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.)
Hot topics, Research

These doctors have a new prescription

A dozen years ago when my husband got his master’s degree in agronomy, he was doing work in precision ag.

Looking for ways to reduce phosphorus runoff from manure application, he applied it at varying depths. Yield monitors, grid soil sampling and GPS guidance helped chart results.

Ever since, I’ve generally tied precision ag squarely to row-crop farming.

But it doesn’t have to be.

I recently wrote an article on precision backgrounding. It was especially fun because I got to talk to my former animal science professor, Dr. Kelly Bruns, now at the University of Nebraska, and to a legend from my alma mater, South Dakota State University, Dr. Robbi Pritchard.

“Today the genetics are better; they’re going to help us a lot. Our growth enhancement tools are better, and we know a lot more about them,” Pritchard says.

Robbi Pritchard, South Dakota State University

Dr. Pritchard addressed this topic at the 2016 Feeding Quality Forum saying, “If you’re a corn farmer in your other life, you’re perfectly comfortable with precision ag. We can go that way in the cattle business and make big strides.”

In general, calving seasons are tighter than they used to be, so there’s not quite the same need to even cattle out.

Growth genetics have become more common. “If [calves] are coming out of 1,600-lb. cows, they probably don’t need any implants. The DNA is there. The implants just fill in for a lack of DNA,” he says.

Marbling has improved at the same time.

“In the old days to get quality grade, they had to be older,” Pritchard says. “It used to be an adage that calf-feds couldn’t grade. That doesn’t exist anymore.”


If you want cattle that do well at the feedyard, the 5- to 8-month backgrounding window is when you can change the final outcome in terms of final weight and quality, the animal scientists say.

Do you background your own calves? Have you changed their diet, days in the program or implants to adjust for improvements in genetics? If you buy grass cattle, chances are you are not growing the same type of cattle you did 10 or 20 years ago.

It might be time for a new prescription.

Smaller to moderate-frame cattle need a more aggressive implanting program than the larger frames. It’s also important to consider final marketing method.

“If we choose to use an implant, are we matching the correct level of the implant, such as low, medium or high potency to what their rate of gain is?” Bruns asks. “Going back to all our previous marbling work, if we use too high potency of an implant and don’t match it up with a high enough caloric diet, we could impede marbling.”

Pritchard says wheat and low-quality forage are meant for commodity cattle. If you want a premium carcass, that 5- to 8-month window is critical.

“If I rough them too much during backgrounding, I’m going to give up the marbling. I’ll get a bunch of carcass weight but I won’t get the marbling.”

As a general rule, early weaning is best for large-framed cattle, and creep feeding “fits best just to fill in the nutritional gaps,” he says.

It might be time to evaluate cattle and select a program based on their genetic potential. A little precision might be just what the doctors ordered.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,




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Hadrick for blog3
Following the Calves

Following the calves: The data is in! The data is in!

“He’s like a kid at Christmas time when it comes to the data.”

Cattle feeder Mark Sebranek was giving me a wrap-up on the Hadrick calves, the ones we’ve been following from Faulkton, S.D. to the Garden City, Kan., yard since December.


A big thanks to Mark Sebranek for shooting some pictures for me in July. It’s always nice to see that the cattle look as good in the feedyard as they do on the ranch.

I hung up the phone and smiled when I read this Facebook status update from Troy: “It’s like Christmas morning every time you get carcass data back on your calves. The last load went 46% Prime, 83% CAB or better and 100% Choice. That made for a nice little grid premium.”

I guess Mark, 20-year manager at Irsik and Doll Feed Yard, has the rancher pegged. They have been working together several years. The relationship, coupled with background on the animals, offers the feeder some flexibility.

“Knowing the cattle gives me the opportunity to play the market,” Mark says, noting some cattle went to harvest early to get ahead of a price slide. The first sort left in June when the market was in the $130s, and the last of three groups went August 8th when it was down to $116/cwt.

“He held on to a pretty good average at $127,” says the feeder. “It’s sort of like its own risk management.”

He also tried a new grid with one sort. “I could do that because I know the consistency of the cattle.”


Trying a new grid can be a leap of faith for a cattle feeder, but when you know they’re going to grade, it helps.

