Category Archives: Beef Life Cycle–Calf #718

Replacement Heifers: Meet Tippy…

Every once in a while someone will jokingly tease my husband that we should have another child. I immediately reply that he will need a replacement heifer in order to accomplish this as my days of pregnancy are far behind me. While my three girls are unquestioningly the best thing that I have done with my life, I did not do pregnancy well and my third triggered an autoimmune disease that brought a difficult and unforeseen challenge to my life journey.


With only three successful pregnancies, I would have made a lousy breeding cow…

In all seriousness, the decision of which heifers (female calves) to keep on the home ranch to use in the breeding herd is one of the most important decisions that a rancher makes. Most ranchers keep a portion of their female calves on the ranch to become replacement heifers. These animals will go on to become breeding cows and replace the cows in the herd that are no longer reproductively sound. The majority of these replacement heifers will spend 10 years or more successfully making baby calves.

Her first year of calving she was called a "replacement heifer" as she took the place of an older cow who could no longer have babies...

Her first year of calving she is called a “replacement heifer” or a “first calf heifer”. Her job is the stay on the ranch — have baby calves — and care for them for the first 6-9 months of their lives.  After her first year in the breeding herd, she is called a cow…

There are a number of criteria that ranchers use when determining which replacement heifers to keep. A few of those might be:

  • Confirmation of the animal — good feet/legs, smooth walking gait, good overall physical frame and muscling.
  • Phenotypic Uniformity — many times solid colored with a generally appealing appearance.
  • Heifers from mothers who have historically good fertility and maternal traits as well as calving ease and nice personalities.

    Al and his daughter, Tessa, have a ranch near Halsey, NE.  I have worked with Al for more than 10 years -- feeding his steers and the heifers that are not chosen to be kept for replacement heifers...

    Al and his daughter, Tessa, have a ranch near Halsey, NE. I have worked with Al for almost 15 years — feeding his steers and the heifers that are not chosen to be kept for replacements in the breeding herd…

Those heifers that are not chosen to serve as replacements are sold and often end up at feed yards like mine. Sometimes they are animals that ranchers have a soft spot for, but do not keep for the breeding herd because they do not meet their set criteria. This is the case with Yellow #042…

We will learn more about Tippy in the next couple of months as she lives and grows at the feed yard...

We will learn more about Tippy in the next couple of months as she lives and grows at the feed yard…

My favorite blondes have named her “Tippy”. Can you guess why she didn’t make the replacement heifer cut?


Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General


Together we are stronger…

 As important as I believe it is to be strong and self reliant; I also recognize that teamwork is imperative for meaningful and long term success.

 How do we learn the skills necessary for teamwork?

 My daughter Ashley Grace has participated in a school sponsored program called Destination Imagination since the second grade.  Very simply, Destination Imagination is a program that teaches children team work and problem solving skills.  She has had the same seven team members for four years now.  They are a very talented and very strong willed bunch of young ladies.  Last year (as fifth graders), they mastered the skill of working together and, as a result, were highly successful and placed at the Global Finals Destination Imagination competition in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Great Brain Power!

 They learned to respect and use each others individual talents in order to make an incredibly powerful team.


I am good at caring for and feeding cattle.  I have done my homework, and I understand my animals and their needs.  I am willing to give 110% of myself everyday to my animals because that is what it takes to make the best beef.  I love what I do, and I believe that it makes a positive and lasting impact on the world that I am so blessed to live in.

 But I also realize that I can not make the best beef all by myself…

Being successful and delivering to you a great tasting beef eating experience each and every time that you purchase my product takes teamwork.

 For reasons based both on tradition and on practicality, the beef industry is not vertically integrated.  This means that most cattle will be owned or cared for by at least two different individuals or farms before they are ready for harvest.  Following harvest, the beef will be owned and handled by at least two other individuals or entities before it makes it to your dinner plate.

 What does this mean?


