Author Archives: blackinklaura

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Born and raised in the Sunshine State, I grew up surrounded by more livestock than people on my family’s working cattle ranch. A willingness to address a crowd and an eagerness to ask questions led to my passion for spreading the word of agriculture. A lover of words, cattle and those who produce them, I couldn't ask for a better job. A Gator grad, blessed by years of learning and Tebow football, I’m a firm believer that people should be honest, lyrics should be moving and tea should be sweet. I love music, my family, my God, and of course writing for CAB.
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On the road
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From the beginning

My mom does this thing with movies that I’ve just never understood. She’ll scroll through the channels, find a film and invest in it – even if it’s halfway over.

“Mom! We have no idea what happened in the beginning,” I’ll say with a smile and a tinge of frustration.

In reality, it matters none. The lady works a lot and, after long days of handling cattle and keeping a family business thriving, she knows she likely doesn’t have time to enjoy a full movie anyway.

But sometimes, in real life, knowing and understanding the beginning is crucial. History educates our decisions and reveals the big picture. We move forward, stronger because of it.

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“Ask questions. You guys are making us better at what we do here,” Cactus Feeders staff said. Our chefs had plenty.

In late April, a few CAB staffers (including me) and 40 chefs gathered in the Amarillo area of Texas for CAB Chef Tour. It’s an impressive affair, one where our education team goes above and beyond to create an experience for culinary folks who serve our product in their restaurants or are considering doing so. It’s a time when the beginning is absolutely necessary.

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It takes a lot to feed 50,000 head. Technology and science determine what’s best. We got to take a look at the mill that makes three feedings a day a reality.

Our stops included 2 Bar Angus, a seedstock supplier, near Hereford, Texas, owned and operated by Steve and Laura Knoll and their family. Then it was the coveted packing plant tour before we headed to Wrangler Feedyard, near Happy, Texas.

“It was fascinating, the whole thing. The whole thing was fascinating.”

That’s how attendee George Motz described our walk through the production side of our business as we sat down for dinner the last night. He’ll take those memories back to NYC and share them in his areas of influence. Forty other chefs will do the same.

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A nice exchange.

As I sat down for lunch that second day, one attendee said, “Wow lunch yesterday seemed so long ago. We’ve done a lot between now and then.”

Indeed we had and I’d say that’s our goal. To take these 40 plus chefs and give them insight into the side of the business we know and love is an honor, but an obligation, too.

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A dust storm may have forced us indoors for Steve Knoll’s insight into the Angus seedstock business but we ventured out for a picture. The Knoll barn is one of those being painted in celebration of the brand’s 40th anniversary and #brandthebarn campaign.

Once home attendee Chad Foust, Sweet Lou’s Restaurant and Bar, Ponderay, Idaho, shared, “This past week I spent a lot time thinking back to everything  we learned/experienced and just how much I did not know about Certified Angus Beef. The entire process just blows my mind on how precise every portion of the steer’s journey is and how uncompromising Certified Angus Beef standards are. I am proud to serve Certified Angus Beef at Sweet Lou’s.”

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

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Hot topics, On the ranch, On the road
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Beef chain in the backyard

“When the snow melts and the boat docks are in, CAB better be on the shelf.”

I’m in the passenger seat of a Ford pickup backed up to a large animal veterinarian’s practice. I’m in a border town of Wyoming and Idaho about to unload a horse off a trailer. I’m with Jim Benedict and it’s an adventure, because that just seems to be his life.

I met Jim about an hour beforehand at the Customer Service counter of Benedict’s Market, near Mountain View, Wyo. We had scheduled an interview to talk cattle and his retail store but his daughter’s horse had cut his leg, requiring attention, and Jim figured we could multitask.

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A family business that’s been there for generations – from the employees to the customers, they trust the Benedicts to provide safe and wholesome food to the community.

