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.)
MidwesternJune
Hot topics
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Putting it in perspective

“You know, a dredge ditch…”

I was explaining the Minnesota farm I grew up on and I was met with blank stares from some of my South Dakota State University classmates.

“…where you drain water off the field,” I continued.

They looked dumbfounded, and I was equally as puzzled. Then one spoke up, asking why in tarnation we’d be draining water off the field. They spent their summers irrigating or praying for rain, as they had well-drained soil, not the native swamp ground we farmed.

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This is home. I saw it from a new perspective a fall or two ago when I took a helicopter ride over it. The dredge ditch is in the upper right, running between the bean stubble and the corn ground.

The older I get, the more I realize perspective is important.

What would be a drought in Minnesota might be a really good summer in west Texas; what is a lot of noise to one family might be an average day in our house full of kids; what might seem cheap to some would be a lifetime’s savings for another.

Considering perspective is important when looking at data and reading about studies.

“There is data out there that can support anything,” said Andress Kniss, a Wyoming Ph.D. weed scientist I heard at the Ag Media Summit this summer. He was telling a room full of ag communicators to be vigilant for distorted use of numbers, to think critically and certainly not be part of the problem.

In the age of click-bait headlines and shareable infographics, it’s trendy to highlight a monumental cause and effect.

A few years ago there was a lot of buzz about grass-fed beef having at least twice as much of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as corn-fed beef. That is true. Heck, it may have 100% or even 150% more. Scientists would call it “statistically significant.”

But that’s when you have to ask yourself, “Compared to what?” Well, the 80 to 90 milligrams (mg) in a 3.5-ounce serving of grass-fed beef may be double or triple the 30 to 40 mg in its conventional counterpart. But compared to salmon’s 1,000 to 2,000 mg, it’s not enough to make a difference in your diet. It’s an irrelevant, moot point.

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As we get more and more precise in our ability to measure, it seems we’re more at risk for distortion.

Consider the “vanishing zero.” We can measure to smaller and smaller concentrations. So if there is five times as much of a substance in water, does that mean it was a difference in 1 vs. 5, or was it really 1 parts per trillion (ppt.) vs. 5 ppt.? That’s 1,000 times less than 1 part per billion (ppb). Comparing parts per trillion to the old standard parts per million? Well, it’s a million times smaller than that.

For a bit of an illustration, a part per billion would be like finding one kernel of corn in a 70 acre field. (Just to show my work, that’s an average 180 bushels/acre, with 80,000 kernels per bushel.) All that is to say it’s small, very small.

A part per billion would be like finding one kernel of corn in a 70-acre field

And yet, sometimes it takes such a small amount to matter that the sub-microscopic numbers are critically important. You just need enough context to know when.

I’m not expecting you to get out your calculator or dust off an old college stats notebook every time you read up on the latest technology or new best practices, but think about how a change might really affect your herd. Will this new program increase rebreeding rates a lot or a little? Will it be worth the investment in a year, five years, or still doubtful in 10?

If a salesman says “it doesn’t really hurt marbling,” does that mean it flat-out doesn’t affect it? Or does it mean some new product or plan reduces intramuscular fat “just 20 or 30 points on a 999-point scale?” Do you realize how many of your cattle typically end up 20 points either side of the Choice/Select or even the Choice/Prime line? What sounds like a little can have a big impact.

There is always a cause and effect. Sometimes it just takes a little perspective to recognize it.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

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2018_06_mr_Timmerman-50e
Award/contest winners, On the ranch, On the road
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Hard work, luck and smarts

Sometimes it’s easy to see where a person is and forget where they’ve been. It’s easy to stare down the success in the here-and-now, without even a glance at their past.

When I learned Gerald Timmerman won our Feeding Quality Forum Industry Achievement Award, I knew the family in generalities…for their feeding businesses spread across Nebraska and surrounding states. I knew they had some ranching and other beef industry interests.

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Gerald Timmerman dropped out of high school to be a cowboy. Today, the 78-year-old cattle feeder still spends quite a bit of time in the saddle on some of his family’s Nebraska ranches.