 I strive for vertical collaboration with all of the parties that own my animals and the beef that they produce.  By collaborating with each other we can ensure the success of the animal and its beef from farm to fork…We have talked extensively about the partnership that I have with my cow/calf ranchers (like Al and Sallie), and we have talked about the partnership that I have with U.S. Premium Beef and their packing plant (National Beef) in order to harvest the animals.

 So what happens to the beef that my animals produce and where does Certified Angus Beef fit in?

 Last quarter I harvested 1970 animals through U.S. Premium Beef.   85% of those animals graded Prime or Choice quality.   35% qualified for the Certified Angus Beef brand.  Why?

 To qualify for the Certified Angus Beef brand, there are very specific live animal and beef quality science-based specifications that must be met.  These specifications are challenging to achieve, and help to ensure that you have a great tasting beef eating experience every single time you eat it.

 Beef Specifications for Certified Angus Beef…

Modest or higher marbling (high Choice or Prime Grade)

Medium or fine marbling texture

“A” maturity—superior color, texture, and tenderness

10-16” Rib Eye Area

Less than 1000# pound carcass

Less than 1” fat thickness around the edge of the meat

No blemishes in appearance or color

In fact, only 1 in 4 Angus cattle meet all of the brand’s specifications.  While these specifications allow for a consistently juicy and tender beef eating experience, perhaps (to me) the most important part of Certified Angus Beef’s role is connecting the grocery store or the restaurant and their ensuing customers to my farm and beef farms all across the country.

 Certified Angus Beef builds this last invaluable bridge from my farm to your table.

 Are there other types of beef coming from other breeds of cattle that taste great?  Absolutely!  But, Certified Angus Beef leads the way in connecting the consumer to the story behind where your beef comes from…All of the way from farms like mine and Al and Sallie’s to your home so that you can feel good about choosing beef for dinner tonight and every night!

Matt and I receiving our award in Oregon...

 That is teamwork at its very best…Independently we master our roles, and together we are invincible!

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Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, Foodie Fun!, General

From Nebraska to Oregon, in search of more bridges…

The balance (precarious at times) that exists at our house was disrupted this week…

The kids went to school as usual Tuesday morning, but Diggie (grandpa) was in charge of the after school pick up.   At 3:20pm he dashed into the elementary school parking lot to meet his favorite blonds…

He was in charge of the gymnastics drop off and pick up until Demi (grandma) became available to relieve him from his taxi duties.

Demi and Diggie with their favorite blonds...

Demi and Diggie, the brave souls that they are, were in charge for a few days (at least as much as my oldest daughter allows anyone else to be in charge…).

Very organized and usually in charge...

It is unusual for Matt and I to travel and leave the kids behind, but this was an important trip.  We set off for the long haul from Nebraska to Oregon to attend the Certified Angus Beef Annual Conference.

A product display case at the conference. Great looking beef!

A few years after Al and Sallie Atkins (and several other ranchers from Nebraska) began working with me to trace our cattle from birth to harvest in an effort to improve the beef that we grow, Certified Angus Beef recognized my feed yard as a “feed yard partner” of their branded beef program.

Many of you will probably recognize their logo, as Certified Angus Beef has more than 12,300 licensed retail (grocery store) and food-service partners in the United States and 46 other countries.  Certified Angus Beef is known for quality and taste…

This week, Matt and I were honored to receive the Certified Angus Beef Feed Yard Partner of the Year Award in the “small feed yard” classification.  As part of the award, we spent a couple of days visiting with all of the wonderful retail and food service folks that help to bring our great tasting beef to your local grocery store or restaurant.

Certified Angus Beef helps to build a very important bridge:

From my farm...

To your plate...

Next week, we will take a closer look at Certified Angus Beef, and give you all some more insight into what makes a great beef eating experience.

