Category Archives: Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail

Finding Value…

We all search for value in our lives.  I would argue that what we individually value often defines who we are as a person – creating our priorities and the actions that result from them.  There are three core values that make me Anne:

  • Integrity
  • Hard Work
  • Altruism

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I am in-arguably both an idealist and an over-achiever.  Honesty and transparency are high on my list of priorities, and a capacity for hard work seems to be firmly entrenched in my DNA.  When I landed at Dartmouth College as an incoming freshman, I had to take a math test to prove competency due to my less than stellar math SAT scores.  I responded by passing the test, getting an A in college calculus and graduating Cum Laude four years later.  My brain didn’t get any smarter, but determination and dedicated study brought me success.

I grew up believing in working for the greater good.  At age seventy, my mom still spends her days teaching high school English driven by an admirable passion to make a difference in the lives of her students.  While I chose a farm and bovines over a classroom full of teenagers, it is easy to see my mom’s steady influence in my dedication to altruism.  There are likely times when this makes me a less skilled business woman, but I tend to lead with my heart and take faith with me on the journey.

My feed yard crew consists of myself and three employees.  My guys are nothing short of awesome, and it is virtually impossible to find the words to relate how valuable they are to my family and our farm.  The team that we form together ensures that our day to day animal care upholds a standard of excellence.  I know it because I live it – you all can believe it because our Progressive Beef audit scores are always in the “excellent” or highest category possible.  My guys and I find value in doing our best, each and every day, to ensure that we offer appropriate and responsible care to our cattle.  It is easy to do that when you dedicate your life to taking the time to care.

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session...

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session…

Ideally, an altruistic person works tirelessly to make the world a better place without ever giving thought to being rewarded for those actions.  Since my guys and I are human, I have to admit that sometimes we get tired.  In the midst of a 60 hour week, we wonder if what we have dedicated our lives to really makes a difference.  We watch our cattle thrive and reach their God-given genetic potential, but we rarely receive any positive feedback from outside of our farm for our efforts.  It is hard to push yourself, day in and day out, to strive for excellence when there is no one rewarding your efforts.

The beauty of the BMG-Progressive Beef-Tyson-Braveheart Beef program exists in the system of support and reward.  The community of food production that we create together refuels itself by adding tangible value to the beef that we grow.  After many, many years, my guys and I are finally able to see that someone outside of our farm really does care that we do our jobs well!

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I’ll never forget the first week that we shipped cattle destined to create beef for the Braveheart brand.   There were proud smiles all across the feed yard as my guys experienced a true sense of accomplishment.  For once, our “face” could appear on a product – our story held significance – our efforts created tangible value to someone outside of our farm.

The demand for Braveheart Beef is growing.  A new partnership to create a Certified Angus Beef – Braveheart beef product launched this year combining two great brands to bring each of you a verified and value added beef eating experience.  The product initially launched in New York City and the boxes of beef keep flying off of the shelf as an impressive demand overpowers supply.

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Meanwhile, my guys and I keep doing our part creating value on the farm.  Focusing on integrity, hard work, and being positive contributors to the country that we love.  We are sporting proud smiles with the knowledge that someone outside of our farm thinks that we do is valuable 🙂

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It Takes a Community…

A few years after I moved to rural Nebraska, an elementary school teacher told me “Anne, it takes a community to raise a child”.  I was a new mother at the time trying to figure my way into the vast responsibilities of having a child, and her words resonated in my heart.  Many years later, I still think of her advice as I continue to raise my own daughters as well as serving as a youth athletic coach in our small town.

A great amount of power exists in a community.  The team work and dedication to a common cause provides strength and longevity.  Just as strength comes in numbers, compassion increases exponentially as the group works to provide for its members and the common good.  Although my vocation is responsibly raising beef, the local kids that I coach and mentor serve as a daily reminder of what is truly important in life.  Of all of the things that my community has given to me over the past twenty years, the ability to positively make a difference in the lives of our youth is the one that I truly treasure.

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While it takes a community to raise a child, it also takes a food production community to raise high quality and traceable beef.  From the ranch all of the way to the dinner plate — an organized supply chain needs to inspire all of the contributors to act with integrity and congruence.  What Virginia, Rachel and I do on our farms makes a difference in the lives of our animals.  In order to complete the circle of quality, we need partners at the retail level of food production to maintain and augment that value all of the way to your dinner table.