In short: they are successful.

But then, I got to spend a day with Gerald Timmerman this summer. He’s the oldest of four brothers and in the first five minutes of making small-talk while waiting for a videographer in a hotel lobby, he said, “This only worked because it’s simple. All those years, we never had titles, bonuses or company vehicles.”

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Then he said Certified Angus Beef LLC worked because, in essence, it’s simple, too….just specifications at a packing plant.

I learned pretty quickly he’s a get-down-to-business, daylights-a-burning-so-let’s-not-waste-it kind of guy.

Anyone who knows me, understands why we hit it off.

As if to underscore that, he talked about having five kids in five years and the realities of growing his family and his feed yards at the same time.

“I was flying high when I proposed on Good Friday, and by June when we got married? I was broke,” he recalled. Those kids filled up their single-wide to the window sills.

“To this day, I won’t ever put an employee up in a trailer house, because I remember how damned cold it was in the winter,” he laughed.

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Gerald and his wife Lynn have been married for 54 years. They have five children and five grandchildren.

He gives credit to his wife Lynn for keeping the home in line while he and his brothers poured their attention into the business.

“I think we went about close to 10 years at 7 days a week without ever taking a day off, every one of us, and as we went through we just drew a salary,” he said.

Success didn’t just happen. It was hard work, with some luck and shrewdness thrown in, too.

Gerald’s dad taught him to listen to advice, to learn from those who had been there before, to prepare for a wreck, and to save. I loved his latest example—buying a fleet of ranch trucks when a hailstorm left a slew of new ones marked down to half price at a large dealership. Even at this point in his career, he still saves.

Another thing Leo Timmerman taught his firstborn? Always keep the customer in mind.

“I’m a consumer advocate because I believe you have to produce what the consumer wants, not what you think he ought to have,” Gerald said. “If you give them what they want, you can rest assured you’re going to have a profit. You’ll be rewarded for your work.”

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“When you get in the business you’ve got to be smart,” Gerald said. “Smart isn’t IQ—just savvy, hungry and have a little humility and you can have a pretty good career.”

Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day? Do a job well and reap the rewards.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

P.S. For more information on this year’s Feeding Quality Forum, look for our post-event coverage in our newsroom.

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SomewhereInTheSandhills
Hot topics, On the ranch
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Time tested

We’ve dubbed it the “smiling house.”

On my family’s regular route through the Sandhills, there’s a lonely old place, rain and time have left the wood devoid of color. Yet, with its classic, square farmhouse design—and a little imagination—its two upstairs windows make eyes. It sags so much that the porch looks like it’s turned up in a smile.

Every time we pass the “smiling house,” I do the opposite, however. There are no signs that anybody has cared about the place in quite some time, but I can’t help thinking about a time when someone did. “That was somebody’s dream, somebody’s hope,” as the old Tracy Byrd song goes. “They had big plans, they had no doubts.”

We always wonder when we’ll drive past and find it’s disappeared into the sea of grass, either due to Mother Nature or management.

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Someday the “smiling house” will be nothing more than a pasture, but for now it still makes me wonder about its history. (Also, I wish I had a picture of that house for this post.)

Of course, it could be they have a bigger, nicer place more suitable for ranch headquarters, or dozens of other explanations, but my mind often settles on the depressing thought that perhaps that operation didn’t survive a ’50s drought or the ’80s Farm Crisis.

A little way down the sparse highway, I see a ranch that probably dates back to the same period, but it’s a starkly different picture. The well-kept house could look much like it did new, perhaps 100 years ago. There’s a bustle of activity around the place, with evidence that the people living there grow everything from tomatoes and cucumbers to kids and cattle.

As I travel past slices of the country with a past I know only in general, I often wonder about their specific history. What could we learn from the places that failed and the ones that flourish?

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to learn those stories.

Earlier this summer, I sat down with two different cattle feeders. One male, one female. One 96, one close to 80. One in Nebraska, one in Colorado. One large scale, one small. There were many differences in their journey, but also many similarities of how one ends up looking back on a career in agriculture with collectively more wins than losses.