The steers gained 3.8 pounds (lb.) per day in 185 days on feed, requiring just 5.7 lb. of feed per lb. of gain. That was even after going through a 17-inch late April snowstorm that took the cattle off feed.

“Once you lose that weight, you never get it back,” Mark says.

Together, all three sorts made 83% CAB, with 35% CAB brand Prime, for an average grid premium just shy of $100/head.

“You want to see them do well,” Mark says, admitting he’s almost as excited as his customers to get the data in hand.

Almost, I say, only because it would be difficult to match Troy’s enthusiasm. Within hours of getting the harvest sheets, the producer had given it his first round of analysis.

Hadrick for blog2

Even at 83% of his cattle grading CAB and Prime, Troy Hadrick is looking at getting better.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who goes through it as detailed as Troy does,” Mark says. “When they have the passion, it drives me to have the passion also.”

Open heifers are already on feed in Kansas and those early-weaned calves are headed there any day.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the last couple years, and it’s something we’re really proud of,” Troy says, “but we’re not done yet.”

Heck, I’m even excited for next year’s data.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,


PS– You can catch Troy’s story from the beginning by going back to the first post on these calves in December:

Rapid change

Proud to pass it on

Not in South Dakota Anymore

When plan B scores an A+When the Plan B scores an A+

Calves provide confirmation

When Mother Nature doesn’t care

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

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He makes changes so fast, that John really places a lot of hope in each year's calf crop.
Hot topics

Tools that work

You need to hang a picture on a wall. As you grab a hammer and swing, I bet you never find yourself thinking, “I sure hope this hammer will work.”

You’ve selected the right tool for the job, you know how it functions and you’re confident it will deliver the intended results.

Yet, I hear skeptics all the time. Take EPDs, or the expected progeny differences, calculated by breed associations.  “Those are just numbers. They don’t tell you what the animal is going to do in the real world.”

I’ve worked as an ag journalist for more than a decade and every single rancher I interview who has made significant, directional progress gives a big portion of that credit to studying the EPDs. No matter what trait or suite of traits you’re trying to improve, they provide a clear roadmap. EPDs help you determine ways to avoid problems and help you design exactly the kind of herd you want.

They’ve been studied and accuracy improved for decades. In many cases, these calculations have millions of records feeding into their algorithms. With the addition of genomic information, they’re even more precise than ever.

These ladies were ready for breeding season when I visited in May. “The EPDs and indexes are not just numbers on a page in a sale catalog; they’re very accurate tools that people can use,” Kenny Stauffer, Top Dollar Angus, told me while I was asking about a recent demonstration project.

The study was designed to prove the worth of the Beef Value ($B) index. (Often called “Dollar beef,” it was one of first tools to combine EPDs for feedyard and carcass traits with economic measures.)

There was a predicted $187.38 per-head difference between the bottom $B group and the top. In real life, fed the same ration at the same yard to the same backfat endpoint, there was a $215.47 spread.

A big part was due to the quality grade differences, where the group with the highest predicted carcass value was 100% Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) brand and Prime, compared to the lower group that had zero Primes and just 52% CAB.

Simply put, the tools work.

There are other time-honored improvement strategies that would fall into this category of well-researched, widely tested, proven technologies. “For all the labor, hassle and money spent on synchronization, there’s no way AI [artificial insemination] makes sense.”

2016_05_mr_Bobcat Angus-153

“The herd that AI changed.” That could be a header on a dozen or more stories we tell every year.

Yet, there are examples from South Dakota to Georgia that say otherwise.

There’s the benefit of having access to better genetics, but beyond that, study after study shows early-born calves make more money than the stragglers. The less variation in calves, the more interested the buyers. Research from a few years ago shows in a herd of 50 cows, with all costs figured in, AI adds more than $7,000 over the course of five years. That didn’t even take into consideration the potential value of better carcass merit.

I’m a proponent of checking facts and scrutinizing decisions, but if a proven technology claims to save you time or money, or add to your bottom line, and it actually does? Don’t be too surprised.

Sometimes it is just this simple: the tools work as intended.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,


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On the ranch, On the road

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.


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.


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.


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,


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



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Angus everywhere blog post
Hot topics, Mythbusters

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,


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