Category Archives: Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail

Greeting May With Snow…

Even in the land of crazy weather it is not often that we celebrate the 1st of May with a power outage due to a winter storm. My favorite blonde cowgirl and I checked cattle Saturday late morning amidst a few snow flurries, still a bit in disbelief of the weather man’s report of a winter storm for Sunday.

Regardless of my desires to see sunshine and warmth, Sunday afternoon brought 8 inches of wet snow, a mean north wind, and fairly widespread power outages in rural Dawson County.

We lost power at our house. We lost power at Will Feed. We lost power at our pasture ground.

It’s amazing how different things can look in a short period of time. 

After being out of power for 24 hours, things have returned to a more normal state. 

We are hoping for sunshine and warmer temperatures this week as our second set of cattle from the Lazy YN Ranch are scheduled to come in today.

*Stay tuned for Video #2 which will be up on Thursday 🙂

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Going To Grass…

After twenty years in Nebraska, I can report that the world turning green in the springtime provides one of the year’s greatest blessings. A little bit of rain, some sunshine, and warming temperatures brings the countryside to life after a long winter.

We celebrated the start of spring yesterday taking our first set of cattle to grass. These yearling steers shipped from a ranch about 25 miles from our farm and will grow on our pastures for the first part of the summer.

It is good to have some cattle on the farm again. The beautiful blue skies and 70 degree temperatures provided an awesome day to go to grass. My two blondes are looking forward to helping to care for the cattle while they graze our pastures.

After these cattle finish growing on grass, they will ship to Roberts Cattle Company in Lexington, Nebraska. My new job at the Beef Marketing Group allows me to play a role on the feed yard team at Roberts, helping them with their cattle care and responsibilities with the Progressive Beef program. I am looking forward to being able to trace these calves and their care all of the way through the feeding period and on into the packing plant.

Look for periodic updates on these yearling steers and the fall calves also born on the Lazy YN Ranch that will be spending quality time on the Feed Yard Foodie farm this spring/summer.

It’s always fun to see some awesome smiles accompany the green grass and great looking cattle 🙂

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Filed under Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, General, ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group

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

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