Category Archives: Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail

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

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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Filed under Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, Foodie Work!, General