QHB - General Information

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Association assumes no responsibility for the quality or other characteristics of any meat, carcass or other product. This responsibility is that of the individual producer. Compliance of this program is voluntary and AHCA will not audit QHB members to determine if the information provided in the contract is correct.

The Quality Highland Beef program (QHB) is designed to support this market share growth by assisting producers in developing local beef markets which in turn, underpin demand for the purebred animal.

The QHB is a national promotional campaign that is available to individual breeders who market their beef on a local basis. We have combined this promotion with guidelines that create a natural product that is consistent and high quality beef product. The advantages for the individual breeder go far beyond selling beef; they also include reducing the number of marginal bulls and demonstrating to other potential breeders that Highland cattle are beef animals with more than just a “pretty face”.

The most important aspect of the QHB is the contract agreement that breeders are required to sign, guaranteeing their desire to follow the product quality guidelines that will ensure a certain consistency of Highland beef produced from California to Maine.

The producer certifies that any beef marketed by him or her under the Quality Highland Beef program (QHB) has been raised and finished in accordance with the recommendations and guidelines provided by the American Highland Cattle Association and as outlined below. The producer maintains full responsibility for the product and for the interpretation and application of the Association’s recommendations.

The producer certifies that any beef marketed by him or her and which uses the QHB logos, etc. has been raised and prepared as set forth below. A producer’s right to use QHB materials is dependent upon paying the annual dues when due. The QHB logo is a registered trademark of AHCA.

A. Basic Requirements of Quality Highland Beef:

  1. The animals are purebred or at least one-half Highland: steers, spayed heifers, heifers, cows, bulls or AHCA Board approved.
  2. The animals have been raised and handled in a humane manner and in accordance with Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) or similar guidelines.
  3. No added hormones, anabolic steroids or sub-therapeutic feed antibiotics have been applied/fed to the animals.
  4. Complete health records including vaccinations, inoculations, brands, anti-parasitic and all other treatments will be kept on all animals marketed as QHB.
  5. The minimum carcass weight of all processed animals is 450 pounds.
  6. QHB qualified beef may be used for beef products, subject to the following conditions: The products shall not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, or chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredients; and, that the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed,(minimal processing may include: (a)those traditional processes used to make food edible or to preserve it or make it safe for human consumption, e.g. smoking, roasting, freezing, drying, and fermenting, or (b) those physical processes which do not fundamentally alter the raw product and/or which only separate a whole, intact food into component parts, e.g. grinding meat.

B. Product Categories of QHB Beef

  1. Cuts: Only steers and unbred heifers, raised in a beef finishing program, slaughtered between 14 and 36 months of age may be sold for cuts under the QHB program.
  2. All other animals, including cows, bulls, and animals over 36 months of age must meet all other standards set forth in Section A; and, are only eligible for sale as ground or processed (hotdogs, sausage, etc.) products, except the tenderloins.
  3. Carcasses will be aged a minimum of 10 days or otherwise in accordance with buyer guidelines or requests. The 10 day minimum aging requirement shall not be required for animals butchered for ground or processed products.

AHCA has delegated the management of the QHB to the Highland Beef Marketing Committee to direct, along with the AHCA Board, the allocation of funds raised for further development of the QHB program and its promotional materials.

There are a variety of feeding programs that will allow breeders to meet the conditions of the QHB agreement. A great deal will depend on where the Highland cattle are being raised and under what conditions. It is not the intention of the QHB to micro-manage the feeding programs of Highland breeders. It is assumed that producers will use the most economical and readily available feed resources in their program.


The most important link in the QHB is the producer. The producer’s management and production skills will determine the quality and wholesomeness of the beef raised. AHCA has provided a set of guidelines, an outline, within which a producer will produce Quality Highland Beef (QHB). It is the producer’s job to uphold these guidelines and produce the finest beef available.

Beef production can sometimes be more of an art than a science. Knowing which management practices to utilize or when an animal is finished just right is often a skill that cannot be taught. However, there are certain practices you can follow to help ensure an excellent well-finished product. Below is a short list of tips and suggestions to help you in producing QHB.

