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April 2, 2009

Focus on Quality

The audit aims at checking the logs, the procedures book, providing water bacterial and physico-chemical analyses, as well as ration homogeneity analyses, visiting the facilities to check the identification of silos, folds, warehouses as well as facility and mixer cleanliness. Photo credit: Martine Giguère By Martine Giguère
Journalist, Bovins du Québec

At the Ricard Farm, we have been registered under the Bœf Qualité Plus / Verified Beef productiontm (VBP/BQP) program since 2005. "Consumers demand quality food and a good way to reassure them is the VBP/BPQ registration," notes cattle-raiser André Ricard. In addition to on-farm food safety, this registration also allowed him to increase his farm's performance.

In Saint-Alexis de Montcalm, André Ricard, Odette Aumont and their son Vincent, have just been visited by a VBP/BPQ program auditor. Registered for three years already, the Ricards had to be audited in order to renew their registration certificate. The inspection, as the cattle-raisers mention in a reassuring way, aims at checking the logs, the procedures book, providing water bacterial and physico-chemical analyses as well as ration homogeneity analyses, visiting the facilities to check the identification of silos, folds and warehouses as well as facility and mixer cleanliness. "This audit is not about answering loaded questions."

As a note, there are 26 fed cattle producers registered at the BQP/VBP, producing 21 percent of the total volume. In Quebec, the program VBP/BQP is in force. It includes all the requirements of the VBP, the on-farm food safety program for the beef cattle in Canada, and a set of requirements related to quality and management at the farm (carcass grading requirements, water and feed testing for alimentation, equipments like corral or balance for cattle and biosecurity).

Registration Challenges

When they took interest in the BQP/VBP program, the Ricards had already done much of the work needed. They were already keeping logs at the farm. "The adaptation was not too difficult. We were missing some logs, such as one for visitors, but many were already in place, including the animal health log," says the cattle-raiser. However, some existing logs had to be refined in order to comply with the program's requirements. "This is why registration requires more time, especially for the first year," says Vincent Ricard.

The annual verification of the mixer's balance, silo, warehouse and fold identification are part of the program's requirements. We also had to write procedures. If tasks are performed by memory or as a habit, it is important to write them down so that everyone at the farm can perform them in the same way, in order to avoid mistakes. At the Ricard Farm, tasks are clearly defined. "André takes care of the feeding. Should he be absent, there is a clear procedure and we are all able to do the mixing in the exact same way," mentions Odette Aumont.

For some producers, it might not be as easy to comply with some requirements. Vincent Ricard gives the following example: "The program requires that all equipment used for feeding be clean. Therefore, if the same tractor bucket is used for feeding and carrying manure, it must be cleaned between the two tasks. We already had two, one for feeding and another for cleaning and snow removal." If not, you will have to flush it with water – on the coldest of winter days - or buy another one.

The registration also allowed them to perfect their methods. At the same time, they adopted the Bovitrace software and started using the reading stick with direct link to the computer. "For instance, when you give medication, you must be sure to respect the withdrawal period. We used to take notes. Now, with Bovitrace, an alarm would be triggered should the withdrawal period not be over, which ensures the safety of the whole chain," adds Odette Aumont. The producers also adopt ways of doing things for themselves. For instance, every morning, André Ricard reads the water meter: "I know the average water consumption: if it increases or decreases, I'll look for the cause."

A Profitable Registration

Not only is the BQP/VBP registration logical, but it also reassures buyers. "The registration guarantees a certain quality to buyers and helps sales, as slaughter facilities favour registered and log-keeping producers," mentions André Ricard.