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.)
21st Century Beef Group
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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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2012_05_16_mr_Nebraska MBA_Rishel_and_Pioneer Ranch-29
Hot topics
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Keeping after it

“You’re a great mom!”

When people say that, I hope it’s true.

But sometimes the remark comes as I’ve just luckily (somehow) managed to get through church with relatively quiet, happy children for an entire service.

Sometimes strangers say that when we’re at a restaurant. They’re impressed we have six little people at the table, most eating and carrying on conversations like mini adults.

Still, I try not to get too confident. I know as quickly as all the things can go right, they can turn for the worse. Somebody gets bored. Somebody gets crabby. Somebody gets unruly. (And I’m not just talking about the kids.)

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Being a good mom is all about consistency, from the everyday to the days like this one at the Henry Doorly Zoo. Not unlike having a good herd, you’ve got to keep after it.

I know motherhood is not defined by slices in time, but rather how each of those add up. It’s about how you’ve interacted with your children all along. It’s about what you’re doing in the moments everybody sees and when nobody is looking at all. Every experience shapes their attitudes and characters.

Even if I’m a “good mom” today, if I don’t work at it, the classification could easily change. Those same kids could become spoiled brats by next year.

This isn’t a parenting blog and maybe I’ve got motherhood on the brain because I just got back from maternity leave, but I’d say there are situations like this in the cattle business, too.

Think about your good cattle today. What do the buyers like about them?

They’re uniform. They gain and grade. They’ve got good attitudes.

You’ve probably focused on making them that way for several years, decades even.

When you have a goal you’re working toward, a lot of the progress is made in the mundane, the everyday. It’s in the breeding decisions and studying the sale books or AI catalogs. It’s in the processing and weaning day logistics and execution.

But it’s a journey. Having “good cattle” isn’t a destination you reach—you have to keep after it.

Interviewing for a story earlier this year, I asked a veteran cattleman, “Do you think we maybe have enough quality in our cattle today that we can start selecting for something else?”

Bill Rishel’s answer was clear and direct.

“If you have a high heritability for a trait, you can take it out just as fast as you can put it in.”

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Angus breeder Bill Rishel says the idea that we’ve got enough marbling and should move on to something else is dangerous thinking.

Marbling would be one of those traits. Docility may be another, especially when you figure in the environment moms provide.

It might not change as quickly as a toddler’s attitude during a homily, but unless you keep a disciplined approach, you could turn around one day and find a different herd looking back at you.

Every decision adds up.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

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2017_06_mr_Darr-395-1small
Hot topics, On Target
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Catching up on those quality records

It doesn’t sound like a busy salebarn café or have the same ambience as a back table at the farm supply, but I’d argue that our weekly supply team conference calls are a CAB version of a coffee klatch.

We aren’t gathered around the same table (but video conferencing helps us feel connected!), we don’t talk about the weather every single time, we don’t even all drink coffee (I type while sipping a Diet Coke), but we do use it as our time to catch up on what’s happening in the beef business.

We talk projects and upcoming events and the markets. We share what we know from the week behind us and what we hope to know after the week ahead.

When I was on maternity leave earlier this year, I missed those conversations. I mean, I had a good reason and I wouldn’t trade Laney for a decade’s worth of calls, of course, but I felt a bit like an outsider.

Laney and me

Our newest little Reiman was a good excuse for missing my team updates over the past several months, but it is good to come back to good news, too!

“Another day, another week, another record. This is fun.” The e-mails came several weeks in a row. In fact, the entire month of February, each week set a new all-time record high for CAB brand acceptance (the percentage of black-hided cattle presented to USDA graders for evaluation that made it into our brand). Choice and Prime percentages were breaking records, too.

But I didn’t get to hear about it on the call.

I wanted to know: Why now? Is this too much of a good thing? And, what’s the real impact of a percentage-point hike like that?

When I got back to full-time work last month, I called up Mark McCully, our vice president of production, to ask.

“The first question when we look at this kind of quality is, ‘Have we reached some point of market saturation?’ If we had,” he says, “that would be showing up in some really narrow Choice-Select spreads, and that’s just not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing that the demand continues to grow and that spread continues to stay strong.”

The first 16 weeks of 2018 averaged 34.9% CAB, compared to 30.3% for 2017. That’s an added 13,188 head branded each week.

CAB Certified Head 5-17-18 (003)b

The first quarter of 2018 shows an added 13,000+ additional carcasses accepted into the CAB brand.

“The idea that we’ve matured or hit some sort of a quality ceiling, I understand why people say it, but I don’t believe the economic signals support that,” he continued.

The CAB boxed beef premium averaged $8.76 per hundredweight (cwt.) during the first quarter of 2018. A quick glance shows that compared to $9.19/cwt. for the same period in 2017.

That’s down, you might say. True, but the math tells the more complete story: the certified head count increased by 20.4% (from 1.3 million to 1.6 million, or 300,000 head), but the spread only declined 4.7%, or $0.43.