  1. Breeding – Here, the most important thing to remember is to use high-quality Highland cattle.
  2. Calving to weaning – This is a good time to select prospects for the QHB. As a purebred producer, for example, plan to keep the top 10-20% of your bull calves as herd sire prospects and market the remainder as QHB animals. Remember, any animal that is to end up as QHB may not be given any growth hormones or stimulants at any point during its life! At this time, those bull calves that are not kept as breeding stock should be castrated. While castration may be done to older cattle as well, increased stress and weight loss may result. At weaning, calves should be wormed and vaccinated. Check with your local veterinarian for an appropriate health care schedule suitable for your area. Finally, be careful when giving injections to cattle, only giving drugs that have been prescribed by your veterinarian. Improper handling and administration of injections can cause lesions and scarring that will affect quality of the meat. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has worked hard through its Beef Quality Assurance program to develop and promote proper injection procedures. Contact the Highland Quality Beef Committee, or state or local cattlemen organizations for more information, including class schedules and certification.
  3. Weaning to finishing – During this time, it is important to first determine the desired age and weight of the animals at finishing. Some animals will, of course, need to be heavier. A very general rule of thumb is that a steer will be finished at its dam’s weight, however, this can vary. Smaller framed cattle should finish in the 900-1000 lb. range while larger frames will be heavier. The time frame will depend on your philosophies, available feed and the animal’s ability to gain. Once you have determined these factors, make sure the animal’s nutritional needs are met. Extension agents and feed /mineral dealers are good sources to help you select an economical, nutritionally balanced program. Also, maintain and thoroughly document a proper herd health program to ensure performance.
  4. Finishing – When an animal is within 100-200 lbs. of the desired slaughter weight, it is time to “finish” it. Finish is to help ensure a degree of marbling and finish to the beef. Marbling adds flavor and juiciness to the meat. A small amount of external finish is necessary to enable the carcass to hang. Make sure you either weigh the cattle periodically or have the feedstuffs tested to make sure the animals are able to gain the required amount. In the end, the animal will appear fleshy and the brisket should be filling out. Unfortunately, determining when cattle are finished is one of the aforementioned arts. It is not the purpose of this program to dictate how a producer finishes its cattle. Producers must decide what system works for them based on available feeds, etc. Below are some methods already in use:
    • High quality pasture. Cattle can gain over 2 lbs. per day on good quality grass, legume, annual or a combination of such pasture systems. Some producers and consumers prefer forage fed beef. External fat on grass fed carcasses can have a yellowish tint which does not affect the flavor. In some areas of the country this can be a seasonal product that coexists with the flush of fall and spring vegetation.
    • Pasture plus 1-10 lbs. grain. This system works well particularly with poorer quality pasture. The supplemental grain changes the yellow fat to white. This system requires more time and management.
    • Free choice hay plus 1-20 lbs. of grain. Unless high quality hay is available it may not be possible to achieve the necessary rate of gain desired, thus supplementing with grain may be necessary.
    • Free choice finishing on baleage (hay or sorghum) and/or grain may be another method.
  5. Slaughtering and packing –Years of hard work directed towards the production of a high-quality product can be wasted with poor procedures from handling and hauling (and unloading) to the processor’s handling and processing.

Make sure the loading and hauling process is as easy and stress free as possible. If an animal is frightened, has been chased all over the pasture, etc., the quality of the meat will suffer.

The producer should become familiar with proper handling and hauling practices, which are taught through Beef Quality Assurance programs. AHCA also periodically publishes materials and articles in the Bagpipe on these issues.

The producer should also do due diligence concerning processing. Visiting processors in advance is recommended. Determine processor availability. In some areas there are long lead times for appointments due to limited processing availability. The following are processor aspects to consider:

  • What is the processor’s loading and unloading facility like?
  • Where will the animals be housed? It is recommended that QHB animals be delivered to the processor the day before slaughter to allow the animals to calm down and relax from the trip from the farm, and to acclimate to their surroundings.
  • Determine if the processor is it state and/or federally inspected. This may impact how the producer plans to market his/her beef.
  • Will the processor hang your carcass for the required time?
  • Will the processor cut, wrap and label the meat to the producer’s or the customer’s specifications? Vacuum packing is preferred.

When satisfied, the producer can make an appointment with the processor that best meets his/her needs.

Knowledge is the key to good management. Good management is the key to producing great beef. Utilize available resources, extension agents, feed experts, other producers and cattle organizations to learn as much as possible.


There are a variety of ways in which Highland beef producers can sell their product, ranging from carcass to boxed beef. The Highland Beef Marketing Committee periodically provides marketing tools, which may include peel-off sticker logos, meat cut posters, QHB logo bags, and brochures. These can be purchased through AHCA when offered. Peel-off sticker logos are designed to be used on individual meat packages and/or point of purchase displays. The posters and brochures can also be used in displays or given to potential customers. The only limitation in marketing is the producer’s creativity.

This policy was updated by the Board of Directors on August 6, 2017 and all changes are effective immediately.

Click here for the QHB Contract