The cool thing about Jim is he’s present, no matter the chaos that lies on the outskirts. When he’s with his cattle, he’s a committed caretaker, a dedicated herdsman. When he’s in his family’s retail store, he recognizes faces and scans the aisles for improvements. When he’s at the horse vet, he studies the treatment and asks almost as many questions as me.

He’s a student, a pursuer of excellence in all things and one of the most unique ranchers I’ve met.

So back to his quote at the top…

I didn’t know what he meant about the first part – in Florida the docks are stationary (hello, sunshine!) – but I was pretty sure about the second: if it was a challenge, Jim seemed like a guy who gets things done.

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“We’re building a commercial cow database that has documentation and DNA,” Jim says. He and Bruce run the Zoetis HD-50K test on every bull on the place.

“People tell us we’re crazy,” he admits of juggling both ends of the beef business, “but we just do our own thing.”

He’s talking about him and his brother, Bruce, both third generations to run the local grocery and retail store where you can buy “a loaf of bread or livestock equipment.” More so, he’s acknowledging the fact that they own and manage hundreds of head of Angus cattle, too. Not to mention farm and have families to boot.

That aim for growth led them to CAB.

“We knew some of the more progressive stores were using CAB and making it happen, that it worked,” Jim says.

All it took was thinking about his cattle and the literature he had read about the world’s largest branded beef program.

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Benedict’s Market is known for “fresh food, exceptional service and community support.” A perfect fit for CAB.

“We went down to a food show in April, and Associated Food Stores didn’t know if they could pull it off,” he says. Supply, demand and the impending summer season implied it would be six months at least.

But the boat docks were almost in and that meant summer tourism was around the corner.

“I got home and got on the phone and said, ‘Hey, I need to pull the trigger on this. Let’s get this thing rocking and rolling.’”

Twenty-two days later, CAB was in the meat case.

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“The biggest fear we had going in was whether people would balk at the prices,” Jim says. A year later, he says it’s been the least important care to the consumer.

“We’re blending the producer side of things with the retail side of things,” Jim says. “We know what the end product is. We know what the going-in product is. It was that little spot in the middle that we needed.”

Now he’s got the whole beef chain in his backyard and a special perspective to go with it.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – Be sure to grab a copy of the Angus Journal for Jim’s full story in a few months.

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The beef industry: a survival guide

I’ve often wished for a guidebook – a map to carefully lead me around life’s potholes and avoid the dead ends altogether.

But you and I both know it doesn’t work like that. Faith requires a bit of stepping out, sometimes lunging to get to the good stuff – the reward far greater than the process to get there.

At this year’s Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show, a Cattlemen’s College session titled, “True Stories of Beef Business Survival” piqued my interest.

As a young person hoping to survive in the beef industry, I’ve found there’s no golden ticket there either, but I’ve sure tried to listen a lot.

Here’s what I learned that day:

Have a plan

For both day-to-day and worst-case scenarios. “If you wait until you’re in the middle of the drought, it’s too late,” Joe Leathers, manager of 6666 Ranch, near Guthrie, Texas, said. “If you wait until the fire has completely devastated your country, you’re going to be sitting there in the middle of smoking ashes.”

For the practical-minded, it’s about being on the same page with your family and partners, Lydia Yon said. The matriarch of Yon Family Farms, near Ridge Spring, S.C., said, “People around us were building a new house and we were building a commodity shed. Someone was buying a new car and we were buying a new mixer wagon.” Everything they made, they put right back into the operation and avoided purchases of non-tangible things they couldn’t pass on to their children.IMG_1824

See the big picture

Not just what’s outside your door, Lydia said. It’s the little, everyday things that have been their key to survival. Her family applies that to their role as a seedstock producer, paying special attention to the genetics they stack in their Angus herd. “They need to be the right kind of genetics that will provide that end consumer with the delicious eating experience they crave.”

“The decisions you make, I don’t care how small your operation is, affect a lot more people than just you,” Joe added. Be conscious of that.IMG_1839

Learn from others

“Glean from those who have survived in the past; go talk to them,” Joe advised.

