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.
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On the ranch, On the road

The Footsteps We Follow

“Now, I don’t want you to focus on just the carcass on this deal,” he said as we pulled off the gravel road to a pasture approach.

It was a soft-spoken plea, not a demand, but still: Gulp. Pit in my stomach.

Had something changed in the past 15 years since Senior Editor Steve had visited this Rea, Missouri, pasture? I got out of the passenger seat to open the gate, then watched Johnnie Hubach pull through, wondering if I was watching my story pass by, too.

2017_03_CAB JohnnieHubach-2“I know you work for CAB, so that’s what you care about – and that is where they end up – but you’ve got to have a functional cow out there, too,” he said when I hopped back in and we approached the herd. “That’s what I care about.”

Now that’s a story, and it builds on a previously told one.

Back in 2002, when Steve and intern Heather Hopper first visited Johnnie to highlight the family’s 2002 CAB Commitment to Excellence award win, the title was “Taking The Luck Out of It.” Indeed, luck had little to do with 55% of his calves meeting the Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) specifications when industry average for black-hided calves was just 17% at that time.

Even then, Johnnie preferred to talk about the cows, and the mentors who influenced and helped grow them.

“It wasn’t just a carcass deal with him, either,” Johnnie recalled of his early work with C.K. Allan of Woodland Farms. “He wanted to make a good cow and a good package there for a lot of different traits, not just the carcass traits.”

Still, the updated data is worth mentioning: In 2014, 2015 and 2016, 100% of the Hubach cattle earned the CAB mark, while 15% on up to 29% of those cattle graded Prime in the past five years.

2017_03_CAB JohnnieHubach-6That caught Aaron Walker’s attention in a conversation with Gregory Feedlot manager David Trowbridge. The Springfield, Missouri, cattleman is about where Johnnie was in 2002—a dozen years into decisions and building a foundation, seeking good cows and even better mentors.

He bought a group of six-year-old cows from Johnnie last year based on their progeny’s carcass data and mothering ability.

“We’re picking up Johnnie’s cows at six years old and we’re expecting at least three more calves out of them, and I’m confident there will be more than that. They look like black refrigerators out there – their feet, their mouths, maternal instincts are just solid,” Aaron said. “Johnnie is just a really good example of what we’re trying to accomplish. He’s a good role model.”

Just as Johnnie continued to guide my carcass-driven questions back to the cows at hand, Aaron and another young cattleman from Springfield, Rick Aspergren, kept moving from the cows to the man behind them.

“Johnnie’s kind of our hero – he’s doing what we want to do. He’s got that perfect set of cows, those cookie-cutter cows,” Rick said. “They’re foundation cows.”

2017_03_CAB JohnnieHubach-15I’m happily detoured here, asking more about why Johnnie’s are the footsteps these two have chosen to follow, knowing just how important it is to have those leaders walking ahead.

Because, still, before any story trip – especially one where I know he has actually gone before me, or when I get one of those sinking pits in my stomach mid-interview, I find myself wondering: “What questions would Steve ask here? How would he approach this?” Then, I call Miranda: “I saw this on the feedlot close-out… how do we learn from it? What’s the best way to present this data?”

Ask Johnnie how he’s made strides in his genetics in the 15 years since we last visited, and he’ll tell you, it’s in the questions you ask and those you follow: “I’ll just put it to you this way – I’ve learned a lot. I had good help back then, too. I had people to mentor me, and people I was lucky that they were around.”

We’ll share more about those footsteps and the impressions the Hubach herd is leaving for others in the next Angus Journal.

Until then, keep questioning!


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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Learning about cover crops, forage rotations, and general soil health and grazing practices from Shane Tiffany.
On the ranch, On the road

Genuinely good sharing

As Kara was telling me the story of her weekend, I couldn’t help but appreciate the industry that we have chosen to work in even more. It seems that everybody has their own preconceived notions, and that’s OK. She spent that weekend in May with Josh and Leah, whose preconceptions made them curious of the beef industry. On the other hand, my preconceived notion is that someone who dedicates their life to caring for cattle is probably going to be a genuinely good person.

How does this relate to Kara’s weekend? Let me explain. She’s done some work with the Angus Media documentary, I Am Angus, in the past. Usually, the hour-long show features an individual or family (you know, those genuinely good people) who raise Angus cattle. The segment Kara spent her weekend on tried a different approach.

At Dalebanks Angus, the feedstock operation, Josh and Leah learned from the Perrier kids about ranch horses.

“For this episode, we took two consumers, a young married couple who both grew up in a very urban background but had roots in agriculture from prior generations,” she said. “They were both very interested in the urban farm movement, but more importantly, they’re interested in learning about where their food comes from—and perhaps they were a bit curious and somewhat skeptical on some things.”

Josh and Leah were recorded on video as they met with Angus producers from seedstock to commercial cow-calf ranchers, to a feedlot and finally, at the Price Chopper retail meat counter.


Learning from the ranch to the meat counter.

At Dalebanks Angus near Eureka, Kan., the Perrier family shared the decision making that goes into producing high-quality beef at a seedstock operation, especially when it comes to choosing genetics. That afternoon, the couple learned about the commercial cow-calf side at the Stuewe Ranch, near Alma, Kan.

