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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Hot topics
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As big as a barn

Nebraska history books talk about it, barn aficionados know about it, and for something like 75 years, the 18-sided barn that stood along the Niobrara River sat on land that my in-laws now operate near Butte, Neb.

It was originally built by a local who had a contract to supply horses to the army. With 24 stalls and a 60-foot-high hayloft, it fit that bill.

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My husband’s grandpa submitted this picture of the 18-sided barn for inclusion in the “Barns in the U.S.A.” book by Wilson L. Wells.

 

Long before I became a Reiman, a bad windstorm (possibly a tornado?) took down what was left of the structure that had been in disrepair for years. You see, the generation before my father-in-law saw it as an old relic, a rather dysfunctional structure too far from the main farming operations.

Such is the way of many barns across America, really. I can appreciate the old structures, but that’s probably because I never had to put hay into them. As a young kid, I’d watch the high school boys my dad hired throw bales as the John Deere elevator brought them to the second story of our own barn. We switched to round bales shortly after. I get why many have replaced these worn buildings with new metal calving sheds and better feed storage options, but I love the nostalgia of them just the same.

Turns out, I’m not the only one.

When our Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) team started talking about ways to celebrate our upcoming 40th Anniversary in a big way, somebody brought up the idea of a barn painting tour, similar to the Mail Pouch Tobacco advertising and others of yesteryear.

We got to know Ohio native Scott Hagan, who claims the title “The Barn Artist,” and a plan was hatched.

Scott Hagan, The Barn Artist embarks on a journey of painting 40 barns across the country featuring the CAB® logo to celebrate the brand's 40th anniversary.

Harley Warrick, one of the original Mail Pouch barn artists, was a neighbor and mentor to Scott Hagan (pictured here), who has more than 20 years experience in his own right. Hagan will start painting barns with the CAB logo as early as January.

This is where you come in.

Since our very beginning back in 1978, we’ve relied on farmers and ranchers who have focused their high-quality Angus genetics to supply the CAB brand with greater and greater success. Over those decades, the logo, product and breed have been making a mark on the beef industry. A big mark.

Now we want to leave our mark on 40 communities across the country. We’re taking nominations for barns that will be painted throughout 2018, and we plan to touch each community we visit by giving back in a unique way.

So how does your barn or your neighbors’ get on the list? We’ve got a simple application process that asks a few questions and requires photo submissions.

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Proud CAB supporter? This could be your barn.

If you’ve got one in mind, hurry! Nominations close Dec. 1.

Then the selection committee will review all options, giving priority to those in high traffic areas, close to well-traveled roads and to wooden structures with ideal surfaces.

If your barn is chosen, we’ll look forward to getting to know you better.

I, for one, can’t wait to see what gems we uncover.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

P.S. The lead photo of my husband pulling a bunch of Reimans on sleds a few years back shows their current barn in the background. It’s used to warm up a new pair during the coldest of winter nights or to house the occasional orphan calf. It’s most permanent residents are the barn cats that call it home.

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Award/contest winners, Hot topics, On the road
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Sold: An auction tale worth retelling

There is something about an auction, no matter where or why, that evokes good memories of the energy at a community sale barn. I can almost taste the café’s homemade pie.

The Colvin Scholarship fundraiser at our CAB annual conference was no different. I was in a cocktail dress and enjoyed a fancy four-course meal, but the excitement ran as high as a South Dakota feeder calf auction.

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Mark, Justin and I weren’t dressed in our typical auction duds, but the Nashville ballroom had a familiar energy about it.

The cattlemen board members served as ring men and the audience bid on seven items to raise money for ag scholarships. (We have given out $214,000 to undergraduates and graduate students since 2002.)

The final offering? Naming rights to the 2018 Mick Colvin Scholarship Classic, the golf outing that will help partners celebrate our 40Th Anniversary in Hawaii.

The numbers climbed as the auctioneer said, “Who’ll give me 25,000?,” and, “I’ll give thirty” came in reply. The total quickly escalated. I searched my memory bank, trying to remember the previous record.

It got beyond $50,000 and the bidders started to thin out. When there were just two left, I’d say the mood had almost turned tense.

That’s even before I knew the backstory.

Sean Hyslop, president of SYSCO Atlanta, and Kip Palmer, president of Palmer Food Services, were sitting just a couple of tables apart. When the final bid of $87,000 won the sponsorship, the room was full of excitement. Sysco Corporation set a new record in the scholarship funding and returned as the title sponsor, yet Kip admittedly felt a little defeated.

“Was I impassioned about losing it? Sure, a little bit. We didn’t do it to lose. We did it to win,” Kip told me later.

