Farm Talk

January 28, 2014

KOMA Beef Cattle Conference

Laura Mushrush
CNHI

Parsons, Kansas — Beef Quality Assurance:

“Producing safe, wholesome beef that will provide an enjoyable eating experience and comes from cattle that have been properly cared for from conception to consumption.”

This was defined by Dr. Dave Rethorst, Director of Outreach for Kansas State University’s Beef Cattle Institute, at the 2014 KOMA Beef Cattle Conference in Dewey, Okla.

Rethorst, who bases his stewardship from Bible teachings, said this means BQA is more than making sure the chores get done.

“If I read the book of Genesis right, we are to have dominion of the birds of the air to the fish of the sea, so that means we are superior to them, but we have to take care of them properly” he said. “Do we have issues in the beef industry that cattle aren’t taken care of properly? You bet we do — we need to change that.”

When Rethorst said, “from conception to consumption,” in his definition of BQA, he meant it all starts in the cow herd genetics and encouraged producers to select for:

•docility

•low birth weight EPDs

•growth EPDs

•carcass EPDs

•polled genetics

These are EPDs that could help lessen handling and stress put on cattle.

“If we’re going to look at one EPD, let’s look at the Birth Weight EPD,” he said. “To make money in this business, the first thing you have to have is a live calf.”

Rethorst said it’s all a chain reaction to increase a calf’s chances of a healthy life in each production step, including:

•maintaining proper nutrition for a cow during utero so her calf has high quality colostrum when born, making it less susceptible to illness

•calving in a clean pasture so newborn calves aren’t exposed to immediate illnesses

•giving calves necessary booster shots to increase the immune system.

These are just a fraction of the steps producers need to take to ensure they are practicing BQA, he said.

But what about BQA practices that aren’t related to the handling of cattle? Practices like record keeping, employee training and advocacy — telling the agricultural story.

“Our role is to convert cellulose into high quality red meat protein to feed the world,” Rethorst explained. “But, we need to do some changing if we’re going to do this and consumers are going to buy our product.”

As the consumer market is increasingly being taken over by the millennial generation (born 1984-2004), beef producers have to continue to communicate with them differently than other generations.

In a recent article by Forbes Magazine, millennials are more likely to make their opinions be heard and question practices, contrary to older generations.

“Selling product to millennials is different than selling to baby boomers,” explained Rethorst. “With baby boomers you can tell them we’ve raised beef this way since Grandpa was a little boy and it’s fine with them.”

Rethorst also suggested detailed record keeping of vaccinations and employee training. That way if the operation is audited for animal welfare practices, a written document is available to show the producer was managing vaccinations properly and that employees were properly trained for working with cattle.

Producers also heard from Dr. Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist, about alternative feedstuffs.

According to Sexten, it is  key for producers to figure out the nutritional value of feed before investing in it.

While buying feedstuffs such as cottonseed hulls may seem appealing because of a low price, its cost of protein content — about half that of corn — isn’t always worth the investment.

“If you think about that from a feeding standpoint, cottonseed hulls better be half the cost of corn grain,” Sexten said. “They’re costly from an energy basis because they don’t have a lot of protein and they don’t have a lot of energy. They’re predominantly a roughage or a filler product.”

Sexten also encouraged producers to keep input costs in mind when it comes to hay production.

“What is the value of fertilizing our pasture with nitrogen, versus buying 5 lbs. of feed?” he asked, when considering the nutritional value.

When increasing forage value, Sexten said producers must have some sort of weed control system.

“If it is using land, light and water resources, that’s a cost to your pasture enterprise,” he said.

The KOMA Beef Cattle Conference is a collaboration between Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Ark-ansas Extension Services.