Meet Your Rancher: Rodney and Sadie Derstein – Kismet, KS

Rodney and Sadie Derstein - Kansas ranchers

Rodney and Sadie Derstein

Rancher(s): Rodney and Sadie Derstein

Location: Kismet, Kansas

Ages: Rodney, 31 –  Sadie, 26

Segment: Backgrounding

Operation Name: Cimarron River Cattle Company


 

 

Facts About Beef (FAB): Tell us a little bit about your operation and what you do at Cimarron River Cattle Company.

Sadie Derstein (SD): We are a custom backgrounding operation, which means we source calves from cow-calf farmers and ranchers and give them the specialized attention and care that they need to continue to grow. One of the most important things that we can do to boost the animal’s immune system is to make sure that they have a well-balanced diet, so we work closely with our cattle nutritionist who formulates our cattle’s diets with the best mixture of protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins the cattle need to thrive and grow.

FAB: How is your operation unique? What are some of the challenges?

Rodney Derstein (RD): You could say being a young, married couple who work together every single day makes us unique.  When we first bought our ranch it was just us two doing it all.  We work well together and have found ways to divide responsibilities on ranch.

SD: We are also unique in that Rodney, in addition to helping run our ranch, works full-time for a feed company where he sources unusable by-products, such as wet and dry distillers grains—the unfermented grain byproducts that contain protein, fiber, and fat—that are used as part of the scientifically-balanced diet for cattle.

FAB: How do you use technologies such as growth promotants and antibiotics on your ranch?

RD: All of our cattle are owned by other farmers and ranchers—we’re their caretakers—so we follow the direction of our customers to determine which technologies we can or can’t use on certain animals. Often times, this depends on which marketing program the animal will be entered into once it becomes beef—for example, if the animal will go into a “naturally raised” or “certified organic” marketing program, it cannot and will not be given a growth promotant. When it comes to our antibiotics usage, we work hand in hand with our consulting veterinarian, Dr. Nels, on a weekly basis in order to determine the right amount of antibiotics, use them for the right amount of time and in order to treat the right illness, and we’ve worked out a written treatment protocol which we follow closely.

Location of Kismet, KS. Source: Google Maps

Location of Kismet, KS. Source: Google Maps

FAB: How do you play a role in raising high-quality beef?

SD: We believe that high-quality beef starts with high-quality care, so we follow the BQA (Beef Quality Assurance) standards when handling cattle, making sure that we move animals quietly and in low-stress ways—and we also educate our employees on proper cattle handling.  In addition, cleaning water tanks at least once per week, providing any shelter that we can and making sure the pens are cleaned regularly are always at the top of our list. We want the cattle in our yard to be as comfortable as possible.

FAB: What would you say to critics who call you a “factory farm?”

SD: Well, we would have to invite them to come and spend the day with us.  Come and spend the day  on horseback and see what actually goes on and how the animals are treated. This is our little paradise; we work side-by-side every day and put everything we have into raising beef. The cattle here are comfortable and their needs are put ahead of ours, every single time. We are proud of being able to play a small part in the beef community. Early mornings and long days are worth it when you know that you are helping feed others.

FAB: How do you prepare your favorite cut of beef?

RD: I like my steak medium rare with a dash of salt.

FAB: If readers want to follow your ranch activities on social media, where can they find you?

Instagram: @rderstein and @sderstein

Twitter: @CimarronRiverCC

Facebook: Cimarron River Cattle Co.

 

Meet Your Rancher: Joan Ruskamp – Dodge, NE

MeetYourRancher

 

joansteveCGphoto

Joan and Steve Ruskamp

Rancher(s): Joan Ruskamp

Location: Dodge, NE

Age: 55

Segment: Feedyard

Operation Name:   J & S Feedlot

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What is your favorite part of being a beef rancher?

Joan Ruskamp: My favorite part is walking pens when the morning is absolutely beautiful, the cattle are all spread out and comfortable and content.

How important is animal welfare at your feedyard?

A tree shade on the Ruskamp feedyard provides shade for cattle during hot summer months.

A tree shade on the Ruskamp feedyard provides shade for cattle during hot summer months.

