Designed by cattlemen for cattlemen, Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) is a nationally-coordinated, state-driven program that aims to educate both beef producers and consumers about proper animal husbandry, health and management practices.
Becoming BQA certified is done on a voluntary basis, but as more and more consumers look for transparency throughout the entire beef industry, producers are drawn to the added economic value that comes with BQA certification.
“Nobody cares more than cattlemen about business and about our industry,” said Bill Pelton, Beef Quality Assurance program coordinator for the state of Montana.
A founder of BQA is quoted as saying “the program is nothing more than thoughtful, responsible, cattle management,” and that statement truly summarizes BQA. BQA is not trying to reinvent the wheel and many producers may be surprised to know the practices they employee on a day-to-day basis on their operation could already be BQA compliant. BQA provides producers with tangible, relatable guidelines that work to bolster the public’s perception of beef.
During his training and certification sessions across the state, Pelton is putting a lot of emphasis on livestock transportation. Trucking in many ways is the lifeline of the entire beef industry with thousands of cattle being transported every day. Because of the sheer number of animals impacted, Pelton stresses the importance of animal and handler safety. More importantly, he points out that an animal that is loaded and transported with as little stress as possible is a stronger economic product.
“When you have 100 head of steers on a truck that shrink five pounds less than their counterparts, that’s worth seven and a half dollars a head. That is just cold, hard cash,” Pelton explained.
In addition to safety during transportation, Pelton is a big believer in low-stress stockmanship during all phases of the animal’s life. The principles of BQA and the thought process behind low-stress cattle handling really go hand-in-hand.
Boiled down, cattle can only handle one stimuli at a time. If cattle are over stimulated they can become stressed, which can then lead to sickness, loss of appetite and reduced vaccine efficacy. Furthermore, cattle are herd animals – they want to go around the obstacle in their way and return back to their herd mates as quickly as possible.
As a lifelong cattleman, Pelton has seen first-hand the positives that come to those who attend BQA certification sessions and apply what they learn back to their operations. In an effort to reach more people, Pelton likes to give BQA certification sessions at locations where people will already be congregating. Following his presentation at the GATE show in Glendive, Mont., on Saturday, Feb. 15, from 1-2:30 p.m., he’ll be presenting at the MATE show in Billings, Mont., on Saturday Feb. 22, starting at 1 p.m.
“The basic question people ask is, ‘why should I certify?’ I tell people, when it comes to certification, it’s not what they pay you to do, it’s what they don’t pay you if you don’t do it. It’s a whole lot better to have two or three people looking at your calves, rather than just one,” he said.
Although the lessons behind BQA are important to producers, Pelton says it really comes down to the number of cattle that are impacted. He knows that he has reached many people over his tenure as a state BQA coordinator, but he takes the most pride knowing there are thousands of cattle out there that have the opportunity to live their lives relatively stress-free.
Consumers, especially all too often misinformed ones, are a large driving force behind the beef market. They relate less to the beef industry and more to the story or the process behind the product. Being BQA certified gives producers a platform to share their story, and by following a set of guidelines, BQA certified producers are promoting the beef industry as safe, healthy and sustainable.
BQA certification comes at no cost to the producer and can be obtained by either taking an online course at bqa.org or by attending and in-person training session.