Worldess Wednesday: When the sun shines at Eagle Hills

Chefs are busy folks and their crazy schedules don’t always match up with mine, so I haven’t connected with those I met last week to hear their thoughts on the production tour they took.

But I’m anxious to talk with them. When I found out our company was taking this group to my area, I was thrilled for several reasons. One being that I think this place is full of gorgeous scenery and the local hills create a picturesque view of cattle country. (Especially when they’re filled with the nice Angus cattle.) Fall just magnifies that beauty, with the warm tones and blue skies.

Unless of course the temperature dropped 25 degrees overnight, rain and snow showers threatened and the wind is howling like crazy. Then it might not just seem so picture perfect. So I wonder if they were glad to get back to their cities or if they saw through the unpleasant weather?

Today I thought I’d rewind the clock to just about a year earlier when I first visited Eagle Hills Ranch. Todd Geiken, his wife Lisa and their sons graciously drove me around their pastures to shoot some of that fall beauty.

Here come the ladies…

Read more of this post


Packers are _____

Don’t answer that just yet!

Terry Beller is the first feeder I've heard say "best friend" and "packer" in the same statement.

A while back I was talking to Nebraska cattle feeder Terry Beller and he said, “Some of my very best friends are my packer buyers.”

Whoa. Even though I work with a lot of feedlots who embrace the cooperative, “everybody’s in this together” mentality, you don’t hear that from a feeder every day. (And Terry did admit that his dad would’ve had almost an opposite mentality when he ran the feedyard.)

But I think of that comment when I hear a group of naysayers cussing and discussing the packers’ role in the beef industry, which leads me today’s little white lie:

Myth–Packers are only interested in lining their pockets. They don’t care about beef quality or the greater state of the beef industry.

Fact–This business is made of individuals, so I can’t promise that there aren’t any packers that fit that mold. What I can tell you is that I’ve never met one of them. Several years ago I wrote a story called, “Common Ground” that highlighted the packers desire to work together with cattle producers.

Some of my favorite quotes:

  • “I don’t mind paying a premium for good cattle.”—Art Wagner, National Beef Packing Co. LLC
  • “I think the United States has extremely efficient, qualified ranchers, feedlots and processors. As a chain, however, we’re not terribly efficient. We’re not good at passing the right signals back and forth throughout the whole chain. The only way to do that is to have open-minded producers sit down and have conversations about how to work the supply chain to do what we all need: satisfy the consumer at a higher level.”—Ken Bull, Cargill
  • “We like to buy what the consumer demands,”—John Gerber, Tyson Read more of this post

Ranchers and chefs have a common customer

I live in central Nebraska. Although I love this place—and many of our local restaurants—you don’t have to tell me how far I am from five-star resorts or fancy cuisine. (After all, I am about halfway between Denver and Omaha.)

But yesterday I was lucky enough to have them come to me. Okay, not just for me, but since I was in the area I got to tag along.

You see, just down the road from my cozy home office is Eagle Hills Ranch. Brothers Shane and Todd Geiken run the cattle enterprise of the family’s agriculture business and they’ve been building up the cowherd, both in quantity and quality, since returning from college at the University of Nebraska.

Brothers Todd and Shane Geiken explain everything from weaning to breeding during a ranch tour with chefs from Texas and North Carolina.

So what do these fantastic producer “neighbors” have to do with five-star resorts? Well, a few chefs and foodservice distributors who sell to the upscale accounts flew out to Omaha and then made the trek down I-80 to visit a feedlot, packing plant and eventually Eagle Hills Ranch.

The beef end-users wanted to know how it’s done in cattle country and the Geikens were just the people to show them. (They calve about 1,500 momma cows each year.)

It started with lunch catered by Uncle Ed’s, which was a real treat and much preferable to the leftovers I usually grab from my fridge.

Then we headed out to the calving and weaning facilities. (Since it was a windy, rainy day we made great use of those facilities, too.) There Todd and Shane told us about their management. They may have had to explain a few terms like AI and EID, but I think the main point was conveyed. They know what they’re doing and there’s a reason for why they do it. And they care. Read more of this post

A scary little myth

I will be dressing up like a pirate tonight. Why? Because my 3-year-old son is going as a pirate and he insisted that I should dress up with him and who can tell this little matey no?

So although my evening will be spent with PG-version spooks, I thought I’d bring up this myth that frightens grown men and women. (It’s sort of a follow up to last week’s suggestion that you check into retained ownership.)

Myth—Finding a feedlot is scary.

Fact—It is a big decision, but it can be painless and pretty easy. If you’ve decided you want to feed your calves, partner with a feedlot or just build relationships with one you can market to directly, it just takes a little homework.

I could go on and on, but really our own Paul Dykstra and Oklahoma State University’s Greg Highfill tell it better: Read more of this post

Focus on Cattlemen

This has been an exciting week for our team. If you’ve stumbled across our website in the past couple days, you may have noticed a couple little changes.

