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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Hot topics, On the ranch, On the road
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Angus way out there

“You better just let us come to you,” Anjie McConnell told me over the phone.

Honestly, I was surprised I even had cell reception on my way to their Wyoming ranch, so I pulled alongside the road and waited.

Her husband Mike’s cowboy hat gave them away.

“Little Siberia.” That’s what the truck drivers call the desolate route that runs along the family’s land 45 miles outside of their home base in Lander. The Oregon Trail runs through it.

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Cattle production–no matter the spot–comes with a handbook of hardships, but west-central Wyoming is its own beast.

A rodeo family and cattle people to boot, Anjie’s parents, Gary and Diane Frank, had to make a choice.

“There weren’t enough days in the week to make either successful,” Diane says, “so we had to decide: we’re either going to be rodeo stock contractors or we’re going to be cattle people, but we can’t be both.”

With a push from Gary’s father, Bill, who laid down money for additional ground, the family brought cows up here to summer grass that first year and decided they were done with the bucking horses after that.

That was 1969 and plenty has changed since then.

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“We wean off the mountain here,” Anjie says, to avoid potential dust storms at home. They keep the heifers back for replacements, while their steer mates go straight to Miller Cattle & Feedyards, a 20-year tradition.

For starters, the Frank children grew up, got married and made lives of their own. The cattle went from “a rainbow herd” to Angus, and Gary passed away.

“He wasn’t old enough,” Angie says. Her husband died six months short of their 50th wedding anniversary.

Gary and Diane’s second child and oldest daughter, Anjie, had always been her father’s helper. After graduating college and marrying Mike, the local agriculture teacher, the couple committed to joining Frank Ranches Inc. – Anjie, full time.

“Sometimes I wish I had Mike’s job, when the weather’s crappy,” Anjie says with a smirk.

“She wants mine and I want hers someday,” Mike quips.

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It’s a wonderful thing to see generations working together. From L to R: Mike, Anjie and Kiley McConnell and Diane Frank.

Together and through the years they’ve brought ideas and research, pushed her parents to try new things and experienced successes along the way – which can be hard to come by way out here.

“There was one snowstorm where we got 54 inches,” Mike tells me. It was time to AI and Gary and him were worried whether they’d show. It ended up being the easiest heat detection they’ve ever had because the ones that weren’t covered in snow were in heat.

“I remember standing out there in cowboy hats, just drooped down to our chins, laughing and having fun breeding cows.”

Bumping along the property in the back of their old Jeep, three generations have just as much fun, share just as many laughs as they ever have.

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In addition to performance and avoiding elevation impacts, the Franks want cattle that satisfy the consumer. They look at the dollar beef ($B) and marbling EPD (expected progeny difference), as well as other traits.

“We don’t go on vacation much, but our family’s together,” Anjie says.

“Every day’s a vacation here,” Mike adds.

I’d tend to agree.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – To learn what brought New Jersey native Diane to Wyoming in the first place and why the family’s invested in raising quality Angus cattle, look for their upcoming story in the Angus Journal.

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On the ranch
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One-man show, part II

There’s a saying, “If you think you’ve got good cattle, put your money where your mouth is and feed ’em. You’ll find out pretty quick how good they are.”

Jim Moore’s full of these. Life lessons, advice not taken, anecdotes of who said ‘what,’ when and why.

I ask him what it’s been like – to grow up here, come back and partner with his dad, to turn the herd Angus and do most of the work alone now.

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If it’s possible, Jim Moore’s an optimist and a realist all in one.

“This lifestyle, it teaches you about staring adversity straight in the eye and not flinching,” he says.

Then he smiles. It’s a half smile, with a shoulder shrug on the side.

He’ll reflect a bit but the Arkansas rancher’s more interested in what’s ahead. He’s always been that way.

“I’m not one of those people who thinks status quo is OK,” he tells me. It’s another as if I couldn’t tell moment.

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An educator and principal at a nearby school, Missy helps in the afternoon hours and in the decision making at home.

But it’s true. Jim and Missy, they take responsibility for all of it. The things they say, the children and cattle they’ve raised. They want their output to be good, helpful, of the highest value.

“As commercial producers, we feel like it’s our obligation to raise as high quality beef as we can possibly raise,” he says, “and we feel like that’s Certified Angus Beef.”

They aim for that through retained ownership at the feedyard, something Moore Cattle Co. has committed to for decades. But it wasn’t until they started selling cattle on a grid that, “we learned more about our cow herd in one year than we had in the previous 10.”

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With all the technological opportunities available through the Angus breed nowadays, Missy says, “we actually have ways of validating the product we’re selling.”

