Author Archives: blackinkwithcab

Ride along with the Certified Angus Beef supply development team as we work to help cattlemen put more black ink in their record books with cattle management news, tips and ideas to profitably improve quality. CAB is a nonprofit subsidiary of the American Angus Association. It was founded in 1978 as the first fresh beef brand based on specifications, and remains the largest in the world. We spend every day working with cattlemen and women across the country to help them better supply the CAB brand with high-quality beef. Join us for a view from many a pickups' passenger seat.
On the ranch, On the road

Who knows?

You could say I’m the sentimental sort.

The shelves of my home and every nook of my mind are filled with little details, mementos, hand-written cards and trinkets that take me to another time and place in a glance or a touch.

There’s that hand-embroidered “I love Angus” tea towel that still takes me back to Bobi Hall’s smile as she recalled riding the Point Reyes coastal mountains to gather cattle with her dad; a crinkled United Airlines ticket that occasionally falls out of the book I was reading on my way to Nampa, Idaho, to spend a day bouncing through the Owyhee Mountains; the “CAB Industry Information Specialist” name badge from my last Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville at the end of a special chapter of my professional life.

I wrap my hands around a hot coffee mug, a new favorite, as I scroll through photos of a cool fall afternoon near Circle, Montana. I smile back at the grins on the screen, bringing the words of our interview back to life.


Son Tyrel and his wife Ali are on the ranch full-time with their daughter Justine, while Tell (far left) has followed his passion for woodworking but helps when he can. They work with their dad to continue growing the right sort to feed or to sell. Also pictured are ranch hands Landon Vannoy (back) and Allen Piroutek.

The mug reminds me of that evening around the Massars’ table, surrounded by their family and friends. It was their parting gift to me, even though I had the most to be grateful for. They had already shared an evening meal full of easy laughter and homemade, hearty food. They offered their afternoon in front of my camera, smiling despite the wind. Wade drove me around the ranch, answering my questions, sharing his goals, history and passion for raising the best.

Pulling the mug out of my kitchen cabinet now prods a question Wade asked as we visited: “Why us?”

The easy answer is, we follow a myriad of paths to find stories and the people who share them – this one came through a feedyard. It was a group of 82 heifers, where 45.5% had the marbling to qualify for the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand, including nearly 4% Prime. Half made Yield Grade (YG) 3, with 43% in the premium, YG 2 category.

Those numbers – nearly double the average historical CAB acceptance rate combined with an impressively lean yield grade – stuck out to the feedyard manager.


Three things are important to set calves up for success in the feedlot, according to lessons learned on the Montana ranch: calves capable of making money in the feedlot, a good health program and good nutrition.

A year later, there I was, asking Wade Massar how he did it.

His was a typical, humble response: we don’t feel like we’re doing anything special, simply working to do the best for the entire beef business.

“We’re just trying our best to raise the right kind of cattle for the good of the entire industry,” Jeanna filled in later. “We just want to raise better calves each year, to give the right vaccines at the right time, to have healthy, productive cattle and those long-term relationships that work for everyone.”

It’s an admirable goal, filled with details toward its achievement that I hope will get tucked into the memories of the Angus Journal readers this May.

Who knows how a reader’s gears will start turning over their own marketing plan when they read about Wade’s experiences.

“That right there shows a 6-cent premium because somebody thought these calves would meet their program. They were confident enough they would work,” he shared. “I know we talked earlier and said everything was on the average, but it really isn’t if you get to know the right sort of people, looking for the right sort of thing.”


Although the ranch has the ability to put up a lot of feed, it still depends on the market and feed supply. Massar says that sometimes it better to sell the feed through the calves.

Who knows what reader has been wrestling with immunity issues, who might read of Wade’s insight and have a lightbulb moment.

“There are areas here where I know it’s absolutely necessary to supplement this or that,” he said. “We tend to have high sulfate levels in some of our water, and that ties up copper, which is very, very necessary to build up a strong immune system in calves.”

Who knows? That’s the answer I usually give when I’m questioned why in the world I keep all these little boxes and files of sentimental value. Who knows when I’ll need that again?