JR: We are always trying to make our cattle as comfortable as possible. In the summer we utilize a sprinkler system to keep the cattle cool. Normally when there is a breeze, cattle can adapt but when it’s really hot and there’s no breeze we utilize methods to help them stay comfortable. This year we bought a tree shade, which is a large awning that provides shade to the cattle, but we discovered that flies also like shade. We found that the cattle were getting agitated from the flies and weren’t staying cool under the shade, so we turned the sprinkler on and they all left the shade and went to the sprinkler. We collaborate with experts to provide the best possible care for our cattle, whether it be through sprinklers, shades, sloping pens so the cattle aren’t standing in mud or even other methods that we haven’t yet explored. We focus on cattle comfort to minimize any suffering that can come due to weather fluctuations and we provide nutritionally balanced rations to meet specific needs each group of cattle has – we also place high importance on low-stress cattle handling to keep the cattle calm when we are administering vaccinations or moving them from pen to pen.

The pen sprinkler system at J-S Feedyard, owned by Joan and Steve Ruskamp. Source: Joan Ruskamp

The pen sprinkler system at J-S Feedyard, owned by Joan and Steve Ruskamp. Source: Joan Ruskamp

How are you working to carry on your farm’s legacy?

JR: On our farm, we are utilizing the best resources and research that we have available. Even though none of our children are planning to return to the farm, we do have grandchildren so we are looking down the road to keep the farm sustainable for them and to continue to build an environment where cattle can thrive for the next generation. We always want our farm to be better the next year than it was the year before. We are continuously improving and we reinvest money every year to keep getting better. When we bought our farm in 1981 from Steve’s uncle it was important to us to honor those that started this farm by continuously improving it. We are constantly looking back with respect and looking forward with responsibility.

What does sustainability mean to you?

JR: Sustainability is the ability for us to feed cattle in a way that allows them to thrive while having the best impact possible on the environment around us with the economic value allowing our farm and community to thrive year after year after year.

Tell us a little bit about how you use antibiotics on your feedyard.

Location of Dodge, NE. Source: Google Maps

Location of Dodge, NE. Source: Google Maps

JR: We use antibiotics as one tool to care for our cattle. Our animals are evaluated to determine the best tool for combating the illness, which may or may not be antibiotics. The animal is kept in a hospital pen for recovery and then returned back to his home pen. If we receive a pen of calves that have been highly stressed we consider giving them an antibiotic to give them a better start. Some of the stresses calves experience can be severe weather, nutritional deficiencies or delays in shipping to our feedyard from the time they were sold. Normal bacteria over-populate quickly when an animal is stressed so providing a veterinarian-prescribed treatment upon arrival allows us to assist the animal in fighting off harmful bacteria.

FAB: What is your favorite cut of beef and preparation method?

JR: My favorite cut of beef is thinly sliced eye of round sandwiches. My husband is the grilling expert in our family and he has perfected a technique of grilling eye of round roasts. The meat is grilled at a low temp for several hours until it reaches 140 degrees. It is important to slice it as you eat it and not let it sit in a roaster. We served this to some five-star chefs from Jordan while they were here on a feedlot tour. They loved it and wanted the recipe!

Meet Your Rancher: Garrett Foote – Texico, New Mexico

MeetYourRancher

FooteFamily1

The Foote Family

Rancher: Garrett Foote
Location: Texico, NM
Age: 21
Segment: Stocker/Backgrounder
Operation Name: Tim Foote Cattle Company

FactsAboutBeef.com: Tell us a little about yourself.

Garrett: I just graduated from Texas Tech University, with a degree in Animal Science, and will be attending Law School in the fall. I also work on my family’s Texico, NM ranch, Tim Foote Cattle Company, on breaks and weekends as a backgrounder (also known as a stocker).

FAB: What is a backgrounder?

Garrett: Backgrounders, also known as stockers, raise cattle from when they are weaned off of their mother’s milk and then send them to the feed yard when they reach a desired weight, usually between 750-800 pounds. Backgrounders and stockers are important in the beef lifecycle because we facilitate the transition from grass pasture to a grain diet. At a stocker or backgrounder ranch like ours, cattle typically graze on grass for a period of time, and a grain diet (called a “ration”) will be introduced to the feed bunk.

FAB: What does your grain ration consist of?

Garrett: Our grain ration consists of dried distillers grains, soybean hulls, cracked corn, whey, and supplements to keep the health and digestive system balanced. We also feed wheat, corn, or sorghum silage depending on what is available each season. Everything we feed depends on the season, how much was grown and harvested, and the location of where it was grown. We raise our own crops to feed, but sometimes have to buy from people in our region.