2007 carcass data showed 20% CAB, 0% Prime. Unsatisfied, Jim started buying bulls with marbling EPDs of no less than 1.00.

“Jimmy brings to the forefront an example of a rancher who’s not willing to single-trait select,” our own Paul Dykstra says. “He doesn’t want to make a premium over here just so he can give it up somewhere else.”

That’s not Jim Moore’s way.

“If you’re trying to hit 80% to 90% CAB and Prime, you’ve got to up the ante a little bit,” he’ll say. “If you don’t have the carcass side, what does the maternal side matter, and vice versa? It’s about balance. You’ve got to be willing to give and take.”

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Charleston, Arkansas is a small town but the local grocer carries CAB and Jim is proud.

The cowman’s just not willing to give up very much for fear of shortchanging the consumer and the commitment he’s made.

His most recent closeout of 136 head went 85% CAB, including 28% Prime.

It’s a process, he says, of taking data and applying it to the herd – keeping and breeding heifers out of dams with top GMX scores, dams that produced steers with strong feedlot data, breeding them to high-marbling bulls.

“We’ll keep pushing,” he assures me. Like I don’t already know it’s true.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – To learn what led Jim back to the ranch and drove his commitment to quality, check out yesterday’s post. To read more about the Moores’ Arkansas Angus cattle, grab a copy of the October issue of the Angus Journal.

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On the ranch
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One-man show, part I

“I’m going to be my own person,” Jim Moore said as we bounced around in a beat up pickup, checking cows and talking life.

His answer was in reference to heifer selection, but it fits the cowman’s character.

“Sure I’m a little old fashioned,” he’d tell me later. As if I couldn’t tell.

We’d spent the better part of the summer’s morning gathering video, capturing sound bites, but mid afternoon was more relaxed, the questions unplanned.

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“A lot of times this way of life has to be bred into you,” Jim says. You have to enjoy what you’re doing or you are not going to stay with it very long.”

“It’s all I ever wanted to be from the time I was a little bitty kid,” Jim says of graduating college, returning to the family’s Charleston, Ark., ranch full time. There’s a mystique that surrounds the American cowboy, “and I got to live that dream on a daily basis. We’re really out here, horses and all.”

To use “we’re” is typical of Moore. Slow to take credit, he’s quick to tell you he wouldn’t be spending days in green pastures were it not for his father and grandfather before him. His wife Missy, and their three grown kids, they know sacrifice, too.

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Charleston, Ark. The sleepy town in the Arkansas River Valley holds the couple’s most treasured memories. Here they grew up, met, fell in love and reared children Morgan (27), Chelsea (25) and Clint (22).

The reality is “most of the time, I’m working by myself,” Jim says.

I believe him. He knows his cattle well.

Right now it’s about prioritizing, he’ll explain. With his father retired and his children away, it’s committing to what’s important and following through with it no matter the obstacles.

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As commercial cattlemen, the Moores take on the responsibility of raising as high-quality beef as they can.

“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.”

That’s one of the reasons he started feeding cattle. Why he uses the Zoetis GeneMax® Advantage™ test on his heifers.

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Jim and Missy have GMX tested selected heifers for six years now. “Before we even decide to test one, they have to pass a visual appraisal. If they don’t have the look to them, they’re out.”

“That test, it’s not to find the good ones,” he says. “It’s to find the ones that are fooling us. I think it’s common to want to focus on the top end, but we learned the bottom is where you can improve the most.”

Eliminating by visual appraisal and later on GMX results gave way for young heifers with more proven potential to solidify their spot in his herd. Last year, 39 of 40 calves whose dams had been tested went CAB and Prime.

“We’re committed to selling as many high-quality pounds as we can sell,” he says.

As a team or on his own.

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A meeting before sunrise meant no horses but a benefit of this ride is the space.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – To learn just how he’s made that commitment a reality and moved acceptance rates up, check back tomorrow. To read more about the Moore’s Arkansas Angus cattle, grab a copy of the October issue of the Angus Journal.

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Hot topics
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Don’t blame the calves

It’s no secret: I’m the inquisitive kind.

“20 Questions,” my neighbors used to call me. Laughing at my genuine curiosity to common opinion, they’d say, “Laura, that’s just the way it is!”

In many instances, things are just what we all say they are, and I think that’s a good thing. It can be a relief to learn from those who came before you, trusting the tried and true ways of thinking and doing.

But sometimes, common opinion, well it’s just that – an opinion.

And when it comes to this gig, I’d say it pays to ask “why.”

