Author Archives: blackinklaura

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Born and raised in the Sunshine State, I grew up surrounded by more livestock than people on my family’s working cattle ranch. A willingness to address a crowd and an eagerness to ask questions led to my passion for spreading the word of agriculture. A lover of words, cattle and those who produce them, I couldn't ask for a better job. A Gator grad, blessed by years of learning and Tebow football, I’m a firm believer that people should be honest, lyrics should be moving and tea should be sweet. I love music, my family, my God, and of course writing for CAB.
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The beef industry: a survival guide

I’ve often wished for a guidebook – a map to carefully lead me around life’s potholes and avoid the dead ends altogether.

But you and I both know it doesn’t work like that. Faith requires a bit of stepping out, sometimes lunging to get to the good stuff – the reward far greater than the process to get there.

At this year’s Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show, a Cattlemen’s College session titled, “True Stories of Beef Business Survival” piqued my interest.

As a young person hoping to survive in the beef industry, I’ve found there’s no golden ticket there either, but I’ve sure tried to listen a lot.

Here’s what I learned that day:

Have a plan

For both day-to-day and worst-case scenarios. “If you wait until you’re in the middle of the drought, it’s too late,” Joe Leathers, manager of 6666 Ranch, near Guthrie, Texas, said. “If you wait until the fire has completely devastated your country, you’re going to be sitting there in the middle of smoking ashes.”

For the practical-minded, it’s about being on the same page with your family and partners, Lydia Yon said. The matriarch of Yon Family Farms, near Ridge Spring, S.C., said, “People around us were building a new house and we were building a commodity shed. Someone was buying a new car and we were buying a new mixer wagon.” Everything they made, they put right back into the operation and avoided purchases of non-tangible things they couldn’t pass on to their children.IMG_1824

See the big picture

Not just what’s outside your door, Lydia said. It’s the little, everyday things that have been their key to survival. Her family applies that to their role as a seedstock producer, paying special attention to the genetics they stack in their Angus herd. “They need to be the right kind of genetics that will provide that end consumer with the delicious eating experience they crave.”

“The decisions you make, I don’t care how small your operation is, affect a lot more people than just you,” Joe added. Be conscious of that.IMG_1839

Learn from others

“Glean from those who have survived in the past; go talk to them,” Joe advised.

“The very smartest day of our lives was the day we graduated with our animal science degrees,” Lydia joked. “Ever since, we’ve learned how dumb we can become.” Listen to those older and wiser.IMG_1782

Relationships are key

Jerry Bohn, owner and recently retired manager of Pratt Feeders, Pratt, Kan., tied it all back to the men and women he’s worked for, alongside and hired. “It’s the people,” he said. “People, relationships, being a part of the community, that’s really what it’s all about and what made my career successful.”

For Lydia, relationships and the awareness that others observe your actions and results drive her toward success. Both led to land offered for lease and an owner’s willingness to finance cattle. “People are watching what you do,” she said. Because of those relationships, “we expanded without a lot of huge investments.”IMG_1945

Think outside your fences

With decades under his hat, Joe encouraged young people to “be an independent thinker. Too many people aren’t,” he said.

People told Lydia and her husband, Kevin, they couldn’t start a farm with 100 acres and basically nothing. “We got experience, got involved and got busy,” she said.

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All photos were taken at Baldwin Angus Ranch, near Ocala, Fla.

Choose good partnerships

“What can you do to be different?” Jerry asked. He credited partnerships with CAB and U.S. Premium Beef as some of the best Pratt has made. With CAB, “our involvement caused us to do a paradigm shift,” he said. Prior to 2003, Pratt Feeders was selling more commodity cattle. “We began to look at high-quality cattle, producing for high-end markets.” Today, he said, close to 70% of the cattle in their feedyards are destined to sell on a grid.File Mar 14, 4 15 54 PM copy

Those were just some pieces of advice from three people who I admire in this industry.

Get experience, manage for risk, figure out your strengths and outsource your weaknesses, they said. Those and more can take a person from merely surviving to thriving.

It’s about being realistic with every decision you make, Joe said, adding that there will be plenty. As young people, “it’s easy to have rose-colored glasses. Survival has a definite connotation of bruises and a little blood.”

“It’s not always going to be fun and you’re going to have to weather the storm.”

See you out on the water,

Laura

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Hot topics, On the ranch
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Call the cattle ‘Hoover’

We were sitting in her parked truck, next to the old house where her grandfather was raised, cattle to our left and behind us.

“Just call the cattle ‘Hoover’,” Landi Livingston said matter-of-factly.

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“My parents were very good in that they never put pressure on me, they never made me feel like it was an expectation to come back to the farm,” Landi says.

It was one of the first times I went with an angle.

Writers, we all have our own [arguably odd] methods of gathering material for stories. This one, what I had coined “the Landi McFarland piece,” was different than most of mine. I knew what I wanted to write about, how I would tell you about it well before I set foot on the farm.