“The very smartest day of our lives was the day we graduated with our animal science degrees,” Lydia joked. “Ever since, we’ve learned how dumb we can become.” Listen to those older and wiser.IMG_1782

Relationships are key

Jerry Bohn, owner and recently retired manager of Pratt Feeders, Pratt, Kan., tied it all back to the men and women he’s worked for, alongside and hired. “It’s the people,” he said. “People, relationships, being a part of the community, that’s really what it’s all about and what made my career successful.”

For Lydia, relationships and the awareness that others observe your actions and results drive her toward success. Both led to land offered for lease and an owner’s willingness to finance cattle. “People are watching what you do,” she said. Because of those relationships, “we expanded without a lot of huge investments.”IMG_1945

Think outside your fences

With decades under his hat, Joe encouraged young people to “be an independent thinker. Too many people aren’t,” he said.

People told Lydia and her husband, Kevin, they couldn’t start a farm with 100 acres and basically nothing. “We got experience, got involved and got busy,” she said.

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All photos were taken at Baldwin Angus Ranch, near Ocala, Fla.

Choose good partnerships

“What can you do to be different?” Jerry asked. He credited partnerships with CAB and U.S. Premium Beef as some of the best Pratt has made. With CAB, “our involvement caused us to do a paradigm shift,” he said. Prior to 2003, Pratt Feeders was selling more commodity cattle. “We began to look at high-quality cattle, producing for high-end markets.” Today, he said, close to 70% of the cattle in their feedyards are destined to sell on a grid.File Mar 14, 4 15 54 PM copy

Those were just some pieces of advice from three people who I admire in this industry.

Get experience, manage for risk, figure out your strengths and outsource your weaknesses, they said. Those and more can take a person from merely surviving to thriving.

It’s about being realistic with every decision you make, Joe said, adding that there will be plenty. As young people, “it’s easy to have rose-colored glasses. Survival has a definite connotation of bruises and a little blood.”

“It’s not always going to be fun and you’re going to have to weather the storm.”

See you out on the water,

Laura

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Hot topics, On the ranch
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Call the cattle ‘Hoover’

We were sitting in her parked truck, next to the old house where her grandfather was raised, cattle to our left and behind us.

“Just call the cattle ‘Hoover’,” Landi Livingston said matter-of-factly.

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“My parents were very good in that they never put pressure on me, they never made me feel like it was an expectation to come back to the farm,” Landi says.

It was one of the first times I went with an angle.

Writers, we all have our own [arguably odd] methods of gathering material for stories. This one, what I had coined “the Landi McFarland piece,” was different than most of mine. I knew what I wanted to write about, how I would tell you about it well before I set foot on the farm.

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Bloodlines run deep through the female side of the Hoover line. No heifer has stepped hoof on the Ellston farm in more than 15 years unless she took her first steps on its fertile soil.

Hoover. The naming can get a bit tricky – the reason was why I was there in the first place.

The Hoover herd, an Angus seedstock operation near Ellston, Iowa, is known through that part of the country for traits like disposition and growth. A lesser known fact, perhaps, are the leading ladies who have kept it intact.

“The farm’s come down through the firstborn daughter,” Landi says of the herd her great-grandfather Walt Hoover started in 1928. From there, his daughter Barb, her daughter Joy and her daughter Landi made up the three generations that followed.

“When people say, ‘are you a Hoover,’ it’s technically Hoover, Kiburz, McFarland and now, Livingston.’”

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I met four generations that day: John, Landi’s grandfather (pictured), who is in his 90s, still runs the feed truck each morning.

Landi’s daughter Gwen, who, by then had joined us for the morning’s conversation, could be the fourth gal to take over – but her name won’t change for a good, long while. She’s barely one.

