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Total Quality Management:
A Corporate Concept for the Beef Industry

Excerpt from The Gar Report, October 2001

by Don & Karen Meador 

We are sometimes asked how we can use the training and experience that we have gained from our work in education and industry in the execution of our growing cattle operation. The truth is that what we have learned about quality during these 30+ years is the basis for all the decisions we make in our cattle operation. To illustrate this point, one need only consider the principles of quality control in a manufacturing facility. A requirement for good control of quality is the identification of the traits of the product that are essential to meet the customers’ needs. These are then translated to in-process measures that will accurately predict that these traits will be met. Identification of the in-process traits must then be followed by a system that (1) consistently and reliably measures these traits, and (2) reports them in sufficient time to make adjustments to the process thus gaining control of the output. Both of these elements have to be in place to produce consistently high quality output. These principles are elegant in their simplicity but often a lot harder to achieve than they first appear. If we fail to accurately measure our in-process traits then we will be making adjustments to the system that cause it to race out of control. Similarly if our feedback system is not timely, we can produce millions of dollars worth of product that does not meet our customers’ expectations before corrections are made. 

By now you are beginning to see the relevance of these principles to the production of  an “in-control” quality cattle operation. First we have to realize that our customers are those folks who consume our ultimate end product and that they expect quality that results in a satisfying eating experience every time. We then have to identify both those end product measures, such as end product EPD’s like carcass merit, etc., that predict this satisfaction and to determine the in-process measures that allow us to efficiently achieve these output results. These measures include efficiency EPD’s like growth, birth weight, etc.. Now we have to determine how to use these in our process by (1) accurately measuring these traits and (2) feeding these trait measurements back into our process through breeding decisions in time to bring our system into control. 

It is the first requirement of accurate measurement of traits that brought us to conclude that Angus was the breed we would raise at Dreamcatcher Ranch. We have all heard about the value of the Angus data base. As researchers and statisticians, we have the utmost appreciation for the advantage it provides us and this explains our almost fanatical use of the database. It is that data that allows us to make informed decisions enabling achievement of the desired end point results in carcass and to determine the process efficiency that we have to achieve. 

Remember, however, that accurate measurements that are not timely enough to impact the output are of little value. It is this requirement that results in our excitement and interest in new techniques such as ultrasound that allow us to measure traits in time to adjust and impact our output results. As an example, recently, someone proudly told me that they did not identify donor cows until the animal had produced at least 10 natural calves that each indexed greater that 100 for growth, etc. This individual was “right on” in recognizing the need to identify and reproduce quality animals. But, his problem arises in “manufacturing” execution. First, using natural calf data allows for a sample size that almost never exceeds 10 and statisticians tell us that this is certainly much less desirable than bigger sample sizes, like the ones we get on proven bulls. More importantly, the timing of statistically meaningful feedback makes adjustments to improve the output impractical at best. I guess it is our advanced middle age that causes us to reject control systems that require decades to make change in our product. We simply don’t have that much time left! This discussion explains why we have concentrated our operation to use all the technology we have today. Ultrasound and the use of embryo transfer allow us first to measure in-process quality that predicts customers’ satisfying experiences and then allow us to reproduce and improve this quality as quickly and reliably as we know how today. 

Just in case you are wondering by now who in the world we are, here is some key data. Don grew up in Acuff, Texas where the population is yet to be determined and Karen grew up in Medford, Oklahoma, population 1200. We have lived all over the United States, but have returned to our roots. We love ranch life and especially appreciate the opportunity to sit in the topless jeep with our cattle dog, Dixie Chick, and watch the sun set over our black cows. We are simply life-long learners who enjoy working towards having the best cattle operation we possibly can. If you should travel down our way, why not stop for a little bed and breakfast at Dreamcatcher Ranch? The breakfast may not be too outstanding, but the bed will be comfortable.

Note: Don and Karen Meador have founded Dreamcatcher Ranch in San Marcos, Texas, where they have rapidly accumulated some of the best performance Angus genetics that are available. Don is retiring this year as a manager for the Procter and Gamble Company. Don's degrees are in Industrial Engineering and he has had considerable training and experience in Total Quality Management. Karen has her Ph.D. in Education and is an educational consultant in Gifted and Talented Education and has used Total Quality principles in schools. They have collaborated before on a published article on the use Total Quality technique in education.