This week, two producers were honored with the annual national Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) award, created to recognize outstanding beef and dairy producers from across the country who incorporate BQA principles as part of the day-to-day activities on their operations.
The 2011 winners are John Ligo, LiTerra Farms of Mercer, Pa. (dairy), and Mike Milicevic, Lykes Bros. Inc. of Okeechobee, Fla. (beef).
LiTerra was founded by John and Judy Ligo in 1988. In order to "close the loop" on nutrients and be more sustainable economically, a 200-cow dairy was built from scratch in 1990. Four herds were purchased and the dairy herd has been closed since 1991.
LiTerra Livestock operations include 230 dairy cows producing nearly 5 million pounds of milk annually. Additionally, LiTerra Farms owes 180 homebred dairy replacements. There is also a beef cow-calf enterprise plus replacements and cattle on feed. One other enterprise is a registered seedstock operation comprising 50 head that includes National Grand Champions. Cattle numbers peak in mid-summer at approximately 850 head. LiTerra grows feed for the cattle on 1,100 acres that are owned and 400 acres that are rented.
Innovative BQA practices employed by LiTerra Livestock include:
-- John and Judy have both been certified in Dairy Beef Quality Assurance (DBQA) for 10 years.
-- The transportation of their own cattle quietly and carefully, focusing on low-stress handling.
-- All treatment protocols require injections in the ear or in the triangle of the neck.
-- Antibiotics are used sparingly because of the danger of contamination of both milk and beef.
-- Bull calves sold into the veal market are well-started, clean and healthy prior to leaving the farm.
-- Dairy cattle are sold on a planned basis, not a "she needs to go" basis.
-- Some of the best farm land has been converted to permanent pasture between the milking facility and the highway just to graze mother cows along with their calves. The cattle have become the landscape.
-- They have been able to sell beef to restaurants who market the beef as BQA-certified on the menu.
The Lykes Brothers story began more than 100 years ago with Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes. Today, Lykes Bros. Inc. is still family owned. The Lykes Ranch encompasses 337,000 acres in Glades and Highlands counties, Fla., and is one of the largest contiguous pieces of land in the state. Since the property covers many different land types, Lykes employs multiple land-use practices to make the most efficient, economical and appropriate use of the land. And, with more than 17,500 head of cattle, the Lykes Ranch currently is the fourth largest cow/calf operation in the United States.
Lykes Bros. Inc. stresses environmental, social, and economic sustainability in all of its operations. Lykes Bros employs Best Management Practices for Water Quality throughout its entire operations, as well as recently completing a greenhouse gas inventory of all its operations to determine its carbon footprint.
Innovative BQA practices employed by Lykes Ranch include:
-- Selection of bulls for a docile disposition in order to reduce handling stress, increase employee safety, carcass quality, and feeding efficiency.
-- Proper nutrition and a vigilant health program ensures a hardy calf. Ranch hands ensure that custom mineral is available to the cattle at all times.
-- Forage analysis along with soil samples are taken periodically to maximize forage growth and nutritional value.
-- The calves are age and source verified and shipped with comprehensive BQA documentation.
-- Lykes management saw a need for a universal BQA training program encompassing proper cattle handling techniques to reduce stress and health problems with the intent to produce a consistent product from all units on the ranch. Through training, with the help of University of Florida staff, local veterinarians, pharmaceutical reps. and in-house staff, they have made the BQA system a part of their operational culture.
The National BQA award winners are selected annually by a committee of representatives from universities, state beef councils, and cattle industry groups.