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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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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Hot topics
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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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Scott Hagan knows our logo well and will know it even better come the end of the year. He’ll paint our logo on 40 barns!

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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On the ranch, On the road
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Answers out the window

I expected a typical interview. If I’m being honest, maybe even a rushed one.

I’d called Jordan Willis on the fly just a week earlier, asked him if I could snag an early morning on his Wyoming ranch.

“North of Randolph you’ll come to a junction,” he started. “From there I’m just a couple miles on the right.”

I turned my music down and drove the dirt road, thinking of questions I’d like to ask the young cattleman, and feeling pretty far from home.

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Jordan, alongside his brothers, James and Jed, grow their own feed for the herd for 150 days of the year.

Jordan met me near the front drive. His brood was still waking up so we decided to chat life and cattle outside with the sunrise.

“In our valley, the younger generation aren’t all taking over,” he explains. What could support a family in the ’60s and ’70s isn’t sustainable today, and neighbors and friends have sold out; some work day jobs.

For Jordan, that wasn’t an option – driven simply by the fact that he wouldn’t allow it.

Instead he’d expand. The leases, cattle and farming.

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To improve the herd, the Willisses run GeneMax® Advantage™ tests to on 500 females each year. About 250 will be kept as replacements.

“It’s always different,” he admits, “and there’re always challenges, but just about when you get discouraged, and don’t think anything’s going to go right, something positive comes out of it.”

Like the time he looked out his kitchen window.

“It was all in native grass,” he says. Originally from Laketown, Utah, it was Jordan’s grandfather who bought the place across the border in the early 1950s. Back then it sustained the cattle but Jordan needed more from the land. His passion was in place and his family was growing.

“We couldn’t find any pasture we liked that was reasonably priced, so we said, ‘Why don’t we just graze them here?’”

So the family plowed and planted.

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The larger herd still summers on state and federal land to the north but replacement heifers spend their time in that backyard, as do bulls in the fall.

Alfalfa up to my knees, pivots keeping it a vibrant green, that “here” is 50 feet from Jordan’s front door. Nineteen pivots cover nearly 2,000 acres of flood-irrigated soil and 1,800 Angus surround it.

“We graze around 250 head in the summer and it still grows enough for fall feed,” Jordan says.

By now his kids are up with the sun, we share a breakfast before taking a walk in that field and I feel like we’ve all been friends for years.

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Quite the view out of a kitchen window if I do say so myself.

“We probably put too much emphasis on data,” he says, acknowledging they don’t retain ownership through the feedyard right now.

We laugh and agree there’s no such thing.

“We’ve outbid registered guys our whole lives to get the bulls we want,” he says. In a sale, he’ll look for growth, uniformity and a frame score of 6 or higher.

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A family of five and growing. There’s a new Willis due in 2018!

“We’re kind of where we want to be,” he says. “Now we’ve gotta fine tune and move our herd forward.”

I’d say he has the generation to get it done.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – To learn more about the Willises and the technology they use to grow a successful herd, check out this month’s Angus Beef Bulletin or February’s Angus Journal.

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Hot topics, On the ranch, On the road
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Seven in ’17

“Do you have a blog?” they’ll inquisitively ask.

Strangers on airplanes, friends at Christmas parties – it’s a strong assumption given the writing gig.

“I don’t,” I’ll smile and say, “but my team does and it’s better than anything I’d do on my own.”

Steve, Miranda, Nicole and I, Katrina, Lauren Nelson, and some interns, too. We’re states apart and decades different but share a love for good cattle, even better people and the ability to tell you all about both.

So as we tip our hats to 2017 – a year of tragedy and triumph, of rebuilding and reevaluating what’s most important – here’s a look back at your favorite stories we’ve told.

Neill and Patti Sweeney and grandson Riley Bock, Belt Creek, Mont.

Neill and Patti Sweeney and grandson Riley Bock, near Belt Creek, Mont.

7. The golden rule in the golden triangle

“We don’t crossbreed anymore – it just seems like if it has a black hide, it has more value,” Neill Sweeney says, “plus, we feel like we can get enough growth out of those black calves and not worry about it. The breed has come a long way, and we know that’s what the Losekes (Nebraska cattle feeders) want.”

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Steve Suther, Onaga, Kan., and part of our Black Ink team

6. Turning point

The words should make a lasting impression on people who raise beef cattle. That was my goal: to make their commercial herds more profitable by producing better beef each year. My practical experience was as a part-time cattleman with 100 mostly black cows. The people I wrote for (not the editors, the readers) mostly had much more experience, so I never saw the mission as promotion or trying to tell anyone else what to do.

We had time. I would find examples of successful Angus producers to share their stories about turning to Angus genetics, and their realization that they needed to include carcass traits.

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Ty, Terry, Becky, Katelyn and Trevor Walter, Hudson, Colo.

