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The Cattle Business - Virginia Quality Assured Feeder Cattle

Livestock Update, July 1997

Bill McKinnon, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

The Virginia Cattlemen's Association has launched its Virginia Quality Assured Feeder Cattle program this summer. The VQA program is an ear tag certification program which identifies feeder cattle with improved vaccination and/or genetic background as they enter the marketing process. Several southeastern states have somewhat similar ear tag certification programs such as the Kentucky Gold or Southeastern Pride programs.

The VQA program has two areas of certification. These are vaccination history and genetic merit of the sire of the feeder cattle. There is also a color code system to the tag program. Cattle to which an approved health and vaccination program has been administered will be identified with a gold ear tag. Cattle that additionally were sired by bulls with superior genetics will be identified by a purple ear tag with the breed of sire designated on the tag. Additionally, cattle which have been weaned and backgrounded will be identified with a "W" on the tag.

The Gold Tag cattle are referred to as "health program assured." The Gold Tag guidelines are minimums for each of the additional program levels. These cattle must be vaccinated for IBR, BVD, PI3, 7 strain clostridial (blackleg), and Pastuerella (with leukotoxoid) at least 14 days before sale date. (Vaccinations are to be given according to label directions, except the initial dose of vaccines requiring a booster may be given at any time after the calves are 4 months; thus extending the period between the initial and booster doses. All required vaccinations must be given after the calves are 120 days old and at least 14 days before sale). Following label directions include administering a booster shot, if called for. This procedure may be referred to as "double vaccinating." All vaccinations are to be given in the neck area. Participating producers must attend a beef quality assurance educational program. A processing map listing the vaccine product, date, location, etc. must accompany the cattle at sale time. Additionally, the cattle must be owned by the seller at least 60 days and weigh at least 400 pounds, be dehorned, castrated, and healed. Heifers will be guaranteed open similar to graded calf sales with a rebate due on heifers found by the buyer to be bred. A similar guaranteed against stags will also be in place.

Cattle meeting the Gold Tag requirements that have also been weaned and started on feed will meet the Gold "W" tag criteria. These calves must be weaned at least 30 days and feed and water trough broke.

The Purple Tag program recognizes those feeder cattle sired by bulls with superior growth genetics. Feeder cattle tagged with the purple tag must meet the health requirements of the Gold Tag program plus the breed of the bull siring the cattle will be identified on the tag. For cattle sired by British breed (Angus, Hereford, Red Angus, Shorthorn, etc.) bulls the yearling weight EPD of the bull must be at least breed average for year in which the bull was born. For continental breed (Charolais, Gelbvieh, Limousin, Salers, Simmental, Tarentais, etc.) sired cattle, the bull's yearling weight EPD must be above "0" for the year in which the bull was born. In absence of a yearling weight EPD, the weaning weight EPD may be used to qualify the bull. In multiple bull breeding pastures, all bulls would have to meet the minimum EPD levels for the calves to qualify for the purple tag. The Purple Tag cattle sets Virginia's program ahead of the surrounding states.

To qualify for the Purple "W" tag program, the cattle must meet all the Purple Tag criteria plus be preweaned as in the Gold "W" requirements.

The health and/or genetic minimums for the cattle must be certified by a qualified third party. To maintain some consistency within the program the third party certifier must have participated in an educational program which discusses the VQA program in depth. To this point approximately 30 veterinarians and a similar number of Extension agents are registered as certifiers. Both the seller's and certifier's signature must appear on the certification form which accompanies the cattle at marketing.

The VQA tags are available from the Virginia Cattlemen's Association for $1.50 each and should be requested with an "VQA Tag Request Form" which asks for some preliminary information regarding background and marketing expectations of the cattle. The forms will be available from the Virginia Cattlemen's Association and the local Extension office.

The cattle may be marketed through whatever means the producer wishes. The seller should utilize a marketing method which recognizes the value of the health and genetic information symbolized by the tag. Early indications are that several load lots from single owners and multiple owners will make use of the tagging program. One feeder cattle sales group has also expressed interest in an all VQA sale.

Feeder cattle sold under similar certification programs in other states have brought their owners another estimated $3 to $5 per hundredweight. The best evidence of the perceived value of certified health program in Virginia is the Dublin backgrounded calf sales held the last three years. The Dublin backgrounded calves would essentially qualify for the Gold "W" tag. When compared to special graded sales held during the same week, the Dublin calves have averaged $1.20 to $7.39/cwt. higher.

Table 1.
Price Advantage on Dublin Backgrounded Calf Sales Compared to Other Graded Sales During the Same Week ($/Cwt.)- 3 Year Average
 Sex5-599 lb. 6-699 lb. 7-799 lb.


The goals of the Virginia Quality Assured program are several: 1) Improve the health and genetics of Virginia feeder cattle; 2) Identify feeder cattle with superior health and/or genetic history to improve their marketability in an effort to reward the producer for his efforts; 3) Provide a marketing tool for Virginia feeder cattle producers; 4) Enhance the reputation of Virginia feeder cattle; 5) Provide a potential system for feedback as to feedlot and carcass performance; 6) Improve communication between Virginia feeder cattle producers and buyers.

The Virginia Quality Assured feeder cattle program has been referred to as "Virginia's first step in value based marketing." The program is certainly an attempt to provide feeder cattle with honest, healthy cattle with feedlot performance. As the industry moves toward value based marketing, the cattle feeder will put more stock in predictable cattle backed by reliable producers.

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