A series of online videos, hosted by Kansas State University, can help beef producers and processors keep pace with changes in most every step of the production cycle.
As part of its Beef Quality Assurance Program, K-State´s Beef Cattle Institute has expanded to an additional website, "Animal Care Training" (http://www.animalcaretraining.org). The Beef Quality Assurance program is a training system for beef producers, handlers, and processors.
Dan Thomson, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences in K-State´s College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as the director of the Beef Cattle Institute at K-State, said the program´s ideological and financial roots are in K-State´s Targeted Excellence Program.
"Of all the things done at Kansas State University," Thomson said, "What should the university really focus on? What should the university really achieve national, or even international leadership in?
"When it comes right down to it, if we aren´t doing a great job with the beef industry, or serving the beef industry, that´s probably something that would be considered `inadequate´ at Kansas State University."
Fills in gaps
Thomson said the program educates workers in all sectors of the beef industry, from the newly hired to the seasoned veteran. The program also filled in the gaps created by dwindling resources.
"We´re running low on people, time, and opportunities for face-to- face meetings to actually carry out some of this training. So, to augment or supplement some of this face-to-face training, or on-the- job training, we have produced a series of online training modules."
The program is entirely self-paced; participants can log in and watch videos as many times as they like, 24 hours a day. The modules are available in both English and Spanish.
"As we see an increase in cultural diversity in the beef industry, we also made the modules available for people who use Spanish as their first language."
Thomson said the topics covered in the training modules continue to evolve, as participants return to the site, seeking further training.
"We´ve seen an evolution in BQA from `How do we move our injection sites to the neck? ´ to `How do we make sure that we use our animal microbials in a proper manner? ´" Thomson said.
"It´s not only what the product is, and how wholesome the product is," he continued, "but now we have to look at how we actually raise these animals, and that´s something that may be going on the label of our beef products, as well."
There are about 150 training modules, ranging between five and 10 minutes in length.
To access the training, a user would visit the Beef Cattle Institute website (http://beefcattleinstitute.org/) and select "Animal Care Training" in the lower right corner of the screen. Payment for the modules can be made with a credit card, or an invoice can be mailed to the subscriber.
Each module ends with a short quiz; at least 80 percent of the questions must be answered correctly for a passing grade. The subscriber will then be emailed a certificate with his or her name on it, to document completion of that module.
"Not only do we maintain that diploma for them, electronically," said Thomson, "but we also develop a transcript for each employee or producer that wants to take part in this."
He added that the online modules convey ideas and techniques that books and other printed materials can´t adequately demonstrate.
"I´m not a very good learner from just reading a book," Thomson said. "Audio/visual, to me—if I can not only hear it but see it—is the most effective way to train. And with today´s media, it´s just a no-brainer."
Convenience is key
Thomson said that online delivery saves time and money for both the "teacher" and the "students." Trainers don´t have to spend money on travel or renting facilities and equipment at the training site; students don´t have to postpone important duties at the ranch or farm; or spend money on travel and lodging near the training site.
But perhaps the biggest reason for the online approach? Convenience.
"We´ve seen producers doing this during the noon hour, we´ve seen them doing this at midnight. We´ve seen them participating at all times during the day," Thomson said.
He said feed yards set up virtual training centers for their employees, complete with workstations and satellite, or high-speed Internet connections. This allows employees to schedule training sessions into their workdays.
The industry is taking notice of the Beef Quality Assurance program.
The National Cattlemen´s Beef Association has designated BCI as their national center for online training.
While the focus of the BQA program is beef cattle, the site also includes training modules for dairy cattle, and equine care.