Texico, NM

Location of Texico, NM. Source: Google Maps

FAB: How long do cattle typically stay on your operation?

Garrett: The amount of time that cattle remain on our operation depends on how much they weigh when we receive them. We typically receive cattle that weigh between 400 and 700 pounds. We feed heifers (female cows) until they weigh approximately 750 pounds and steers (male cows) until they weigh 800 pounds. Cattle will stay on our operation anywhere from 30 to 150 days. Our operation is family owned and we typically feed between 35,000 to 40,000 cattle per year, but have 13,000 to 14,000 on our ranch at any given time.

FAB: What makes your operation unique (geographical, environmental, resources, type of cattle, etc.)?

Garrett: Our ranch is located 15 miles north of Texico, NM, which is on the eastern New Mexico border. This region’s dry, mild environment is ideal for raising cattle – the mild temperatures reduce stress and cattle are less likely to get sick in the dry climate.

We feed mainly black cattle and graze them on wheat from the winter months into spring; in the summer months they graze on grass. We do this because there are nutritional and

environmental benefits. Grass and wheat in our area is very nutrient dense; and it’s cheaper to use resources from our area instead of buying feed.

FAB: How are you different from cow/calf and feed yard operations? How are you similar?

Garrett: Cattle come to our operation right after cow/calf and just before the feed yard. Cattle need the extra step and transition time between being weaned off of milk, and moved to a grain diet. Our primary focus is to raise cattle to a certain weight before they are sent to the feed yard to be raised for another four to six months. We are similar because cow/calf operations, feed yards, and our operation, provide safe beef for consumers, and the health, care, and well-being of the animal is extremely important to us.

FAB: How do you play a role in raising safe beef?

Garrett: We work with our veterinarian and nutritionist to develop animal care programs to keep our cattle healthy and provide a good environment for raising safe beef. We raise a large part of the feed for our cattle and know where it comes from. This allows us to be sure that the feed was harvested and collected correctly and is safe for cattle to consume. Any time it rains, or new cattle come in, we clean all of the pens to keep the environment dry and clean.

Meet Your Rancher: Jake and Carolyn Geis – Tyndall, South Dakota

MeetYourRancher

Cow Engagement Pic
Jake and Carolyn Geis

Rancher(s): Jake and Carolyn Geis
Location: Tyndall, South Dakota
Age: 28 & 26
Segment: Cow/calf
Operation Name: Diamond Ranch

Facts About Beef: Tell us a little bit about your operation and what you do at the Diamond Ranch?

Jake Geis: My wife, Carolyn, and I own part of a cow/calf operation where we maintain a breeding herd of mama cows that give birth to calves once a year. Like many other cattle ranchers, cattle are not the majority of our family’s income, so in addition to caring for cattle, we also have jobs outside of the ranch. I am a veterinarian in Tyndall, South Dakota, while Carolyn is finishing up vet school at Iowa State University. The day to day chores on our ranch, such as checking on the cattle, making sure they are maintaining good health, and feeding the cows and heifers in the winter, are taken care of by my folks, Ron and Cindy. Carolyn and I develop the cattle’s health plan, take part in the major activities, like vaccinating the calves or building new fence. All four of us are an integral part of the ranch team and Carolyn and I spend nights, weekends, and holidays helping out on the ranch.

As practicing and soon-to-be veterinarians, Carolyn and I focus predominantly on cattle medicine, so our cattle are probably the most babied cattle in the state. The cattle we raise are called “baldies”, which are a cross breed of Herefords and Angus. We like these breeds because they fit well with our environment, which is rolling hills and Tallgrass Prairie.

FAB: What do you find most exciting about ranching and raising cattle?

Carolyn: We’re so excited to be working with our families in this industry and to have the opportunity to share it with our children someday. It’s not often in today’s world that a way of life and a business gets passed from one generation to the next like tradesmen used to do centuries ago. Although the techniques and management practices are continuously improved and updated with the times, the basic premise of raising good quality cattle to make superior quality beef never changes and we’re proud to be a part of that legacy.

tyndall, sd

Location of Tyndall, SD. Source: Google Maps

FAB: How do you juggle your everyday ranch duties with your full-time job as a veterinarian?