Ok, more than a couple little changes. You may have noticed an entirely re-designed, re-written, re-navigated

You would have also noticed a theme… “Focus on Cattlemen.” I hope that you notice that theme in more places than just where we plainly wrote it on the homepage. I hope you notice that the focus is on you, your cattle, your profitability and your business decisions at every click of your mouse.  

We’ve pooled all our experts, resources and ideas to share the highlights we think are most important to know about the management, genetics, nutrition, health and marketing of high-quality, Angus-type cattle.

Check it out. Browse around. Ask questions. Or, you can answer my questions to win a couple awesome prizes. 

As we worked on creating the new website (, in case you forgot), we asked some of our fellow CAB’ers to take a little quiz, testing how easy it was to navigate and how useful the information was.

So today, because I was so happy for our new site to launch and so thankful for their feedback, we have a pan of these rolls warming in our employee kitchen right now. It’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ to them for helping us make the website perfect for you. We hope they gave us feedback you will enjoy.

I’d like to say thank you in advance for visiting the new website ( Unfortunately, I can’t send cinnamon rolls to you in the mail. I really would love to; it just doesn’t seem logical.

But I can mail grilling kits. And steak knives. And coffee mugs. 

If you answer these five simple questions, you could find those items in your mailbox soon. Head on over to to find the answers. Leave the answers and the link you found the answer at in your comment.

  1. What are CAB’s EPD recommendations for marbling?
  2. What is one CAB-licensed feedyard in Oklahoma?
  3. How do I certify my cow herd as “CAB”?
  4. How can I contact a CAB beef cattle specialist, and which one is in my region?
  5. What are the five key points to keep in mind when implanting calves to avoid damaging quality grade?  

Anyone who answers all five questions correctly by Monday, Oct. 31 at 5 p.m. EST will win a new set of steak knifes. The first five will also get a stainless steel coffee mug. One lucky commenter will win this professional grilling set.   

So get to clicking and commenting! If you’re stumped and need a navigation hint, send me an email at Enjoy!


AI? Check. Preg? Check.

Hey fellow seekers,

     Preg checking the artificially inseminated (AI-bred) heifers is always an exciting time, waiting to see how many can get the checkmark of “probably AI.”  To most commercial producers, it’s not worth the time and labor, but I see the benefits of using a sequence of single, high-accuracy sires to build up herd genetics, aiming for more and more predictability.  

Ready for business at the R&R Corral

There have been years when the AI probables were less than half, but this year could be the best yet. Too good to be true if we accept all “5.5,” “gotta be at least 5” and “gotta be 5” as safe in calf to Connection, this year’s feature. Palpation is not an exact science, but Dr. Bobby’s very experienced hand was making the calls. Those nuances of wording could be the fudge factor in bringing the AI-settled portion down from a possible 78% (94% overall bred), but it sure is nice to think about the potential.

Corn harvest was still going on near the R&R Corral Monday afternoon, but K-Stater Rory was available to move heifers into the circle, vet accomplice Leo ran the headgate and my father Ralph wrote down numbers. A forgotten opportunity and unrecorded detail this year was weight of the heifers, but cow-family records and weaning weights can help fill in that picture. All were in great body condition as they headed to winter range till January. February calving is always a worry but we’ll try to beat last winter’s decent showing.

As fall moves on, I’m already thinking about May and trying a new step in AI strategy: customized sire selection to better complete the genetic package in each commercial female. I plan to halt the “all in” approach for a while, instead sorting my herd into four or five groups based on data and choosing sires that fill specific needs of those groups. My version of “complementarity” is not officially sanctioned in mainstream beef science, where the word is solely used in connection with selection for crossbreeding and its famous free lunch. I’m talking about the dairy sense of corrective mating, and had to surf the Web all the way to Africa to find:  “In most herds, complementary mating is practiced where the shortcomings of each cow. . . are matched with a bull that will improve and complement the daughter’s characteristics.”  More about that idea after a few more frosts and going over EPDs before the fireplace.

Until next time… let’s aim for profit, target the brand and keep building tomorrow together.


Scared of losing your shirt?

I interviewed Barb Downey four years ago. In the meantime I had two kids and moved to a different state. She ran the Boston Marathon. (Wow.)

Joe Carpenter and Barb Downey feel pretty strongly about the benefits of retaining ownership of their calves through the feeding phase.

But in all that time I can still remember one of her most emphatic quotes during our pickup ride through her picturesque Flint Hills pastures:

“The best thing we ever did for our bottom line was to investigate retained ownership.”

You can read the whole story I wrote that year (Open to Suggestion), but the summary notes are that she and her husband started out feeding through an early CAB value-discovery program. Then they made the plunge to full retained ownership.

They gradually started to build on a small base of registered Angus cattle they started in 1993 and now they believe so much in retained ownership that they encourage their bull-buying customers to do the same.

So let me use their example to help bust this one:

Myth–Retaining ownership is a good way to lose a pile of money!

