Once we’ve celebrated the Fourth of July, it seems like summer gets busy with county fairs and then the State Fair and before you know it summer’s over and fall is upon us. That makes now the perfect time to start looking at options to market that group of calves growing out in the pasture.
The number one thing for a rancher to remember is to know who his customer is. Raising calves with a specific end market in mind adds value to your product. Regardless of whether you sell your calves in the country, at the sale barn or on a video auction, contact your usual customers and give them a heads up that you will be selling your calves at that particular date.
This is also a good time to visit with them to see if they are marketing calves with any specific programs which need advance paperwork or audits, so the rancher can have the necessary certificates in hand the day of the sale.
Several options are available for the cow-calf producer to add value to his calf crop, many are additive, so a person can start with source and age verification and work their way up. Many times it is just documenting things the rancher is already doing.
Source and age verification is the first program. A rancher needs to go through a USDA-approved third party verification program to verify the source and age. This makes the cattle eligible for export to those countries with age requirements.
This process consists of a face to face audit or a phone interview depending on the company. Most companies will require a unique identification for each animal, most likely an EID tag. Birth records are also required, but can be as simple as the first calf recorded on a calendar all the way to a computer generated printout from a program of your choice. The birth records and allocated EID tag records with accurate head counts need to be kept on file for three years.
NHTC or Non-Hormone Treated Cattle for the European Union (EU) is the next rung up the ladder. Cattle are to be grown in approved farms/feedlots and delivered to the slaughter establishment with shipping documentation that includes the statement “Cattle Meet EV Program Requirements for the EU” and clearly identifies the animals and the quantity. These calves cannot have hormone implants which also includes MGA and Optaflexx.
Like the source and age verification, they also must have the unique IDs and accurate birth records on file, but also need a list of feeds used with feed tags, an overview of cattle movements and a list of all ranch employees and duties.
All of this information and possibly some additional information, depending on the third party verification company, needs to be kept on file for three years.
Most of these companies do a face-to-face training and help the rancher develop a system or use an existing system to keep accurate records. These records are audited every year. Approved shipping and transfer documents from the third party verification company must accompany each shipment.
Since this program requires an on-site training audit, it could take at least 30 days from start to finish, so start early, not the day before your calves go to sell! Also, NHTCs can only go through approved sale barns, otherwise they need to be marketed in the country or via video auction.
Never Ever 3, sometimes called Verified Natural Program, is similar in its requirements to the NHTCs except these cattle also cannot have any antibiotics. The rancher needs to have accurate records of all the animals he has treated and accurate records of all antibiotics purchased and used.
The good news is that if these cattle have to be treated, they can still qualify for the NHTC premiums if they fall out of the Never Ever 3 Program. This is also initiated with an on-farm training audit.
Verified Green is a similar program in that it can document things that the rancher is possibly already doing for a premium, but from a different angle. The animals still have to be ID tagged as the other programs, but also need records of participation in a carbon sequestration program, renewable energy documentation of using 10 percent less energy or more and working with state or federal conservation programs. This is also initiated with an on-farm training audit.
Humane Handling is one of the more recent programs. This can be in addition to some of the other programs like NHTC or Never Ever 3.
The standard was developed with NCBA and Dr. Temple Grandin, world renowned animal behavior specialist. Many of these standards are things a rancher is already doing, or can modify his procedures a bit to accommodate. This is also initiated with an on-farm training audit.
More information on these programs can be found on the USDA website, (processverified.usda.gov), along with a list of USDA approved third party companies.
A rancher can verify anything for a premium these days, but how does one go about finding it, and how do you know someone will pay?
This has come full circle to knowing your customer or finding a customer who can in turn capitalize on the extra value these calves bring to the feedlot. Working with your customer, the cattle feeder, is also valuable as they probably already have a USDA third party program they are currently using and can help you get in contact with the right people as well as a more seamless transition from one owner to the next.
As with all things, these premiums vary based on supply and demand and are subject to change. With profit margins tighter and tighter it is our responsibility to become marketing gurus and search for any way to add value to our product.
We know that United States produces 20 percent of the world’s beef with seven percent of the world’s cattle, but also that we raise a high quality product. We need to take advantage of that and optimize our profit for an economically sustainable industry as well as all the other fringe benefits of the value-added beef the consumers are requesting.