For the love of food

Do you know what a country chick loves? When you walk into a grocery store and see this:

Meat case

Across the aisle from this:


Across the aisle from this:


And down the way there was this:


Now I love my little hometown grocery store, complete with wood floors and a soda fountain at the back. But, I can only imagine what kind of good food I could cook up if I had this Safeway store a few miles from my home.

Safeway stores took the Young Cattlemen’s Conference class on a tour of their a flagship store in Littleton, Colo.


The store has 80,000 square feet of space that is designed so consumers can linger and enjoy their shopping experience. Especially at the meat case. Convenience is also key. They have created convenience foods like these ready-to-grill sliders that have the cheese and seasonings already mixed in.


Cathy East, group director with Safeway, says their quality objective is to offer beef that is tastes good and is more consistent than their competition. Which means it has to be tender, flavorful and juicy. And it must be working. Safeway’s brand, Ranchers Reserve won the 2011 Retail Beef Backer Innovator Award.

All I know is that today’s store visit makes me want to go home and cook a good beef meal for my family. And I imagine I’m not alone. That can only be good for the beef industry.


Cutting of the flat iron

Bridget Wasser

Years ago, in the 199os, the Beef Checkoff invested in research that would pay dividends for years to come. The muscle profiling research set out to identify muscles in the chuck and the round that, if separated from the less tender muscles, could increase the overall value of the carcass.

They worked with the industry to release cuts, such as the petite tender, flat iron and ranch steak. Today, those three cuts account for 107 million pounds of beef sold in retail outlets alone.

I’m so thankful they did, because the flat iron is easily the steak I purchase most often. All it needs is a little sea salt, cracked black pepper and a grill. Delish. Slice in thin strips and serve to hungry boys.

And if you live in western Kansas and the wind blows so hard it blows out the flame onn your grill, you can also heat up a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and fry it. Yes, I said “fry.” Cowboys will think this is a sin – or at least my cowboys did – until they ate it. Just toss in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and get it really, really hot. I learned this little trick from The Pioneer Woman and skeptical though I was, it is just as good as on the grill.

Watch this quick video as Bridget Wasser, senior director of Meat Science Technology, shows us how the flat iron is cut from the chuck.

Talking markets, here and there

Classroom notes

Young Cattlemen’s Conference class members have spent the morning discussing markets for their product. And let me tell you, these folks aren’t shy about asking questions or discussing the tough issues.

Cattle markets “here” in the United States are the speciality of Cattle Fax. One hot topic is the U.S. cowherd numbers. Duane Lenz, with Cattle Fax, echoed what we have heard earlier in the trip.

Cowherd numbers are running a little over 90 million. That’s down from a peak in the mid-1970s of 135 million. As many of the cattlemen in this class know, last year’s drought in Texas and beyond did nothing to help cowherd numbers. While that drought is improving somewhat, Lenz said that Cattle Fax does not expect that those numbers are going to go up anytime soon. There will be growth, but it will be slow and stable.

Markets are also important “there,” outside the United States border. Exports are a key part of profitability for the U.S. beef industry, Joe Schuele told us. Schuele is with the US Meat Export Federation. In fact, the value of beef exports equated to $206 per head of processed cattle last year. This is up this is up from $150 just two years ago. Exporting variety meat is critically important, he said.

The good news for beef producers is that U.S. beef exports set a new record value in 2011 at $5.42 billion, Scheule said. This number shattered the previous year’s record of $4.08 billion and easily surpassed the pre-BSE high of $3.86 billion.

Cowboys cheer on the Rockies

Last night the cowboys hit Coors Field to cheer on the Rockies.

Cowboys cheer the Rockies

Some of us got more enthusiastic than others.