The best way to do that is to work together to build a brand.  Three years ago my feed yard became a member of the Beef Marketing Group.  I was looking for a group of like-minded feed yards who focused on quality animal care, and were interested in coming together to sell a value added product. Each feed yard in our cooperative participates in the Progressive Beef QSA program and is audited against animal welfare, food safety and sustainability standards.

The Beef Marketing Group now teams up with Tyson Foods and Performance Food Groups to bring the Braveheart Beef product to your restaurant table.

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This is a unique and true partnership that adds value all across the production chain. Cattle care and farmer integrity are assured, and the Path Proven technology verifies that the DNA of the Braveheart Beef comes from one of our Progressive Beef certified animals.

This adds confidence to the food supply chain by:

  • Audited and verified animal care on the farm
  • Meat testing to ensure traceability and product integrity

BMG, Tyson, and Performance Food Groups come together to let you know that “we’ve got your back” relative to beef quality and farmer integrity.  The product is sold in restaurants all across the country, and we are hopeful that demand for it will continue to grow making it even easier to get to your dinner plate in the future!AnneGirlsApril2016.jpg

My girls are blessed to be able to grow up on “Mama’s beef”, now the Braveheart Beef brand makes it easier for you to be also 🙂

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Filed under Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Making Beef…

Virginia, Rachel and I spend roughly 15 months raising each calf that originates from the Evert Ranch.  During those months, the calf will grow from 70# to 1300# — gaining the first half of those pounds from a combination of mama’s milk and grass at the ranch and the second half of those pounds on a grain and forage casserole at the feed yard.  It amazes me to think that good nutrition, planning and care can be so effective, but each year the Evert calves get better and better.

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We measure performance on the cattle at each level of the production chain.  Virginia is well-known for the “clipboard” that she carries around — making notes on the calves during their time on the ranch.  Each calf receives a visual tag at birth that correlates to its parents so that genetics can be measured.  Things like disposition (how the calf acts around its human caregivers), phenotype, frame scoring, and general health are all combined to determine the total quality of the animal.

When the calf changes address and comes to the feed yard, I tie the visual ranch tag with an EID (electronic identification tag) that allows us to trace performance at the feed yard as well as at the packing plant.  I track three main things: overall health, total pounds gained, and dry matter feed conversion.Evertfeedyard2.jpg

When the calf leaves my farm, it travels about 20 miles to the Tyson packing plant in Lexington, Nebraska having spent its entire lifetime within a 50 mile radius.  At that point, the EID tag allows the transmission of carcass data which provides over-all beef quality scoring for the animal.  This data collection includes carcass weight, meat tenderness score, steak measurements, and total leanness of the animal.  The carcass data is the final piece of our report card as beef producers, giving Virginia, Rachel and me information that we can use in the future to continuously improve quality.

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Because animal welfare, food safety, and sustainability are important to me, I look to my packing plant partner to share both my passion and my dedication to excellence on these topics.  In addition to supplying cattle to Tyson, I have the unique opportunity of serving on their Farm Check Animal Well-Being Advisory committee.  As a member of this board, I work to understand and improve animal welfare throughout the entire production chain.

The latest Tyson effort to ensure good animal welfare on the farm...Tyson plays a critical role making beef.  As the last stop for the animals that Virginia, Rachel and I raise, their cooperation and hard work finishes the circle in the production of responsible beef.

  • Their impressive food safety and animal welfare auditing practices provide a fitting end to the hard work that goes into raising a healthy food animal.
  • Their commitment to transparency allows for the sharing of information both back to the farmer in the form of carcass data, and forward to the beef consumer who wants to understand the company’s commitment to sustainably raised food.

I believe that the future of food production lies in the building of strong partner relationships.  It is a complicated and difficult task to grow safe, healthy, and great tasting beef.  As a team, we are able to put the pieces of the puzzle together in the ever important journey of continuous improvement.

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Our next blog post takes us into the world of retail and food service – the last critical step of bring beef to your plate 🙂

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The Feed Yard: Unraveling the Myth…

When Virginia and Rachel’s cattle leave the home ranch, they travel approximately thirty miles to my farm.  The cattle make the trip in large stock trailers pulled by pick up trucks driven by the family.  Shipment day is a busy one, and the cattle arrive at the feed yard about noon.  The goal is to minimize the total stress on the calves so we all work together to make the logistics flow seamlessly.