I sure don’t… but I’ll save it until I do, and pull it out with a smile.

Until next time,



lnelson-mugLaura Nelson is based in Big Timber, Montana, where she writes, captures images and tells farming and ranching stories. She’s a former CAB Industry Information Specialist who became passionate about the brand and the pursuit of high-quality beef while working at the company headquarters in Ohio. Then wide open spaces, small-town living and those beautiful Crazy Mountains wooed her back west.


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Following the Calves, On the ranch, On the road

Maternal instincts, predictable cattle

Some may take offense to comparing a herd of kids to fresh calves or a mom’s eye to maternal instincts, but I don’t think it’s out of line to say ‘fetal programming’ had a role in how each Loseke kid is developing a passion for the beef business.

All four were riding feedlot pens in utero; June jokes they came out of the womb ready to get to work. They cut their first teeth on steak and one even celebrated a young birthday with a steak-shaped, strawberry red cake. Family vacations involve road trips down far-away ranch roads and photos of all six standing in mountain pastures.

From her kitchen table, June recounts the vacations to me, and in the same breath, recalls the cattle that made the journey from those Montana ranches to their feedyard near Columbus, Neb., that year. She and Ryan discuss the pen they were in, the market prices they got, how they fed, any health issues they had and how quickly June caught it.


The feedback on animal health, performance and carcass data, and the two way information flow have developed a partnership between the Keasters and Losekes.

“I think it’s the maternal side of her,” Ryan laughs. “She just knows. I honestly think she can identify a calf the day before it’s sick.”

“It’s just like being a student of your kids. You can’t discipline all four of these kids the same. You have to know them each individually,” June says. “It’s not just a black steer or another animal in another bunk line.”

Looking at Christmas cards on their farm refrigerator, we get back to following the calves I came to ask about: pen No. 4, full of Bruce Keaster’s heaviest steer calves and the first of three shipments from the Belt, Mont., family we introduced earlier this year. The March-born calves that weighed 675 on arrival in late October now lack only about 100 pounds of Ryan’s target finish of 1,400 pounds at 14 months of age.

Pen 4: the Keaster bunch, dipping into their rations.

At 147 days on feed, this pen experienced zero death loss, and less than 10% of the entire nearly 500 head were treated for health issues since their arrival.

“Bruce has done a good job of setting them up to perform well when they get here from a health standpoint and from a genetic standpoint,” Ryan says. “It’s more about management than anything you can find in a bottle.”

Now, they’re talking marketing and Ryan’s watching the Choice-Select spread to decide if he’ll sell on a grid.  That day, there was an $8.03 premium for cattle that grade Choice over Select, just below the threshold he likes to see to balance the potential for marbling premiums with potential for yield grade discounts.

“It’s iffy. But having their consistency gives me the confidence to know we could grid them when the market’s right,” Ryan says.

Either way, their 20-year history gives the feeders confidence.

“When we get paid by the pound, Bruce’s steers just plain hang a heavier carcass. They’re not just deep in their rib, they’re wide across the front. If we put a saddle on those cattle, the cinch would have to be extra-long,” June smiles.


Friends and business partners take care of each other, and sometimes even a horse sent from Montana to Nebraska can illustrate that. (Although Flash isn’t in this picture, he’s part of that bigger picture.)

She pulls a cinch tight on Flash, the horse Bruce sent back to Nebraska on a cattle truck one year. He’s one of Ryan’s favorites.

“At his height, it’s hard to find a horse where Ryan’s feet aren’t dragging the ground from the saddle,” June says.

Of course, Bruce knows that – it’s just another way they take care of each other, along with predictable cattle, transparent management and an understood fairness that they’re both in this for the long haul.

“We sleep better knowing that’s the relationship with them, and I think they do, too,” June says.

Until next time,


lnelson-mugLaura Nelson is based in Big Timber, Montana, where she writes, captures images and tells farming and ranching stories. She’s a former CAB Industry Information Specialist who became passionate about the brand and the pursuit of high-quality beef while working at the company headquarters in Ohio. Then wide open spaces, small-town living and those beautiful Crazy Mountains wooed her back west.



