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

Rick Gurley’s a storyteller. You know the kind.

Dissatisfied with a simple synopsis, driven by detail, he’ll settle into a memory and take you back with him for the ride.

Life, love, Angus cattle – we talked and laughed about it all.

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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.

The year was 2001. Rick was sentenced to couch arrest. i.e. six weeks time to heal after back surgery

Determined, the Arkansas mailman broke out to work cows after two and wound up back in the hospital. This time his bride wouldn’t be so lenient.

“Suze, she’s little but she’s mighty,” he says with a smirk. My favorite story of all tells how the two met.

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Rick studies EPDs and selects for traits like docility. That way he can protect his back injury and still walk through the cattle every day.

So Rick sat. With an abundance of well wishes and a set of 30 crossbred heifers in the pasture, his mind raced.

“I watched TV for about 15 minutes and then I was done,” he says. “I was climbing the wall.”

That’s when lifetime friend Jeff Williams dropped off a stack of magazines.

“He was an Angus guy and he brings these Angus Journals over and says, ‘look at them and stay in this house.’ I’m looking at the pictures, going through all of them and they all seem to go back to Gardiner [Angus Ranch, Ashland, Kan.].”

Around that same time, with a bad back and no permission to pull calves, he’d been looking to change his bull battery when a neighbor suggested an Angus bull for sale.

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Known for calving ease and other maternal traits, the Angus breed was the perfect fit for the Gurleys. They’ve raised them ever since.

“He delivers that bull and I’m in the house looking out the window, going, ‘He just hooked me.’”

Looks aren’t everything, though: “Lo and behold, that fall I sold those calves and man did they grow. That’s what truly convinced me that genetics matter,” Rick says.

That and the fact that he cold called Mark Gardiner. Soon after, he and Susan made their way to Kansas.

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Today, the Gurleys artificially inseminate (AI) everything to one bull. A family affair, they’ll put CIDRs in late April to AI the first of May. Calving begins February 10, and come November there’s the annual “Thanksgiving weaning.”

“I’ve got my cowboy hat on and they run Grid Maker in there at half interest, no possession. We looked so out of place,” Rick says of that first sale. “I said to Suze, don’t make eye contact with anybody, don’t sneeze. Just look at the floor and we’ll soon be outta here.”

The couple bought two toward the end of the sale and the road was paved.

With assistance from Mark and hours spent reading those Angus magazines, “we just continued to go back year after year,” Rick says.

But that was then. In the years since, through AI and using Gardiner bulls for cleanup, genetic selection and analysis of EPDs, the herd grew to 250 and the calf crop went from commodity to premium.

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Rick sees the carcass premiums available for hitting the CAB target. Keeping the consumer in mind, he says, “I want paid for all of it; you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t do that.”

“Back then, I couldn’t afford to go buy a new set of cows,” Rick says. “But through bull selection, you can do an awful lot.”

Driving through his herd, it shows.

“We want to be able to guarantee what we’re putting out there,” he tells me of plans to retain ownership through the feedyard this fall.

“I want to own them from the time they’re in the straw to the time they’re hanging on the rail,” he says. “I’d like to aim for 70% CAB.”

That’ll be a good story to tell.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – Check out the August Angus Journal to catch the rest of the Gurley story.

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Hot topics, On the road
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A chef without a restaurant

A cattleman without cattle, well is he a cattleman after all?

How about a chef without a restaurant?

Regardless of life’s circumstances, to know a rancher is to know there’s no shaking that title. I’d say the same is true of the apron wearers.

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In the heart of Music City’s business district sits Oak Steakhouse Nashville. It may not look like much here but 801 Clark Place holds Zizka’s dream job.

I met Chef Eric Zizka in Nashville this year when he was “restaurantless.” Technically, The Indigo Road Restaurant Group’s latest addition, Oak Steakhouse Nashville, where Zizka is set as executive chef was delayed. But in a chef’s life, 11 months can feel like an eternity.

Chefs need to create. They need to work. Sound familiar?

“It happens,” Eric says. His calm demeanor on display, he points out the silver lining in the Nashville construction woes.

“Typically a chef will go into a new restaurant two or three weeks before it opens. The building team hands you the keys and says, ‘let us know what needs to be fixed.’ Sometimes it’s too late and you just have to deal with it.”

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A lot can change in a little amount of time. Since I took these pictures, the restaurant is almost ready to open.

My mind immediately turns to what I know. How would a rancher manage a herd built by another? Use pens designed by someone else?

But that’s where the interruption turned out just right.

“I’m at the construction site every day,” Eric says. He’s climbing over piles of cement, dodging scaffolding, explaining his restaurant blessing in disguise.

To him, the mess means opportunity, a chance to build from the inside out and be proactive.

Now you know that sounds familiar.

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Oak Steakhouse Nashville will open with a chef who knows the ins and outs of more than the menu or the name on the sign out front.

“I’m here so I can say, ‘Hey, would you mind putting a hole in the wall here, more outlets over there,’ so it’s been good from the standpoint that I know this restaurant will open correctly.”

Not just correctly, but soon. June 15th to be exact.

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Standing in the middle of what will be The Oak, Chef showed me photos of the final design.

I’ve found there’s a story in everything – something to learn from every person out there. Dare I say there’s always a way to bring it back to cattle?

Chef Eric’s just one of many chefs serving the product you’ve built from the inside out.