In the meantime, I will be shoveling out my house and my desk at the feed yard in an optimistic hope of regaining balance “on the home front”.  I am pretty sure that Demi and Diggie will be trying to sneak in a few naps in order to recover from the whirlwind of a couple of days with my children…


Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, Foodie Fun!, General

Choosing beef…

One of Feed Yard Foodie’s most dedicated readers, Bill, asked last week if I could send out free samples of my beef with my final post of Calf #718…

While I would love to share my beef directly with all of you, logistically it is impossible…So, I figure that the next best thing to sharing my beef, is to share ideas of how to purchase great beef to enjoy!

The meat counter at the grocery store can be incredibly confusing—to add to the confusion is the fact that different regions of the country call different cuts of beef different names!

When you see this logo, you know that the information comes from beef farmers like me!

The Beef Checkoff (which is a national program that all beef farmers like me participate in to promote research and education regarding beef) has developed a virtual meat case to help consumers navigate the meat case at the grocery store.

For my first “Foodie Fun” post, I would like to share the link to the virtual meat case with you all and urge you to go explore it!  I think that it will be incredibly useful to you as you try to figure out the cuts of beef.  There are also recipes and cooking tips specific to the different cuts…

Happy Learning…Take the opportunity this weekend to try out a new cut of beef!

If you like to grill, this T bone steak is ensured to make your mouth water! Thanks to the Nebraska Beef Council for the picture...


Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, Recipes and Beef Cooking Tips...

Calf #718 becomes beef…

In Nebraska, cattle outnumber people 4:1.  My children think that this statistic is hilarious and they pass it along to anyone who will listen.  Their other favorite statistic is that on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football “Game Day”, Memorial Stadium (with its approximately 80,000 seat capacity) is the third largest city in Nebraska!

Nebraska has an abundance of grass pastures and cattle feed yards which makes it "The Beef State"!

As you may guess by the above statistics, Nebraska is the Beef State!  In fact, one out of every five steaks and hamburgers is produced in Nebraska…Calf #718 is one of 5.1 million cattle that are finished in Nebraska every year.

Calf #718 becomes beef! Drum roll, please...

I mentioned last week that I harvest my Age and Source Verified cattle (like Calf #718) through U.S. Premium Beef.  What I get paid for the animal depends on the quality and amount of beef that he produces.  What you pay at the grocery store or in a restaurant for my beef is also dependent on the quality and amount of the beef.

So what defines quality?

Traditionally, the quality of beef is determined by the amount of marbling that is present in the muscle.  This is measured at the packing plant by looking at the rib eye muscle of the animal.

While there are many things that go into making beef juicy, palatable, and tender, marbling is a huge factor.  The different levels of quality grade are as follows:





Prime has the most marbling and is incredibly flavorful and tender—if you eat at a high end steak house (like Morton’s), you will most likely be served beef that is Prime grade.  Somewhere between 5-10% of the cattle that I ship to harvest grade Prime.

Choice has the next level of marbling and is still very high quality beef.  Most grocery store chains carry Choice grade beef as do many moderate to high end restaurants.  Most of the cattle that I ship to harvest (about 80%) fall under the Choice grade.  Choice grade beef is my personal favorite…

Select has the next level of marbling and, if cooked correctly, can still make a great eating experience.  When I cook a select grade steak, I am careful that I cook it no more than medium rare which helps it to still be juicy and flavorful.  Most grass fed beef will fall under the Select quality grade.  As those of you know that have eaten grass fed beef, the taste and consistency of the beef is different than grain fed beef.  It is still great beef, it is just different.

Standard beef has very little marbling.  It needs to be tenderized and cooked very carefully.

So what was the quality grade of #718?

Calf 718 Graded Choice

This is me learning how to fabricate (or cut up) a beef carcass about 13 years ago...

What other measurements are taken at the packing plant to determine the worth of the animal?

  1. Red meat yield:  Red meat yield is how much red meat is on the carcass relative to the live weight of the animal.  An animal that has a high red meat yield is an efficient animal and produces more useful/edible components relative to the total weight of the animal.  Fed cattle red meat yields run anywhere from 62% to 67% as a general rule.