Jake: Since my parents take care of the everyday activities, our contribution is through herd health, veterinary consulting expertise, and on big projects like building a fence. So trying to line up the time to vaccinate calves or check cows to see if they are pregnant around my on-call schedule and Carolyn’s class schedule is a bit hectic, but we make it work and spend a lot of time on the phone planning so when we are all back we can jump right in and get the job done.

Carolyn: I think our schedule is very representative of the thousands of part-time ranchers across the country. Taking vacation time from your town/city job doesn’t mean you’ll get to relax, but you’ll be able to get cattle work done. And with so many part-time ranchers, there’s a strong chance the hamburger you eat came from a place like ours.

FAB: How do you use technology on your ranch?

Jake: Technology is the mechanism that allows us to raise beef safely, efficiently, and with the least impact on the environment. We could probably write a book on all the different ways technology impacts what we do! One example was when we began using growth promoting implants in our calves. It made the calves more efficient, so they used fewer resources per pound of growth. This helped us maintain our level of production while putting less strain on the environment our cattle live in.

The key for us is to embrace technology that meets our goals. We ask, “Will this make our cattle more efficient? Will it keep them healthy and happy? Will it conserve or promote the well-being of the land or the native plant and animal life?” If so, then we use it. New technologies aren’t something to be scared of, they are something that can help us do a better job than has ever been done before.

FAB: How do you play a role in raising safe beef?

Jake: Veterinarians have a lot of responsibility in raising safe beef. Not only do we prescribe the medications necessary to treat ill cattle, but we often are the primary consultants for cattlemen on best practices. We strive to stay up-to-date on the latest information on beef production and safety, and then in turn share this information with our clients.

As consulting veterinarians, often we will get questions about a type of treatment or if an animal is acceptable to go to slaughter. The question we often ask ourselves and our clients in these situations is, “Would I or would you want to eat meat from that animal?” The cattle we raise and/or take care of in our practice end up on our plates at home or in a restaurant, so as cattlemen we make every effort to make sure that high-quality beef starts with raising high-quality cattle. Cattlemen share the same ethics and trust the recommendations of veterinarians like us, so when we recommend a different treatment or that an animal not go to slaughter, our clients obey our recommendations.

FAB: What is your favorite cut of beef and preparation method?

Carolyn: If I must pick a favorite, I will venture out of my love for a good T-bone steak and say a treat that we don’t get very often is skirt steak! After you buy this coveted cut, you’ll find that it usually comes in a long narrow strip rolled up on itself. Unroll it so it lays flat and remove the tough membrane that covers it. Sprinkle one side with salt, pepper and ground oregano.  Flip it over and sprinkle the other side with salt, pepper, garlic salt and more ground oregano. Throw that beautiful piece of beef on a preheated grill set to medium high until it’s got a beautiful crust on it. Flip it over and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Take it off the grill, but don’t you dare cut into it, just let it be for a bit. After about 5 minutes, cut it at an angle against the grain into thin strips. Place several strips on a small flour or corn tortilla that has been heated through on a griddle/pan and squeeze a lime wedge over it. Then the toppings are up to you! I keep it simple with thin sliced onion, some sour cream and a bit of cilantro, but go crazy…this doesn’t happen every day!

Jake: Ribeye, grilled to medium rare. Simple man, simple meal.

FAB: If anyone wants to follow your ranch activities on social media, where can they find you?

Carolyn: If you would like to hear what we are up to, check out our blog at www.thecowdocs.com. We can also be reached on Twitter (@thecowdocs) or Facebook. Thanks for getting to know us today!

Meet Your Rancher: Troy and Stacy Hadrick — Faulkton, South Dakota

MeetYourRancher

Troy and Stacy Hadrick on their South Dakota ranch

Troy and Stacy Hadrick on their South Dakota ranch

Name: Troy and Stacy Hadrick
Location: Faulkton, South Dakota
Segment: Cow/calf, Stocker, Feeder

Facts About Beef: What makes your operation unique – geographical, environmental, type of cattle, etc.?  

Troy Hadrick (TH): We raise Angus cattle on the prairies of north central South Dakota. Our average yearly precipitation is around 19 inches, but a significant portion of that will come as snow. We experience a very wide range in temperatures during the year. Winter low temps can drop down to -30 with -60 wind chills, but our summer high temperatures can climb up to 110 degrees or more. These challenging environmental conditions can be tough so it’s important to have the kind of cattle that can thrive in this type of environment.

FAB: What is the importance of family ties, past and present, to your operation?