5. The herd that calmed my nerves

The Walters will tell you they raise “working cattle that pay the bills.” On top of using handpicked, quality and performance-focused genetics through AI, they provide their commercial and registered herds with all they need to be successful. Then they expect the cattle to do their part.

“When you come up to a cow and see snow on her, well that is a wonderful cow,” Terry says of the grit his Angus show. Like their owner, they deliver on a promise. Never fake, you see what you get.

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Tom and Sally Donati, Oroville, Calif.

4. When Tom met Sally

“I think because Tom’s family had the cattle there, that’s why I got through college,” Sally Donati says.

We’re sitting at the couple’s kitchen table near Oroville, Calif., and it’s quotes like this one that remind me that cattle do so much more than pay the bills.

They drive people, challenge them, at times can cause great stress, but they bring families together and draw their keepers back to the basics of life.

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Jim and Melissa Moore, Charleston, Ark.

3. One-man show, part I

“The thing about the Moores is, it’s them, it’s their deal,” Jerry Jackson says. The manager of Stampede Feeders, Scott City, Kan., where the family sends two pens of cattle every fall, has seen it firsthand. “They don’t sit inside the office and tell everybody else to go to work.”

To the contrary, Jim asks for critique before getting up and fixing the problem himself.

“We have to be critical of ourselves if we want to improve,” he says. “What I want to hear is the truth.”

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Mark Sebranek, Garden City, Kan.

2. Following the Calves: Not in South Dakota anymore

On paper, Mark Sebranek doesn’t own very many of the 28,000 head of cattle on feed at his Garden City, Kan., yard … but don’t tell his heart.

“That’s my feeling – every animal out here is mine. How do I make the most money I possibly can?” says the 20-year manager of Irsik and Doll Feed Yard.

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Braden Schaal, Burlington, Colo.

1. Winning in extra innings

DNA testing lets him see on paper how his cattle are performing. Artificial insemination gives him freedom to correct problem areas by custom mating. Being able to collect data is a priority at Schaal Cattle Company.

“I’ve seen results,” Braden says. “It’s not all on paper, I’ve actually seen results with some kill data, average daily gain and weaning weights,” which can all be found at the click of a button, thanks to electronic (EID) tags.

No, I realized at the end of our visit. It wasn’t just luck. This guy has worked his butt off for this.

These are snapshots. Just seven from a year that left our friends list longer and our hearts fuller. From our family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best in 2018!

Thanks for allowing us to tell your stories,

Laura

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On the ranch, On the road
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A hardware salesman and a hand surgeon walk into a bar…

Replace that last part with pasture and you’re in my boots a few months back.

But for Phillip Smith and Dr. David Taylor, there’s no need for a punch line. Talking with the cousins from Ozark, Ark., it’s just a typical Tuesday afternoon.

“Some of our skills overlap and some of them don’t,” Dr. Taylor says. His comment is matter of fact, as if there’s nothing unique about the producer pairing. But I prod a bit more.

“We work together,” he adds, and I watch it in action.

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Cattle have always been in the cards for these cousins. Their grandfather, John Jacob Taylor, settled in the Cecil community after the Civil War and brought cows soon after.

It is obvious, the shorthand the cousins share. A year apart in school, they grew up friends, stayed in touch as David sold his herd and left for medical school and Phillip took charge of his father’s store downtown.

Decades later, an opportunity to purchase land that connected the two families meant a chance for the men to run cattle together, Phillip on site, David traveling to and from Dallas as he approaches retirement.

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Of leaving and coming back to the ranch, David (right) says, “I guess, to bring to life The Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it has been.”

“I’m here about every two weeks, or say four out of every 14 days,” David says.

I can tell. What could seem like an ideal situation for a silent partner is anything but. David knows his cattle well. As we walk he studies them intently and I wonder how he makes time to heal hands.

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The commercial pairs grazing both sides of the road reflect a commitment to pride and precision.

“I just believe there’s likely no one else in America that puts the detail into selection that he [Taylor] does,” Tom Williams says. The Chappell (Neb.) Feedlot manager feeds four or five groups of STP cattle through the spring and fall. A recent closeout shows 79% achieved CAB® and Prime.

Tom credits the cousins’ use of technology and genetics as reason for improvement. David says it came down to this simple fact: there are economic opportunities and additional profit to be made for those willing to produce high-quality cattle.

So they started doing it.

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Discouraged by the cost of replacement heifers that met their strict standards, they began selecting for and breeding their own.

In the seven years they’ve fed at Chappell, STP cattle have improved in marbling, cutability and performance, now setting the curve for what Tom feeds.

“And we feed the good ones,” he says.

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“Is there anything you would suggest we improve,” David asks visitors observing the herd. No matter the information he holds from hours of research, he knows there’s always more to learn, something he and Phillip can do better.

“We want to grow something Phillip and I wouldn’t hesitate to eat ourselves,” David says.

It’s a simple statement but one that carries much weight when you know what it takes to get there.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

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