Calf #718’s red meat yield was 66.64%

      2.    Yield Grade:  The yield grade is the amount of fat on the animal relative to the size of the rib eye area and the weight of the carcass.  Yield grades on cattle are 1-5 (1 being the leanest).

Calf #718’s yield grade was a 4 which means that I should have shipped him to harvest a week or two earlier than I did!

3. Rib Eye Area:  The rib eye area tells you how big the rib eye steak is.  In other words, if a rib eye steak was placed on your plate, how much of the plate would it take up! Rib eye areas in cattle run anywhere from 8-17 inches.

Calf #718’s rib eye area was 12.63

What all this means is that Calf #718 would make a great steak to eat!  His roasts would also be wonderful. If I could go back and change anything about the way that I prepared #718 for harvest, I would have shipped him to U.S. Premium beef a week or two before to allow him to be a leaner carcass with less fat trim to be taken off.

So, what is my favorite cut of meat to cook?  I love a great chuck roast (with fresh carrots and tomatoes) in the Crock Pot…it not only tastes great but it also makes my house smell wonderfully all day long while it cooks!

Dinner at the Feed Yard Foodie household is a casual affair, but it always tastes great!

In the near future, I will be adding a category to the blog entitled “Foodie Fun”.  The posts in this category will cover nutritional and cooking information about beef (including some great recipes).

Stayed tuned and EAT BEEF!


Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General

Building Bridges…

This is the north channel of the Platte River. The south channel is about 200 yards away and is wider and shallower...

Dawson County, Nebraska is divided in half by the Platte River.  Shortly after I moved to the Cozad area, I learned that there were those known as “north siders” and those known as “south siders”.  In 1997, it amazed me that a river could create such a concept of “dividedness”—after all, it took only about 15 seconds to drive across one of the many bridges that now span the river.

The tradition of “north siders” verses “south siders” took root in a time where the shallow, yet wide Platte River created a chasm between homesteaders on either side of the river banks.  The quick sand found along the bottom of the river made both crossing the river and building the structural supports needed for a bridge very challenging.

Today, what seems an easy trip from one side of the river to the other was virtually impossible when the town of Cozad was settled…

This little one was born on AL Ranch and grew to weigh approximately 850# before being moved to my feed yard.

With the exception of only a very few farms in the United States, the cattle industry is divided into segments.  Mama cows and bulls which provide the breeding herds of our nation’s beef supply are located on cow/calf ranches.  This is where baby calves are born and spend the first 8-18 months of their lives depending on the amount of pasture and feed that is available in any given year (Mother Nature plays a big role in determining this!).  Cattle that are to be grown for the production of beef (not to become part of the future breeding herd), are then moved to either an intermediate farm to be “grown” or into a finishing feed yard to be prepared for harvest.  The feed yard is the last stop for the animal before he is transported to a packing plant for harvest.

#718 and his herd mates line up for breakfast at the feed yard!

When I went to work at our feed yard at age 22, I was amazed at the independence of the cattle farmers that made up the different segments of the beef production cycle…At times it seemed as though one Platte River ran between the cow/calf rancher and the feed yard, and another ran between the feed yard and the packing plant…

I, along with many other cattle farmers, have spent the last 14 years building bridges.  Tradition, economics, and government regulations have kept my cattle production cycle from becoming completely vertically integrated.  However, it is now vertically collaborative.  It takes a concerted team effort to produce the best beef possible!

Collaborating with Al and other ranchers like him is very rewarding...

I work closely with my cow/calf ranchers (like Al and Sallie), and we pass information back and forth to ensure that we set our animals up for success.  A close communication system allows each calf to be traced from birth to harvest.  This also provides for optimal calf care and performance, as well as the most efficient use of natural resources to grow great tasting and healthy beef.   As we have traced Calf #718 over the past couple of months, you have *hopefully* seen the success story of good genetics, good communication, good care based on Beef Quality Assurance protocols, and an efficient use of natural resources to raise cattle and grow beef.

There is a solid bridge made of trust and respect that connects Al and Sallie and I as we work together to raise our cattle and make beef.