TH: I’ve been fortunate to work with family my entire life. I grew up on this ranch working with my grandfather, father, uncle and cousins. Now my cousins and I have taken over ownership of the business and are the 4th generation in our family to farm and ranch at this location, 5th in the United States. So when it comes to making good decisions about how we care for the land and cattle, we have generations of knowledge and experience to fall back on. Even though technology continues to change and our cattle don’t look like the ones grandpa raised, however the principals of good stewardship never change. Every fall we move cattle past a little spot where there are a handful of trees growing out in a pasture. That’s the spot where my great-great grandparents settled when they moved to South Dakota a century ago. I’m proud to continue that tradition and even more proud to be raising the next generation of our family on our ranch.

 

FAB: What are some of the biggest challenges for managing your ranch?

TH: Managing our feed sources is something that has to be constantly monitored. With our harsh winters it imperative that we have plenty of feed to survive until green grass grows again. Another challenge I have to that we spread our cattle out over several different pastures for the summer. Being spread out like that requires us to be “mobile.” We have to be able to set up in a pasture with portable equipment to do the necessary work to the cattle. Some of the work that needs to be done to the cattle include things vaccinations, fly spraying or pregnancy checking.

FAB: What is a “typical” day like for you?

TH: A typical day for me involves changes with our distinct seasons. During the winter months I spend my time feeding cattle and making sure fresh water is consistently available and does not freeze over. Come spring we will start calving, which involves round-the-clock care. The summers are a nice break since the cattle are out on green grass but I still have to monitor them for any health issues that may require attention as well as making sure they have a fresh supply of water and are supplemented with salt and mineral. During the fall we will be preparing for weaning and the upcoming winter. So a typical day for me always involves cattle but what I’m doing with them varies a lot throughout the year. Another thing that a typical day involves for me is agriculture advocacy. Whether it’s in person or online, we realize the importance of reaching out to consumers to share our way of life and let them see for themselves what a typical day entails. Helping other farmers and ranchers learn how to share their own stories is another passion of ours.

FAB: How do you use technology on your ranch?

TH: Technology has played a very important role for us. We use computer-balanced rations for our cattle during those times of year when we are feeding to be sure we are meeting all of their nutrient requirements. I pay especially close attention to the genetics of our cattle. I want to produce the highest quality beef product that I can while also maintaining functional cattle at the ranch level. In order to accomplish this we use artificial insemination. It allows us to use the best bulls in the world. Every cow on the place will be bred this way. In the fall I will use an ultrasound machine for pregnancy checking the cows, allowing us to actually see the fetus to insure it’s healthy and also determine an expected due date. Knowing the age of the fetus in every cow lets me manage them accordingly.

Technology also allows me to monitor and trade in the markets or share a picture of a newborn calf on social media. Like many other professions, smartphones have become an important tool for ranchers.

Location of Faulkton, South Dakota Source: Google Maps

Location of Faulkton, South Dakota Source: Google Maps

FAB: How do you play a role in raising safe beef?

TH: I’m the first step in the beef safety chain. My responsibility is to keep them healthy by working closely with our veterinarian, follow all labeling requirements and Beef Quality Assurance guidelines. At the end of the day I know that a family is going to be enjoying the beef that originated from my ranch and I want to do everything I can to be sure it’s safe and delicious.

FAB: How do you prepare your favorite cut of beef?

TH: My favorite cut of beef is a ribeye steak. I especially enjoy a cowboy cut ribeye steak. I typically like to let the steaks thaw in the refrigerator for several days. This allows for some additional aging. After that I will grill them on a low heat until it’s medium rare to medium. I like to put just a dash of seasoned salt on them and that’s it.

FAB: If interested parties want to follow your ranch activities on social media, where can they find you?

TH: I always enjoy using social media to let consumers get a feel for what we do every day on the ranch. You can friend us on Facebook for find us on Twitter @TroyHadrick or @StacyHadrick

Need Responsibly Raised Beef? Call Us

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff.

