Author Archives: blackinklaura

blackinklaura Visit Website
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.
IMG_6423 copy
Hot topics, On the ranch, On the road

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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.”


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,


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

Read More
On the ranch

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,


Read More
Hot topics

Two for one

I often joke with Justin that the best thing about hiring him was his wife, Julie. Of course he knows it’s only a jab, one meant to get a laugh from our team’s funny guy and showcase how, at CAB, a teammate’s family becomes our family.

Because, if anything, I’m a sucker for the science and research Justin brings to the table but when Julie walks in with her key lime pie cookies from scratch, it’s not a fair fight – we’ll call time out every time.


Julie and Justin met in college where they both studied animal science.

So what’s our supply development director’s wife doing at the office anyway? Better yet why’s a gal with a masters in economics wearing a chef coat?

To clear the air, Julie, just like Justin, works for the brand full time, the former as CAB’s one and only pastry chef.

So what’s a pastry chef to do at the world’s largest beef brand?

The answer: Deliver quality. Just like the rest of us.


It’s common for a pastry chef to work with breads, too, Julie says. Both involve measurements and specific ingredients, mixing science and creativity.

“There’s just a vision that everything should be top notch,” Julie says. There’s no reason to have the best beef out there and have anything else be secondary. Everything should rise up to that same level.”

Certainly the bread does. Pun intended.

Staying true to her education Julie relates her care for the five artisan bread starters she began from scratch to the daily requirements of livestock. Those breads accompany all of the Culinary Center’s meals – she’ll even make all the hamburger buns from scratch, but not before an assortment of goods for breakfast.


Bread, an important part of every meal, is Julie’s craft.

Julie, an animal science grad with the masters I mentioned, decided decades ago that she enjoyed working with her hands, bringing art to the table. In Illinois she’d launched a successful culinary business and later the family (together the couple has three girls) relocated to Ohio.

With their daughters in school it wasn’t long before Julie began assisting front of house at the Culinary Center. Being the hard working, creative person she is, in no time she had noticed a need and offered to assist the chefs.

“I’d just say ‘hey do you want me to make something for that,’ and they’d ask me to do something and they just started asking me to do more and more things.”

Culinary Center 1

The Culinary Center draws partners from a variety of walks of life. Julie helps bridge the gap between science and art.

Now her days are jam packed, full of requests to provide ingredients for the chefs experimenting with new recipes or answer questions from the many who walk through the Culinary Center doors.

Chefs or ranchers, consumers or foodservice partners, it’s a change of pace when they learn that the hands preparing their food understand the rancher’s world, offering a different perspective.

It’ll always be about the beef and the ranchers who raise it but Julie is just one example of the brand’s desire to offer quality in every area.

And, Julie and Justin, they’re quality indeed.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,


Read More
Sysco CFL and JAX Ranch Day 1.18.17 - 33
Hot topics, On the ranch


“Laura, would you mind calling Dr. Freel.”

Now there are some exceptions – preg checking, semen testing – where one of our large animal veterinarians is met with smiles when they drive through our gates.

Otherwise that request comes with a frustrated shrug. From me, from my family, from anyone who’s reached their limit of what they can do for a particular cow, admitting it’s time to call “Doc.”

So when the request came from CAB, I happily obliged. It’s pretty special, let me tell ya, when work and friends collide.


I’ve known Dr. Freel and his family for many years. Aside from his veterinary practice, Doc raises registered Angus and sells his bulls to customers near and far.

The brand hosts these all over our pretty country. We call them Ranch Days and they’re really just a time for togetherness, for learning and observing in a natural setting.

It’s ranchers inviting people they’ve never met to their homes, into their lives and out to their pastures.

It’s chefs and foodservice salesmen and women getting a chance to ask the questions they’ve wanted to for some time.

Sysco CFL and JAX Ranch Day 1.18.17 - 10

Doc and Mrs. Megan live on one part of the ranch. Their daughter, Mollie, and her family live just down the drive. Their youngest helps her grandpa check the cows each night.

It’s an opportunity for both ends of the beef chain to ask those who live it, “why this” and “why not that,” instead of trying to read about it somewhere on the Internet.

Because you can memorize the facts and hear the stories but there’s nothing quite like seeing it for yourself.

Sysco CFL and JAX Ranch Day 1.18.17 - 28

More often, I’m behind the camera but this day I shared some of my story about growing up on a Florida ranch. Would you believe a chef took these photos?