Cowboys cheer the Rockies

The science of feeding

Not far down the road from the JBS Greeley Beef plant, is JBS Five River Kuner feedyard in Kersey, Colo. And this isn’t just a little yard. Some numbers:

  • 88,200 head capacity
  • $7.6 million operating budget
  • 61 employees
  • 2.1 – the number of times the population turns
  • 185,200 head fed per year
  • 3.42 ADG in FY 2011
  • 550 acres – the area where the pens are housed
  • 38 semi loads of corn received per day
  • 5 semi loads of DDGs received per day
The yard was built originially by Monfort in the 1970s but recently  JBS invested over $18 million on capital investments – including completely tearing down pens and rebuilding them. Afterward, Stone says they saw a big performance jump. He suspects it was due to the drier pens, as well as putting the water closer to the feedbunks.
A few photos:








From cattle to beef

JBS Greeley plant

Young Cattlemen’s Conference class members got a chance to tour the JBS Greeley beef plant this morning. Understandably, they wouldn’t allow me to take pictures. On one hand, that’s a good thing – that way I have no record of big tough cowboys in pretty white smocks, hard hats, and beard nets. On the other, it would be great to show how modern beef fabrication takes place. The standards on food safety and personal safety for the workers are high, not to mention the high animal welfare standards. The plant was processing 5,400 head per day this week. Our next stop: the JBS’s Five River Kuner Feedyard in Kersey, Colo.

In class

Learning about American beef

Today was a day full of classroom learning for us at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Young Cattlemen’s Conference. While we are all members of the beef industry in some way, it always amazes me how much more there is to learn, particularly from industry leaders.

Forrest Roberts, CEO for NCBA told the group the vision of “acting right” as an organization. NCBA’s core values are symbolized in the acronym ACT RT, which stands for accountability, commitment to the mission, teamwork, respect and trust.

It’s important for the beef industry to work toward improving the perception of beef, Roberts said. While 77 percent of consumers have a positive image of beef, and that’s good, improving that number to 80 percent would have a huge impact on the beef industry. And the focus should be on the “moveable middle,” the consumers who are already eating beef but could be encouraged to eat it more often.

We also heard from Chancie Rose, with Cargill. We’ve always known that beef costs more than competing proteins. In 2011, Rose said beef prices were 41 percent higher than pork and 173 percent higher than chicken. But, we also know the great taste of beef can not be replicated. Consumers look for overall eating satisfaction in tenderness, juciness and flavor.

Retailers know that those qualities are key to consumers as well. Cathy East, Group Director of Perishables for Safeway said that was the main reason behind the company establishing Ranchers Reserve, a 14-day wet aged branded beef product.

“Our quality objective is to offer beef that is considerably better and more consistent, tender, flavorful and juicy,” East said. The grocery story chain verfies the consistent tenderness by doing their own ongoing shear force test and sensory panel evaluations.

The YCC class will visit one of the flagship Safeway stores here in Denver on Sunday.

Getting to know each other

Getting to know each other

They tell me that one of the best parts of the Young Cattlemen’s Conference is learning from our fellow classmates. There are 59 of us: everything from a cow-calf producer from Hawaii, feedlot operator from Texas, a protein purchaser for a restaurant chain and a backgrounder from Alabama.

We have spent the morning telling our stories. Let me tell you, I’m the “communicator” on the trip, but these folks can tell their story better than any professional communicator could do. I know this is only the beginning – the stories will continue for days and days and long into the nights, too. And I can’t wait.

It’s about to begin

I’m sitting at the airport, getting ready to board a flight to Denver. What awaits me is the 2012 Young Cattlemen’s Conference. Over the next 10 days, I’ll be learning everything there is to know about the cattle industry in the United States. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association holds this conference to help train young leaders in the beef industry. Each year, one media representative is allowed to tag along on this experience and this year, I’m it. I couldn’t be more excited.

So while I’ll be hanging out with a bunch of cowboys and cowgirls from all over the country, I’ll be leaving this little cowboy at home.


And his big brother who seems to hang out at the barn a lot taking care of his 4-H animals. (Photo by


And this guy. . . I couldn’t be gone this long without him.


I’ll miss some things while I’m gone – like the local livestock show, T-ball games, and wheat harvest. But I’m excited. It will be a good trip. And I’m glad you’ll be following along.