“Right now, Hoover Angus is supporting three generations of our family, four if you count Gwen,” Landi says. “We don’t have other businesses, we don’t have off-the-farm jobs. We don’t have investments in other industries. The cattle have to pay the bills.”

More than that, Angus pairs are bred and cared for with customers in mind. Genetics from the Hoover herd help pay their bills, too.

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In Ellston and surrounding areas, it’s more common to show cattle than raise them for production purposes. The Hoover cows exist only for the latter.

“Even though most of our customers aren’t feeding their calves or selling them on a grid, everything comes down to those cattle feeding someone,” Landi says.

That’s why, in addition to stacking traits at the front end, she places emphasis on carcass traits as well. As an Angus genetic supplier, it’s simply expected that the program include a focus on premium beef targets like the CAB brand.

“Our customers aren’t traditionally getting paid based on marbling,” she says, “but it’s my philosophy that we need to keep raising the bar for them.”

People want quality and she helps ensure it by studying and selecting the right EPDs.

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A visit at sunrise.

A morning can’t start early enough for the farmer’s daughter. With one little one and another on the way, often before sunrise, she’s out with the cattle – studying them, acknowledging that they live and carry out what she dreams up on paper.

“Hey girl,” she says to her favorite 2-year-old this year, stepping close enough for the heifer to sniff her hand through a glove.

“We’re expecting a lot of good things from this one,” Landi says.

That’s true of the herd. True of the owner.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – To read more about Landi and Hoover Angus, check out the April issue of the Angus Journal.

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An Olympic throwback

Surprises – who doesn’t love ’em?

I’m thinking flowers, an upward swing in the market, a calf crop from a new bull that turned out even better than anticipated – these are the things that put a little pep in your step.

I’ve been watching the Olympics as of late (because who hasn’t?) and it got me thinking: I bet those expected to win hate surprises. I bet those managing these games hate surprises.

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Jason Clever, a designer at CAB, carries the famous Olympic torch.

There are the out-of-nowhere upsets, persons or teams that started near the bottom and snag the gold. They’re loving it, but not the favored ones displaced. These guys and gals come well prepared, if only they can execute as flawlessly as we flawed humans are capable of doing.

Gets me pumped just thinking about it.

So in the spirit of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games and the fact that we’ve been a bit reminiscent celebrating the brand’s 40th anniversary year, let me tell you about a little surprise that involves CAB and the world’s foremost sports competition.

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One fan showed American patriotism along with his love of quality beef.

The year – 2002. The Olympics – the XIX Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The surprise – a shortage of frankfurters.

Our own Deanna Walenciak was closest to the 2002 games. A marketing team member at the time, who now heads our education efforts, she led the Olympic charge and remembers how the CAB item became the surprise story.

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Then CAB president Jim Riemann answers questions at the Olympic signing.

“You do all of this marketing and try to plan stories around the games,” Deanna says. “We also put a lot of work into having the correct amount of product. We really wanted to get that right.”

In this particular case, not “sticking the landing” turned out to be an even sweeter victory, one CNN and various news outlets felt compelled to share.

It wasn’t that they actually ran out, Deanna says, but had Usinger’s sausage company, out of Milwaukee, Wis., not stepped up to the plate and increased production, the story could have been different.

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Available at all concessions throughout the games, as well as Olympic Village, the CAB frankfurters and chili were hits. The latter was developed specifically for the games; both are still available today.

There was no one to blame, Deeana says. Simply a surprise – one of the good kinds.

“All of the models assumed how many we would sell but people stayed at the events even longer and were ordering frankfurters at 9:30 in the morning, all morning long,” she says. “The food at the concession stands was just that phenomenal.”

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In anticipation, CAB held competitions with retailers and consumers alike. Lucky winners won trips to the games.

A bit of a history buff when it comes to the brand and an Olympic fan to boot, I thought that was a pretty fun fact.

As the games come to an end, here’s wishing all Olympic athletes the best. Even more, here’s to good surprises.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

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