“We talked a lot before and after each stop. I wanted to know what Josh and Leah thought we were going to do there, and we tried to kind of learn some of their preconceived notions and learn what their questions were,” said Kara. “After we left, we would do some more reviewing.”

On Sunday morning, the group visited Tiffany Cattle Co. near Herington, Kan., where they were invited to join the Tiffany family for church services and lunch before touring the feedyard. What Kara believed was initially the visit under the most scrutiny, she also saw as the most impactful stop for the young couple.

Shane Tiffany of Tiffany Cattle Co. taught Josh and Leah about feedlot rations.

“It was so refreshing to see relationships bloom as Josh and Leah saw the passion for animal care that these producers had,” Kara said. “That’s a first-hand account that you can’t get from a text book or a video, and they felt like they were going home with a higher level of confidence.”

It was a successful weekend of learning, not only for Josh and Leah but also for the weekend’s hosts and for the Angus Media team.

“It’s probably a recurring theme that I see with any of our hosts when we do things like this: they are just as eager to learn from our guests as they are to teach,” Kara said. “And I think that was a very important part of it.”


The “I Am Angus” film crew, along with Kara, Josh and Leah enjoying the weekend of broadening horizons.

What genuinely good people we are blessed to work with.


P.S. Tune in with RFD-TV in November to check out the episode on “I Am Angus.”

resizedHannah Johlman is based out of Wyola, Montana where her lifelong bookworm tendencies and love for writing and story telling, as well as deep appreciation for good beef, has kept her writing about Angus cattle. While going to college at Kansas State Hannah served as an intern for the Black Ink team, but upon graduation, the west called her home. 

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Following the Calves, On the ranch, On the road

Following the calves: The next generation

In the calving shed, he studies for the next generation.

The little apartment Bruce Keaster has tucked inside the calving barn at their ranch south of Belt, Montana, is the perfect classroom.

“I spend most of my time going through the AI books, trying to get things matched up with my plan,” Bruce says. “Between calving checks, I’m going through the semen catalogs and looking forward to planning for next year.”

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Montana rancher Bruce Keaster already knows an awful lot about these calves before they’re born.

His plan is ever-evolving, like the cows. In the registered herd, it’s been consistently focused on making bull calves that will add thickness and muscle to their own commercial calves, and heifers who will turn into moderate mothers to raise calves that will surprise with size when they squeeze up next to them in the loading chute on shipping day.

And, with every long Montana winter in the calving shed, he finds a few more traits to add to the list: “It used to be, those high-carcass cattle seemed to be a little harder doing. That’s just not the case anymore,” he says. “It seems like there are more good choices on carcass than there ever have been.”

He reflects on last winter’s catalog choices that led to this pasture of calves on fresh, tall grass. The goal is for each generation to out-perform the last, and they’re doing it. A few February 2016-born bull calves topped the scales at 900+ last October, averaging 725 to 850 out of two-year-old mothers.

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Maternal + carcass. Those goals go hand-in-hand at the Keaster Ranch.

We look at a handful of this year’s commercial calves that were AI sired by a bull in the top 2% of the Angus breed for yearling weight, top 2% for maternal calving ease, top 3% for carcass weight and top 10% for marbling.

“Those will make for some awful nice steer calves going into the yard this fall. I’ll be curious about how they do,” he says. Numbers don’t always play out exactly as planned, but each batch of calves opens a new opportunity for confirmation of those winter decisions.

Last year’s calves went to market in mid-March, and the feedlot average daily gain (ADG) of 3.64 satisfied Bruce’s performance objectives beyond his weaning weights. Their health remained solid in the yard, and this years’ calf crop looks to be on the same track.

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A fresh crop of calves aren’t the only new critters at Keaster Land & Livestock. Four-month-old “Pupah,” affectionately named by grandson Mason, is still learning the ropes from “Zip.” In the next pasture over, Bruce points out his “other vice:” newborn colts.

“I sure wouldn’t say we found the silver bullet on what vaccinations to give at birth, but it does make a difference to go the extra mile there,” he says.

Of the 870 calves born on the ranch this year, they treated just a couple for scours and five or six for pneumonia. “They stay healthy. We don’t just benefit from that; the next step benefits from them not being sick, too,” he says.

He’s looking into the future for his calves, but that’s not all.

In the house, he and Janet study the next generation, too.

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Grandson Kreighton belongs to Rachel and Steve Heberly. Both of Keaster’s daughters, Rachel and Laura, and their husbands are involved in the ranch today.

Grandson Kreighton was less than a week old on my last visit. The proud grandparents sneak me into the back bedroom to admire the perfect peacefulness of naptime for the now eight-month-old before we check the calves. Later, he holds tight to grandpa’s shoulder and beams as we take an updated photo overlooking the pastures.

No doubt, little compares to the passing promise of spring and the wonderment at the potential of the next generation.

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 this story from the beginning, check out these ‘Following the Calves’ posts: Keaster family checks in, Friends and neighbors 1,000 miles away, The Golden Rule in the Golden Triangle, and Maternal instincts, predictable cattle.

Travel to ranches in Oklahoma and South Dakota, too!

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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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