The “we” meant the independent specialty meat companies, who pooled their money with the intent of purchasing that sponsorship. “The group wanted to show their support for Mick and the scholarship.”

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Our founding executive director Mick Colvin and his wife Virginia pose with the 2017 graduate scholarship winner Clay Eastwood (left) and the first place undergraduate winner Sierra Jepsen.

John Stika was giving his closing remarks when Kip asked to take the mic. He had all the independent and family-owned meat companies stand up. I wondered what was coming next.

“I’m not really used to addressing crowds,” Kip said later. “At the risk of some people not believing it, I have to say I think the words came from above.”

He told about the pooling of money, the group’s original intent, and the quick decision to change directions.

You see, earlier that day, Kansas Angus breeder Mark Gardiner took the stage, sharing his family’s experience with the wildfires this spring. Producers across the country have endured hurricanes, drought and more wildfires, and he put a face on all of those tragedies for the attendees.

“I still to this day—seeing those dead cows—think I should’ve done better. I should’ve saved them,” he said, emotion clear to those in the room. “God was good to us because of the relationships—people. Now we have the greatest opportunity in our history to make things better.”

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Kansas Angus breeder Mark Gardiner recounted the tense moments leading up to and during the spring wildfires that destroyed most of his family’s ranch.

There were few dry eyes in the room.

Later, the independent group causally tossed around the idea of donating the “left over” pool to the Ashland Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund.

But they never expected it would all be left over. The most the golf sponsorship had ever gone for in the past was $43,000.

Back at the auction, in a matter of minutes, they consulted at nearby tables. Kip recalled, “We all got together and said, ‘Don’t you think we should just give it to the wildfire relief fund?’ Everybody said, ‘Yes.’”

So the entire $65,000 is headed to the fund, in addition to $20,000 raised by Del Monte Meat Company, who purchased the “From the Ashes” framed print, offered specifically for this charity.

Kip’s announcement earned a standing ovation.

And then? Sean came and put an arm half around his competitor—and volunteered that Sysco would split the golf outing sponsorship. Both his company and the Independent group will have their names and logos on the pins, without the independents paying a dime toward that, because they put it all to wildfire relief.

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In a few minutes, the almost tense mood gave way to overwhelming pride that we do business with such amazing people.

“It really reiterates that we’re all in this together,” Mark said when I recounted the evening to him afterward.

“The first few days, the intensity of the situation, I said, ‘In a week, we’re going to be on our own.’ But people keep coming and keep helping,” the rancher says now. “It doesn’t matter what color you are or where you come from, people are people and good people are good people.”

The needs are great: 4,100 miles of burned fences, 30 homes lost, along with buildings, stored feed, animals.

“This money will go toward helping people who still need help. It’ll go to beef cattle producers who are still struggling and need that cash to rebuild everything that they’ve lost,” Mark says. “Thank you seems so inadequate, but those are the right words.”

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

P.S. The Independent Group that made this donation possible is composed of companies from across the United States and Canada. Maybe one of them supplies your favorite CAB-licensed restaurant? A huge thank you to the full list:

  • Neesvig’s, Inc.
  • Evans Meats Inc.
  • To-Le-Do Foodservice
  • Buzz Food Service
  • Sierra Meat & Seafood
  • Macgregors Meat & Seafood
  • Palmer Food Services
  • Blue Ribbon Meats Inc
  • Lone Star Meats
  • Quality Meats & Seafood
  • DeBragga, New York’s Butcher®
  • Provimi de Puerto Rico Inc
  • Miami Purveyors, Inc.
  • Purely Meat Company
  • Southern Foods Meat & Seafood Solutions
  • Lombardi Brothers Meats

 

 

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Hot topics, On the road
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All about the beef…or is it?

 “This is more than a celebration of marbling.”

President John Stika said that as he kicked off the CAB brand annual conference in Nashville.

The event was dubbed #BeefBash17 and the street barbecue the night before featured more high-quality beef than I’d ever seen in one place before. It was delicious and photogenic—I watched food bloggers gathering photos and taking notes.

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Pitmasters from Texas and North Carolina delighted conference attendees with their best in a street barbecue that showcased the brand on opening night.

It was clear that it was, in part, about the marbling.

But I’d already seen the brand in action, educating partners during a tour of Deer Valley Farms.

“The more comfortable we keep the animal, the harder she works for us,” general manager Jonathan Perry said. It was just the first of many educational highlights.

It was also apparent that it was indeed a celebration. There was a lot to celebrate.

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Fiscal year 2017 set an 11th consecutive annual sales record, continuing a 13-year-streak of year-over-year growth, President John Stika told the crowd, while wearing his Porter Wagoner-inspired jacket in the Music City.