PS – To catch up on our first installments about these calves, er, now steers from Montana, visit our previous ‘Following the Calves’ posts: Keaster family checks in, Friends and neighbors 1,000 miles away, and The Golden Rule in the Golden Triangle.

Travel to ranches in Oklahoma and South Dakota, too!

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Following the Calves, On the ranch, On the road

Calving for Keeps

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at Glenn Cantrell’s Lone Grove, Okla., and Rush Springs, Okla., ranches.

“We’ve had 97 calves born in 11 days,” the 82-year-old cattleman says with a grin as he invites me to join him and his wife, Mary, at the dining room table.


Glenn and Mary Cantrell, Lone Grove, Okla., were halfway through with calving season when I visited Jan. 31. It was a beautiful day, but they’d battled plenty of cold, too.

When I last visited Glenn, it was August and I was interviewing him for a story for the Angus Journal and the introductory post for this blog series. He told me about his goal: Cattle that go 96% Choice and 75% Certified Angus Beef® brand. I was thrilled when he agreed to let me check back in over the next year as he worked to get closer to that target.

So, I returned January 31, right in the middle of his calving season. It was a beautiful morning, on its way to a 74-degree day, but the Chamber of Commerce weather didn’t tell the whole story. Sure, there’d been plenty of nice days since the first cow calved on Christmas, but there had also been record lows. Frostbitten- and ice- injured calves that had to be brought in the house for some extra TLC. One that didn’t survive the cold.

Last year, Glenn made the decision to breed all his females to Ten X (AAR Ten X 7008 SA). His goal? To get 50 “really good” replacement heifers out of this year’s calf crop. And then do it again, with a different sire, for each of the next few years.


Babies, babies everywhere… In the 11 days prior to my visit, 97 calves had been born on Glenn’s ranch.

“It’s going to take a while,” Glenn says. “But, pretty soon, we’ll have all daughters of top bulls like Ten X and Discovery and Epic. And, eventually, we’ll have a really high-quality cow herd that will help us reach our goals.”

But just because he wants to keep 50 heifers back this year, doesn’t mean he will. They’ve got to meet his criteria.

“Phenotypically, they’ve got to be the very best we have,” Glenn says. “They’ve got to look the part, but they’ve also got to be the part. They need to grow well, be structurally correct and have good udder development.”

As he works to improve his genetic base, Glenn has also made some management changes he hopes will help him get closer to his target. He vaccinates and deworms more often, and provides his females with more and higher-quality supplements. These changes add substantial cost, but he’s confident they will be worth it in the long run.


“They’ve got to look the part, but they’ve also got to be the part.” For a female to stick around Glenn’s place, she must have the genotype, the phenotype and raise good calves.

“In today’s market, sometimes it feels like the lowest-cost operation may be the most successful,” he says. “But I think once the market catches up, we’ll be where we need to be with a focus on quality.”


P.S. These aren’t the only calves we’re following. Check out these installments that take you to Bruce Keaster in Montana and Troy Hadrick in South Dakota.



Katrina Huffstutler is a freelance writer based in Electra, Texas. She’s a frequent contributor to the Black Ink team and lover of functional cattle and quality beef.

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Beef > candy this Valentine’s Day

I really failed at the whole Valentine’s Day thing last year, mom-wise.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never really loved the holiday (I’m a lot more sarcastic than romantic, likely one of the reasons my husband and I are a match). Or maybe it’s because it was my only child’s first year in a daycare setting and about 25 years since I last participated in a school Valentines exchange.

While all the other kids in Lauren’s class of two-year-olds brought bags full of candy, popcorn and toys for each of their friends, I sent her with only cards. Sure, they were adorable cards with cattle (which she loves!) on them, but there was nothing edible or enjoyable about them. Oops.

This year, I knew I had to make up for it.


Who needs candy? Beef is delicious and nutrient-dense!

I thought back on a friend’s Facebook post from Halloween. She’d passed out beef jerky to trick-or-treaters, including a beef fact on a decorative tag. The kids got a high-protein treat, additional beef was sold, advocacy was accomplished. I knew what I had to do.

