This assessment can be done by the producer or by the producer’s veterinarian. “To do the assessment you can work with veterinarian, another professional such as a nutritionist or by yourself to see areas where you are strong and where you need to improve,” says Daniel Thomson, Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology, and director of Beef Cattle Institute.

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Freelance Writer
Robyn Scherer-Carlson is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

He continues, “All the things we deal with day to day are not as simple as checking the box. These tools can be used for farmers, ranchers and veterinarians to work as a guide to look at day-to-day practices and to improve production management and improve health.”

Understanding BQA

According to the program’s website, “Beef Quality Assurance is a nationally coordinated, state-implemented program that provides systematic information to U.S. beef producers and beef consumers of how common-sense husbandry techniques can be coupled with accepted scientific knowledge to raise cattle under optimum management and environmental conditions.

BQA guidelines are designed to make certain all beef consumers can take pride in what they purchase – and can trust and have confidence in the entire beef industry.”

It continues, “BQA programs have evolved to include best practices around good record-keeping and protecting herd health, which can result in more profits for producers. When better-quality cows leave the farm and reach the marketplace, the producer, packer and consumer all benefit.


When better-quality beef reaches the supermarket, consumers are more confident in the beef they are buying, and this increases beef consumption.”

Wayne Fahsholtz, president and CEO of Padlock Ranch, uses BQA tools and was the 2012 BQA Award winner. His ranch is focused on production and profit, but not at the expense of cutting corners.

“Padlock Ranch is a profit-driven business, which places importance on environmental stewardship, community support both local and the broader community, and hiring/developing excellent people.

A foundational goal is to use best management practices throughout the life of an animal to enhance performance, health, beef quality and ultimately profitability,” he says.

He adds, “We take a systems approach in developing and implementing these management practices and have coupled these practices with our marketing plan.

The process begins with people. To begin, we emphasize and train our staff to be good at animal handling. Our employee handbook mandates low-stress animal handling techniques be used and this also becomes part of annual evaluations for employees that work with livestock.”

Benefits to the industry

There are many reasons to utilize the BQA self-assessment tools. “The consumer is looking for a gold standard. Other industries, such as Turkey Federation, United Egg Producers and Pork Producers have brought forward, as industries, their on-farm assessment tools.

We have a less vertically integrated system and are now getting caught up on our own tool. The beef purchaser can use this for food safety, animal welfare, production and sustainability,” he explains.

The BQA self-assessment is also a benefit to consumers. “In the future, I see BQA animals, animals that come from BQA-certified farms and feedlots, going to packing plants and ending up with a seal on the meat package,” Thomson explains.

He adds, “Currently the beef industry hasn’t done anything for premiums, or been docked for not doing it, but in the future I think we will see that. Today we price calves pre-conditioned and then dock based on that, so it could potentially go that way. That’s usually what happens.”

There are two different parts to the BQA program, and that includes training of a producer and the on-farm assessment.

“The individual certification is available online today at no cost. We keep a transcript of your completion, and you have to re-up your certificate every three years. We have 2,500 producers who have been registered just in the last month. That’s nearly 100 a day,” he says.

BQA assessment 101

The on-farm assessment is what makes some producers nervous, although they have nothing to fear. “When we started doing them, farmers and ranchers weren’t sure; they were very nervous about someone coming on their place.

Every one of them, by the time we got rolling, they didn’t care about the time. They were interested in learning and how they can improve. I’ve yet to do one where someone said it didn’t make an improvement for animal, profitability or employees,” Thomson states.

He continues, “There is also a live animal component, a handling component. That takes the longest to get through. We want to see producers work their animals – but not more than 100.

Veterinarians can do it when they preg check for cow-calf producers. It’s a logical place for that to happen.”

A veterinarian doesn’t have to do the assessment, but for many producers it makes sense. “At this point in time, anyone can do the assessment.

I think it’s a service vets can provide for their clients in addition to what they do, and it’s a logical group to work with. It creates credibility for consumers as well,” he states.

There are many benefits to producers to utilize the BQA program. “At this point, the biggest benefit to producers is it is an investment in our future. The second benefit is that it gets a second set of eyes on your operation,” Thomson says.

The program was written by producers and veterinarians for producers and veterinarians. “There are not a lot of frivolous things. It focuses on core production practices. It’s really important for producers to have those fresh on their mind routinely,” he says.

Being a leader in BQA is important to the Padlock Ranch, for several reasons. “It is the right thing to do for many reasons. First, it helps us assure our customers that our product is safe and has been cared for properly throughout its life. Second, the practices will also make the ranch more sustainable and profitable,” says Fahsholtz.

Spread the message

The biggest challenge so far with the program is getting the word out. The second challenge is the logistics and how to get veterinarians on the farm.

“Whether people like to hear that or not, the most important supportive profession for the future of the beef industry, is having that relationship with their large animal veterinarian,” Thomson stated.

Cow-calf producers struggle more to be involved than feedlot operators. “It’s going to take a lot longer because we have 750,000 producers, and some of them are slightly independent.

Some need to be coached or convinced. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, but we have the justification on why we need to be doing this,” Thomson says.

He adds, “Feedlots on a percentage basis are more involved, but there are some cow-calf producers that are really into it.”

To makes things easier for producers and veterinarians, a phone application has been developed for the BQA self assessment. “We have developed an app where you can do it on iPad or iPhone, and there is no paperwork.

The data you input will automatically be downloaded to the server, which is housed at Kansas State. You can be anywhere, and as long as you have Internet access, it works,” Thomson explains.

“All of the data is saved, and producers can save and pull that information up later. They can pull it up right from that app. It’s a great thing.”

The BQA program has taken off and will continue to be a great tool for the beef industry. “At this point, there is no BQA-certified farm, but there will be in the future. Right now, we just do the assessment to get people on board.”

He adds, “The more people that we have do it; the more it becomes the gold standard.”

Being selected as a BQA winner was an honor for Padlock Ranch and Fahsholtz. “It was an honor to be selected by NCBA. I am very proud of the beef industry and our peers within the industry. We have made vast improvements in telling our story to our consumers, but we still have a lot of work to do,” he says.

Fahsholtz is a firm believer in the future of the beef industry. “I believe that the future is bright. All of agriculture will be challenged to meet the food demands that are predicted by 2050.

There are many hurdles that we will face such as drought, public/social attacks such as anti-meat agendas, and market disruptions. If we are proactive and let our customers know how we produce their food, I believe that we will have their support,” he says.  end mark

Robyn Scherer is a freelance writer based in Colorado.