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If you ever have the chance to ride around in a pasture with a seasoned producer… do. You’re bound to learn a lot.

Here are a few pearls of wisdom:

    • Work hard, spend wisely. “First, you’re so busy trying to make a living, you haven’t got time to wonder what’s going to happen in the years to come,” one said. They both talked about the physical labor and mental energy it took building their businesses. They still practice frugality. “Keep enough reserves that you know you’re going to weather a storm,” said the other.
    • Challenges aren’t something to fear, but rather something to learn from. “Some of those are good because it will humble you. You get to going along pretty good and you get to feeling pretty good about yourself and you get in one of those and you’ll get a little humility back,” said the cattleman.
    • Embrace technology. An adding machine and typewriter have given way to the computer, “but that’s progress; and we’re always for progress, really. Not progress for itself. Not progress because the neighbors have it,” she said. “Progress, that it will fit your business and be profitable in your business.
    • Remember your buyer. “If you give them what they want, you can rest assured you’re going to have a profit.” Both feeders have watched quality grades increase and consumer demand follow suit. “You’ll be rewarded for your work. It’s easier to go downhill than it is to push something uphill.”

 

I’ll be smiling at the gems I picked up from these seasoned producers, long after that landmark house falls into a final frown.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

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21st Century Beef Group
Uncategorized
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The 1st grade approach

Remember when you were six? Being chosen for “show and tell” was a big deal.

My elementary-age kids have brought their class everything from Indian beads dug on the family ranch to a misshapen egg their chicken laid. A newborn baby sister has even made a school appearance once or twice.

As they selected items, they went for the “wow” factor every time.

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“She’s SO cute…she’s almost as cute as my cat.” Just one of the adorable comments from Cassidy’s kindergarten class the day she brought her baby sister for show and tell.

Grownup show and tell isn’t a lot different. We still go for that when we bring guests into our Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand Culinary Center. But it’s about more than showcasing incredible food and the hospitality to match.

We want people to leave saying, “Wow. I didn’t realize the relevance this brand has to my business.” We want them to leave knowing how high-quality beef can boost their bottom line.

“You read a paragraph to a first grader and they might know what you’re talking about,” says Harry Knobbe, a longtime cattle feeder from West Point, Neb. “You show them what you’re talking about, they get it.”

Harry came into headquarters as part of the 21st Century Beef Club last month and said afterwards, “I’ve been involved with National Cattlemen and the Beef Councils and everything for a long time. For some reason, I didn’t know that much about Certified Angus Beef until I went there.

“It’s like I was going to the wrong church,” he jokes.

He wasn’t the only one.

Cody Cornwell

Montana rancher Cody Cornwell has had a little meats experience before, but he said not to the degree of breaking down a whole primal into cuts.

“I realized [CAB] was a beef promotion arm of the American Angus Association. I did not realize that it was 100% funded by beef sales from the packer,” says rancher Cody Cornwell of Glasgow, Mont. “I was really shocked to learn that.”

The simple business model makes sense, he says

“Educate the chefs, sell the beef. Let the packers sell the product and the rancher will get his share in the end,” says Cody, noting the brand has helped bring along beef demand for the entire beef community, not just the Angus category.

We talked everything from brand assurance to carcass value (while breaking down a primal in the meats lab). Few producers get to take a deep dive into beef merchandizing or thinking like a chef.

Harry has been in the feeding business for more than five decades. “CAB” has shown up on his carcass data sheets for years.

“We get a premium, but on the other hand, we pay a premium for the cattle, too, but where our windfall is, is that we may sell more product than if we just have USDA Choice,” Harry says.

Cody put himself in the chef’s shoes.

“I was impressed with the amount of support staff there. If I had a restaurant, it would be well worth an additional dollar per pound, for example, for the product, just to have people to do menu development and advertising.” But, he says on top of that, “The quality of the product was also very, very good.”

Building demand.

When you’re talking to cattlemen, that’s the very best kind of show and tell.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

*Thanks to participant Wade Vedeer for sharing the shots of the group in action.