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Bloodlines run deep through the female side of the Hoover line. No heifer has stepped hoof on the Ellston farm in more than 15 years unless she took her first steps on its fertile soil.

Hoover. The naming can get a bit tricky – the reason was why I was there in the first place.

The Hoover herd, an Angus seedstock operation near Ellston, Iowa, is known through that part of the country for traits like disposition and growth. A lesser known fact, perhaps, are the leading ladies who have kept it intact.

“The farm’s come down through the firstborn daughter,” Landi says of the herd her great-grandfather Walt Hoover started in 1928. From there, his daughter Barb, her daughter Joy and her daughter Landi made up the three generations that followed.

“When people say, ‘are you a Hoover,’ it’s technically Hoover, Kiburz, McFarland and now, Livingston.’”

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I met four generations that day: John, Landi’s grandfather (pictured), who is in his 90s, still runs the feed truck each morning.

Landi’s daughter Gwen, who, by then had joined us for the morning’s conversation, could be the fourth gal to take over – but her name won’t change for a good, long while. She’s barely one.

“Right now, Hoover Angus is supporting three generations of our family, four if you count Gwen,” Landi says. “We don’t have other businesses, we don’t have off-the-farm jobs. We don’t have investments in other industries. The cattle have to pay the bills.”

More than that, Angus pairs are bred and cared for with customers in mind. Genetics from the Hoover herd help pay their bills, too.

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In Ellston and surrounding areas, it’s more common to show cattle than raise them for production purposes. The Hoover cows exist only for the latter.

“Even though most of our customers aren’t feeding their calves or selling them on a grid, everything comes down to those cattle feeding someone,” Landi says.

That’s why, in addition to stacking traits at the front end, she places emphasis on carcass traits as well. As an Angus genetic supplier, it’s simply expected that the program include a focus on premium beef targets like the CAB brand.

“Our customers aren’t traditionally getting paid based on marbling,” she says, “but it’s my philosophy that we need to keep raising the bar for them.”

People want quality and she helps ensure it by studying and selecting the right EPDs.

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A visit at sunrise.

A morning can’t start early enough for the farmer’s daughter. With one little one and another on the way, often before sunrise, she’s out with the cattle – studying them, acknowledging that they live and carry out what she dreams up on paper.

“Hey girl,” she says to her favorite 2-year-old this year, stepping close enough for the heifer to sniff her hand through a glove.

“We’re expecting a lot of good things from this one,” Landi says.

That’s true of the herd. True of the owner.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – To read more about Landi and Hoover Angus, check out the April issue of the Angus Journal.

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An Olympic throwback

Surprises – who doesn’t love ’em?

I’m thinking flowers, an upward swing in the market, a calf crop from a new bull that turned out even better than anticipated – these are the things that put a little pep in your step.

I’ve been watching the Olympics as of late (because who hasn’t?) and it got me thinking: I bet those expected to win hate surprises. I bet those managing these games hate surprises.

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Jason Clever, a designer at CAB, carries the famous Olympic torch.

There are the out-of-nowhere upsets, persons or teams that started near the bottom and snag the gold. They’re loving it, but not the favored ones displaced. These guys and gals come well prepared, if only they can execute as flawlessly as we flawed humans are capable of doing.

Gets me pumped just thinking about it.

So in the spirit of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games and the fact that we’ve been a bit reminiscent celebrating the brand’s 40th anniversary year, let me tell you about a little surprise that involves CAB and the world’s foremost sports competition.

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One fan showed American patriotism along with his love of quality beef.

The year – 2002. The Olympics – the XIX Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The surprise – a shortage of frankfurters.

Our own Deanna Walenciak was closest to the 2002 games. A marketing team member at the time, who now heads our education efforts, she led the Olympic charge and remembers how the CAB item became the surprise story.

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Then CAB president Jim Riemann answers questions at the Olympic signing.

“You do all of this marketing and try to plan stories around the games,” Deanna says. “We also put a lot of work into having the correct amount of product. We really wanted to get that right.”

In this particular case, not “sticking the landing” turned out to be an even sweeter victory, one CNN and various news outlets felt compelled to share.

It wasn’t that they actually ran out, Deanna says, but had Usinger’s sausage company, out of Milwaukee, Wis., not stepped up to the plate and increased production, the story could have been different.

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Available at all concessions throughout the games, as well as Olympic Village, the CAB frankfurters and chili were hits. The latter was developed specifically for the games; both are still available today.

There was no one to blame, Deeana says. Simply a surprise – one of the good kinds.

“All of the models assumed how many we would sell but people stayed at the events even longer and were ordering frankfurters at 9:30 in the morning, all morning long,” she says. “The food at the concession stands was just that phenomenal.”

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In anticipation, CAB held competitions with retailers and consumers alike. Lucky winners won trips to the games.

A bit of a history buff when it comes to the brand and an Olympic fan to boot, I thought that was a pretty fun fact.

As the games come to an end, here’s wishing all Olympic athletes the best. Even more, here’s to good surprises.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

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On the ranch, On the road
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Ovine to bovine

I was a sheep kid growing up.