Starting with fiscal year sales record of 1.12 billion pounds, a 25% increase in two years and growth in every division from retail to foodservice to international.

Then there was the room full of people who helped us get there. More than 600 partners gathered, representing a cross-section of the 19,000 across 50 countries who are licensed to sell the brand.

[After meeting several of these people I should note that “licensed to sell” is a pretty weak description. They are fired up, motivated, ambassadors of high-quality beef.]

But for all the awards and fanfare, it wasn’t so much a conference about looking back as it was about looking forward.

Our team wants to make sure everybody in the beef community has the tools they need to go out and market more.

“We’re all going to have an opportunity to get better, to improve,” Stika said.

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“You just had a great 12 months, but we have to stay agile and hungry,” said futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson.

When I packed up my notebook from Nashville, here were a few nuggets I had tucked inside:

  • “Claiming that your business is customer centric will be impossible unless you’re data centric,” said futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson. “We have to connect with digital minds and analog hearts.”

He wasn’t speaking directly to cattlemen, but I think that makes sense for this side of the business, too. You can use genetics, carcass and performance data to improve your herd, but then still need to connect with consumers on why you care about their eating experience enough to do all that.

  • The business has been profitable from one end to the other from the cattleman to the feedyard to the packer.” Randy Blach, CattleFax president, had lots of interesting comments on the numbers and markets (as always), but his most compelling had to do with the uphill battle beef must fight (increased production in all proteins, volatility in the futures market, etc.) and how the only way to win will be to work together. CAB has been an example. Nearly 30% of the A-stamp cattle were accepted into the brand this year, making more than a 10% increase in tonnage.

“It’s pretty incredible to grow supply that much and keep an upward trend in value. Consumers want quality and they’re willing to pay for it,” Blach said.

  • A brand inspires you. There is loyalty and it can bring you into their family,” said Steve Battista, former Under Armor executive. He talked of how good brands are built with people, telling their stories. “There is power in building a community.” I couldn’t help but cheer a little inside, thinking about why I do what I do: Writing stories about and for the cattlemen and women who raise high-quality beef. I want you to be more successful by raising the brand, by being part of our community. I want to share your story with the world, because it’s a good one, but Battista told us it’s also the way to grow. Seems like a win all the way around.

Stika’s opening address was on target—our annual conference was about so much more.

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It wasn’t all about the beef, but conference attendees did eat well.

“It’s a celebration of the relationships and the people that have allowed this brand to become a brand of impact over so many years,” Stika said. “It’s a celebration of each and every one of you and countless others who, throughout this past year, have elevated the relevance of this brand in the eyes of consumers and individuals across our entire industry.”

And what a good “Beef Bash” it was….but now, on to another year of setting our sights even higher!

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

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Award/contest winners, On the ranch, On the road
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Not just a carcass program

“Are you patient?”

I asked Doug Stevenson as he and Sharon showed me around their Columbus, Mont., ranch. The way he half-smirked, thought for a mere second, then chuckled and glanced back at his wife, gave him away.

“Maybe I ought to let her answer that.”

Sharon’s response? A laugh that told me I hadn’t quite pegged the reason behind Basin Angus Ranch’s steady march toward raising bulls that are consistently in the top 10% for both $W and $B.

Then it hit me. Patient and disciplined aren’t always synonymous.

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Together Doug and Sharon have raised three daughters and a whole bunch of high-quality Angus cattle on their ranch.

“Rather than going for extreme, we make sure the cattle do everything else right and then pick the best you can for the traits you’re trying to improve,” Doug says. “It’s been a long-term approach. We’ve been very fortunate to end up with some cattle that rank at levels that most people would call extreme on the carcass traits, but we didn’t do it by chasing the extremes.”

Methodical. That title fits.

A self-proclaimed “data freak,” Doug anxiously awaits the Friday morning American Angus Association updates each week.

He uses that and anything else available—like carcass data from cooperator herds and DNA testing nearly every head—to produce bulls that fit range environments, create females with staying power and steers with carcass quality worthy of premiums.

“We can’t give up on making a quality product,” Doug says. “The biggest increases we’re going to see in demand for Angus beef are all from areas where price of the product is a lot less important than quality of the product.”

As the sun went down over the Crazy Mountains, lighting the Absaroka and Beartooth ranges to the south in an orange glow, we talked about the most influential sires and dams in their program. I heard stories of growing up in the Judith Basin, raising three daughters on the ranch and about making hard decisions.

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Don’t let the green grass fool you. Their little spot of paradise only gets about 12 inches of moisture in a year…a lot of that in the form of snow.

It was then that I knew these people were as good as the cattle I’d already heard so much about.