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The calves are unloaded as soon as they arrive and the process of acclimation begins.  I am the team member at the feed yard who is in charge of the acclimation process, and I lead the calves through a 4-7 day transition to help them become familiar to their new surroundings.  This includes:

  • Learning to become comfortable with a new set of human caregivers.
  • Learning to exit the home pen in an organized fashion and move confidently down to the corral.
  • Learning to attribute comfort to the home pen — understanding that fresh feed, water, and a comfortable place to both play and rest can be found there.

I believe that this process is a critical component to reducing stress on newly arrived cattle and allows them to settle in quickly and seamlessly to their new home.  We run the feed yard to set our animals up for success — recognizing that it is our job as caregivers to strive to attain the 5 Freedoms of Cattle Care while also working to be sustainable environmental stewards to the resources on our farm.

As a member of the Beef Marketing Group Cooperative, my feed yard is certified under the QSA of Progressive Beef.  As such, we have Cattle Care Guidelines and Standard Operating Producers that dictate the daily care practices for our animals.  We work with our veterinarian and bovine nutritionist to ensure that our care is appropriate and effective.  We are audited twice a year to ensure that we follow through on the details relative to this care.

One of our two Progressive Beef audits in 2016 is an “unscheduled” audit — this means that we do not know what day the auditor will arrive to check both the physical aspects of our feed yard care and our supporting paperwork.  Tuesday morning, I left the feed yard and headed to the dentist at 8:00am.  I was on the road headed back to town when I got a text message saying that the Progressive Beef auditor was 45 minutes away from the feed yard.

The auditor checking the water tank with the Evert calves watching curiously from behind...

The auditor preparing to check the water tank with the Evert calves watching curiously from behind…

Although an audit disrupts the daily routine at the feed yard, I view it as both a learning process and a way that I can assure the folks who purchase my beef that it was raised responsibly.  An audit is very much like a report card, and the metrics involved play a key role in our path of continuous improvement.

In an effort to ensure that the Progressive Beef standards for animal welfare, food safety and sustainability are met daily on the farm, the auditor assesses:

  • Cattle handling and daily care
  • Cattle home pen living conditions
  • Cattle water tank cleanliness
  • Cattle feed nutrition, handling and delivery which follows developed HACCP principles for safety
  • Antibiotic use on the farm (volume of use as well as animal withdrawal records to ensure that meat is residue free)
  • Food safety practices used on the farm to ensure that the meat that our animals provide meets high safety standards
  • Feed yard employee safety guidelines
  • Farm sustainability practices which ensure responsible resource utilization
Ever curious, an Evert steer poses for a picture...

Ever curious, an Evert steer poses for a picture…

At the end of the video that I put up last week, I asked for trust from you for me as a farmer.  I recognize that this is a big ask on my part, and as a result I open my farm to auditing so that I can verify my actions and reward your trust.

Stay tuned for next’s week post that takes us from the feed yard to the packing plant — among other things, we will learn the importance of the small white button in the above calf’s ear!

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Filed under Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, CAFO, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

From Ranch to Plate: The Beginning of the Cattle Life Cycle…

I remember when my favorite father-in-law first introduced me to the cattle business.  Matt and I were still living in New Hampshire, but we flew to Kansas City to attend the 1996 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention.  The *plan* was to move back to Nebraska to the farm the following June, and I was badly in need of a basic cattle education.  As was the case for many city folk, I thought cattle went from the pretty green grass pasture straight to the package of beautifully marbled Certified Angus Beef steak that my dad loved to grill…

It never really occurred to me to even think about everything that went into making that awesome tasting steak until those first few days at the NCBA convention.  Twenty years later, I am well versed on the complicated process of beef production that begins on a cow-calf ranch and ends at the grocery store.  I know that it takes teamwork, a dedication to caring, and a disciplined and respectful use of natural resources.

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Fifteen years ago, I took over the job of procuring cattle for the feed yard.  I set out looking for ranchers who wanted to partner with me — sharing information that allowed for the improvement of both animal welfare and beef quality at the first two levels of beef production: the ranch and the feed yard.  I was finding success personally as a calf caregiver, and I realized how much better the lives of my cattle would be if I could better organize a holistic lifetime care program that included ranchers who shared my vision.  The make up of resources on our farm did not allow for a cow-calf herd, so I set out to find ranchers who wanted to collaborate with me and follow their calves from birth to harvest.

