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Happy Cows Mean Better Meat
South Dakota Ag Connection - 06/20/2018

If you're around cows much, you probably know this: Cows move infinitely slower than the people who work with them.

And you can guess which speed causes less stress for cows. Stress matters not simply because less is better than more for all creatures, but because stress in cows, particularly right before they're slaughtered, means the meat may not pass inspection.

Beginning in 2019, Wendy's and Tyson Foods will require all their meat suppliers to be certified in a program emphasizing the most humane ways to raise cattle, according to media reports and industry officials. For years, Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification has been a voluntary national program with training offered within Ohio by Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

But companies are increasingly requiring the certification because consumers want to know where their meat or other food comes from and how it is handled, said Stephen Boyles, OSU Extension beef cattle specialist and state coordinator for Beef Quality Assurance.

"There's just a lot more 'foodies' in our population now," Boyles said, referring to people with a strong interest in high-quality food.

The point of farmers taking Beef Quality Assurance training is to help ensure their meat will be sold for a good price, and that consumers will eat a safe and wholesome beef product, Boyles said.

Training in Beef Quality Assurance includes instruction in handling vaccinations, as well as treatments for sick cows, allowing for withdrawal periods that can prevent drug residue when the cow is slaughtered. Another topic is treating cattle to reduce stress on them, such as directing them into a corral in a way that's efficient and yet takes into account their tendency to dawdle.

"We have to train people to think like a cow," Boyles said.

Boyles teaches people not to rush cows and cause them to fall and potentially bruise themselves, which could affect the quality of their beef.

"If humans are panicked, they really don't work that well. It's the same with cows," Boyles said.

Cows also need a certain amount of personal space, so if someone moves in too close, that can rattle a cow, Boyles said.

"Any sort of stress is going to reduce your animal's performance," he said. "We want that animal to be calm."

The Beef Quality Assurance training that OSU Extension has offered began with an emphasis on how to properly vaccinate and administer drugs to animals. But recently the scope has been expanded to include how to design corrals and transport animals to ensure quality beef.

"We want to make sure our beef producers are ready for market changes," Boyles said.

Times and locations for the series of upcoming BQA certification programs being held for producers throughout Ohio are posted under the events/programs link at the OSU Beef Team website: beef.osu.edu.

Producers interested in getting BQA certified can also do so online at the National BQA website: bqa.org/.

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