Va. Quality Assurance program means more money for beef farmers
DUBLIN, Va. — The Virginia Quality Assurance program is providing the state’s beef producers opportunities to add to the income they get from their cattle without adding animals to their herd.
Butch Foster, a field manager for the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, in an interview here, outlined the steps for preconditioning feeder calves prior to selling them, and discussed the advantages to both sellers and buyers.
He traced the history of the program since the mid-1990s.
He explained producers must be participants in the VQA program. The feeder calves must be weaned at least 45 days prior to the sale.
Their health must be certified by a third party. Their vaccinations must be up-to-date and given according to label. Only large and medium frame cattle are accepted.
No bulls or horned cattle can be sold in the VQA sales and all heifers must be guaranteed open.
The goal is to put together a trailer load of like cattle. In much of the state, especially Southwest Virginia, where the industry is built on many small farms, this means co-mingling cattle from various farms. This leads to a lot of team work from farm to sale day.
“The whole program revolves around Extension agents,” Foster said as he leaned on the hood of his pick up and reflected on the program. “They really do the leg work. The area farmers trust the Extension agents.”
He explained that these Extension agents love the people and animals they are working with and put in many late hours and travel many miles to get the job done.
This attitude of appreciation for Extension and one another was an underlying theme with all those interviewed for this article.
Foster was in town to help with a VCA tel-o-auction at the Pulaski County Livestock Market, just one such location he visits regularly.
“It’s just a good way to make a little more money by weaning, vaccinating and feeding your cattle,” Phillip Bundy, president of the Abingdon Feeder Cattle Association, said of VQA in a telephone interview. “It’s somewhere you don’t have to have more cattle and you can make a little more money.”
He noted that the time between weaning and selling the calves is a time for them to graze and add to their weight.
The group Bundy heads is a leader in helping add value to feeder cattle here in Southwest Virginia. It entered the program in 2005.
Scott Jessee, Russell County Extension agent and advisor to the industry, keeps a spread sheet showing the prices participating farmers have received since the program started there.
He said approximately 75,000 head of cattle shipped in 1,010 trailer loads have rolled down the hill from the Tri-State Livestock Market in Abingdon since the VQA program was introduced there. He said VQA had added $6,900 to every trailer load.
Here in Pulaski County, the program is much younger, having been started in 2016.
“In total we have had 18 sales, marketing almost 8,000 feeder calves with an average per head premium of $76.41 and a total added value of $595,131.38,” Pulaski County Extension agent Morgan Paulette wrote in a Nov. 9 email.
One more VQA sale has been held here since then and figures are being tabulated.
Foster and retired Extension veterinarian Dee Whitter recalled that the concept began in Virginia with farmers in Buckingham and Amelia counties looking for better ways to market their cattle.
The idea drew the attention of leaders from VCA and Virginia Tech, including then executive secretary Reggie Reynolds, Virginia Tech’s Bill McKinnon and Whitter as well as others.
Preweaning calves is a key to the success of the program but it was first resisted by buyers-they did not want to pay more for these kinds of calves.
“The day of selling bawling calvers from stockyards is over is you are interested in making money and keeping up with expenses,” Bundy declared.
Foster said the initial reaction of buyers was that they could take care of the unweaned calves themselves. He noted that once a buyer purchases the first set of the VQA cattle they are what he wants.
Whittier provided two views of the program: he was a leader in Virginia Tech’s efforts at developing it; now his family is using it to market their beef cattle on a recently purchased Pulaski County farm. He is a passionate believer in preweaning to reduce the stress placed on calves being moved long distances to very different environments.
Whitter listed the better antibiotics that have become available for prevention of illnesses and preweaning as the two most important changes he has seen in his professional career.
’We’ve got to improve management so we use a minimum amount of antibiotics,” he observed.
“As a producer, I’m delighted there are people willing to pay me for doing just a little more.”
“It’s a no-brainer for my family,” Freddy Akers, a new-comer to the program said in a telephone interview.
The Pulaski County cattleman said he and his soon are looking forward to a BQA sale here in January. It will be the third they have used to market their cattle.
Foster finds the buyers across the country are just as pleased with Virginia’s Quality Assurance Cattle. He gets calls every day seeking them.
“By us all working together, we are all able to offer something they are interested in,” Jessee said.