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Beef Quality Corner -- VQA Program Update

Livestock Update, June 1999

Bill R. McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, Virginia Tech

The VQA (Virginia Quality Assured) feeder cattle program was developed for the feeder cattle producer who believes in making a value added product. The VQA tag program allows that producer to have his feeder cattle identified as having increased value added at the farm level. That added value may be in the form of an improved health program and can additionally include improved genetics for growth. With fewer graded feeder cattle sales requiring a vaccination program for their feeder calf sales, a segment of producers have understood that the secret to healthier feeder cattle begins on the farm where they were born. This segment of cow/calf producers understand that repeat feeder cattle sales depend on the long-term satisfaction by the cattle feeder with the cattle he buys and puts in his yard.

During the past two fall seasons, roughly 6000 head of VQA feeder cattle have been sold. When compared to graded, feeder cattle sales conducted during the same week, the VQA feeder cattle brought an additional $3.65 per cwt. advantage. With the average VQA sale weight of approximately 600 pounds, that is nearly a $22 per head premium for the tagged calves.

The VQA cattle have been marketed by their owners in a number of methods. A couple of local feeder cattle associations have conducted exclusive sales for VQA calves. The Fredericksburg and Harrisonburg associations have planned VQA sales for the fall of 1999. A number of calves have been marketed through the Telo-auction field sales in load lots by either one owner or a group of owners. Individual owners also brought their certified and tagged calves to their local graded feeder cattle sales where the calves were sold in ownership lots. Marketing method appeared to have a significant impact on price premiums paid, with load lots of similar cattle bringing the highest prices. Situations that cause VQA cattle to get mixed and lose identity by the time they reach the final buyer tend to result in lower price premiums.

Characteristics of profitable feeder cattle include no visits to the hospital pen and rapid, efficient growth in the feedlot. The VQA program was designed to address these factors and identify cattle with added value as they enter the marketing chain. The VQA program has four levels of certification: Gold tag, Gold tag with "W," Purple tag, and Purple tag with "W." Gold tagged cattle have gone through a certified health program. Feeder cattle with purple tags carry the benefits of the health program plus are sired by bulls with superior growth.

Gold tagVaccinated against 7 strains of clostridial, IBR, BVD, PI3, 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 tagSame health program as Gold tag. Calves sired by bulls which meet minimum requirements for yearling weight EPD. (If yearling weight EPD is unavailable, the weaning weight EPD may be used.) Breed of sire identified on the tag.

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.

EPD Minimum Requirements for Purple Tag Certification
For Bulls Born in 1997 and 1998


The minimum EPD levels are specific to the year in which the bull was born and are basically set at breed average. The exceptions to the breed average EPD threshold are the Charolais, Gelbvieh, and Simmental breeds. For those three breeds, the threshold is set for the top 70% of the breed. Minimum EPD levels for bulls born in earlier years are available through the local Extension office or the Virginia Cattlemen's Association.

The health and genetic information on the calves must be certified by a third party who has received training in the VQA program. In every area of the state, there are veterinarians and Extension agents who are trained to be VQA third party certifiers. Sellers of VQA calves must also have attended an educational program dealing with beef quality assurance. Brochures further explaining the Virginia Quality Assured feeder cattle program are available at the Virginia Cattlemen's Association.

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