In response to a recent blog post on the Huffington Post website by Chipotle Founder, Chairman and Co-CEO, Steve Ells entitled Conventional vs. Grass-fed Beef, we spoke with two California ranchers about how they raise beef today: one grass-fed beef producer and one conventional (grass-fed and grain-finished) producer. Darrell Wood is a cow/calf producer in Vina, CA, and President of Panorama Meats, a supplier of certified organic, 100% grass-finished beef to retailers in the Western United States. Darrel Sweet is a cow/calf producer in Livermore, CA, who raises cattle on grass then sells them to a feedyard in California that finishes the cattle on a combination grass and grain. The two Darrel(l)s provided their perspective on the announcement that Chipotle will now source grass-fed beef from Australia because “U.S. grass-fed beef that meets our standards is simply not produced in sufficient quantities to meet our demand.” Interestingly, both ranchers concluded that Mr. Ells is entitled to his opinions but might not understand how beef is raised in the U.S. today.

DarrellWood

Cattle rancher Darrell Wood

Darrell Wood (raises organic, grass-finished beef): The U.S. beef system is very unique in its ability to meet consumer demand for a year-round fresh beef product. Not only is the system innovative in the ability to provide beef products, it is also unique in the ability to provide abundant choices. A consumer (including restaurants) is able to choose from conventional, organic, antibiotic free, hormone free, grass-finished, grain-finished or any combination of those options. What we have is special.

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Cattle Rancher Darrel Sweet


Darrel Sweet (raises conventional beef):
It is important to note that these certification programs are verifications of production methods, they have nothing to do with food safety. These claims are simply guaranteeing a certain process was used in raising the animal – it is not about safety. If I treat an animal with antibiotics because they are sick that does not mean it is less safe. And that is the responsible thing to do.

Wood: I agree with Darrel. Treating a sick animal is absolutely the responsible thing to do. We have an obligation to animals in our care. I occasionally need to treat an animal with an antibiotic to help it recover from an illness. That does not mean the meat from that animal is lower quality or less safe. It simply doesn’t meet the organic standards so won’t be marketed as organic.  Cattlemen are only able to use the resources they have available to them to produce beef. I am fortunate that I have access to both a summer and winter grass pasture. This allows me to produce 100% grass-fed beef year-round by simply moving cattle between pastures. I began producing grass-fed beef to ensure the long term viability of our ranch for my son and daughter. My children will be the 8th generation to work this land. Before going to college they both said they wanted to be part of the ranch, but I could not guarantee that the ranch would be around when they got out of college. I began to evaluate the resources we had and look for other ways to market our cattle. We are able to get a 25% premium for our product because it is 100% grass-fed and organic, that has been the core of our business ever since. The goal has always been to sustain our family business.

Sweet: My situation, 185 miles south from Darrell Wood, is very different. My pastures are green only six months out of the year, the other six months they are dormant or brown. If I were to produce grass-fed beef I would have two options, I would need to cut my herd size in half in order to allow for enough feed or I would need to stock feed accordingly when the grass is dry. Both options would not be economically viable for my business, ultimately leading to the end of our farm a farm that I am the 5th generation to work on; my grandchildren are the 7th generation. Currently we raise our cattle until they are about 6-8 months old; they are weaned from their mothers and moved onto another cattle operation to continue maturing and growing. At that point they are 100% grass-fed and if the animal was not given antibiotics because of illness, it could be marketed as 100% grass-fed and naturally-raised (raised without hormones or antibiotics). That’s the decision of the feedyard that buys them and markets them to the consumer. They used to sell naturally-raised beef but the demand for that product hasn’t been strong enough to make it worthwhile.

Wood: On the other hand, our grass-fed beef business is consistently growing; we are always getting additional producers to meet the demand. Panorama has previously supplied to Chipotle, about six years ago, and has had conversations with Chipotle as recently as a year ago about providing grass-fed beef for their program again. They were satisfied that our product met their definition of “Responsibly Raised” however, obtaining a premium as a grass-fed beef supplier for Chipotle can be a challenge.. This leads me to believe it is price driven, so ultimately they went with an overseas product because it was cheaper.

Sweet: It’s unfortunate that Mr. Ells doesn’t seem to understand the cattle business. Saying that there are not enough cattle producers like Darrell Wood and then going overseas for the same products at a cheaper price sends the wrong message to producers. You need to recover your costs – that’s basic business. Beef producers have always responded to market signals to provide consumers with the beef products they demand and going overseas for your supply of grass-fed beef is not sending the right signal. 

Wood: Raising responsible beef means being a good steward of the resources you have. In some cases that means raising cattle on grass and finishing them on grain, like my friend Darrel.It really boils down to the quality of the grass pastures available to you and whether the grass grows year-round.

