Beef improvement Federation serves to establish consistent beef industry guidelinesWritten by Saige Albert
“BIF is an all-volunteer group here to serve the beef cattle industry,” says BIF Executive Director Joe Cassady.
Cassady, also an associate professor of animal science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University, has served the organization for four years and says, “I’m very proud of the organization.”
“We are a federation by definition,” explains Cassady. “We are competitors working together for a common pursuit.”
“This is a group of individuals who have come together under BIF and worked together very successfully for a common purpose,” he says. “It’s an all-volunteer army.”
Volunteers hold all positions in the organization, with the exception of a single paid employee who serves as assistant to the executive director.
“This is truly a group of people dedicating their time and effort to working together for the betterment of the beef cattle industry,” comments Cassady. “We are very proud of that.”
Membership in BIF is held by provincial, state, national and international organizations that actively conduct performance programs for beef cattle. Association and Sustaining memberships are available, based on a direct interest in beef cattle or contributions made to BIF.
The BIF Executive Board is composed of producers and breed association representatives. The board also includes members of academia, but, Cassady says, “The academics on the committee are non-voting, ex-officio members.”
The Executive Board consists of 16 voting and seven ex-officio members. Cattle breed registry associations elect six board members, the National Association of Animal Breeds appoints one member and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association appoints one person to the board.
The remaining eight voting memberships on the board are held by state or provincial beef cattle improvement associations – two from the central region, two from the western region, two from the eastern region and two at large. Dividing the U.S. and Canada into three sections forms the regions.
The seven ex-officio members include one appointee of the USDA Extension Service, one appointee of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, one appointee from the Canadian Beef Breeds Council and one secretary from each region. The BIF executive director also serves as an ex-officio member.
States who pay dues are eligible to vote for board members from their region. Though Wyoming wasn’t a voting member of BIF for nearly five years, dues have been paid and a representative from the state will be eligible to vote at the April meeting this year, says Cassady.
Many of the states surrounding Wyoming are also active in the organization, according to Cassady, who adds, “The point is, if your organization doesn’t pay their dues, they don’t get to vote.”
“A part of BIF’s original purpose was to create standardization for cattle evaluations,” says Cassady, adding that the uniform methods and techniques for obtaining cattle data is published in the BIF Guidelines, and, as a result, many aspects of the cattle industry that are recorded today are now standardized.
“Take weaning weight as an example,” says Cassady. “Today, the standard weaning weight is adjusted to 205 days weight.”
Prior to the standard measures introduced by BIF, weaning weight, for example, was measured at a wide range of ages, and the difference in data greatly affected research studies.
“If you are doing a post-weaning gain test on bulls, the data matters,” adds Cassady.
Many measures commonly used in the industry today have been standardized in the BIF Guidelines, including hip height, pelvic area and frame scores. The BIF guidelines not only address how to measure these quantities, but also include the mathematical formulas for calculating other evaluation data.
“The Guidelines cover information like hip height and pelvic area that I would consider to be fairly elementary at this stage of the beef cattle industry down to how we are going to use the genomic information that has been collected to improve the accuracy of EPDs,” says Cassady.
He notes that the information is becoming more computationally intensive, but breed organizations, for example, are actively incorporating it and need to know what is out there.
“BIF has worked with the best and brightest beef cattle scientists in the country, and around the world, and have come up with recommendations for the best practices,” Cassady comments.
Because of the small budget of the organization, Cassady says BIF doesn’t fund research, but rather takes advantage of research done at USDA and universities around the world.
“We want to get the best information we can,” says Cassady. “We do play a role in identifying the future direction of research, as well.”
Cassady notes that as breed associations or other member groups express interest in issues they are struggling to address, BIF works to find answers in research.
“If we bring issues into the forefront and get people talking, it is more likely that funding will be directed in those areas,” explains Cassady. “We don’t fund research, but we see BIF as having a role in trying to help communicate the needs for future research so we can continue to provide these Guidelines.”
“It’s the producers who volunteer their time and the academics who volunteer that make BIF successful,” says Cassady. “It is really impressive to me all that the group has accomplished in a short time without a tremendous amount of formal structure. I’m very proud of this organization.”
BIF Guidelines today
The Beef Improvement Federation Guidelines, a document for which the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) is well known, was first published in 1970, and since then eight more editions have been made available. The most current ninth edition was published in 2010 and is available only in electronic form. The BIF Guidelines are a set of recommendations that standardize programs and methodology for beef cattle performance evaluation.
“We put out our recommendations to the best of our knowledge today,” notes BIF Executive Director Joe Cassady. “It is a living document, and if someone comes along with a better approach, we won’t hesitate to change.”
He also adds that, if members express concerns that the document may be outdated, the Guidelines will be evaluated and revised. Cassady notes that he envisions that, rather than evaluating the entire document, the BIF Guidelines will be evaluated on a chapter-by-chapter basis to accommodate the most recent research available.