BLACKSBURG — With more than 1.4 million head of cattle across the commonwealth, Virginia’s beef cattle industry is big business.
But while the cattle market has been favorable over the past few years, producers understand the need to continually improve their operations to stay competitive.
The Virginia Quality Assured certified feeder cattle program provides producers with the means to add value to their cattle, enabling them to receive premium prices for their calves.
Virginia Cooperative Extension partnered with the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association to develop and administer the program, which encourages the use of research-based health and best management practices for feeder cattle. Participants are eligible to market feeder cattle through the Virginia Quality Assured initiative.
Feeder cattle are tagged with purple tags to to verify that they have met the Virginia Quality Assured program standards.
The program, which started in 1997, has marketed more than 125,000 head of feeder cattle, resulting in $6.4 million in value-added income for Virginia’s beef cattle producers.
“Having the ability to add value to Virginia’s beef cattle operations is critical to the sustainability of Virginia agriculture and rural communities,” said Scott Greiner, Virginia Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist.
The initiative would not prosper without the coordinated efforts of all parties involved.
“Part of what makes this program so successful in our area is the collaboration among Extension agents, the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Abingdon Feeder Cattle Association, Tri-State Livestock Market, and the producers,” said Scott Jessee, agriculture and natural resources Extension agent in Russell County. “We all have a role to play.”
Throughout the year, Jessee and his fellow Extension agents and specialists provide producers with valuable health, management, genetic, and marketing information. This education is offered through a variety of methods, including field days, on-farm visits, group meetings and workshops, demonstrations, and distance learning. Extension agents also serve as third-party verifiers to ensure that producers have followed the required vaccination and management protocols. The eligible animals are evaluated and described by VDACS livestock marketing representatives. The cattle are then grouped by similar traits and offered for sale in truckload lots at scheduled intervals on the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association Tel-O-Auction. The livestock market provides the facility and equipment to sort, weigh, and load out cattle.
“Having the cattle groups in tractor trailer loads allows the producers to reach a different level of buyer,” said Jessee.
Philip Bundy, a Russell County cattle producer and president of the Abingdon Feeder Cattle Association, has been marketing cattle through the program since it started in Southwest Virginia 11 years ago.
“We’ve built a reputation of providing high-quality, weaned feeder calves,” said Bundy, a Virginia Tech graduate. “Our cattle are highly sought after, and we are now outselling western cattle.”
The program has taken off in the past couple of years. In 2014, producers in Southwest Virginia more than doubled the number of cattle marketed through the program in 2013.
Written by Lori Greiner