“We’ve tried and tested consistently,” he says of comparing to other brands. “The best thing about CAB is that, as a chef, the only thing I need to do is cook it properly. The beef speaks for itself.”

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After a decade of working in back of the house and front, Chef Eric has been on the Indigo Road team since 2013, first as renowned Chef Jeremiah Bacon’s right hand at the Oak’s flagship restaurant in Charleston, S.C. Now it’s his time to take the reins.

“It’s more than a brand,” he continues. “The final outcome, the reason it tastes good, it all goes back to the ranchers and how they’re raising their cattle. The love and care they put in is the same love and care we want to show our guests.”

Seems you’ve left an impression on a chef with a message. One with a restaurant to boot.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – To hear more about Chef Eric’s journey to Nashville and why he loves CAB, look out for a full story in the Angus Journal.

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Hot topics, On the ranch, On the road
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Like father, (not necessarily) like son

I look young for my age.

Always have, hopefully always will, so when it comes to spending time with most cattlemen, I naturally slip into the role of student.

And it’s a good thing. There’s so much to learn, so many tales to tell.

Listening does a life well, I say, particularly when you’re young.

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At Oklahoma State University, Tom studied agricultural economics with a minor in marketing. Cattle weren’t in his plans until a job offer was on the table.

I was on a whirlwind tour of California when I stopped by to visit a coworker’s brother near La Grange. In addition to an extensive stocker operation, I knew their family had run commercial cattle for years.

What I didn’t know was how they run them – on shared land, oftentimes with shared management – but the cattle, they don’t mix.

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The Hourets typically breed their cows to registered Angus bulls purchased from seedstock ranches in Montana, with a few from California. Those bulls are expected to throw calves that perform with little assistance and grow into cows that rebreed.

“Our motto has always been that we don’t want to fail because of someone else’s miscalculations,” Paul Houret explains.

It’s over the phone because the man who started it all, the head of Houret Cattle Company, doesn’t live in California anymore. He took his motto and not only applied it, he lives by it.

Paul moved to Lakeview, Ore., and runs the northern unit. It’s actually his son, Tom, who takes care of its southern sister.

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Tom likes numbers almost as much as he likes making his own calls. “I get to live and die by my own decisions. I choose,” he says. “Either make the best out of every decision or the worst. I think that brings out the best in people.”

But Tom does more than care for it. He buys his own bulls, he pays his own help. The decisions, they’re all his to make.

So that’s what got me thinking about the young thing. I’d like to say it’s more common to step onto a ranch and see someone as young as Tom making all the calls. I will say it’s refreshing and motivating and made me look in the mirror, if only figuratively.

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“His learning curve’s been straight up,” Paul says. “I never expected him to come work on the ranch so it’s been the most amazing thing.”

So here’s how it works: Paul and Tom, each with their own Angus herds, calve on irrigated land in the late summer, yielding a 250-pound (lb.) suckling calf in time for California’s winter rain. Instead of weaning come May, the pairs will ship to Paul in Oregon for the summer grass and wean in July before calving starts again, weighing nearly 800 lb., going on feed 45 to 60 days later.

The point is to maximize natural feed resources and grow a big calf. In California, a calf by its mother’s side will gain 2.5 to 3 lb. a day before the green grass dries, another 3 to 3.5 lb. daily in the north.

“There’s very little supplement. We’ll feed a little hay in the fall and maybe some liquid protein but, as a rule, we don’t mix feed,” Tom says. No cake or creep. “They make a living just on the grass.”

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Regardless of where the cattle market falls, “it’s important to deliver a consistent and high-quality product,” Tom says. “As consumers are asked to pay more for protein, we need to make sure we’re providing our best for them.”

As for Tom and Paul, they make a living on the Angus cattle. Together and separate.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – Be on the lookout for a full story on Tom and Paul in an upcoming edition of the Angus Journal.

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On the ranch
4

When the cattle call

The plan was to write last night.

I was all settled in, candle to my left, sweet tea to my right.

Then my phone rang.

It was my dad’s ring and, honestly, I hesitated, because I know what those calls carry.

“I need your help down here,” he said.

And if I could tell you all the times I’ve heard that phrase, well you’d grow weary of his calls yourself. There’s no limit to it. It cares not of the hour or prior plans.

But cattle don’t either and my dad’s a reflection of them.IMG_5319And so in my pajamas with the absolute wrong shoes on, I rushed to my folk’s place. I didn’t know what exactly I was getting into, only that there was a need.

“What are those shoes you’re wearing,” he asked?

“Dad, I’m here, let’s just do this,” I answered.

Looking around, I read the signs. It was 10 pm and we were only getting started.

My shoes sank as I stepped into the situation, admitting the story was going to have to wait.IMG_6186My dad was right; he did need my help. And that’s because a particular cow needed his.

And so we worked, the three of us. For a night we were the entire team: the first responders, the paramedics, the doctors and the rehabilitators. Side by side I watched him use his strength to help her regain hers and, in the end, she stood, a testament that our efforts weren’t in vain.

And that’s just one story of a cow in a bad spot. This week’s been filled with late nights and early mornings and it’s only Wednesday.IMG_4047In case you’re wondering, I didn’t get my story written, but I did gain another one – one that reads ranchers will do whatever it takes to help the animals they love.

Because if you never had those days, if I didn’t have last night, well I’d never have any stories to tell.

My material comes only when the cattle call.

Thanks for telling me your stories,

Laura

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