We talked about selling animals and the land that the family had worked so hard for—almost too hard—and how Doug anticipated a career in consulting. Then he saw that “last” crop of embryo calves in a cooperator herd, and it wooed him back to breeding some of the best.

“I realized I had what I’d been working my whole life for,” he says. “I knew we had some things that were going to be able to have a real impact in the breed.”

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Calving season is Doug’s favorite time of the year. That’s when he can see if his breeding decisions worked out as intended.

I’m not patient by nature. Perhaps that’s why I look for that trait in others, to see if I can learn from them. But really, it’s life experiences like my trip to eastern Montana this spring that help me practice it.

It’s been almost five months since I jumped in the pickup and crisscrossed pastures looking for the perfect shots. I visited the family because they are our 2017 Seedstock Commitment to Excellence honoree, but I couldn’t share that tale with the world until they walked across our annual conference stage in Nashville to accept the award.

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Doug and Sharon accepted their 2017 Seedstock Commitment to Excellence Award during the brand’s annual conference last month. Supply development director Justin Sexten (left) and president John Stika presented it.

As they did, I was proud of them. Not because I had anything to do with the Stevensons getting their moment in the spotlight, but because I got a small glimpse of all it took to get there.

Steady, methodical, unwavering commitment to excellence.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

PS–Check out the October Angus Journal to get “the rest of the story.”

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On the ranch, On the road
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Everyday miracle leaves lasting impression

The baby calf got up, wobbled ever so slightly and then confidently turned its attention to nursing.

It could be any farm or ranch across the country on any given day, but it just so happens that this day: he had an audience.

As the first of two tour buses rounded a corner on a windy stretch of Tennessee country roads, we spotted a miracle unfolding.

More than 120 people toured Deer Valley Farms as part of the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand annual conference last week, and I was an observer of their observations.

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Both a cattleman and a restaurant owner, Jonathan Perry spent the day explaining one side of the beef business to the other.

In this instance, general manager Jonathan Perry–or “JP” as everyone called him by the end of the day—noticed the birth as quickly as his guests did. The cattleman told the driver to stop as he explained, “In five or ten minutes, that baby will stand for the first time and its mother will clean him off and instinct will send him straight back to his mama’s udder.”

As if on cue, the minutes-old baby did just that. I may have even felt the bus lean as the passengers craned to the driver’s side to get a good look and take pictures through the window.

It was a magic moment… one we often take for granted.

“It’s pretty special to get to sit and experience nature every day in your backyard,” JP said. It was obvious to the attendees, from Chicago to Charlotte, Nevada to New York and beyond. He probably said it just to remind himself.

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Twenty different feedstuffs, ranging from citrus pulp to cottonseed hulls, really gave attendees an idea of the diversity of cattle diets. Winners played for bragging rights and CAB door prizes.

As we headed to the farm’s sale facility for lunch, groups played a feedstuffs identification game (that even stumped the seasoned producers on the tour), guessed how long a hay bale would feed a cow and tried to determine the age of a calf. But that day’s newborn was the hot topic.

“Did you see that on your bus, too?” my lunch seatmate asked.

The restaurant owners, retail store managers, chefs and foodservice salesmen were united by this common experience. They got to see the CAB story at its very beginning.

I sat down with the team from Demoulas Market Basket, a chain of 78 stores in Boston and the surrounding areas. I wanted to know if walking along a few fences and shaking hands with a cattleman would help them as they headed back east at the end of the week.

Almost finishing each other’s sentences, I heard a resounding, “Yes!”

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The Demoulas “family” enjoyed their day at the farm. The team commented on how much of a science it is to raise high-quality beef.

“When you look at customers today, they’re more knowledgeable and more concerned about what they’re eating, what’s going on their plate and what they’re feeding their families than ever before.” said store director Christopher Dick, as fellow store director Ronald Lambert continued: “When somebody asked us about CAB…before we didn’t really have good information of what happens at the farm. It gives us more of an understanding from birth to plate.”

Their shoppers are “meat and potatoes” people who are looking for a value, but don’t confuse that with the very cheapest product. “It’s getting more for your dollar. That’s our slogan,” says Peter Fusi, Demoulas director of meat operations.

They talked passionately about their business, their customer and their “family” of fellow employees. Sounds a bit like the seedstock business that JP described earlier in the day.

“The consumer tells us our target and we figure out how to get to that target,” JP said.

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We saw the bulls, the working facilities, the pairs, the feedstuffs, and it all added up to a pretty complete picture of what goes on at Deer Valley.

But all the work that goes into matings and feeding would be worthless if not for someone who adds that something extra when making a beef sale.

“This is what we do every day and every night,” JP said. “If you guys don’t utilize and push and sell our product, we don’t have a livelihood, so we thank you.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

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