Proper handling of cattle is an aspect of beef production that needs to be a concern for anyone involved in any of the stages of management.

Not only is proper handling a key to efficiency and safety, it impacts animal health and can have major influences on the quality of the final beef product.

Virginia Beef Quality Assurance is a program that operates in Virginia under the guidelines of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, in cooperation with the Mid-Atlantic BQA alliance and through the efforts of Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Cattleman’s Association.

The BQA program has certified a large number of cattle producers in Virginia that represent a majority of the cattle produced each year in the state. The program requires that producers be recertified every 3 years.

During the 2012-2015 cycle all re-certifications will involve training in cattle handling.

In recent years, appropriate handling has been tied to impacts on cattle health.

Cattle have two major systems to protect themselves. The first system is to deal with external threats. This system is sometimes called the “fight or flight” system.

Think about this system as how a calf deals with a wolf attack. Most of the calves’ resources are directed towards getting away from the wolf. There are a set of hormones and metabolism all geared to this fight-or-flight system.

When we talk about the effects of “stress” on cattle health we are really referring to the switch to dealing with external threats.

The other protection system that cattle have is the one designed to deal with internal threats. People often call this the immune system, but it actually involves more than the cells and substances that are technically the immune system.

The metabolism of energy and protein and systems that clear infectious agents from the respiratory or digestive systems are also part of the internal defense system. This system deals with cattle diseases caused by infections.

An important concept in cattle health is that the fight-or-flight system gets priority over the internal protection system. In the evolutionary history of cattle, it was more important to get away from the wolf than to deal with the bugs in the lung, for example. If the wolf got the calf, what did a few bugs in the lung matter?

Not only does the fight-or-flight system have priority over the disease protection mechanism, but once the external protection system is turned on, it stays on for a time.