Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - New Mexico beef and dairy producers can go back to school to learn how to build better beef.
The voluntary two- to three-hour classes are part of an ongoing series of beef quality assurance training workshops from New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. The workshops, designed to help producers improve consumer confidence and boost profits, will teach them how to minimize defects in beef.
The educational upgrades began more than a decade ago when the National Cattlemen's Association, now the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, launched a program to maximize consumer confidence and acceptance, said Ron Parker, head of NMSU's Extension Animal Resources Department in Las Cruces. The classes combine science, research and education to teach production methods that focus on quality from the ranch to the dinner table.
"We know consumers are concerned about the quality and wholesomeness of the food that they eat, so that has to be our main goal," Parker said. Beef growers must accept responsibility for producing meat that is free of blemishes and residues and assure buyers that the products they buy are safe and wholesome, he said.
Moreover, there are national and international marketing concerns. The U.S. beef industry is moving toward a value-based marketing system in which animals are sold on individual merit, not on group averages based on class and weight, Parker said. "In the future we may have mandatory individual animal identification in the United States," Parker said. "Should that occur, the certified producer may have a competitive marketing advantage."
The New Mexico Beef Quality Assurance Program is sponsored by the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, Dairy Producers of New Mexico, New Mexico Livestock Board, New Mexico Beef Council and related organizations and allied industries. Extension provides the leadership and instructors, while the livestock board certifies attendees.
Clay Mathis, an Extension livestock specialist, said classes initially focused on the fact that too many cattle were coming to market in the 1980s with needle injection damage. Put simply, they were being poked in the wrong places.
Now, the state's beef and dairy producers have clear directions on recommended needle sizes and types for vaccination, he said. In addition, the program has expanded to cover how beef quality is measured, how to treat sick animals, and monitoring drug withdrawal time, as well as the influence of calf health on beef quality.
Other topics include drug storage and the cost of defects associated with decreased beef quality. Finally, the program concentrates on good record keeping. Recommended data includes individual animal identification, date treated, product administered and dosage used. It also emphasizes recording the route and location of injection, who administered the product and the date the animal will clear a withdrawal period.
"These are precisely the type of things that affect consumer confidence and satisfaction," Mathis said.
The educational program has two levels. Those who attend the training sessions and pass a brief written test receive a certificate as Beef Quality Assurance Trained Producers. Those who want to use the program as a marketing tool for their livestock need to complete two additional requirements.
First, they must sign a Critical Management Plan Affidavit of Compliance. Second, they must obtain a veterinarian's signature on a document indicating they have a valid veterinarian/client/patient relationship. Producers completing this phase of the program will be designated as Beef Quality Assurance Certified Producers. In addition to a certificate, they will receive a wallet-size identification card.
Those interested in attending the workshops can contact their local county Extension offices for dates of the next training sessions. Most sessions will be held this spring and early summer. Training costs $10 per person, and the Livestock Board's certification fee is an additional $10.
Separate training sessions are available specifically for the state's dairy producers, said Mike Looper, an Extension dairy specialist. "The dairy beef quality assurance workshops are an excellent avenue for getting the message out that not only do we need to produce quality milk, but also quality beef as well," he said.
Looper said the dairy program includes much of the same material presented in the beef sessions, but also focuses on milk quality issues. The dairy workshops are presented in both English and Spanish. Since many of New Mexico's dairy facilities tend to be concentrated, Looper said the training and certification programs will be scheduled at central locations.
"For instance, one dairy in Clovis may actually be the host site for six or seven surrounding dairies," Looper said. The target audience is those who handle animals and give injections on a daily basis.
"We want to be perfectly clear that this is a voluntary program," Parker said. "It's not being forced on anyone." But, he stressed, quality concerns aren't going away. Already, some buyers are offering a premium for cattle that come from certified operations.
The United States has the largest fed-cattle industry in the world and is the world's largest producer of beef, primarily high-quality, grain-fed beef for domestic and export use. Today, New Mexico ranks seventh in U.S. dairy production and 21st in total U.S. cattle production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
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