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 director of producer communications, 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.)
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On the ranch, On the road
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Black ink in the Black Hills

It’s not what most would call “ag land.” The Snyder family’s Piedmont, S.D., ranch hugs I-90 to the east and the Black Hills National Forest to the west.

It would make a beautiful campground.

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The calf with the milk mustache is not phased by I-90 humming along in the background. Many a tourist will pass by this pasture this summer.

“Our opportunities for expansion are sure limited because of where we live,” Ken Snyder told me, as he and sons Andrew and Daniel drove me around the land they Snyder family has called home since the 1940s.

But there are no plans to build a lodge or sub-divide.

Expansion is squarely focused on breeding better cattle and getting more for each head.

That’s the game plan started as Ken graduated from South Dakota State University in the 1980s, and it’s how the ranch has grown to be able to support three households when two of three sons came back after studying in Brookings, too.

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Brother Andrew (left) and Daniel (right) have each been bringing their own strengths back to the operation. They completed internships and summer jobs that gave them outside experience such as agronomy, construction and landscaping.

They’ve retained ownership since 1987.

“We had some neighbors that were successful and some other ranchers that were feeding their own cattle and so my dad was open to it,” Ken says.

Many years, that generated more income on the same land base. But, as we talked, it became clear that today the information they get back is an equally valuable piece of that equation.

“Ken and his boys are really into the data. They’re very inquisitive and they like to learn,” says Tom Williams, Chappell (Neb.) Feedlot. The owner-manager has fed their cattle for more than a decade. “I’d say they’ve been one of our best customers for overall, across-the-board improvement.”

He’s ultrasound-sorted and returned individual carcass data back since day one.

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Grandpa’s Herefords can still been seen here and there amongst the baldies and the blacks, but the younger the group, the more Angus influence you’ll see.

“That is what turned us more and more Angus,” Ken admits.

They’ve improved grade and muscling at the same time. Last year 233 steers went 58% Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand and Prime, with just 5.2% yield grade (YG) 4s.

Using that feedback helps them to further hone their artificial insemination (AI) program.

“AI has just done a tremendous job of moving us,” Ken says. Twenty-one years ago, they started with a small group of heifers, but today they AI about three-fourths of the cow herd, too. “Even if you just move quality grade up a third of a score, that’s a lot more money in your pocket.”

Fellow SDSU grads and Angus fans, who are interested in all the black ink they can get. No wonder I enjoyed my late May visit so much!

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

P.S.–Watch Angus Media for their full feature story later this fall.

 

 

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Angus everywhere blog post
Hot topics, Mythbusters
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Angus, Angus everywhere

Angus confusion. After more than a decade on the job, it feels like old news.

But every time a new chain carries “Angus beef” it comes up again.

When a retail giant like Wal-Mart announces it’s selling Angus beef, and then some news outlets report somebody’s definition of what that means—Angus confusion is back in full force.

Just to clarify, Certified Angus Beef ® is not available at Wal-Mart.

Angus is Everywhere

Angus is everywhere.

For a couple years, I did a weekly “Mythbuster Monday” segment on this blog. Then it seemed I’d taken on every high-quality beef misconception I could think of, but sometimes it just feels like the right time to dust off one of those posts.

So here it is:

Myth: “Certified Angus Beef? Ya, I’ve seen that at McDonald’s… [or Wal-Mart].”

CAB-RGBFact: You have not seen Certified, Angus and Beef—those three words, together with this logo at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart or Sonic or the local farmer’s market. (And if you did, let us know and we’ll have a talk with them.) That’s the only way you know it’s Certified Angus Beef ® and not just Angus beef.

Don’t know the difference? Don’t worry, it happens all the time. Here’s the crash course:

To earn the brand, cattle must pass a total of 10 carcass specifications designed to provide predictably delicious beef.

So, if that beef at Wal-Mart isn’t Certified Angus Beef ® that begs the question: What is it?

There are 146 programs certified by the USDA. Of those only 97 are Angus programs and only 39 are Premium Choice. Packers want to do something with all the cattle USDA has already identified as Angus-type, so when they don’t make the brand there is a wide variety of programs they might fall into.

Angus isn't enoughOnly about three in 10 of these A-stamped carcasses end up as Certified Angus Beef ®, so the other 70% or so will fulfill the needs of companies like Hardees, Arby’s, Burger King and Mickey D’s.

That’s why we’ve coined the tagline, “Not all Angus is equal.”

Are you ready to bring this good news story to the world? Check out our consumer website to load up on more facts. I could use a little help here.