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The majority of cattle in the United States spend the first 8-14 months grazing on grass pastures and growing from about 70 pounds (at birth) to approximately 600-700#.  Grass is a wonderful resource and a critical component to raising beef.  More than half of Nebraska’s landmass (23 million acres) is made up of these grasslands where the soil and topography allows only for the growth of prairie grasses.  Cattle, as ruminant animals, have a digestive tract that is made up of four compartments which allows for them to be tremendously efficient grass converters.  This capability provides a core component in our effort as farmers to convert a non-edible resource (grass) into a nutrient packed and great tasting human protein source (beef).

The list of ranchers that I work with has grown over the years, and my partnership with them allows for better animal care and a smaller environmental footprint in our journey of beef production.  Our animals remain healthier both allowing for a more efficient conversion of feed resources, and a smaller antibiotic use footprint.  Tracing the performance of the animals from birth all of the way into the packing plant allows for genetic changes to improve beef quality, taste, and tenderness.  In short, together we get smarter as farmers, and our animals get more efficient and produce a higher quality beef product.

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The Evert family is one of my cow-calf ranching partners.  I met Virginia Evert when she went to work at Eastside Animal Center as a vet tech in 2002.  Four years ago, she left the vet clinic to work full time ranching with her cousin and raising their families.  I do not often get to work with women, and I consider it one of my greatest pleasures to work with Virginia and Rachel and their families.

Evertcalves9a.jpgIt is easy to work with people who share your values.

Evertcalves12a.jpgIt is easy to partner with those who teach their animals confidence and curiosity.

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It refills my cup to watch the improvement that Virginia, Rachel and I can make each year in our journey helping that great tasting steak get from the grass pasture to the meat case.

You can read more about the Evert Family through this blog series featured in Black Ink with CAB by Miranda Reiman:

http://www.blackinkwithcab.com/2015/10/23/following-the-calves-everything-evert/

http://www.blackinkwithcab.com/2015/10/31/following-the-calves-a-success-story-in-the-making/

http://www.blackinkwithcab.com/2016/01/20/following-the-calves-the-herd-changer/

http://www.blackinkwithcab.com/2016/02/24/following-the-calves-decisions-decisions/

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My Story…

We all have a story.

A chronicle of our individual lives or even a moment in time that helped to determine what makes us “unique”.  Because each of us plays a vital role in the success of our families, our communities, and our country; each story carries a meaningful message in this journey we call life.

The above video is my story.  A seven minute glimpse of Anne — the mom, the farmer, the American.  In 2016, many of us spend a significant amount of time studying food: where it comes from and who grows it.  We make a valiant effort to try to understand why is it grown in so many different ways across the United States.

I hope that my story will provide meaningful insight and transparency relative to farming and food production.  It a story of love, pride, hard work, and technology — that is what allows our farm to be successful.  Matt and I began our work as farmers 19 years ago.  We spend each day committed to each other, and working side by side to continuously improve the way that we grow food.

Please take a few minutes to watch my story.  Please take another minute to share it so that others can get a glimpse of life at a feed yard — a segment of beef farming that is often misunderstood.

The next few blog posts will talk specifically about my partners in the beef production cycle: from the ranchers that provide care for our cattle during the first year of their lives all the way to my brand partners that bring our beef to your dinner table.

Together, we will get a better sense of where your beef comes from!

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, CAFO, Cattle Handling Videos starring Feed Yard Foodie!, Family, Farming, General

Settling In…

There is stress associated with relocating. A trip in a truck, a new address, a new schedule, and new caregivers are just a few of the reasons that cattle may have elevated stress levels during the transition from the ranch to the feed yard. Weather can also exacerbate this relocation stress depending on what Mother Nature sends our way.

It took me many years to accept that I was never going to be able to completely eliminate stress from my cattle’s lives — Instead, I needed to work on reducing that stress to a tolerable level, and then teaching my animals how to effectively deal with it.

The goal = Comfortable and resting calves.

The goal = Comfortable calves.

We have a very specific acclimation protocol to follow at the feed yard when we receive new cattle. I believe that this is one of the most important things that I can offer to my animals during this time of transition. It takes time and dedication to implement, but I view it as critical.

The end of an exercising session -- the calves are returning to the home pen for breakfast...

The end of an exercising session — this time of year, it is predawn — calves are returning to the home pen for breakfast…

The main components of this acclimation protocol are:

  • Daily exercising prior to morning feeding for the first 4-7 days: Calves are asked to leave the home pen and travel down the alleyway to the main corral. There they are asked to walk past the handler calmly and confidently. As soon as the morning feed is delivered to the home pen, the cattle are then asked to travel back down the alleyway to the home pen.
  • Careful feed delivery: We have special rations (casseroles) that we feed to our animals during the transition period – they are high in forage and protein and particularly formulated to meet the nutritional needs of the animals. The feed is delivered 2X per day using a consistent schedule.
  • Vaccinating and deworming: All newly arrived cattle are vaccinated and dewormed. Vaccination needs are determined using the prior health history of the cattle, and our veterinarian plays a big role in helping me provide an appropriate holistic preventative health program for the animals.
  • Individual animal health is checked multiple times throughout the day.

