Safe and sustainable are two words that Alabama’s cattle industry takes very seriously. Having enjoyed record high output, it is still more important than ever to improve production practices to supply consumers with top-quality food while still maximizing the well-being of the animals.
Beef Cattle Safety
One of the most important aspects safeguarding the state’s cattle industry is the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. Provided by Alabama’s Cooperative Extension System, the training focuses on using common sense combined with appropriate management tools and the latest science-based research. The program’s goal is to ensure that animals receive the best care possible, which includes low-stress handling, vaccine administration and facility design.
When it came to BQA certification, Clay Kennamer of Jackson County, who manages a stocker operation, just knew “it was the right thing to do,” he says. In a single year, his operation handles more than 3,000 cattle. So it’s critical that he and his team are informed about how to “adhere to proper techniques and use all the proper dosages” when it comes to vaccinations, he explains.
“We also try to keep our facilities as animal-friendly as possible,” Kennamer says. “I’d rather get the animals to do what I want to do, the way they want to do it,” because this mindset makes it easier and less stressful on everyone.
“When we are setting up the facility, we try to look at it the way the cow looks at it,” he says. For example, understanding how lighting, dangling objects and gate placement will impact the herd.
Jonathan Gladney, a regional extension agent with BQA, often receives calls about modifying work pens so that they flow well for the animal and the handlers. Upon request, he helps design facilities to better fit the contour of the land and utilize resources that the rancher already has.
“You don’t have to buy the greatest and latest. Just some simple things can make life a whole lot easier … [such as] walking through that facility like you’re the animal,” Gladney says. During BQA training, there is a facility checklist used to assess and prioritize changes that improve safety and comfort. “It’s better for both the animals and the cowboys.”
BQA also helps beef producers reduce animal sickness, learn proper techniques for vaccinations without causing detriment to the product and gain access to a large network sharing information and resources.
Focus On Sustainability
Another important feature of Alabama’s cattle industry is its increasing sustainability. One of the biggest changes has been the ability to raise fewer cattle while increasing output through better genetics and buying better bulls.
“Instead of a 350-to-400-pound calf going to the market, we’ve now got 550-to-700-pound calves going to market. We’re producing more pounds of beef, higher quality beef, with fewer cattle than we did 20 or 30 years ago,” says Billy Powell, Ph.D., Alabama Cattlemen’s Association executive vice president.
Alabama’s climate and landscape are ideally suited to maximize the production of beef cattle, ranking the industry second behind poultry in cash receipts. Since farmers are typically diversified, raising cattle has blended in well with other facets of their livelihood.
“Every beef producer’s goal is to produce a very high-quality, safe, wholesome product for the consumer,” Dr. Powell says.