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2018_05_mr_Beldsoe Cattle Co-1
On the road
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Living their story

Meet Lucile: She’s 96 and flies a Beechcraft. Then there’s her son Bob, who started digging up dinosaur bones on their ranch as a relaxing hobby. Bob’s son Grant fly fishes in Alaska.

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Four generations of cattle feeders. Lucile Bledsoe and her late husband Henry started the feedyard that her son Bob ran before turning the management over to his son Grant. His kids are learning the ropes, doing everything from walking pens to making tags.

When I visited the Bledsoe family near Wray, Colorado, last week, it was a bit like reading a page-turner. With each question, I learn something surprising. I laugh at the fun details sprinkled in, and every answer makes me want to get to the next chapter.

“The FAA doesn’t discriminate, but the insurance company does,” Lucile says with a feisty smile. Due to her age, the matriarch now flies with a second pilot. Grandson Grant might take her along when they make a daytrip to check on their stocker operation in western South Dakota.

With his parents, Bob and Becky purchased the place several decades ago from an older widow. “We’d signed all the papers and were about to walk out of the office and she said, ‘Oh, there’s something I forgot to tell you,’” Bob recalls. “She said, ‘There’s dinosaur bones all over the place.’”

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Bob and Becky Bledsoe met at Colorado State University, and moved back to Wray after her internship and his time in the service. He still says she’s the glue that keeps things together.

He doubted the seller… until he found his first one.

This Bledsoe Cattle Company office may be the only one I’ll ever visit where instead of a laminated sign that says, “I’m out to lunch,” the note clipped to the office door reads, “I’m downstairs working on my dinosaur. Call my cell….”

Bob’s office is chock full of fossils and arrowheads, paintings and antiques.

Across the building, Grant runs the everyday feeding, farming and ranching activities surrounded by everything from an Alaskan bear to a Colorado moose. His family, which includes wife Katie and their kids, Jackson, Emma and Eryn, provide help in summers and on weekends.

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Grant and Katie bring their kids to the feedyard to walk pens on Sunday morning, just as Bob and Becky did before them. Not only does it allow the family to give many of their employees the day off, but it’s a chance to connect for the week ahead.

Producing high-quality Angus cattle at the 6,000-head feedyard is not only good business, but also family tradition.

The Bledsoes have been buying cattle from some of the same Wyoming ranches for 35 years.

“We have good communications with a lot of the suppliers we buy from. Some of them come and look at their cattle every year, some of them come every couple years. A lot of phone calls back and forth, ‘How are my cattle doing? How’s the health been? What do I need to change?’”

The family and their employees wean nearly 8,000 calves each fall, then send them out to cornstalks for winter grazing. Grant says their success depends on having those cattle set up to deal with that stressful period before they ever leave the ranch.

“Ranchers, if they have a good vaccination program, that is very important to a feedyard. And also good cattle handling skills, so those cattle get here and are acclimated to people,” Grant says.

They start on feed better, they gain better and in the end, they grade better.

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“The customer is always right,” Bob says. In this case, the packer wants Angus cattle that will grade, while keeping yield grade 4s and 5s at bay.

“Quality grade is very important to us,” the feeder says. “We grid probably 95% of our animals and when the Choice-Select spread is fairly wide we get a good premium for cattle that grade, so it’s very important to us.”

Another thing that was clear? They surround themselves with good people, too.

We need b-roll video of Grant interacting with an employee, but as they casually chat back and forth, Cruz’s smile doesn’t seem forced. When Adrienne and Sheila say, “Help yourself to anything in the office, pop or water…”, it’s a hospitality that comes from taking ownership of their job.

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The crew meets around dawn at the scale house to get a game plan together. Grant says that’s his favorite time of day at the feedyard.

“We have really, really good employees,” he confirms, telling me about some second-generation folks now working for their family.

As I head back east, I think how leaving that visit was like finishing a good book. I’m a little sad it was over so quickly. I’d just vicariously lived a little of their story, and I left feeling better for knowing it.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

PS–Watch for their story in an upcoming edition of the Angus Journal.

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