Author Archives: blackinkmiranda

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I love God, my kids, my hubby, rural life, agriculture and working for CAB. I’m officially the assistant director of industry information, which basically means I get to learn from lots of smart people and pass that information along to lots of other smart people: you. I’m so lucky to work with cattle producers and other folks in this great industry. (Oh, and one more job perk? I get to eat lots of really yummy beef.)
2015_03_mr_Reiman Farms-162 for blog
Award/contest winners, Hot topics
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Commitment you recognize

Just when does the lifelong road to excellence start?

For some, it seems it’s inherited as easily as blue eyes or a deep voice. For others, there’s a turning point, some life-changing event that causes a seismic shift in the way they do business or live their lives.

I’m always looking for the clues as I chat with cattlemen and women who earn CAB honors. My summer story trips have included these “Commitment to Excellence” award winners for more than a decade, and even though they all share some traits—work ethics, smarts, tenacity—it seems the path to quality is different every time.

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When the Schiefelbeins won the 2012 Seedstock Commitment to Excellence Award I started my day at their family meeting, seeing their teamwork in action. “Quality.” I heard it many times from each of the brothers, including Don who is pictured here.

When I visited the Schiefelbein family in 2012, they said it was a given.

“Dad always said,If we’re in the beef business, we better raise good beef,’” says Angus breeder Don Schiefelbein. “He’s just been laser-focused on how do we produce efficient, great-tasting beef?”

So the eight brothers continued the tradition, using more technology and implementing marketing that would reward commercial customers for doing the same.

 

Cattleman John Moes, of Florence, S.D., is "always looking to try something new."

John Moes volunteered to be a real-life laboratory of sorts for the nearest land-grand university. They test breeding protocols and application of DNA technology on the commercial Angus producer’s herd.

In 2014, commercial cattleman John Moes said his dairy farm upbringing taught him the value of “sweat equity,” but it was a partnership with South Dakota State University that gave him the tools to make sweeping herd improvements in a shorter amount of time.

“You can’t just work hard to make a living anymore,” the cattlemen says, noting his widespread use of timed artificial insemination (AI) and DNA testing. “You also have to work smart.”

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Sam Hands and his brothers operate Triangle H, a diversified farming and feeding operation near Garden City, Kan.. He won the 2009 Feedlot Partner of the Year honors. (Today that is called the Feedyard Commitment to Excellence award.)

In 2009, Kansas cattle feeder Sam Hands talked about the way his father brought he and his brothers in as equal partners from the start.

“We’ve made errors along the way, but we learned from them and kept working to make it better,” he says, noting that the cattle enterprise has always been a way to add value to their farm-raised feedstuffs. That doesn’t mean they’re an afterthought.

“We’ve got a unique product— it can adjust to a lot of different environments, a lot of different feedstuffs, and still put out the most nutritious, most sought-after flavor, but the consumer is boss and we’ve got to keep that in mind,” he says.

Do you know somebody who has taken an interesting path to quality beef production? Perhaps they learned from the “school of hard knocks” or maybe they found quality as the only way to bring back the next generation? Maybe they’re your genetic supplier or your cattle feeder? Or if you’re in the registered business, it could be your customer.

We are currently accepting nominations for our 2017 Commitment to Excellence awards, along with one Progressive Partner award. Read this to find out more about qualifications, but do it fast—nominations close Friday.

I can’t wait to find out who I get to meet next.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

 

 

 

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Following the Calves, On the ranch
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When the Plan B scores an A+

Before Mark Sebranek was a cattle feeder, he had a small cow-calf herd. He wanted to feed a load of cattle, get information back and capture more value from his genetic investment.

“I was another one of those that some people don’t want to mess with: the small guys,” Mark says, noting he never found an eager feeding partner. Although it might seem like a lifetime ago now, he didn’t forget.

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Cattle feeder Mark Sebranek knows what cow-calf producers wonder about, because he was one.

Instead, when Mark took the lead at Irsik and Doll Feed Yard near Garden City, Kan., it propelled him to do more: more sorting, more communication, more watching out for the little guy.

That includes ranchers like Troy Hadrick of Faulkton, S.D.

In last week’s, “Following the Calves” update, we talked about the 2016-born calves making their way to Kansas, but what happens to their heifer mates?

“We retain most of our heifers. About 90% of them, we’ll give them a chance to breed,” the rancher says. After one round of artificial insemination (AI), he turns bulls out for one cycle before ultrasounding the females in August.

“We leave it up to those heifers, ‘Do you want to be a mama or not?’ We put a fair amount of reproductive pressure on those heifers to get bred,” he says. “It really sets up the rest of their career because they’re going to calve as early as anything in the herd that following year.”

When they don’t stick, Hadrick has a “Plan B.”

Last year, 23 open heifers shared a trailer with calves from another area ranch, arriving at Irsik and Doll on August 18.