So instead of heading to the airport, I drove a couple of back roads and through the gates of Country Oaks Angus Ranch, near Weirsdale, Fla.

Not far behind me were 45 others – potential customers and chefs, distributors and employees of Sysco Central Florida and Sysco Jacksonville – anxious to step off the bus and onto the green grass of the Freel family ranch.


So many backgrounds gathered together to learn from one another. It was a good day.

It was a warm Florida morning as the cattle grazed in the shade. The veterinarian/rancher shared his life story with his wife Megan and daughter, Erin, adding their perspectives along the way. Even his granddaughter, Riley, spoke of her commitment to quality and brought her steer out to show.

Sysco CFL and JAX Ranch Day 1.18.17 - 14

Riley has a passion for quality Angus cattle and she got to leave school early to share it with her captivated audience.

A few days later I talked with Alex Grimmond, CAB specialist for Sysco Central Florida, and he was happy to share one example of the impact.

“One of the chefs who attended on behalf of a big hotel here in Orlando, we’ve been working on that account for a while but they’ve never bought from us,” Alex explained. “We visited the ranch on Wednesday, and on Thursday our sales rep walked into their corporate office and the whole office was talking about CAB.”

Sysco CFL and JAX Ranch Day 1.18.17 - 23

Being on the ranch doesn’t mean we don’t bring the meat! CAB Vice President Mark Polzer walked the group through the 10 elite specifications product must pass to qualify for CAB.

“We sold it to them for the first time ever, so it did work. It made a lasting impression.”

As did the memory of two of my worlds colliding.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,


PS – Thank you to Sysco Central Florida’s Executive Chef Luis Reyes (L) for taking photos of the day as well as grilling for 45 people.Sysco CFL and JAX Ranch Day 1.18.17 - 25

Read More
On the ranch, On the road

When Tom met Sally

Cattle are the focus of ranch stops but it’s often the people who pull me in.

That’s not to say I didn’t stand atop a hill overlooking these beautiful Angus cattle and wonder, just for a second, how anyone could spend their days with anything else. But it’s still the people, each full of stories about their cattle, that send me home with a happy heart.


Using the technology in their commercial herd since ’68 and now in what’s solely a registered herd, the Donatis were early adopters of artificial insemination (AI).

“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.


The Donatis started with Hereford-Durham cross cows, along with some Simmentals, too. They experienced some problems with rebreeding and the cows got too big. That’s when they introduced Angus.

Tom and Sally’s story starts way back at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where the duo studied agricultural business management before saying “I do” in ‘75. Prior to, Tom’s father had passed away and later he and his brother dispersed their herd. Tom would start again in the late ‘70s, this time with new challenges.

“It was pretty meek in the ’80s,” he says. “There was so much operating in the red. In order to stay in, you had to make your cattle better, you had to find your niche, your premiums.”


Nestled hours inland from the coast along the Sacramento Valley, Oroville, meaning “Gold Town,” is an interesting place to raise beef cattle. The Donatis have some irrigated pasture there.

After introducing Angus into the herd, it was carcass data that paved the way, made possible through the American Angus Association’s Structured Sire Evaluation Program.

“For us to make the improvements we wanted to make, we had to know where we were. It was like a road map,” Tom says.

With grid marketing sparse and carcass premiums only beginning to see light, it certainly led them down the road less traveled.

“That became our map,” Tom says. But the first data revealed a CAB® acceptance rate in the single digits. So they changed directions and stopped “picking the biggest, fattest, prettiest replacement heifers to keep.”


“I mean, we have computers. It’s not that hard,” Tom says of collecting data on their registered herd. Plus, it helps to have Sally as “the chief bill payer.”

“Now we knew what we had,” Tom says. “We had to find out where we were to find out where we wanted—needed—to go.”

 With the consumer in mind, breeding decisions now and then revolve around light to moderate birth weights with emphasis on growth, marbling and muscle.

That information from the feedlot also gives potential customers insight into what they’re buying. A recent pen of Donati calves went 89% CAB and Prime with 22% of the latter.

That’s the payoff when marbling goes in from the start.

That’s the story Tom and Sally get to tell.


Views like this, they’ll never grow old.

Thanks for allowing me to tell you story,


PS – Be on the lookout for a full story on Donati Ranch in an upcoming edition of the Angus Journal.

Read More
1 2 3 16