BQA training sessions teach proper cattle handling skills
By Jennifer M. Latzke
Through late August and all of September, cattle industry professionals gathered for Advanced Beef Cattle Care and Health Training Workshops around the state of Kansas. These Beef Quality Assurance training sessions, led by professionals with the Kansas Beef Council and the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University, were designed to train those who work with cattle in proper handling to ensure the quality and safety of the finished beef products.
The Sept. 6 session, held at the Southwest Area Research & Extension Center, Garden City, Kan., was offered in both English and Spanish. The packed house spent part of the afternoon inside with Stephen Russell, director of Industry Relations for KBC, learning about the economic and social reasons for proper BQA handling skills.
"As producers we have a responsibility for making a safe and wholesome product for our customers," Russell said. "So, what we do on a daily basis on our farms and ranches and feedyards makes a difference." From following labeling directions on drugs, to quietly handling cattle, to keeping proper records and documentation, it all goes into building consumer confidence in the product we're producing, he added.
Russell discussed the findings of the 2011 National BQA Audit with the packed audience of about 90 feedlot and ranch hands. The national audit is a survey that is conducted every five years to assess progress in all segments of the industry. Russell said one of the things that stuck out in his mind was that food safety continues to be a moving target for improvement.
"As hard as we work on food safety, it's a moving target," he said. "We've looked at interventions in the past to control E. coli and now we're looking at interventions to control salmonella. But what we take away from the audit is that we can't stop working toward improving food safety--it's always before us."
The audit showed that since the first audit in 1991, 98 percent of producers surveyed no longer use electric prods as primary driving tools. The 2011 audit reported that 87 percent of respondents had heard of BQA training and 71 percent have attended training in person or via online offerings.
Other topics covered during the day included how improper handling of live cattle translates into carcass losses; proper cattle working conditions and transportation; and proper euthanasia techniques and carcass disposal, among others.
The latter half of the afternoon was spent outside viewing a necropsy on a dead steer from a nearby feedlot, performed by a KSU College of Veterinary Medicine graduate student Dr. Shane Terrell. Participants were able to follow along as Terrell showed how veterinarians diagnose health issues post-mortem.
Jeff George, of Finney County Feed Yard, said it's important for feedyards like his and others around the state to participate in training events like this because consumers around the world are watching American cattlemen and they want assurances that what we produce is a safe, healthy and nutritious product.
"We have had employees attend BQA schools and they've learned several things," George said. "Our goal is to produce a good, safe, nutritious product in a humane manner and show that our animals are well taken care of and that's the main focus of events like today." He added that those employees that have attended BQA training have brought back ideas for innovations around the feedyard to improve handling practices and facilities.
"Most yards and the people in the industry want to do good and they're focused on doing the best job they can," George added.
Russell said overall the feedback from training around the state has been positive. "We average about 90 people per workshop and we anticipate that average to grow," he said. And, he added, while it would be nice if everyone attended a BQA seminar near them, what's more important is engaging producers in a conversation about proper cattle handling. "We want them to be conscious about what they're doing on their operations and committed to producing a product that's safe and wholesome."
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807, or firstname.lastname@example.org.