This morning my family heads to Lincoln, Nebraska to watch our Haymaker Boys Basketball team compete in the Nebraska State Basketball tournament. While our team is made up of many athletically talented individual players, it is likely that a successful tournament will depend on their ability to work as a team toward a common goal.
I laugh that the closest thing to a team sport that I did during my own athletic tenure was a relay. There were many reasons that I chose swimming and running as my preferred sports, but at the core of my decision was a desire to rely heavily on myself rather than others. I have always been an over-achiever, and my drive to succeed as an athlete left very little tolerance toward those who did not share the same intensity.
A desire for independence and self-reliance is a common personality trait amongst cattlemen. We all have a myriad of opinions and beliefs on any given topic which is further enhanced by the clearly defined segments of the calf life-cycle and the production of beef (cow-calf, stocker-backgrounder, feed yard, and packing plant). Traditionally, in addition to this natural streak of cowboy independence, there has also existed a sense of animosity between the segments.
The team experience that I shied away from during my teenage years as an athlete has been replaced with the mature realization that in beef production together we are better. As much as I still pride myself on hard work and independent critical thinking, my adult years have taught me that collaboration is a good recipe for success.
When the goal is responsibly raised safe and delicious beef, it takes a team.
That team starts with the cow-calf rancher and ends with the beef customer (You!). As important as it is that I work with my ranchers; it is equally important that I work with my packing plant in order to bring a quality beef product to each one of you. Cattle marketing from the feed yard to the packing plant is a complicated process…
When a group of cattle are ready for slaughter, they are generally sold to packing plants in one of three ways:
- On a live (cash) basis where the worth of the cattle is negotiated prior to the weigh up of the cattle, and multiplied by the total number of pounds of the entire group of animals at the feed yard.
- On a dressed basis where the worth of the cattle is negotiated prior to the shipment of the cattle, and this price is multiplied by the total weight of the carcasses after the slaughter process.
- On a grid basis where the base price of the meat is determined by either the cash basis or dressed price of other cattle that trade (usually the week prior to shipment), but then final payment fluctuates with a series of premiums and discounts relative to the quality and weight of the beef that each individual animal provides.
Our feed yard has historically sold cattle on a grid basis. Even back in the early 1970’s, we marketed our animals in this manner as it has always been our philosophy that the quality beef should ultimately determine the worth of the animal. This type of marketing system has become more commonplace in the last 15 years because it carries with it certain advantages.
- Higher quality animals receive higher compensation which allows someone like me (and my ranchers) to be rewarded for superior quality.
- Information on the beef that my animals provide (carcass data) is shared by the packing plant so that my ranchers and I can continue to work on improving the quality of our beef.
- Cross segment food safety measures can be put in place to further enhance the safety of our beef products.
- Improvements in animal welfare can be carried out across the animal’s lifetime through teamwork and fewer logistical challenges during transportation as the cattle move through the different segments of the beef industry.
- Working with a packing plant helps to bring me (as a farmer) closer to my beef customers. Together, we can work to answer your question of Where does your beef come from?
In the case of beef production, just as on the basketball court, it takes a team to bring success!