Imagine having the task of changing the way the entire U.S. vaccinates cattle. Sounds impossible, right? Dee Griffin, DVM, is the man behind some of the most pivotal research and education in the beef industry—who made the impossible happen.
His career in the beef industry started like many people—as a 4-H kid raising projects for the county fair.
“I was born and raised on a real small cow-calf operation,” he says. “My dad had about 125 momma cows—not enough to make a living, so he worked in an oilfield. We also raised native pecans which brought in more money than the calves did.”
In the small Oklahoma Panhandle town where Griffin grew up, the most influential people he knew were teachers, preachers and veterinarians. “I wasn’t smart enough to be a teacher, and I wasn’t good enough to be a preacher,” he says. “My father had a great amount of respect for veterinarians and my parent’s respect meant everything to me, so I decided to take that road.”
This respect was seeded by Don Williams, a local beef veterinarian who was inducted into the Cattle Production Veterinarian Hall of Fame in 2013 for his work in training feedyard personnel in health management and the development of the first national precondition program. While Griffin admits he didn’t realize until later in his career the caliber of impact Williams had on the beef industry, his progressiveness was a fundamental influence on the path Griffin would go on to take.
In 1975, Griffin was a senior in vet school at Oklahoma State University when he received a call from Williams to join him at a 50,000 head feedyard in Garden City, Kan. “I fell in love for the second time in my life,” Griffin says. “I’m still married to both—my wife and the feedyard.”
Griffin quickly learned even the smallest mistake made in the feedyard could lead to large-scale problems. “I’d never seen so many cattle in one spot in my life, and it looked like a tremendous opportunity,” he says. “ ere are so many critical managing issues when that many cattle are in one spot.”
After receiving his DVM, Griffin added a split master’s degree from Purdue University in pathology and ruminant nutrition in 1978. A few years later, Williams called Griffin again to start up a practice to service feedyards in western Oklahoma.
During this time, antibiotic residues and needle fragments were becoming an alarming issue for the beef industry. “In 1980, USDA gathered up cattleman from Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Nebraska, and said, ‘You folks represent 80% of the beef in the U.S. You have a residue problem and it has to stop,’” Griffin recalls. “One of the feedyard owners I worked for said, ‘Young man, I don’t know how this is happening, but it has got to stop. We haven’t spent 100 years building our good name to have it smudged by residues.’”
With the help of Doug Marr, a packer inspector with USDA, the two worked together to figure out what was going on.
USDA had three issues to address: bacterial contamination, such as E. coli 0157; physical hazards, such as broken needles; and chemical hazards, such as antibiotic residues.
The feedyards Griffin worked with kept detailed records on health protocols and began to experiment with pushing withdrawal times further than label instruction.
“It was the very first time we figured out extra-label drug use was responsible for the residue issue,” he says. “We figured out if you give a whole bunch of a drug in one spot or you give more of the drug than above the label that it takes longer to clear the body.”
A couple of years of research later, a 40-page document outlining research for best management practices was presented to industry leaders in 1982. Griffin remembers Richard McDonalds, CEO of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, suggesting they summarize the key points to put it on a card small enough to fit in your pocket.
Six critical points were the foundation of the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program:
- Start with clean cattle.
- Feed cattle feed that hasn’t been contaminated with any chemicals.
- Feed additive, pesticide, vaccine or drug must follow Food and Drug Administration, USDA and Environ-mental Protection Agency standards.
- Medications should be administered correctly and all withdrawal times followed.
- Write down detailed records of everything you do.
- Check the records before you sell cattle to make sure everything has been done properly.
While the present day wording has changed, the basic information—and overall goal—is still the same.
“If you handle cattle as the special creature from God that they are by not abusing them, minimizing the stress and doing everything in your power to take care of them, they are less likely to get sick and less likely to need medication,” Griffin says.
With the development of BQA, Griffin and others transformed into evangelists for the beef industry, going from meeting to meeting to educate producers and veterinarians.
“I remember sitting in meetings with famous vets who would stand up in meetings to point fingers at us and talk about it being nonsense to take records on everything,” he says. “But it was good business sense and the right thing to do.”
Research and development of BQA was only the beginning for Griffin. He joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center (GPVEC) as a professor and feedlot management veterinarian in 1991. Some of the most beneficial research he has conducted has been the association of lesions from pneumonia in cattle to carcass quality and rate of gain.
“Going to the packing plant every week to look at lungs has led to some really neat things,” he says. “I think in my lifetime we will be able to buy a straw of semen for health qualities, the same way we do for calving ease.”
There is no denying Griffin’s love and enthusiasm for the feedyard business.
“Dee is a great example of someone who is dedicated to the beef industry,” says Dale Grotelueschen, DVM, director of GPVEC. “He is especially dedicated toward teaching and educating students. He attracted vet stu-dents from across the U.S. to enroll in his feedyard management courses.”
Griffin’s dedication has garnered a long list of recognitions from industry groups. “I get a lot of credit, but the real deal is that there are not ‘most valuable players.’ It is a team effort from the go,” he explains. “I have been very fortunate to work with some out-standing veterinarians, nutritionists and cattle producers in my life.”
Griffin is just a few months into his new venture as the director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center—with no plans of slowing down.
“I have a mission I am really enthusiastic about,” Griffin says. “That is to care for cattle, be a good steward and to take a few people with on that mission along the way.”
Note: This story appeared in the October 2016 issue of Drovers.