Exhibit A: NRchart1

Percent marbling in harvested fed cattle tends to decrease from late February to early May. At the same time feedlots tend to get more calf-feds (calves fed a high-energy diet at an earlier age and weight) rather than yearlings.

That’s a reality.

“Blame it on the calf feds,” you’ll hear.

That’s an opinion.

“It’s interesting that perception is out there, given there’s knowledge that calf-feds actually marble better,” says Minnesota animal scientist Alfredo DiCostanzo.

Along with a graduate student, he conducted a meta-analysis that suggests the long-held belief just isn’t true. Not to mention today’s economic conditions, beef genetics and value-based markets certainly favor a calf-fed approach.DiCostanzo

So why the contradiction?

It’s a complex system, our own Justin Sexten would say. Past data doesn’t fully represent today’s cow herd as genetics have moved them farther and farther away from what was.

As for the quality grade hit, there’s a long list of reasons we could attribute to why. Young calves are more prone to sickness in the early stages of feeding and the first calf-feds harvested are often lighter. Weather and where they came from come into play, as well as a spread in genetic potential.

But that’s a lot of information. Grinerlc01

Here’s what we know:

  • Cattle sell on pounds, yet there are and will be added rewards for marbling.
  • Yearlings today can gain 2 lb. on a moderate level of energy while growing. Calf-feds now reach finished weights once unimaginable.
  • If the spread is favorable, adding a little more energy to calves’ backgrounding diets or reducing the backgrounding period so that cattle stay lighter could avoid discounts and put money in ranchers’ pockets.

You may even be in a position to have the best of both worlds.

“If you’re able to background to about 800 pounds, no more than that, and at that point turn them onto a high-finishing diet, harvesting at 1,400 lb.–that should be able to give you both weight and marbling,” Alfredo says.

The reality is there is no right or wrong answer, but rest assured we’ll be here to keep asking “why?”

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

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On the ranch, On the road
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Good stories, part II

“She’s a farm girl,” I overheard him tell his wife, Susan, on the phone. “You can tell by her boots. We’ll get along just fine.”

Sitting shotgun in his truck, Rick Gurley was right. He’d tipped his hat when we exchanged pleasantries, barely made it across the cattle guard to his place near Huntsville when I knew.

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On owned and leased land, Rick’s now retired from the United States Postal Service and manages his cow herd full time.

Perhaps it’s due to his self-deprecating honesty, evident from comments like: “If you could have done it wrong, I did it,” the Arkansas cowman says of moving cattle soon after AI breeding that first year and working them just before, “but I didn’t know.”

His candidness is refreshing. At 54, he’s more concerned with sharing, hopeful that a reader will learn, than he is with saving face.

“I was 50 and everybody just assumes you know,” he says. “You’ve got to ask questions and not give up on the calves because it may not be their fault.”

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Rick favored telling me about the cattle over taking pictures with them. So we embraced the rain and I snuck in a few shots.

Maybe it was because as much as he wanted me to see his Angus cows with calves by their sides, strong and growing, he wanted me to meet his folks.

“They’re the salt of the earth people right there,” he says. In their kitchen they tell about years past, ancestors who drove early Angus cattle across state lines. We hug and say goodbye.

Or rather it was due to a melody – Look At You Girl by Chris Ledoux.

“Suze,” Rick says through the phone to his wife, “call me back real quick so Laura can hear your ringtone.” And you mean everything to me – the chorus buzzes as his cell phone rings and he smiles.

“It’s just one of those storybook deals,” he says of their love story. “I married way up. My mother just out-prayed hers.”

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Married for 30 years, Rick and Susan have two grown children, Nicole [pictured] and Heath. Both play an active role in the family operation.

For Susan, life as a mailman/cattleman’s wife meant plenty of change from her military upbringing.

“She was used to a schedule and there’s not much of one in the cow business, aside from AI,” Rick says. “My days were long.”

Susan embraced it, never timid she nurtured calves in the bathtub and raised kids to love cattle the same.

“The biggest thing is life has a way of changing,” Susan says. Now she’s shotgun and I’m riding in the back next to their daughter, Nicole, checking calves.

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Their oldest, Nicole, lives within a few hour’s drive. Her dad’s right hand while he was limited after back surgery, she knows the cows as well as anybody.

“I was working more and the kids filled that role. Now that the kids are here less, I’m here more. So it’s gone full circle, but it’s an awesome way to raise kids. So many life lessons.”

Stories I take with me as I head south and hope to be able to share with you.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – To learn how Rick got started with Angus cattle, check out Friday’s post. Be sure to catch the August Angus Journal for the rest of the Gurley story.

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