So, I went online and ordered 10 Certified Angus Beef® brand traditional steak strips from Gary West Meats.

Then, since I’m way more of an Amazon Prime mom than a Pinterest mom, Lauren and I got on Etsy to pick out some cute tags. She’s my little tomboy and really into trucks and all things construction right now (along with her love for horses and cattle), so she chose tags with excavators on them that say “I dig you.”

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to advocate. Protein is such an important part of growing kids’ diets, and beef is a great way to get it.

Once everything arrived, I printed a sheet of beef facts to cut out and tape to the back of the steak strips. I tied the tags on, and — voila! — the preschool Valentine’s Day extravaganza is handled.

What’s your favorite Valentine’s Day treat?



Katrina Huffstutler is a freelance writer based in Electra, Texas. She’s a frequent contributor to the Black Ink team and lover of functional cattle and quality beef.


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On the ranch, On the road

The Golden Rule in the Golden Triangle

Up here on the high plateau where checkerboarded farmland overlooks the steep valley carved by a meandering Belt Creek, you can feel the change. It’s subtle, but there’s no doubt the rougher mountains and forest to the west are giving way to the “Golden Triangle” to the east.

This is the region in north-central Montana known worldwide for high quality and abundant grains. In town, breweries and bakeries alike boast Montana-grown signs. Neill Sweeney’s grandad bought their farm overlooking Belt Creek in 1911, where they raise winter wheat, barley and hay for the cattle.

Sweeney view

This is the view from Neill’s dad’s old house, overlooking the Belt Valley.

“We definitely consider ourselves farmers who also raise cattle,” Neill says. “We try not to compromise what we do on the farm with the cows.”

That doesn’t mean cattle quality is compromised. It can, however, be somewhat put on “auto-steer.”

“We know Bruce is looking out for us in that area, so we can focus on what matters to us and know that’s built in,” Neill says, referencing friend and seedstock provider Bruce Keaster.

“We don’t crossbreed anymore – it just seems like if it has a black hide, it has more value, plus, we feel like we can get enough growth out of those black calves and not worry about it. The breed has come a long way, and we know that’s what Losekes want.”

About two thirds of Neill’s bull battery is sourced from Keaster. Like Bruce – and largely because of him – Neill also holds a longstanding relationship with Nebraska cattle feeder Ryan Loseke.

“Bruce just has really good cattle – I think that’s why Losekes keep coming back for ours, too. They know what they’re getting with them,” Neill says.


Neill, Patti and grandson Riley Bock

They started out renting grass to Bruce years ago, then swapped bulls for grass when Neill noticed the quality of the cattle grazing on his land. Ryan’s dad starting buying the Sweeney cattle more than a decade ago, and they’ve been back every year since.

“One thing I like about that is they’re similar from a health standpoint. They’re pretty uniform with Bruce’s cattle, so they all fit together; we know what we’re getting,” Ryan says.

Loads go as high as 51% CAB and Prime—the quality Ryan’s looking for, with performance and health, too.

For Neill, the biggest value is straightforward marketing that simplifies the cattle department so he can keep focused on the farm.

“We don’t have to go through a middle man,” Neill points out. “We just load them once – it’s easier on them and on us. I figure the best part of it is the peace of mind for us.”

That reciprocates on the feeder’s end, too.

“Neill is about as low-key a guy to deal with as they come. They’re just good people. They’re fun to work with; just fun people to know,” Ryan says. 

No doubt, laughter and humility come easy around Neill and Patti’s kitchen table. Their good-natured welcome, candid humor and earnest love for their land and history makes it clear this family’s adherence to the Golden Rule goes a lot further than their dealings in the cattle business.

“We figure, if it’s good for them, it’s good for us,” Neill shrugs with a smile. “If they don’t stay in business, neither do we.”

Until next time,


lnelson-mugLaura Nelson is based in Big Timber, Montana, where she writes, captures images and tells farming and ranching stories. She’s a former CAB Industry Information Specialist who became passionate about the brand and the pursuit of high-quality beef while working at the company headquarters in Ohio. Then wide open spaces, small-town living and those beautiful Crazy Mountains wooed her back west.


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