Clifford and Virginia Ball are not new to the cattle business. In fact, they have decades of experience producing healthy calves.
For years, the Arkansas City, Kansas, producers would go the extra mile, ensuring whoever purchased their calves was getting a quality product. However, frustration began to set in when their hard work did not pay off when they sold their cattle.
"We were weaning our calves and vaccinating. We were getting put in with everyday cattle," Clifford said. "We didn't like the fact we weren't getting paid for our work. I was sitting around looking at these buyers, who were loving it, but they weren't paying for it."
At the peak of their frustration, the Balls were contacted by Gary Potter, owner of the Blackwell Livestock Auction. Potter invited them and other producers around the area to come visit with representatives from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association.
The visit included dinner, but more importantly, producers listened to a presentation about the Oklahoma Quality Beef Network. Initially, Clifford was not too impressed with the portion of the program that asks producers to keep calves 45 days after weaning, rather than the standard two weeks.
"Are you kidding me? You really want me to feed them another two or three weeks? You know what that's going to cost me?" he thought to himself. "But, (Extension personnel) put it on paper and showed us if you gain so many pounds a day times whatever the market price is, this is how it's going to come out."
After sleeping on it, which, according to Virginia, is when Clifford does his best thinking, he agreed to participate in the program and has never looked back. The first OQBN sale in Blackwell was in 2009.
"The OQBN sales are the top of the line," said Potter. "The quality is exceptional and all the bookwork producers keep for their genetics and vaccinations - it's a good program."
Established in 2001, the initiative educates producers on the best management practices to increase the value of their cattle through its network of beef producers, educators, veterinarians and industry professionals. OQBN provides producers access to added marketing opportunities and helps improve the quality of cattle produced in Oklahoma by increasing communication between all segments of the beef industry.
"There's no question OQBN helps improve the health and nutrition of calves," said David Lalman, OSU Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist. "The strategies and best management practices we promote are proven and effective. That's why buyers are willing to pay more for cattle certified through value enhancement programs like this; it builds trust among segments of the industry."
In 2017, 145 participating producers certified more than 10,000 head of cattle through the program. The prices, which are based on data collected at fall OQBN sales, were $14.24 per hundred pounds for steers and $15.31 per hundred pounds for heifers, resulting in more than $1.1 million in returns to the producers who participated.
The program is another way for Extension to help fulfill the land-grant mission of taking science-based research and delivering it to anyone who needs it. The reduced stress and increase in health of the cattle directly results in more money in the pockets of producers and confidence of buyers.
"We wanted to capitalize on all the hard work we had put into it to provide the quality," Virginia said. "Before the OQBN, there was no way to tell the difference between our cattle and the rest, other than the auctioneer talking them up."
The small price of an ear tag for each registered animal is all it takes for producers to get involved. An OQBN ear tag has gone a long ways for the Ball operation.
"It simplifies our operation. I know there is a lot to the program, but we know exactly what we're going to do with our cattle, we can plan for it ahead of time and we have dates for sales," said Virginia. "It made our job easier of weaning them and keeping them healthy and getting ready for the sale than before. We follow this and we come in with healthy cattle."
The increased health has a lot to do with limiting stress of the calves, according to Lalman.
"Stress has a negative effect on the immune system. Weaning calves at home, in a familiar environment with only 'familiar' pathogens tremendously improves their odds of staying healthy. The program strives to simultaneously prime the immune system and minimize stress. Then, when weaning occurs, they have a much better chance of fending off disease," he said.
OQBN health verification participants get the most out of vaccines, which reduces the number of cattle taken out of a sale due to disease, a fact that producers and buyers greatly appreciate.
It is a win-win-win situation. Happy producers with happy cattle make for happy buyers.
"I'm raising healthier cattle and its much easier on the buyers to be able to come in here and know they're getting healthy, vaccinated cattle," said Clifford.
- By Sean Hubbard