May your bottom line be filled with Black Ink,

Miranda

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Following the Calves, On the ranch, On the road
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Following the calves: When Mother Nature doesn’t care

Calving season, check. Start of AI season, check. Criss-crossing the U.S. talking about commercial DNA, check. Rain…..not so much.

I have been watching South Dakota weather reports as if they were my own. Ever since being up in the Faulkton and Highmore, S.D., areas this April, I’ve been waiting for them to get their moisture. Pastures are supposed to be greening up with spring rains. Theirs weren’t.

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This is a shot from April, when the pastures would normally be greening up and growing. They were struggling.

I was back in late May, and it still hadn’t rained.

When I caught up with Troy Hadrick for a “Following the calves” update last week, I was relieved to hear that nearly 3 inches of rain came in two back-to-back-to-back storms. He’s feeling fortunate, but it’s just not enough.

“Our cool season grasses are done and that’s where the majority of our tonnage is,” he says. But the recent rains might give the corn some grow so it at least make silage. It might kick-start the sudangrass hybrid they planted for this low-moisture scenario.

“At least we might grow a little bit of winter feed,” he says.

But the cows right now? They need grass that isn’t there.

In late May, the heifers were getting synchronized and bred. Now it’s time for the cows to do the same.

“Breeding season is always stressful, but this has added to it,” Troy says. He’s been figuring, calling experts and debating, and now he has a plan.

When most are sending pairs to town, Troy is going to wean calves early….like this-week early.

“We’ve worked too hard on our genetics to just sell them,” he says. “We’ll pull CIDRs and pull calves off on the same day.”

A quick call to a South Dakota State repro expert assured him that it might even help conception rates, but what he’s most interested in is the feed savings. Some estimate a 35% to 40% reduction in cow energy requirement.

If there’s one thing Troy’s wife Stacy has always emphasized in their business, it’s “have a team.” Troy has relied on his as he works through the logistics of weaning calves early.

It’s not just as simple as picking a weaning date though. The very end of May, Troy flew to Georgia to speak at the Beef Improvement Federation meetings and went directly from that to a Zoetis meeting in Red Lodge, Mont.

After that, he dove into research. He called his veterinarian and they altered the health plan. The calves were vaccinated less than 60 days ago, so they’ll get a shot of Enforce, but they’ll hold off with the 7-way booster to avoid any additional stress on them right away.

He called nutritionists. The cattleman is planning on feeding Purina’s complete pelleted Accuration starter designed for young calves. After 3 to 4 weeks, he’ll move to a total-mixed ration to get them prepared for their trip to the feedyard around 45-days post-weaning.

He studied the facilities setup.

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The grass greened up, but never grew.

“We’re going to be weaning at the same place we develop heifers, the same place we breed,” he says. “I stood out there for an hour thinking, ‘How in the world do we do this?’”

The oversized load-out alley will hold the first group.

Then of course, there’s all the worry about how the calves grow when they get there, if he’ll be able to compare last year’s data to this highly unusual year and about a million other thoughts.

“There’s a lot of things you can do to screw them up at this age,” Troy says.

But Troy has done as much pre-planning as he can and he has faith it’ll all work out from there. Because even if Mother Nature doesn’t seem to care for the cows, Troy cares more than enough to make up for that.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

PS–Catch up on any of Troy’s previous posts with this list:

Rapid change

Proud to pass it on

Not in South Dakota Anymore

When plan B scores an A+

Calves provide confirmation

Or follow along as we’ve been “Following the calves” in Montana, too.

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On the ranch, On the road
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Predictable cattle in a business that’s anything but

Steady.

In a world where changes seems hard to predict, where prices are volatile and weather is, too, it’s nice to have something constant to rely on.

That’s what Nebraska cattle feeder Terry Beller has in Montana rancher John Riley.

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John Riley is one of those cattlemen you can count on. Just ask Terry Beller.

“The cattle, they’re real predictable. I know how they’ll gain. I know how they’ll grade, and he’s got enough stretch in them so that if I have to play the market card for a few weeks or even a month and fight it just a little bit, his cattle will continue to grow and grade,” says the Lindsay, Neb., producer.

Spring-born calves are weaned in November and then backgrounded on the Riley Ranch, a partnership between John’s family and his brother Mike’s.

“We’re feeding them in the 70- to 80-day range—it kind of takes the bawl out of them,” John says. The key to perfecting that growing phase? “Time. You know, we had to learn how to feed those kind of cattle.”

Dried distillers grains (DDGs) helped, too, bringing up the protein levels with a cost competitive and palatable feedstuff.