My home life was cattle, we made a living off of them entirely, but I loved showing sheep the most.

I could go on and on about the animal but the industry itself I had no interest in – cattle ranching runs through my blood.

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Home is Cokeville, Wy., but Fred grew up moving every six months with his family’s flock. “When the sheep came back, I’d come back.”

I met Fred Roberts this summer outside a diner in western Wyoming. He ordered his coffee and I asked him questions about Angus cattle. Fred’s a sheep guy, too.

“Four years ago we had 8,000 ewes,” he says. “I miss the sheep a lot.”

I can see it in his half smile, his reminiscent eyes. The cattle make sense but the sheep made him happy.

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The Sublette mountain range and Raymond canyon surround Fred’s cattle as they graze in the summer.

Labor and predation issues and the next generation who preferred to stay in one place yearlong led Fred to sell. That left all his attention to the bovines.

“I started checking and liked different attributes of the Angus cow better,” he says. Decades ago, he suggested his dad move away from Herefords.

Gesturing to a group of two- and three-year-olds gathered off the mountain for a drink, he tells me, “It’s for the obvious reasons.”

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The land is so expansive here, the cattle actually stay in more than one group.

He says that’s how he “got going with the blacks.” He’s stayed because they work.

Marketability, calving ease, good health, that’s what Fred found to be true of his choice.

“Then there’s the opportunities given what the Angus breed has done with Certified Angus Beef ®,” he says.

That profit potential isn’t automatic, he’ll make clear. Feeding calves through harvest lets him know if he’s making the best decisions year after year.

“You spend a lot of money on genetics. That’s the only way you’re going to realize if you’re improving or not.”

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Weaning a calf early gives your cow a chance to rebound and ideally breed back, Fred says. That aligns with his decision to send calves to feed.

A decade’s worth of data shows he’s done it. For the consumer and for himself.

From 2015 to 2017, his cattle that earned CAB or Prime premiums grew by more than 10 points, to 40%. A recent group of 297 steers and heifers went 91% Choice and better.

“He looks for genetics to increase the maternal side of the cow, but he’s also trying to improve the end product,” Gary Darnall says. The owner-manager of Darnall Feedyard, near Harrisburg, Neb., has seen Fred’s commitment for 12 years. “It’s a business decision with Fred, number one. Whatever it is, he’s always striving.”

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The rancher studies his cattle often. This pair is an example of hard work that’s led to success.

I compliment his herd as we push a few escape artists to the other side of the fence.

“Let me put it this way,” he says: “I’ve tried.”

He’s done that and so much more with his cattle on the mountain.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – to learn more about what genetic traits are top of mind and why Fred says he’ll stay with Angus, check out upcoming issues of the Angus Journal and Angus Beef Bulletin.

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More than a logo

I wasn’t around for the first pound sold.

A decade away from walking this earth, October 18, 1978 came and went.

I try to think back to when I first learned what the Certified Angus Beef ® brand was, where and how I came to know the meaning behind those words and iconic logo.

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Artist Scott Hagan painted the inaugural barn.

Maybe it was in college, or some time before then; I don’t fully recall. What I can attest to are the years since.

Since…

  • A 2010 college internship from afar
  • A move to Wooster, Ohio, five days after graduation
  • A return home to the ranch to work remote

My story, like so many, is riddled with CAB through its seams.

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It may seem small but we all smiled wide as Scott made the first brushstroke of many.

What’s your story?

I’m all but certain you have one – a special meal, a plentiful payout, a herd with a goal?

There have been moments for me, let me tell you. Conversations across kitchen counters, hand shakes evident of an industry that’s endured, tears that tell stories of victory over defeat. I hold them close, honored to be the girl to bear witness firsthand.

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By this time quite the crowd had gathered to see this logo come to life. The Baldwin’s barn is visible from Florida’s busy I-75 so perhaps even drivers took notice.

This year, the 40th anniversary of the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand, is about those stories: retelling old ones and establishing new.

For starters we kicked off the #BrandtheBarn campaign, celebrating the brand’s heritage through art and appreciation, first in Florida.

“I know my honey’s smiling down from heaven today,” Sharon Baldwin told me.

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Mrs. Sharon stood watch from the beginning until the end. The gratitude she felt was mutual.

The matriarch of Baldwin Angus, near Ocala, Fla., was married to and raised three children with her husband, Leroy, before his passing. The early Angus advocate served as the American Angus Association president in 2002.

Family and friends, farmers, brand partners and even the mayor came to see the logo painted. Our hope is many more will see it for years to come.

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A family affair, the Baldwins were beaming as Scott began the finishing touches.

You see, I don’t look at it as an individual unit, this brand, but rather the ranchers, their cattle, the consumers, their sellers – all intertwined and working as one.

If you’re reading, thanks for being a part of our story. If you’d like to share yours, leave a comment.

Otherwise follow along this year as we #BrandtheBarn.

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