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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!