawal times. While you may understand and appreciate that a beef animal cannot be sent to slaughter before the withdrawal time from an antibiotic has expired, many consumers are unaware of this safeguard to prevent antibiotic residues in meat.
- In addition, the Food and Drug Administration routinely tests for antibiotic residues and has zero tolerance for residue violations.
- During a calf’s time on the farm, cattle farmers and ranchers will implement common animal health practices that were developed by veterinarians and other animal science experts for proper cattle herd and health management.
- Branding, castration and dehorning have been accepted and effective herd management practices for more than 200 years.
- During a beef animal’s time on the farm or ranch, it may undergo many animal health and herd management practices to aid in the production of safe, nutritious beef. These procedures are carried out with the safety of the animal in mind and farmers and ranchers partake in training to ensure the best possible management practices.
- One of the first animal health procedures done on cow-calf farms and ranches is castrating the male, or bull, calves. There are two primary reasons for castration: to control behavior and improve the tenderness of meat.
- Intact bull calves can be very aggressive and may hurt other animals or people working with them. Castration reduces the production of testosterone thereby limiting their aggressive behavior.
- Testosterone also produces stronger muscle tissues, resulting in tougher meat. Castrated bull calves, also called steers, produce more tender beef. For these reasons, all male bull calves are castrated unless they are going to be kept in the herd for breeding purposes.
- There are multiple methods of castration, including surgical removal of the testes and banding of the scrotum with rubber bands, cutting off the blood flow.
- While castration may be temporarily painful or stressful to the calf, producers are able to mitigate the pain or stress by castrating at an earlier age. Animal care experts believe the earlier the age of castration, the less pain and stress a calf experiences.
- According to BQA guidelines, where practical, cattle should be castrated before the age of three months, or at the first available handling opportunity beyond this age.
- Cattle farmers and ranchers may seek guidance from a veterinarian on the availability and advisability of analgesia or anesthesia of beef cattle, particularly in older animals.
- Unlike castration, both male and female calves may be branded and dehorned. Yes, that’s right, both male and female calves can grow horns (many people unfamiliar with cattle think only bulls have horns).
- The majority of beef cattle raised in the United States today are "polled," which means that the cattle are genetically bred to be born without horns.
- Dehorning typically is conducted within the first few weeks of a calf’s life and is recommended no later than at 120 days of age, or before the animal weighs 500 pounds.
- For a cow with slightly more "developed" horns, cattlemen work with veterinarians and follow BQA practices that work to ensure the comfort and safety of an animal through local anesthesia and analgesia.
- Dehorning at a young age involves removing the horn “buds” – or small amount of horn growth – with a tool that looks like a melon scoop.
- Removing the horns is another way of preventing the animals from hurting each other or the people around them.
- Many cattle farmers and ranchers will also brand their calves at the same time they perform castration and dehorning. Unlike castration, both male and female calves may be branded and dehorned.
- Branding is another important component of herd management, and can be done in one of two ways—freeze branding and hot-iron branding.
- Branding not only allows ranchers and farmers to differentiate their animals from their neighbors, it can also identify each individual animal for record-keeping purposes.
- Unique brands for each farm or ranch allow for farmers and ranchers to find their cattle.
- Branding time is generally a community affair—neighbors will assist each other with the process which can sometimes take several days, especially if there are hundreds of calves to brand and treat.
Humane Treatment at Slaughter
- The slaughter process has evolved over the years based on scientific research to ensure both humane animal treatment and the production of safe food. Our expectation, like many consumers, is that every animal is treated with respect at all times during the beef lifecycle, especially during slaughter.
- The humane slaughter act (passed in 1958 and updated in 1978 and 2002) dictates strict animal handling and slaughtering standards for packing plants, ensuring a humane and proper death for all food animals. This legislation sets the standards for how livestock should be slaughtered and is taken seriously by all members of the beef community.
- When cattle arrive at packing plants, they are moved inside in a quiet and orderly manner. Certified drivers will assist facility employees in slowly and carefully unloading the cattle from the truck and moving them to a holding pen where they have access to clean, fresh water and are able to move around freely.
- Employees who handle the live cattle receiving areas complete routine training programs for animal care and are held to standards set forth by auditing parties.
- Packing plant technicians then use a mechanical stunning device to quickly and effectively render animals unconscious prior to slaughter.
- The walkways, holding pens, and the knock box, which is where the animal is rendered unconscious by a captive bolt gun, are all designed and built with the welfare of the animal in mind.
- Many modern U.S. slaughter facilities were designed or inspired by world renowned animal behaviorist Temple Grandin. There is little excess movement or unnecessary noise, so cattle are not unduly stressed.
- Slaughter facility owners and employees go to extreme lengths to ensure that cattle receive high quality care during euthanasia. While the systems designed with the best intentions for animal care and handling are extremely valuable, it is the employees of slaughter facilities that must ensure proper animal handling and euthanasia. After all, good animal care boils down to people.
Next Chapter: Safety or Perceived Safety