Ross Greden sorts a cow in his family’s freestall barn using tips he learned from Beef Quality Assurance training. 
Ross Greden sorts a cow in his family’s freestall barn using tips he learned from Beef Quality Assurance training. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
    ALTURA, Minn. – Because they are dairy producers, the Greden family knows they are also beef producers.
    “Naturally our cull animals are turned into beef just like the Angus-bred [and other breeds of] beef animals. We’re already producing beef so we might as well use the same set of protocols,” Ross Greden said.
    The protocols Greden is referring to are a part of the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program, which he follows on his 550-cow dairy he owns with his brother, Brent, and their dad, Larry, and their families near Altura, Minn.
    “The BQA program is the gold standard of best management practices for producing safe, healthy, wholesome beef,” said Ashley Kohls, BQA coordinator with the Minnesota Beef Council.
    Every five years, a National Beef Quality Audit is conducted, surveying the quality of beef in the United States and measuring how that has changed over time.
    There are two areas to the audit: feeder cattle and market cows and bulls. On the feeder cattle side, Kohls said 20 percent of animals in the most recent audit were dairy influenced beef – animals that had hides that looked like Holsteins. That is a 5.5 percent increase from the 2011 audit.
    “That is the highest it has ever been,” Kohls said.
    In the market cow and bull side of the audit, findings show that the number of lame dairy cows decreased by 24.6 percent and the number of dairy cows with a body condition score over 3 went up 9 percent since 2007.
    Along with the audit, additional research was conducted to determine the presence of injection-site lesions. It found that the frequency of injection-site lesions decreased 20 percent in dairy-type carcasses since 2000.
    The Market Cow and Bull Executive Summary highlighted a few of these improvements.
    “Significant improvements have been made in the cow and bull quality – especially on the dairy side. The National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program, … has raised the quality bar for the entire dairy industry, creating a culture of continuous improvement,” the summary read.
     If a dairy producer sells his or her milk to a dairy processor that is a part of the National Dairy FARM Program, the dairy has taken BQA as a part of their FARM certification.
    As a member-owner of Associated Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI), the Gredens went through the training a few years ago and will need to be recertified as long as they sell milk to a processor as a part of the FARM program.
    “BQA is complimentary to their (FARM) training,” Greden said.
     Kohls said it is always important to be reminded of BQA practices, regardless if a dairy has been certified or not.
    “When I’m talking to dairy farmers about BQA, the first thing I mention is that the dairy cows in the barn have two careers,” she said. “It’s always a plea to have them treat this milk cow like she’s going to be a beef cow in the future.”
    Kohls mentioned the eight areas of focus in the BQA program – animal care, handling and transportation; early marketing to avoid lame or disabled cattle; management of feed, feed additives and medication; management of animal health products to prevent residues; prevention of injection site lesions and abscesses; maximizing carcass value; biosecurity or animal identification; and record keeping.
    Two areas Kohls stresses the most when talking about BQA are managing animal health products to prevent residues and preventing abscesses and lesions at the injection site.
    “Those are the two beginning points to the BQA program,” Kohls said. “The whole reason the BQA program started in the first place is because we had issues with residues from antibiotics in beef.”
    There has been significant improvement in that area, but Kohls said there could be more.
    “USDA comes out every week with violators – people who marketed an animal that had a residue. If you look at that list, 99 percent of them are always dairy breed animals. So I always have to remind folks; this cow is also going to be a beef cow,” Kohls said.
    Dairy farmers also need to remember this when marketing young calves, Kohls said.   
    “A high percentage of animals on that list are baby calves – the calves marketed through a sale barn or to somebody else that end up in the veal supply. The dairy farmer may not realize that’s where that calf is going, but you still need to have that mentality that it could potentially be bought for veal,” Kohls said.
    Because of this, record keeping has becoming increasingly important.
    “Make sure you don’t treat the calf with an antibiotic unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you do, don’t let that calf leave your yard until it’s past the withdrawal time,” Kohls said.
    There has also been significant improvement in injection sites, Kohls said.
    “It is becoming standard to move the injection site from the rear end of the animal up to neck of the animal,” Kohls said. “In the dairy industry, they’ll argue they only ever see the back end of the animal so we’re trying to understand ways of getting access to the front of the animal when they’re installing new parlors … If you have to give it in the back make sure you are giving it in an area where you’re not going to impact the high cut of beef, so making sure you focus on areas around the tailhead.”
    This is an area where the Gredens have made improvements.
    “To a large degree, we were onboard [with the BQA injection sites], but now we are 100 percent,” Greden said. “We won’t touch the rear quarters at all any more for any reason. We will work with that animal and try to get her calmed down rather than give her a shot in the rear quarter. We’ll work with her longer and wait. We’re more patient now.”
    Going through the BQA program also gave them more confidence when giving necessary treatment in the front.
    “BQA gave evidence we could use a little bigger area on the shoulder than what we were using so it expanded our front area …,” Greden said.
    Gredens also learned a lot about cow handling from BQA training.
    “It helped teach us how to keep the animal more calm during transportation – and not just loading up and hauling to town, but moving from pen A to pen B,” Greden said. “We learned the average cow speed is less than the average human speed so immediately we’re in conflict with the animal. Recognize you’re in two different places and to respect their physiological make up – their gait is to move slow. We have to educate ourselves to not become too impatient.”
    The Gredens learned to zigzag while walking behind cows in order to stay in their line of site, how to move them calmly through a narrow pen, how to sort one cow out of a group, how to use visual flags and ways to use a cadence in a person’s voice to speak to an animal.
    “We’re more aware that we should be taking longer and investing more time to get that animal less excited and more comfortable to receive the vaccine, get moved or whatever we have to do,” Greden said.
    Most of all, through the BQA program, the Gredens are constantly reminded they are beef producers even though they have dairy cows.