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Beef Quality Corner - VQA Feeder Cattle Program Update

Livestock Update, June 2001

Bill R. McKinnon & Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientists, VA Tech

Four years after its implementation, the Virginia Quality Assured feeder cattle program continues to be a successful alternative in offering buyers a certified value-added product. Over 3300 head of VQA certified feeder cattle were sold during 2000 at a distinct price advantage compared to graded, in-barn sales during the same week.

The Virginia Quality Assured feeder cattle program was initiated by the Virginia Cattlemen's Association for those feeder cattle owners who believe in producing a value-added product. At the same time, several cow/calf operators are seeking a means of identifying and differentiating their cattle with added value from the average set of feeder cattle. The value added is in the form of an improved health program and can additionally include improved genetics for growth. The VQA program has four levels of certification: Gold tag, Gold tag with "W," Purple tag, and Purple tag with "W."

Gold tag Vaccinated against 7 strains of clostridial, IBR, BVD, PI3, BRSV, and Pasteurella. Castrated, dehorned and healed. Heifers guaranteed open.
Gold tag with "W" Same health program as Gold tag with the calves weaned at least 30 days and drinking from a water trough and eating from a feed bunk.
Purple tag Same health program as Gold tag. Calves sired by bulls which meet minimum requirements for yearling weight EPD.
Purple tag with "W' Same health and genetic requirements as the Purple tag with the calves weaned at least 30 days and drinking from a water trough and eating from a feed bunk.

Virginia Quality Assured Program: Purple Tag Sire EPD Specifications

The Virginia Quality Assured feeder calf program certifies cattle for health, management, and genetic specifications. The VQA purple tag is used to identify cattle that meet both the prescribed health program and are sired by bulls that meet minimum growth EPD specifications. These sire growth EPD specifications are intended to assure a reasonable level of growth genetics in the cattle which should be translated into performance once they reach the feed yard.

In recent years, the majority of the VQA cattle sold have carried the purple tag. For cattle to receive the purple tag, their sire must meet breed-specific yearling weight EPD minimums. Yearling weight EPD is the best indicator of genetic potential for post-weaning growth of a sire's progeny. In the case of feeder cattle, post-weaning growth may be defined as feedlot performance or average daily gain. The positive and strong relationship between feedlot performance and feed efficiency results in yearling weight EPD being our most effective tool for enhancement of feedlot profitability. Under most conditions, feed efficiency is the single most important performance factor that relates to profit or loss in the feed yard. Unfortunately, due to the challenge of measuring feed efficiency on individual cattle, genetic selection tools for direct enhancement of feed efficiency are not available. Therefore, yearling weight EPD is our best indicator of both feedlot performance and feed efficiency.

The following table lists the breed minimum yearling weight EPD requirements for bulls born in 2000. Bulls who have yearling weight EPDs greater than or equal to the minimums published may sire purple tag-eligible calves. In the event a bull does not have a yearling weight EPD, weaning weight EPD is used as the specification. These EPD specifications are based on information published in the Spring 2001 breed sire evaluation summaries and will be applicable to yearling bulls purchased fall 2001 and spring 2002.

The sire EPD specifications have been set at breed average for birth year of the bull for British breeds. Due to the growth advantages inherent to the Continental breeds, Charolais, Gelbvieh, and Simmental bulls must have a yearling weight EPD in the top 70th percentile of their respective breed to qualify. Across-breed research data has been consulted to arrive at the requirements for each breed. Additionally, the minimum specifications have been set so that selection for other economically important traits (calving ease, milk, frame size, etc.) in addition to growth is not compromised. The increased use of percentage Continental-breed bulls in commercial crossbreeding programs warrants the inclusion of distinct EPD specifications for these bulls. Since these percentage bulls commonly are composed of a mix of Continental and British breeding, their minimum EPD values have been set to reflect this mix of genetics. In other words, the _ Simmental bull minimum YW EPD requirement of +32 reflects the cross of a PB Simmental (minimum YW EPD +52) and an Angus (minimum YW EPD +56) when breed differences are accounted for.

VQA Purple Tag
Sire Minimum EPD Requirements
Breed (EPD requirement) Minimum
Angus (breed average) +56 +31
PB and >7/8 Charolais (top 70th percentile) +17 +9
7/8 Charolais +13 +5
3/4 Charolais +9 +3
PB and percentage Gelbvieh (top 70th percentile) +56 +32
Hereford (breed average) +56 +33
Limousin (breed average) +21 +11
Saler (breed average) +20 +12
PB and 7/8 Simmental (top 70th percentile) +52 +31
3/4 Simmental +43 +26
1/2 Simmental +32 +18
for other breeds contact the local Extension office
aWW EPD only used in the absence of YW EPD.

Before producers go to the effort to VQA-certify calves, thought should be given to the how the cattle will be marketed. Simply showing up at a sale with a load of VQA tagged calves without previous contact with market operator is likely to lead to disappointment. Additionally, experience has shown that a VQA tag will tend not to help the sale price of inferior quality cattle.

The VQA tagged feeder cattle were marketed through several different methods during the year. Many of the cattle were sold in commingled load lots through telo-auctions or in board sales during graded sales. Groups of cattlemen from the Buckingham, Amelia, and Highland/Bath areas marketed several loads of cattle comprised of multiple ownersą cattle. In few cases, single owners marketed their VQA calves via telo-auctions. The Fredericksburg feeder cattle association has held special VQA graded sales for the last two years. Whitestone Farm also sponsors a VQA feeder cattle sale each fall for their bull customers.

2000 VQA Feeder Cattle
Special Graded Sales

of Head
Steers 2275 661 $2.42 $16.00
Heifers 1068 612 $3.56$21.78
Weighted Average   645 $2.77 $17.84

The roughly 3300 head of VQA feeder cattle sold in 2000 were generally either heavier weight calves or backgrounded cattle. Approximately 93% of the VQA steers ranged from 500 to 800 pounds. Almost 94% of the heifers marketed with the VQA tag weighed between 400 and 700 pounds with 88% of the heifers in the 5 and 6-weight categories. Cost estimates to process cattle to qualify them for VQA certification run about $6.50 per head including labor.

Four Year History VQA Feeder Cattle
Special Graded Sales

Weight Premium
500-599 lb. + $4.27 400-499 lb. + $2.62
600-699 lb. + $3.65 500-599 lb. + $3.57
700-799 lb. + $1.27 600-699 lb. + $2.89

The Virginia Quality Assured feeder cattle program is less than four years old. The reputation of VQA cattle is now being established with potential buyers. The buyer feedback to this point has been basically excellent. Several groups of sellers have made a special effort to follow up with buyers of their VQA cattle to insure the program is truly generating value-added feeder cattle.

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