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Following the Calves, On the ranch, On the road
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Following the calves: Starting over

Shipping day.

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April was rainy, so when the skies cleared on the day the last of the Evert calves were set to ship in early May, I headed to Will Feed.

It’s like a home builder handing over the keys. An artist, painting the last stroke. An actress on opening night.

For a cattle feeder, shipping day is not only the culmination of months of work, it’s also payday.

“It’s one of the most difficult things I do as a cattle feeder,” Anne Burkholder, Cozad, Neb., cautioned, as she welcomed me one spring day to photograph the Evert calves—the ones I’d followed since October. There was a stipulation: I must stay out of the way. It takes focus to load 1,400-lb. critters onto a truck.

For ranchers in the next county over, that shipping day went unnoticed—they had sold all their steer calves to Will Feed in the fall. But as the Everts took cows to grass, they thought about that feedyard milestone with some anticipation, because after shipping day comes report-card day.

“We do our homework when we go to a bull sale, so getting that feedback has been very beneficial,” says Virginia Evert.

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I don’t like pre-dawn alarm clock alerts, but I do like capturing good cattle in good lighting.

This year’s tally? The steers reached 40% Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand and Prime while the heifers were 49% CAB and Prime. They outgained the steers as well, racking up 4 lb./day.

“We’re getting consistent, raising consistent cattle,” says Rachael Evert.

It would go down as an uneventful year; rains spread out, the grass enough. Calving went smoothly and summer left them in good spirits.

It would be uneventful, except that this fall finds them looking at new marketing options.

Anne recently announced that she is closing the feedyard.

“This has been a long and difficult decision, but I am confident it is the correct one,” the feeder says.

The Everts credit their relationship with Anne for teaching them what feeders want, and they’ve adjusted weaning, health and implants (or lack thereof) to her standards.

Now, it’s something like starting over, but different this time.

The ranchers hope to find another feeder to work with directly. They like knowing price is not determined by which buyers are in the seats or that day’s auction order, and they especially like the two-way information flow.

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No spring floods, then well-timed rains on summer pastures helped ease typical ranch worries.

“Everything was ‘preconditioned’ and all they had are a shot in the spring,” Virginia says of competing against others in the ring. Of course, now they have more information to share, too. “Knowing our carcass data, now I can honestly say we have ‘quality cattle.’

Before, they just didn’t know.

The Everts have delayed preconditioning until they know exactly where their cattle are going. They want to match health and implant strategies with the next buyer. If they invest in EID (electronic identification) tags, they want to be sure they’ll get feedback.

From the moment the women took over day-to-day care of the family cowherd, change was evident.

“Change is nothing new for us; it will be a new adventure,” Rachael says, shrugging off the initial disappointment.

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During the past year, as I’ve followed the cattle, Emma has tagged along each time. Virginia and Brandon’s, and the youngest of all the Evert cousins, Emma is growing into quite the little hand around the ranch.

The one thing that shows no sign of wavering? A commitment to constant improvement.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

It’s been fun “Following the calves” from last October, until now with a new calf crop looking towards weaning. If you want to catch up on the Evert family’s story from the beginning, you can read their feature, “The Best Rise From Ashes,” or check out these blog posts:

 

Our “Following the calves” series will also take you to Arizona and Florida in these posts:

 

blackinkmiranda Visit Website
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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