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Beef Quality Corner ­ VQA Feeder Cattle Program Update

Livestock Update, July 2002

Bill R. McKinnon and Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientists, Virginia Tech

Five years after its implementation, the Virginia Quality Assured feeder cattle program continues to be a successful option for offering buyers a certified, value-added product. During 2001, over 4000 head of VQA certified feeder cattle were sold 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 value-added cattle from an average set of feeder cattle. The value added is in the form of an improved health program, along with an opportunity to document 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 that there is 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 sirešs 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 2001. 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 2002 breed sire evaluation summaries, and will be applicable to yearling bulls purchased fall 2002 and spring 2003.

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.

VQA Purple Tag Sire Minimum EPD Requirements
Breed (EPD requirement) Minimum YW EPD Minimum WW EPDa
Angus (breed average) +61 +33
PB and >7/8 Charolais (top 70th percentile)
7/8 Charolais
3/4 Charolais
Gelbvieh (top 70th percentile) +56 +30
Hereford (breed average) +57 +34
Limousin (breed average) +23 +12
Red Angus (breed average) 49 28
Salers (breed average) +21 +13
PB and 7/8 Simmental (top 70th percentile) +52 +31
3/4 Simmental
1/2 Simmental
Tarentaise (breed average)
for other breeds or earlier born bulls, 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.

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. Groups of cattlemen from the Buckingham, Amelia, and Highland/Bath areas marketed several loads of cattle comprised of multiple owners' 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.

2001 VQA Feeder Cattle vs. Special Graded Sales

 Number of Head Average Weight Premium $/Cwt. Premium S/Head
Steers 2739 681 $3.25 $22.11
Heifers 1289 640 $2.78 $17.77
Weighted Average 4028 668 $3.10 $20.72

The roughly 4000 head of VQA feeder cattle sold in 2001 were generally either heavier weight calves or backgrounded cattle. Approximately 98% of the VQA steers ranged from 500 to 900 pounds. Almost 92% of the heifers marketed with the VQA tag weighed between 500 and 800 pounds with 76% of the heifers in the 5 and 6-weight categories. As might have been assumed in most cases there was little price advantage to selling steers over 800 pounds and heifers over 700 pounds with the VQA tag. Conversely in 2001, the 500­800 pound steers brought a premium of $4.04 per cwt. or $26.49 per head. Cost estimates to process cattle to qualify them for VQA certification run about $6.50 per head including labor.

Five Year History VQA Feeder Cattle vs. Special Graded Sales

Steers Heifers
WeightPremium $/Cwt.WeightPremium $/Cwt.
500-599 lb. + $4.25 400-499 lb. + $2.14
600-699 lb. + $3.69 500-599 lb. + $3.82
700-799 lb. + $1.85 600-699 lb. + $2.79

When carefully exploring the data, it also appears that putting a VQA tag in lower quality or inconsistent cattle will not help them garner premium prices. For example one load of backgrounded 780 pound heifers was described as 21 black, 8 BWF, 19 Charolais X, 2 Simmental X, 10 Red X and 2 Herefords grading 23 L1's, 23 M1's, and 16 LM2's did not bring a premium to the special graded sales.

One requirement of producers selling VQA cattle has been for them to participate in some form of Beef Quality Assurance education. A change underway is to have VQA sellers Beef Quality Assurance certified. A growing trend nationwide is the BQA certification of beef producers to enhance the adoption of best management practices, to further ensure the production of safe and defect-free beef. In a growing number of beef alliances, participants must be BQA certified under their state program. The packing and feeding industries in Pennsylvania have recently put more emphasis on the certification of cattle producers. The Virginia Beef Quality Assurance program consists of both classroom and chute-side training and an agreement by producers to operate under a set of nationally accepted BQA best management practices. A few Virginia marketing groups have already become certified. Effort is underway to help more producer become certified to enhance the marketability of their cattle.

The reputation of VQA cattle is now being established with potential buyers. The overall buyer feedback to this point has been excellent. The recognition of the improved health and growth behind the VQA tag is growing where ever the cattle are finished and marketed.

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