Darrell Busby crunches numbers as manager of Iowa's Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity.

Fact—Sure, every year is different and there’s no guarantee that you won’t lose money, and a lot of it, retaining ownership. But the odds are greatly in your favor if you do a little homework, and there is a pile of good data that says it’s still a sound strategy.

During a summer interview, Darrell Busby, of Iowa’s Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF), mentioned that last year was the most profitable year they’ve had. Producers averaged more than $140 per head.

“Profit is the happiness index of the beef industry and when you retain ownership and make a profit, then things go well,” he said. Read more of this post

It’s time to pay attention

Have you taken a look at what calves like this are worth lately? While I was trying to catch up after two weeks on another continent, the rest of our team was swapping emails, crunching numbers and speculating on exactly how much money is out there to be made by savvy cattlemen who focus on carcass quality and beef performance.

I gathered up the email chain and tried to sort out the most important information. So sharpen your pencils and get ready to follow this money trail. Our Paul Dykstra is the math whiz behind the figuring:  

Earlier this week, when a CAB® carcass was worth an extra $3.00 / cwt. and the Ch/Se spread was $16.10 / cwt., then the premium above the 5-area weighted average would be about $73.40 per head for an 850-lb CAB® carcass on a widely available Nebraska grid. 

The Choice premium is $47.90 /head and the CAB® premium is $25.50/head.  The advantage over Select is $162.35/head.  This adds $5.48/cwt. to the live market average price.  The YG 4 discount figures to only -$3.18/cwt. live, -$5.00/cwt. carcass, so there’s no reason not to sell quality cattle (over 65% Choice pens) on a grid. 

But what about Prime carcasses?

With the Ch/Se spread the same, the Prime premium is $21.71/cwt., carcass basis, according to USDA.  So, Prime is worth another $184.54/head, in the meat, on top of the $47.90/head for Choice. Total is $232.44/ head above the weighted average (not above Select, mind you).  The Prime live price premium over weighted average is $17.37/cwt. on an 850-wt. carcass (1338 live weight).

What does the area weighted average mean?

If plant average for percent Choice is 65%, then 100% minus 65% equals 35%.  The packer will pay 35% of the Ch/Se spread on every Choice carcass.  So, the new number, $19.04 / cwt. gives you the following math results.

Here’s how that’s all figured: Read more of this post

Left glove, please!

We all know about disappearing socks; the “missing mate,” if you will.  Even though all (well, nearly all) my socks are white and made by Hanes, each time I buy a new pack, they have different markings on them and I can’t conscientiously match them unless they’re perfect mates (yes, I’m anal about my socks). However, I would offer I suffer from the same malady with work gloves!

I had the day all set to build fence (can you believe I take days of vacation to do this?):  Post hole digger, wire, posts, clips, staples, tamping bar, fencing tool, level (yes, I’m anal about posts being 90 degrees to the ground), and measuring tape.  Leather gloves…….let see, sorting, sorting, sorting through my basket of leather gloves in the mud room…….right hand, right hand, right hand, right hand, right hand……..not a “leftie” in sight.  OK, this reminds me of when I was a kid sorting through the closet…… see things really haven’t changed all that much!

No mates!

Now, I may be slow-witted, but I’m not totally stupid, so I take a “rightie” and put it on my left hand, just as I grudgingly put on one white sock that’s slightly different than the other.  Uncomfortable, yes, but it beats getting a barb stuck in the fleshy part of your thumb!

So we all do have to do some things that are uncomfortable, but they are done out of necessity, because you work with what you have; that is the way we were taught as kids (at least in my generation; and more so in my father’s). 

Those old hedge posts, after being pulled out of an old fence, can be turned upside down and used again.  We continue to “make-do” with the things we have and that’s not all bad.  As a matter of fact, maybe if more Americans did that very thing, we’d all be better off.  But that’s a story for another day.

However, at some point, you’re going to need to replace what you have; BEGIN ANEW!  As you look at the cowherd this fall and find out which cows are open, and which cows had sorry calves, or which bulls didn’t perform up to expectations, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate where you are.  Read more of this post

The American farmer meets African agriculture

“What do you do with all your maize, Mr. Jeff?”

“Well, we feed it to our cattle,” the American farmer replied.

All 16 students erupted with laughter, clicking their tongues in disapproval.

“To your cows? You feed all your maize to your cows?! But then what do you eat?”

The idea of “sweet corn” for humans and “field corn” for cattle was as foreign to the students as the African bush was to Mr. Jeff. Western Nebraska’s the scenery he’s more accustomed to.  

“How many tractors do you use on your farm in America, Mr. Jeff?”

“What do you use them for?”

“Do they look like this one?”

“Do you have to push yours down the hill to start it, too?”

Now it was his time to chuckle. Yes, there has been a time or two that an old tractor on his farm needed a push-start, too. But never a green one, he joked. Read more of this post