K-State study showcases beef quality assessment tool
A recent study by Kansas State University's Beef Cattle Institute indicated that most Kansas feedlots are handling cattle in a low stress, humane manner and have protocols in place designed to ensure beef safety.
"Last year the Beef Cattle Institute and the Kansas Beef Council partnered to host seven meetings across the state, which resulted in nearly 1,200 beef producers and veterinarians becoming Beef Quality Assurance Certified," said Dan Thomson, professor in K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the BCI.
During the sessions, participants were trained in areas of low-stress cattle handling, antibiotic residue avoidance, cattle comfort, food safety, downed animal care, preconditioning practices and other areas of feedlot, cow-calf and stocker cattle production. The participants also took part in a necropsy wet lab, which led to discussions on disease control and treatment programs for cattle.
"This program has developed into an annual event and we are already planning the sessions and locations for next summer. We are very thankful for the support and partnership with the Kansas Beef Council and the Kansas Livestock Association," said Thomson, who serves as the animal welfare adviser to McDonald's and the Food Marketing Institute and has chaired the World Organization for Animal Health's Beef Cattle Production and Animal Welfare Committee.
Training of individuals on best management practices in the beef industry is a focus of the BCI. After the training sessions, a team of scientists and graduate students from K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine and Department of Animal Sciences and Industry conducted a follow-up "on farm" assessment of animal welfare and food safety practices on Kansas feedlots.
The goal of the study, which was funded by the Kansas Beef Council, was to use a new Feedlot Beef Quality Assessment tool developed by veterinarians, animal scientists and producers to assess activities related to cattle handling and comfort, antibiotic residue avoidance, employee training and other areas of cattle feeding in respect to food safety and animal welfare. K-State experts visited farms to assess how they handled those activities, including the condition of feed bunks and water tanks, protocols for emergency preparedness and issues surrounding food safety such as accurate treatment records and drug residue avoidance programs.
Thomson said the BQA program has evolved and encompasses everything from how to prevent antimicrobial residues to making sure cattle producers are producing safe, wholesome beef from cattle raised in a humane manner.
In the study, the research team evaluated feedlots on 18 best management practices, including whether feedlots had protocols in place for such practices as drug residue avoidance; maintaining a veterinary-client relationship; cattle welfare and handling during inclement weather; pen maintenance; personnel training documentation; individual animal health records and others.
The feedlots evaluated have the capacity to provide feed and care for a total of almost 2 million animals at one time, which represents about 85 percent of the entire one-time capacity of all feedlots in Kansas.
"Overwhelmingly, 98 percent of the assessments found that Kansas feedyards do a great job of low-stress cattle handling within the state of Kansas," Thomson said. "The thing people should understand is that feedlot managers, pen riders, processing crews and other people in the feedyards are working hard day to day to assure the proper care of the cattle. Cattle care is critical to the health, the well-being and the performance of cattle, which is directly tied to the profitability of the feedyard. We knew Kansas cattle feeders were doing an outstanding job in these areas. It is nice to have a tool, such as the BQA Feedlot assessment tool, to quantify the success of the feedlot industry's hard work."
Thomson said he was pleased to find that cattle handling practices were in line with what notable animal behavior specialists such as Bud Williams, Temple Grandin and Tom Noffsinger teach.
"We've spent a lot of time in the beef industry on low-stress cattle handling," he said, noting that through observation of more than 5,000 head of cattle being worked through the chute in Kansas feedyards in the study, less than 4 percent usage rate of a "hot shot" driving aid on cattle was observed. "This is outstanding when up to 10 percent usage rate is considered acceptable (in the industry)."
All feedlots in the study had a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship, Thomson said. This relationship is important as the veterinarian works daily with feedlot operators in activities such as clinical definition for sick or injured cattle, preventative medicine, proper drug handling, employee training on castration and de-horning procedures, low-stress cattle handling and other food safety and animal welfare practices.
One area that feedyards can continue to improve, Thomson said, is documentation of their production practices at the level of the cattle operation: "Situations vary somewhat from industry to industry, farm to farm, season to season. Cattle feeders in Hawaii, for instance, face somewhat different challenges than those in Montana. Therefore, the BQA assessment tool comes with formats for 18 best management practices for cattle feeding operations. These protocols can be taken by the farmer or rancher through consultation with their veterinarian, nutritionist or other animal production specialist to develop these protocols for the individual farm or cattle population."
"Cattle, farms, people, climates and resources for cattle raising are not cookie cutter," he added. "Cattle are raised all around the world in many different systems. We cannot simply write best management practices once and expect them to fit all operations within the same county let alone for operations nationally or globally. We're encouraging feedlot, stocker and cow-calf operations to set up protocols and systems for their specific needs, location and system."
"For instance, consider an adverse weather event," Thomson said. "Who will be in charge of identifying cattle at risk? Who will handle the activities that need to occur in such a situation?"
He noted that one producer who set up a best management practice protocol for heat stress and followed it, estimated that following the plan not only saved lives of cattle, but also saved the feedlot $350,000 to $400,000 in that one event.
"A couple of key reasons why these plans are important are first, to have a checklist to make sure that we get the cattle care job done appropriately, so we don't duplicate effort, and that we don't skip effort," Thomson said. "The second reason would be if anyone made a claim of abuse or neglect against the feedlot, cow/calf or stocker operation, the farmer and rancher can go directly to his or her notebook or file to show the exact procedures that employees have been trained to follow by veterinarians, nutritionists and others. Cattlemen have excellent cattle care practices, we just need to document what we do."
The K-State team provided participating feedlots with a template in which they could add their management practices and signage showing that the operations had gone through the Beef Quality Assurance assessment program.
Thomson believes that the kind of assessment done by the team will help reinforce best management practices in feedlots not only in the state, but across the country.
More detailed information about the study can be found on the K-State Extension agricultural economics website, www.agmanager.info.