Does BQA affect dairy farmers?

Beef Quality Assurance has become a market access requirement for beef producers. But do dairy producers need to become certified in order to continue sending cattle for harvest?

Livestock auctions are doing a good job getting the word out about the need for beef producers to become certified through the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. As of Jan. 1, 2019 some of the large packers will only buy beef that has been raised throughout its life by growers who are BQA certified. What does this mean for dairy farmers? Do dairy producers who sell cull cows and calves need to get a BQA certificate?

The short answer is no. You do not need to be additionally BQA certified if you have completed the FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Animal Care program (version 3.0 or newer). Documentation of that would include either your evaluation or any letter or document indicating that you have been evaluated.

Dairy farms are an important source of beef. Dairy animals, including culled bulls and cows, and fed cattle, represent approximately 20 percent of beef produced in the U.S. The requirement for BQA certification for beef producers is to assure the consumer that certain standards are met in the raising of the animals.

Those standards include identification of animals, proper withdrawal times when antibiotics are given, complete records of medication use and shipment of animals that are ambulatory and well. According to BQA standards, injections should be given in the neck and whenever possible, via subcutaneous route of administration rather than intramuscular. Maintain all treatment records at least two years after the last treatment, even for animals that have been shipped.

Those who send cattle to harvest for meat need to be aware of conditions that will make an animal unlikely to pass inspection. Those conditions include: cancer eye or blindness in both eyes, fever (temperature > 103°F), peritonitis, cows that may calve during transport, lameness or fractures, distended udders causing pain, unreduced prolapses, visible open wounds or suspected nervous system symptoms.

When slaughter plant inspectors see animals that likely have mastitis or metritis, recent surgery or injection site abscesses, or any signs or sickness or treatment, they are more likely to have the carcass tested for drug residues. You should not ship animals that raise these concerns.

Calves that are sent to market or sold to a grower should have always have had colostrum as soon as possible after birth and access to clean, fresh water. Send animals in good flesh, long before they become thin. Thin animals are more likely to bruise in transit and buyers may heavily discount them.

Practice low-stress animal handling even for cattle that are being shipped to harvest. Use good, slow and patient handling practices in loading cattle on trucks.

Market cattle prices may be low, but what you do now can help build packer confidence that your cattle will provide valuable beef for consumers. Holsteins need a reputation boost in order to bring higher prices. The quality of the animals you send to harvest will impact the reputation of the breed.

Any beef producer can become BQA certified by attending a meeting and taking (and passing) a test, or do it on-line through the website. In Michigan, training seminars are listed on the MSU Beef Team website.

While dairy producers don’t need to become BQA certified, even if they are raising their steers, they should be practicing all the requirements that BQA specifies so that dairy cattle will be quality beef.

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