“That way they can still make money, just in a different fashion,” Hadrick says.

The heifers were harvested in December, after gaining 4.83 pounds (lb.)/day and converting at 5.15 lb. feed/lb. of gain. They made 74% Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand and Prime, with 954 lb. average hot carcass weight (HCW).

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These 2016-born steers made it to Irisk and Doll Feedyard just about a month after the heifers from the year before were harvested.

“At the end of the day, you have to pay the bank of Rome. That’s why I’ve always thought the total dollars per head is a very valuable number,” Mark says of the final analysis. These heifers gave up some yield grade discounts, “to help increase the dressing percent because the performance was so good,” he says, noting the quality grade was a bonus.

When Troy posted those results on his personal Facebook page, some wondered what’s the catch?

Print“We try to measure as many things as we can,” he says. Everything from an increasing pregnancy rate and ribeye area to a flat yield-grade trend and decreasing mature cow size tells him there have been no trade-offs. “All the numbers tell us that we haven’t really given anything up, but the trait that pays us a lot more at the end—marbling—has increased a lot.”

These kind of results are why the cattle feeder is happy to field questions from first-time customers and to work with ranchers of any size.

“You go through a lot of discussions with them about what you do with the information you get back, how we do stuff, how we sort,” Mark says. “There’s a lot of questions.”

But those questions, they lead to answers. In Troy’s case, they’re leading to pretty steep improvements.

Check back next month when we see how the next generation is shaping up during a calving season update to our series.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

PS–To catch Troy’s story from the start, read “Rapid change,” “Proud to pass it on,” and “Not in South Dakota Anymore.”

You can also visit ranches in Oklahoma and Montana in our other “Following the calves,” series installments.

 

 

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Following the Calves, On the ranch
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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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Mark Sebranek says even with planning and predictable genetics, feeding cattle is “a little like going to Vegas.” That’s why communication with his customers is important.

That commitment immediately caught on with South Dakota rancher Troy Hadrick. When he decided to retain ownership for the first time in 2013, he asked around and quickly settled on sending his cattle 633 miles south.

This year 87 head of home-backgrounded steers made the journey on January 19th. The day was sunny and brisk in South Dakota. In Kansas, they were just drying out from the ice storm that hit earlier in the week.

“Typically the cattle that have been on a long haul, we’ll try to acclimate them on horseback. Get them comfortable,” Mark says. “We exercise them all, taking them down the alley to get them used to the rider.”

It gives the animals a chance to stretch and get rid of the lactic acid buildup in their muscles, the feeder says.

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The calves are backgrounded at home for several months before they make the trip to Kansas. (Thanks to Troy for this and the cover photo.)

The 640-lb. calves started on the warm-up ration and now, six weeks in, they’ll be on their third and final finishing ration any day. As always, they customized processing based on what they already knew of the cattle.

“I don’t like to use the same vaccine twice. I don’t like to use the same wormers twice,” Mark explains. “We monitor all the different stuff he’s given, and when he’s given it, and we try to complement that here.”

They’ve had very few pulls.

“I know those guys are very, very good at their jobs. The last thing I want to do is get in the way of them doing a good job,” says Troy, who checks in on his calves, but yields to the implanting and feeding expertise at the feedyard.

The rancher and feeder will talk about marketing as the July-target harvest dates get closer, but they have a pretty good plan in place already.

“When you’re working with the cow-calf deal, they are not all calving at the same time, so they aren’t going to grow and be ready at the same time, so our specialty is sorting the tops,” Mark says.

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Mark snapped this picture of the Hadrick calves on feed a few weeks ago.

That’s important to Troy, who is set on grid marketing after seeing its value. Talking of last year’s lower market, the cattleman says, “They wouldn’t have made any money other than the grid premiums that they generated.”

The 2016 steer harvest went 80% CAB and Prime, adding an average of $75/head premium across the whole pen.

But even better than the added dollars is the data he pours over in a rich spreadsheet that he adds to, and then references when it’s time to make breeding and marketing decisions.

“Once I started getting a taste for that, now I just can’t get enough of it, because the more you know, the more you want to know,” he says.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

PS–Learn more about what Troy’s been finding out, by following along in our, “Following the Calves” series (or catch up by reading, “Rapid change,” and “Proud to pass it on.”)

You can also check out ranches in Oklahoma and Montana in our other installments.

 

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With no way to get feedback from buyers, Hugh turned to commercial DNA testing to "get a picture" of his calf crop.
On the ranch, On the road
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Getting there fast

“I’m calling because I read your story.”

To a journalist, calls like that can generally go one of two ways: either someone wants more information or they want you to know you got it wrong.

But this particular call I got recently brought me back in time, to my visit to Hugh and Shandi Bradley’s Cut Bank, Mont., place last May.

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Hugh and Shandi Bradley, Cut Bank, Mont., toured me around their beautiful ranch one day late last spring. Today, their story is still inspiring others to ask questions about DNA.

