Pasture to Plate-California Style

 

I just finished my big run in diversity in our industry. The pastures of Hawaii, the feedlots in Texas, and now California to present stockmanship and stewardship concepts to the meat of our industry.

California Beef Council hosts “pasture to plate” tour every year, and I have been part of the program for the last three. It is made up of executive chefs, meat company’s and restaurant chains from fast food to high end steak houses.

They start on Sunday evening at a ranch, then go on to a dairy, calf ranch, auction market, feedlot and I believe finish up at a large beef packer. They spend lots of money on this event, and the folks that attend will hopefully snowball what they learn to colleagues and consumers of beef. From what I can see it is a very important program for our industry, and we should be doing more of this type of thing all over the country. I don’t know if anyone else would put the effort in that it takes that Christy Van Egmond and the rest of the crew from the California Beef council does.

I’ll share some things I heard and saw from the people attending and some personal things.

Denver airport is the hub I fly through. There used to always be a line at McDonalds. They put a Chic-Filet in and since I don’t see a line at McDonalds, but always a big line at the chicken place. They are going to open a gourmet burger joint up soon, and it will be interesting to see what happens there. Just an observation.

I flew to Sacramento and Bill Dale and I drove down to Sanger, California and the McDonald Ranch. It is the perfect setting to host the program. A well kept old time Ranch, that has a pasture rotation with cows and calves and a nice set of corrals and working facility.

Steve McDonald gets the bus load as they arrive and they walk to the river and talk conservation and management. They make their way to the pens and he explains the grazing production and cow calf production. Steve has a great way of presenting our world to these folks, and his wife and daughter and son-in-law and three grandchildren are perfect for showing what a family Ranch is all about. Steve then hands it off to me. I give my thoughts on the importance of grazing animals to our environment and talk about how California stockman has been so important for so long. I then do a little horsemanship and cattlehandling demo, and we put some cattle through the chute and Steve talks about BQA and the program they have with Harris Ranch beef. The group asked lots of good questions and were real positive about what we were doing.

Steve then takes them on and they look at the bulls and talk genetics and more Ranch management. He should be given an award for the great job he does of painting a true picture of cow – calf production in USA. They end up in the most beautiful back yard in the world for a very traditional California tri-tip based meal and California wine. This is when I get to sit and listen to these folks and their thoughts on the beef industry. It is fascinating to hear what they think and to learn what they deal with on the beef side of the cattle industry.

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I will say it is the favorite program I do every year, and I feel the most valuable for the promotion of the production side of our industry, truly from pasture to plate.

I would like to share some thoughts on my observations and learnings of the last few weeks.

ITS ALL ABOUT ATTITUDE

I saw people that were very unsettled in paradise, content in Texas’s most harsh environment, and living what looks to be the perfect life in California. It does not matter where you live or what you do, it’s your choice on your attitude that determines your quality of life.

Paul Miller is a fellow cattle handling fanatic friend of mine. He happened to be in California and came to the program. We were discussing success in stockmanship and he felt the most important component was attitude. I saw this in Hawaii. The calves were completely different in a year. The facilities were the same, the genetics were the same, the management and the crew were almost the same, the nutrition was the same, and I could not see a big change in the way they handled the cattle. The change in mindset and small changes in pressure was the change I could see. A change in attitude. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT.

Ruby is the horse I have ridden for the last three years at the Pasture to plate. I never got along to good with her. She was real bothered when I was sitting on her trying to talk to the audience and I had a hard time putting her where I needed her working the cattle. I would get off her as quick as possible and work afoot.

This year it was different. She was the perfect horse. I didn’t want to get off her, and at dinner they were talking about how amazing the communication was between her and me. Bill Dale even commented on how it was a different horse. Same horse, I think I am different. After watching the new Ray Hunt video and read Adventures in Kinship with all Life, I am peeling the banana on the animals I am pressuring and it is making a big difference. (You will have to read the book to understand that one)I thought a lot about the Mexican steer I didn’t get worked very good and that was the problem, I didn’t have the right attitude and didn’t “connect” with him. I had the same physical skills with Ruby, but my ATTITUDE was different, and I really think that is what made the change.

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If I get distracted and don’t focus on the animals I’m working with, I don’t get the same success and satisfaction as when I’m in the zone. I really think this is important with people and animals.

We can’t always control the situation we are in. We can control our attitude towards the situation. This is how you control the good and bad pressure in your life. ATTITUDE!

DISCONNECT

In the last month I have seen how disconnected our industry is. The cow/calf and stocker sector doesn’t understand the feedlot and what they need. I feel real fortunate to be getting knowledge in all parts of the livestock industry. Grainfed, grassfed, dairy, grazing , farming, slaughter, Beef quality, natural, organic, implants, vaccines, antibiotics, profit, are really all parts of this business that we are very opinionated about, but it is really all about creating what the folks attending the pasture to plate program are selling. Beef that the consumer wants.

The discussion at our table was great. The executive chef for a high end steak house chain (Flemmings) led it.The first question asked was if we believed in organic. Most at the table didn’t, but did like local. They didn’t trust organic labels and thought it too expensive. They discussed something that I think the industry should be very concerned about. Steak Quality. Russell said they had been doing satisfaction surveys and they find that people a dissatisfied with the quality of steak in the last year. The chefs are having a hard time preparing steaks properly. They are cooking differently and it is harder to get them properly done. They feel the composition of the beef has changed but don’t know why. I don’t know if this is industry wide or just his supplier, but the others at the table were suppliers and they had the same issues.

If I pay $40.00 for a steak, it better have a wow factor, or I’m headed back to Sizzler.

I don’t feel producers understand the beef side of our business. Maybe we need to know what we are producing after it’s dead. That would change our attitude on how to manage when they are alive.

I can’t imagine how much this program costs. California Beef Council gets it. They are giving these very influential people in the beef part of the industry the equivalent of a $40 steak. This program has a wow factor. These folks are going to share the experience with others and that the snowball effect I mentioned earlier. They are shown how great the production of beef is from “Pasture to Plate” and just like a great steak the will share how good it is. I hope a similar program happens on the east coast. It seems all trends start on the east and west coasts and work to the middle.

The interesting thing is that the Stockmanship and Stewardship program can’t or won’t fund me going there because of rules in beef promotion. Animal handling and care is one of the biggest issues the consumer is interested in. This is another disconnect. Industry leaders don’t understand what is happening out of the office and won’t listen to people that are. Once again it’s attitude.

I can’t control what others do, but I can control what I do. I know producers in states other than California are a part of this. We are all in this together and what happens in California doesn’t stay in California. It not always about money but doing what is right.
This ones on me, for the industry that my family have benefitted from for so long.

It’s been a great month and I hope all this writing hasn’t been too much. I feel real fortunate that I get to see what I see and want to share it with you. I really enjoy it, and might be the luckiest guy in the world.

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