Sweet: Exactly, and the prolonged drought we are in has certainly taken its toll. Because of diminished grass quality we are now able to graze fewer cows per acre of land then we were before. In fact, yesterday I was working on watershed lands owned and managed by a water agency that provides drinking water for several million San Francisco Bay area consumers. This piece of land is required by statute to use for grazing in order to save three endangers species: Tiger Salamander, Red Legged Frog and Kit Fox. This type of partnership not only allows me more acres to graze, it also allows for me to help protect open space and endangered species for years to come.

Wood: Both Sweet and I are involved in this type of work on our ranches through an organization called The California Rangeland Trust. We realized a number of years back, with urban encroachment we, as ranchers, needed to do more to protect open space and endangered species. One of the best ways to utilize this land is through cattle grazing. I would love for Mr. Ells to call me or visit my ranch to learn more about how beef is raised and discuss his options for providing responsibly raised beef to Chipotle customers.

Meet Your Rancher: Brad Bellah – Throckmorton, TX

MeetYourRancher

Name: Brad Bellah
Location: Throckmorton, TX
Age: 28
Segment: Cow/Calf, Stocker, Feedyard

FactsAboutBeef: What does sustainability mean to you?
Brad Bellah: Sustainability means responsibly and efficiently producing beef. That includes managing resources both for today and tomorrow. One way we do this is through rotational grazing, which helps to utilize native grasses as efficiently as possible by intensively grazing one pasture for a short period of time then providing a long-term rest period. This is based on season and forage availability. Essentially, I want to ensure that future generations of my family will be able to feed future generations of America.

FAB: Why did you decide to move back to the farm after college?
BB: I always knew I would move home eventually but thought it would be after I had done something else for five or 10 years. Despite my plans, I moved home right after college. My dad needed help, and I needed a job. It has worked out really well, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else over the past few years.

FAB: What is a “typical” day like for you?
BB: My work schedule is seasonal. Right now, we’re preparing to receive a shipment of cattle at the ranch, in addition to our home-raised calves. The first couple weeks of September, weather permitting, we’ll be planting wheat for our cattle to graze.

FAB: How important is animal welfare on your ranch?
BB: Animal welfare is an integral part of what we focus on every day. As an animal caretaker, it’s second nature and a priority for me to make sure our cattle aren’t stressed or uncomfortable. We’re constantly looking to professionals for advice and best practices, including our veterinarian and cattle nutritionist as well as animal handling experts like Temple Grandin and the late Bud Williams.

FAB: How do you use technology on your ranch?  
BB: What we do has changed so much because of technology. From checking markets on my iPhone when I’m in the middle of a pasture to keeping detailed inventories of cattle on the iPad while chute-side, we generally use some form of technology in everything we do. Technology has also greatly impacted research within animal genetics, health and nutrition. Cattlemen and women now have more data and resources available to them to ensure herd health.

Throckmorton, TX

Location of Throckmorton, TX. Source: Google Maps

FAB: You raise both “conventional” and “natural” cattle—what does that mean and how does that work?
BB: Essentially the all-natural cattle are marketed differently than our conventional calves. At birth cattle are designated for the all-natural or the conventional herd. The only real difference is that neither antibiotics nor growth promotants are used in the all-natural herd. There are specific guidelines put in place by the program, and if a calf gets sick and requires antibiotics, they have to be moved out of the all-natural program and do not return. This doesn’t mean that growth promotants and antibiotics are always used in our conventional herds, but we haven’t enrolled those cattle in the program so we can leave our options open.

FAB: How are you working to build on your dad’s legacy on your family’s operation?
BB: My ultimate goal is to not only maintain but also improve and grow what my father and grandfather have built. I’m constantly striving to do better.

FAB: What does it mean to you to be raising your twins on your family farm?
BB: The one room school that my Pop and his nine siblings attended sat on a ranch my dad now runs. I can’t put into words how I feel when my dad and I ride past those school steps, and I can’t wait for the day that the twins are riding alongside us. Raising my kids where so many generations of my family grew up and raised their own families adds an element to life that few people today get to experience and that I do not take for granted.

FAB: What is your favorite type of beef and how do you like it prepared?
BB: Nothing in this world compares to a medium-rare ribeye on the grill.

Editor’s Note: Brad is featured in a documentary that focuses on the next generation of farming and ranching, Farmland. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. For more information, visit www.farmlandfilm.com.

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