The phone call was from a Nebraska cattleman who read my story, “Getting there fast,” and that sparked his interest in DNA technology.

“Yes! Yes! Yes,” I silently cheered. That’s why we write these stories, to show successes, so that others might apply something and find the same.

In our “Footsteps Worth Following” series, I shared how Hugh ended up back on the ranch, but here’s the story of his herd:

In 2012, after buying an HD50K-tested bull and wanting to learn more about what that meant, he “stumbled upon” commercial DNA testing.

“I wanted a picture of my cows and my calf crop, because we were never able to get any of that data back,” Bradley says of the cattle that usually sell on video auction. “This was a way for me to get a better picture of what’s going on.”

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With no feedback from buyers, Hugh turned to commercial DNA testing to “get a picture” of his calf crop.

The first results were disappointing. In 2014, his average GeneMax focus score was 30 out of a possible 100. By last summer, 61 tested steers had a 74.1 average. Sorting off the bottom few, the rest were qualified for marketing through the Top Dollar Angus program.

The cattleman credits part of that jump to using the GeneMax Advantage on replacement heifers. By his third round, Hugh decided to make his first cuts on those hard numbers and then follow-up with visual appraisal.

“There’s been some awful good calves that went down the road, that we really liked, but they didn’t have the score,” he says.

At $17/head for steers (GeneMax Focus) and $44 for heifers, some are skeptical of Hugh’s use of the technology.

Don’t try to tell Hugh that DNA test costs too much. He’ll tell you it costs more not to.

“Last year, that was the cost of one replacement heifer,” he says. “Instead of going out and buying replacements, I’m keeping my own, trying to get the genetics I want with the bulls I’m buying so I can keep my own replacements.”

It’s been nine months or so since I was in Montana and met the couple and son Walker (daughter Olivia was in school that day.), but I still remember details. Walker brought a toy animal along to the ranch, because it needed to see “the vet,” grandpa Guy Bradley. Riding through the pastures, the youngster chose a 4-wheeler tour with grandpa over the pickup.

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Walker loves the ranch. He didn’t have to tell me that, I could tell.

It’s easy to look into the future and imagine Walker running his own cattle on the ranch, with the Glacier National Park in the distance, Montana’s big sky squarely overhead.

Maybe that’s what Hugh is thinking, too, when he says, “I’m trying to better everything in a shorter amount of time.”

If he can inspire others to do the same, all the more reason for me to cheer him on from here.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

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2016_6_mr_Wickstrum-31e
Hot topics, On the ranch, On the road
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Sweet relief

I felt sick. There was a knot in the pit of my stomach, my heart beat a bit faster, my face was flushed. You know the feeling, when you realize you’ve made a big mistake?

This wasn’t the colossal, life-changing kind, but one that would require me to basically redo a story trip. That would be an investment, monetarily and of my time, but more importantly, of my source’s time.

Cattlemen are always so gracious, fitting us into their busy schedules to let us see what they do, to document it and then share it with the world.

Todd Wickstrum was no different. When I stopped by Wickstrum Farms, near Westmoreland, Kan., one June afternoon, I listened to he and his crop consultant talking about corn progress and emerging threats.

Todd Wicstrum

Todd Wickstrum continues his family’s focus on quality and pounds at their diversified farm near Westmoreland, Kansas.

Todd was busy, but he made time to chat with me about the farm history and current management.

He shared his dad’s philosophy: “‘Why do you want to work that hard if the quality’s not there?’”

I love that.

I took lots of pictures—even though I’m pretty sure Todd was about as fond of that part of the visit as most producers.

Then I came home, tucked those notes away with others from my trip, and went on processing material from earlier stops in Montana. As part of my editorial plan, I didn’t dig them back out until fall.

That’s when I realized the big fat mistake.

I tried to download the Wickstrum photos off my camera memory card. Not there. Must be on the other card….except I reformatted that, basically wiping it clean, prior to a day at our Feeding Quality Forum.

With more urgency, I searched every nook and cranny of my hard drive. Surely, I had just misplaced the folder.

But alas, I had to admit to myself and to my team: I messed up.

This is one of the 70 or so photos that I erased completely…or so I’d thought.

The next day, I got on a first-name basis with a memory-card tech support guy named Ray and, after about 8 hours trying different things, I completed a CSI-style recovery of my photos.

Sweet waves of relief! I didn’t know when I’d find myself back in northeast Kansas and I really wanted to tell Todd’s story of coming back to the family’s diversified operation.

Details include their 2011-built facility that holds 13,500 head, which contains every bit of runoff for use on their farm. They feed all homegrown crops through high-quality animals that are purchased with the intention of doing well on the grid, while putting on more pounds than past placements.

Work hard, smart” ran in the November 2016 Angus Journal, and I hope you’ll give it a read. (And not just because I worked hard to fix that mistake.)

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

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