The core components of bovine mental and physical fitness are clean, fresh water and feed; and a comfortable home pen that provides both safety and ample room for the expression of normal play behavior.

The calves excited to see the feed truck for the afternoon feeding...

The calves excited to see the feed truck for the afternoon feeding…

The care that my crew and I offer is both professional in nature, and fueled by compassion. It is not only the right thing to do for the animals, but also an important component to responsibly raising beef for you to share with your family.

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The That A Way ranch cattle finish their seven day acclimation period today. During these first days at the feed yard, the cattle established a personal comfort level in the home pen as well as building healthy eating habits that will enable them to efficiently convert our farm’s resources into beef.

It is the little things that matter most when it comes to Settling In…

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Connecting the Dots…

The vast majority of cattle have more than one address during their lifetime.  This occurs because of the long life cycle of a bovine as well as the diverse resources needed to grow beef.  Most of my cattle spend the first 8-15 months on the home ranch before traveling to my feed yard, and then ultimately a few months later to the Tyson Foods packing plant in Lexington, NE.

2011 Steers from the Denke's ranch...

2011 Steers from That A Way ranch…

About a dozen years ago, my father in law told me to design my own niche business model and start purchasing cattle that would enable it to be successful.  The model that I designed is based on tracing cattle from birth to harvest — focusing on building collaborative relationships all along the calf life cycle in order to work toward continuous improvement.

I soon discovered that building relationships with ranchers was much easier if I also acted as the cattle buyer, the person that orchestrated the deal between the rancher and the feed yard.  I perform this role in more than 85% of the transitions of cattle off of the ranch of origin into my feed yard.  I love the time that I spend interacting with ranchers — getting to know their families as well as their cattle herds — working each year to share information that will improve cattle performance, beef quality, and animal welfare.

The sunrise that gave a beautiful start to my day as I traveled to the ranch...

The sunrise that gave a beautiful start to my day as I traveled to the ranch.

I left home Wednesday morning at 5:15am to head north to Donita and Larry Denke’s That A Way ranch.  I met Donita and Larry through their son, Tony, who was a member of our Cozad community for a number of years.  Our children were friends, and Matt and I helped coach Tony’s kids on the youth track team.  Larry and Donita have a beautiful Red Angus cow herd, and their steers that I purchase are phenomenal beef producing animals.

Fall on the ranch is breathtakingly beautiful...

Fall on the ranch is breathtakingly beautiful.

The Denke’s hard work and attention to detail makes them a pleasure to work with.  My favorite farmer teases me that Larry is just as particular as I am, and that we make quite a pair.  Larry is Beef Quality Assurance certified and works carefully with his vet to ensure that calf vaccinations and health are excellent.  The Denke’s are also outstanding herdsmen, practicing the same cattle handling practices that I do at the feed yard.

Donita patiently waits on horseback for Larry to share his plan...

Donita patiently waits on horseback for Larry to share his plan while sorting and preparing to ship the calves.

Tony is there to help as well...

Tony is there to help as well.

The calves are soon loaded up on the trucks to travel to their new home at the feed yard...

The calves are soon loaded up on the trucks to travel to their new home at the feed yard.

Their dogs are just as well behaved as their calves, and obediently remain out of the way during the sorting and loading process...

The Denke’s dogs are just as well behaved as their calves, and obediently remain out of the way during the sorting and loading process.

The breeding herd remains on the home ranch...

The breeding herd remains on the home ranch…

While the steer calves, destined to make beef, travel to the feed yard where they find fresh grass hay -- water -- and a dry place to sleep their first night...

while the steer calves, destined to make beef, travel to the feed yard where they find fresh grass hay — water — and a comfortable place to sleep the first night at their new home…

 Connecting the dots in the cattle life cycle and beef farming is incredibly important.  When the Denke’s and I remain committed to providing high quality care all across the calf life cycle, each of you benefits by having access to having safe and high quality beef that is humanely raised.

*The Denke’s steers will call my feed yard home until April.  Look for periodic posts between now and then following their life as they prepare to make beef.

 

 

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