So, what happened when Calf #718 left my feed yard and went to harvest? Does the teamwork continue?

Calf #718 was harvested through U.S. Premium Beef, LLC.  Started in 1996, U.S. Premium Beef is a marketing company which provides U.S. beef farmers and ranchers an opportunity to retain ownership of the beef they raise from the ranch to retail. It is owned by beef farmers who produce high quality cattle that will go into value-added beef products designed specifically to meet consumers’ demands. U.S. Premium Beef owns National Beef Packing Company which has harvest facilities in Dodge City and Liberal, Kansas in addition to one in Brawley, California.  Calf #718 was harvested at the Dodge City, Kansas facility which is located approximately 4 hours south and east of my feed yard.

Because U.S. Premium Beef focuses on value-added beef products to meet consumer desires, they make a great partner for my high quality cattle.  They enable me to build a bridge to the consumer of my beef products through a pricing structure that rewards high quality Age and Source Verified beef as well as providing me (and Al and Sallie) with individual carcass performance data on the cattle that are harvested at their facility.  This means that Al and Sallie and I can complete the beef production cycle.  We can literally trace Calf #718 from birth to harvest.  U.S. Premium Beef provides the final “pieces to the puzzle” of our beef production.

The Flat Iron steak was "discovered " in the University of Nebraska meat laboratory. It is part of the Chuck muscle and makes a very tender steak. Thanks to the Nebraska Beef Council for the great picture!

While independence and tradition are important, evolving to meet the needs of our beef consumers is more important.  For that reason, we have become innovative “bridge builders” in a vertically collaborative system which sets us all up for success.  After all, “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner”!

Next week we will look at the different components of “carcass performance data”, and further explore what makes a truly great steak!


Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General


Coach Andersen (to the left of me), me, and Coach Kirk Peppas at the Junior National Championships my senior year in high school. I placed 4th and 6th in the backstroke events.

I was first introduced to the concept of “focus” by my USA Swimming coach when I was in 8th grade.  Coach Andersen believed in holistic fitness for his athletes, and was determined to teach us all mental toughness and focus in addition to making our bodies strong.  Coach was my earliest mentor, and had a tremendous lasting influence on the person that I have become.  He made me tough, gave me a tremendous work ethic, and challenged me to always strive for greatness.

That being said, my teammates and I thought that he had lost his mind when he had us all lie down on the floor to practice relaxation and focus techniques….Amidst a room of quiet snickers, I found a tremendous life skill.

I called on this life skill ten years later as I began to study cattle and horses and learned to interact with them.

Focus means attention to detail: receiving feedback from my animals and responding accordingly...

I remember vividly the first time that I shipped cattle to harvest.

The feeling that I have today when I ship cattle to harvest is much different…

Moving amidst a large number of animals that are 13X bigger than you are can be intimidating.  That first day, I was shaking with fright as Archie and I counted off cattle to be moved up to the waiting semi-trucks.  In spite of my fear, (thanks to Coach Andersen) I was able regain my focus and concentrate on the task at hand.  I lacked confidence that first day, but I realized that it was imperative that I stay in control.

So what exactly is focus?

Webster defines focus as a point of concentration.  When you are handling prey animals, this focus has an added element that Natural Horseman Bill Dorrance describes as “feel”.  In this instance, the concentration requires a detailed element of perception necessary to enable an effective two way communication system.  When you are handling animals that weigh 1350#, there is little room for error.  Effective communication is the difference between skillful cattle handling and safety, and chaotic and dangerous mayhem.

A group of 16 animals going up the alleyway to load on the semi-truck to be shipped to harvest...My cowboy and I are the "shipping crew".

When I first began at the feed yard, shipping cattle required four crew members and a lot of tension and pressure.  Today, my cowboy and I sort and ship cattle by ourselves and there is an element of effective communication that reduces the tension and makes it a more organized effort.

The difference?