“There’s a customer base out there today that’s now accessing high-quality products that maybe just never thought they could before,” Mark says.

And when you look at a greater slice of time, the story gets even richer.

Rewind to the first 16 weeks of 2010: 1 million head certified with a 24.1% CAB acceptance rate and the CAB-Choice spread was $6.20/cwt. Comparing 2018 to 2010, we have increased acceptance rate by more than 10 percentage points, increased certified head count by 55.5% AND increased the CAB-Choice spread by 41.3%. 

“It’s a little bit unbelievable,” Mark said, as if he was reading my mind.

The only difference between this and a far-fetched coffee shop tale? This one is true and seems to keep repeating itself.

People want quality beef, they pay for it, and cattlemen continue to respond to the signals to produce more.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

 

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2017_03_mr_Kualoa Ranch-9
On the ranch, On the road
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Behind the scenes: the ranch from the movie scenes

It was the first time I’d waited for a cattleman in a gift shop and visitor center.

Ryan Schultz, at Kuoloa Ranch, was just getting back from his first chores of the day as tour buses started to roll in. Those travelers came to see where dozens and dozens of movies and TV shows—from Jurassic Park to Lost—were filmed on the 4,000 acres of Hawaiian countryside. Others had booked the ATV tour, horseback riding or a trip out to the private island.

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The restaurant, visitor’s center and gift shop was bustling with people from the moment I arrived until I left several hours later.

I was probably the only one interested in how Angus cattle fit into the mix.

But the remaining Godzilla rocks scattered in the pasture didn’t fool me. The herd that started in the 1870s, shortly after the sugar mill folded because the soil isn’t conducive to cane, is still an important enterprise.

“Cattle do the natural landscaping. You could never hire a full-time landscaper to do what they do,” Ryan says, motioning toward the foreground that sets off the dramatic Ko’olau Mountains.

He may have to move cattle to a different pasture from time to time, but mostly the animals just coexist with the commotion that they’ve come to regard as normal.

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Ryan Schultz, a third generation Hawaiian cattleman, showed me around the ranch. Just over his left shoulder is evidence of a movie in progress. They’re usually sworn to secrecy while something is being filmed.

While I was there, the row of cars lined up near a catering tent gave it away: they were filming that day. What I assume might be a bit of a pain, Ryan shrugs off. The people are accommodating enough and it’s just part of the everyday “routine.”

I guess ranching around Show Biz isn’t much of a challenge, compared to the logistics of sending calves to the mainland or trying to remain profitable when you start at something like a 40-cent/pound discount due to shipping costs.

Angus genetics help.

“We’ve just found they do really well for the program,” Ryan says, noting docility, birthweight and carcass quality top his selection criteria. “To produce a consistent product, genetics are the key.”

At weaning, the heavier end are sorted into their own grass-fattening program, where eight head per month are finished at the ranch and processed at the only beef facility left on the island.

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Trail rides and ATV tours come right alongside the herd several times a day, but they pay the extra visitors no mind.

Ryan and his crew of two measure the calves against the chute, and if they’re under 49 inches, they’ll be preconditioned for at least two weeks before boarding a boat for California. The cattlemen set up a four-compartment, 40-foot container with alfalfa pellets, and ship the animals and one lonely stocktender off on a weeklong journey.

The breed helps them when they get there, too. “Because Angus are so popular on the mainland, we get more for them,” he says.

Even though they have rich grazing (1 to 2 pair per acre) year round (just think, no putting up winter feed!) they have tightened breeding down to two seasons. It helps them get like-sized cattle to market.

Once upon a time, there was a registered Angus herd on the ranch. The team wants to get back to that. They do rely heavily on AI, but there aren’t many bull suppliers left in the state.

Ryan is no longer full-time with the ranch but works on a consulting basis. He wants to keep the herd moving forward.

He’s as quick to help out as he is to flash a smile. When Ryan walked into the gift shop that morning, I knew it’d be a great day. He’d already saddled an extra horse so I could tag along (and basically try to stay out of the way) as we pulled bulls from a nearby pasture.

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They still use horses for much of the cow work, because they make it easier to navigate the diverse terrain.

From my vantage point, being around the cattle, the land, the work….it suited him.

Later I discovered why: Ryan grew up on The Big Island, where his grandfather traded a background in training polo horses for ranch management.

“I was always looking for an excuse to stay home from school and help out,” Ryan says. “You learned pretty young that it was a lifestyle and there were sacrifices you had to make.”

Personal histories combine with the legacy of the ranch and the Judd (now Morgan) family, who have owned the land since purchasing it from King Kamehameha III.

Even their “33” brand tells a story.

“When you drove around the island from Honolulu, we were the 33rd ranch,” Ryan says. “Now we’re one of three main ones left.”

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See that smile? It’s one that says, “I’ll work any day of vacation, if it’s a day like this.”

My husband was is in Hawaii on business, and I could have spent my days reading a book on the beach. But I feel pretty lucky. Instead, I got a “behind the scenes” scoop on the ranch that is so often in the scenes.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,

Miranda

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