As I visited John on one of those perfect spring days, I thought everything about him and his cattle seemed solid. Then my chat with Terry earlier this week confirmed it.

“They get in my yard and it’s just a quick transition onto feed and away they go,” Terry says. “They don’t look back.”

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The family went Angus several decades ago and they’ve never looked back.

Many years Riley will source sires from the Midland Bull Test, always studying numbers like the American Angus Association’s beef value index ($B), and EPDs for docility, growth and marbling. He’s looking for improvement and balance.

“All the genetic testing and stuff…..to me, you’re somewhat obligated to yourself to explore it. That’s good, solid information that you probably should be using if it’s there to use,” he says.

If his dad were around to see it, John says he would be mystified by the volume of data available and used today, but he might well be proud of the relationship the ranch has built with its customer.

Terry Beller, one of the most passionate, caring cattle feeders you'll ever meet.

Terry Beller has relationships with ranchers all over the country. The kind he has with families like the Rileys are among his favorite parts of being in the business.

For close to two decades now, at the end of January, Terry comes up to Volborg, Mont., to take delivery of the Riley calves. Trust runs deep, so there’s no need to be on-site, but the Bellers wouldn’t miss it.

“It’s gotten to be a family getaway almost,” Terry says. “Our families have become close.”

They’ll keep up on milestone events, and say an extra prayer for each other when one’s needed. Then when it’s time to get down to business, they settle on a fair price.

“Over all the years, he calls me first,” Beller says. “I know when his cattle are coming. I plan on him and he plans on me.”

Steady.

“What price can you put on relationships like that?” Terry asks, and then answers, “You can’t.”

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

PS–Watch the Angus Journal later this year to see the rest of the Riley story.

 

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On the ranch, On the road
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This shoe fits

It was a two-mile walk from the Stephan Indian Mission to the open space of Hyde County, S.D., prairie that Jerry Kusser’s great-grandfather called home. The man knew the walk well.

The German immigrant came west with a wife and young children to build shoes for the pupils at the school, but by night he was building up a homestead.

Last month I was riding shotgun with Jerry Kusser, talking cattle and all the progress they’ve made, as we went by that homestead and the old mission.

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Jerry Kusser, Highmore, S.D., used to tag along with his grandpa to bull sales. Today he makes the breeding decisions on his family’s 1,000-head cowherd.

Jerry, along with a brother, two cousins and a nephew, raise Angus cattle and crops on the same land, and I couldn’t help but think of what a legacy that first-generation South Dakotan had given his family.

He could have just made shoes and come home at night to rest. Instead, he put in a full day’s work and then decided to work at something that he could pass on.

Today, Jerry and his family could just raise “good” cattle and stop there. After all, the generation before them set them up well.

“His dad was always on the cutting edge, not dragging his feet on anything,” says Jerry’s fiancé, Jody Landgrebe.

They’d switched to Angus and started collecting carcass data as early as the 1980s.

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Kusser has his herd on a 100% chelated mineral program, noting that quality is impacted “from conception to consumption.”

“We wanted to know if we were going in the right direction and which ones made the most money,” Jerry explains.

Complacency just isn’t in Jerry’s genes.

Today, they artificially inseminate (AI) nearly three-quarters of the females, because “there’s no faster way to improve your herd.”

Just under a decade ago, with bulls like New Design 1407 influencing his herd, the carcass data showed nearly 100% Choice.

Good cattle, but Jerry wasn’t going to stop there.

“We don’t chase big weaning weights. We don’t chase big yearling weights, because that just makes a big cow,” Kusser says, noting they were trying to reduce cow size. Yet, they still want all the marbling they can get, with a cow who will keep her job. “If you get too much milk, they’re going to work themselves out of a cycle.”

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I wasn’t the only one riding along, checking on the cattle. This young cowdog was happy for the chance to get out to the pastures.

Instead, the cattleman has seen winter feed intake decrease (and he knows because he weighs it all), while also improving quality grade….a lot.

In fact, it was mention of his steers going 68% Prime that sent me up to the Highmore, S.D. ranch. Turns out that was on 458 head, that also had 925-lb. hot carcass weights.

Lee Leachman, of Fort Collins, Colo., has carcass tested bulls in Jerry’s herd for a number of years (and also happens to know a good CAB story when he sees one). He says results like Jerry’s are repeatable.

“It comes back to really studying where your EPDs are and then consciously choosing goals that are going to significantly improve it,” he says.

Now that’s something that the Kusser family can get behind. Their drive goes back a long way….to 1884 you might say.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

PS–Watch for Jerry’s story, the third in my 3-part series on Prime, in the July Angus Journal.

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