A focus on feel, training and prey animal psychology that begins when cattle are received at the feed yard and continues throughout the feeding period.  When I acclimate cattle into the feed yard, I teach them to walk calmly past the handler and sort easily.  I also consistently rely on the “Ask, Tell, Promise” communication system that I described in an earlier post as I train my animals.  This not only allows them to feel more comfortable in their surroundings, but it also makes “shipment day” much easier.

Does “shipment day” always go as smoothly as I want it to?  No.  Animals (cattle) are unpredictable, and no two days are the same.  When we handle and ship cattle, we focus on Dr. Dee Griffin’s 4 S’s of Safety:

Safety of the animal handler

Safety of the animal

Safety of the food supply

Safety of everyone that comes in contact with the animal

In the fifteen years that I have been learning how cattle think and act, I have discovered that the single most important skill to have is perception of the surrounding environment and focus on the animal and the task at hand.  Communication is a two way street—even with an animal.  If you are not focused, then you will miss half the conversation.  If the conversation is with a 1350# animal, then missing half of the conversation may mean the difference between effectively loading the animal and literally being trampled to death.

Calf #718 and his herd mates are strong and powerful animals...

Calf #718 weighed 1394# when I loaded him on the truck and shipped him to harvest.  My measly 105# of body weight looks pretty scrawny next to a powerful animal of that size.  I must rely on my focus, feel, and communication to safely and effectively load him (and his herd mates) on the semi-truck destined for harvest…

A cattle semi-truck waiting to receive cattle to transport them to harvest...

That takes me back to the early days when Coach Andersen taught me that brawn was victorious only when it was combined with brains!

Feed Yard Foodie as a Senior in high school...Brains and Brawn were a great combination back then too!


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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General, Natural Horsemanship

Flip Cam meets Feed Yard Foodie…

Here I am moving animals that each weigh 1350#'s up the alley way and onto the truck to be shipped to harvest. I am much more comfortable with moving animals that outweigh me by more than 13X than operating a small video camara that weighes less than a pound...Everything is relative!

Now that you all are familiar with my trepidation toward using some electronic devices, you will understand my great hesitation when I was confronted with a request to shoot video footage at the feed yard using a “Flip Cam”.  I love sharing what I do at the feed yard, so it was not that I did not want to take video footage of how we care for our animals.  Rather, it was a great nervousness regarding using a Flip Cam for the first time.  My children informed me that using a Flip Cam was easy, and that I was being ridiculous…It was really a bummer having to admit that they were right…

They should not already know more than I do... (Aren't parents supposed to be smarter than their kids???) But I am constantly amazed at how much quicker my kids pick up electronic technology than I do...

About two months ago, I was contacted by Phil Lembert’s staff of Food Nutrition & Science with a request for both a written interview and video footage demonstrating my life as a beef farmer.  I first met Phil about three years ago at the National Grocers Convention.  I was attending the convention as part of a program called, “Farmer Goes to Market”, and was there to interact with grocery store retailers and to answer questions regarding Animal Welfare.  I had just won the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Beef Quality Assurance Producer of the Year award, and this was my first experience “talking” to the consumer and sharing my farming story.

Many thanks to Phil and his staff for giving me a needed push further into the realm of technology…

My girls and I spent an afternoon in late June taking various short video segments on our farm (yes, I did require their technical support). We then rounded up Matt in the evening for a few family shots, and sent all of the footage to Phil’s staff.  The finished video segment came up on the FoodNutritionScience website last Monday morning.  Click on this link to watch the five minute segment and help me to celebrate my growing technological achievements!

Positive reinforcement is necessary for continual advancement (the psychologist in me is now talking), so please feel free to leave a comment on Feed Yard Foodie regarding the video to boost my “film taking” confidence!

I *think* that I posted the link to the companion written interview when it came up about a month ago, but here is the link in case you missed it…

I promise that after this post, I will go back to finishing Calf #718’s journey to harvest and leave the subject of technology alone for a little while…Until then, YEAH for technology and the open mind needed to learn to use it!


Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, CAFO, General