Category Archives: Beef Quality Assurance

Stockmen of the past

My life has been a life learning about livestock from cattlemen, cowboys, cow buyers,rodeo stock contractors, rodeo coaches, rodeo cowboys, butchers, hog farmers, sheep herders, sheep farmers, dairy farmers, auction market operators, and more I can’t remember.  This was all before I was thirty years old.  I not only learned about livestock, but also about all kinds of different styles of management of many types of agricultural operations.

I went to college on a rodeo scholarship and took animal science classes.  I did not last a whole year. There were lots of reasons, but the main one I think of now is I felt I could learn more from my family at home.  It might of also been because I was about to flunk out. Since that time I have always been on a livestock operation and can’t imagine not.

I barely remember a man named Dan Buck.  He was a brand inspector that gave me my first real lass rope.  I have heard lots of stories about him.  He was a very different person and had many different ideas about how livestock should be handled.  I wish I would of known him better.

There is also an Indian fellow named Bill LaFromboise from Helena, Montana that I have known all my life.  He has a very special way with livestock and I have seen him do some amazing things with animals that I wish I could understand.

Curly Atkinson was a sheep herder and livestock man that was kind of a legend to me when I was young.  He worked for Sieben Livestock who had a feedlot next to our place and my mother cooked for him sometimes.  She and my grandfather had great respect for his abilities.  I could go on and on about the great stockmen and horsemen I was influenced by either through stories or actually working with them, but I will not.

I am pretty sure if you have been around livestock much you know what I am talking about.
My first big influence and inspiration was a fellow named Butch Anderson, as far as doing things different and working with an animals mind.  He also worked for Sieben Livestock.  I spent a whole bunch of time with him. Fom calving heifers to catching horses to working with dogs, Butch taught me to take a very different approach.

These great stockmen were just a few in the Helena, Montana area, and there are many more I haven’t mentioned.  I have been told so many stories about folks that were special with livestock all over the country. The common theme that I have seen with people that are good stockmen is that is all they have ever done.

The horsemen and stockmen instructors of the day are great at helping people that don’t get to work with livestock all the time.  The world has changed in the way we need to work stock and the modern day instructor is helping to get this done.

If you were raised on a big ranch and left you did not see all the good hands that were getting the job done while you were not interested.  If you are new to livestock you have no way to know all the top stockmen that have been in the area, so naturally you go to the knowledge that is available.

But let’s not forget the men and women of the past that have dedicated themselves to the care and handling of livestock.  From the Texas trail drivers of the 1880’s to the shepherds of Biblical times to the yak herders in Mongolia, I am pretty certain there have been a few good ones in all the livestock that have been handled through time.  It seems a little arrogant to think otherwise.

So on my part, I am sharing things I have learned through my life from good and bad stockmen.  When I give a live demo or write something it is partly how all these experiences have influenced me.  So thank you to all the folks that have shared the skills of a stockman with me.  If you have been dedicated to livestock all your life and have skills share it with others.

It really bothers me when people say that the stockman of yesterday are not up to par with today’s names in teaching horse and livestock handling.  When I give a demo or talk publicly about dealing with animals, in my mind all of the great influences of my past are a part of it. This is a huge responsibility and I don’t take it lightly.

Ballie Buck was a great stockman in our area.  He was kin to the before mentioned Dan Buck. There is a book I would recommend (available on Amazon) titled What the Cow Said to the Calf. The name of the book comes from Charlie Russell saying now there’s an Indian that knows what the cow said to the calf.

That kind of says it all about total stockmanship.  We should all try to understand “what the cow said to the calf.”  I will try to keep learning and sharing ways to get there.

~ Curt Pate

The subject this week is stockmen of the past.  This picture is of me demonstrating how to rope and lay a calf down calmly and safely.  The way the calf is calmly laying there, the other calf and my horse are pretty interested in what I am doing, and at least from this picture it looks as if you can rope and lay a calf down with out much stress, even though some say it isn’t possible.  All of the stockmen of my past, good and bad, have influenced and inspired me, and this week I pay tribute to all good stockmen.

~ Curt Pate

3-16-14

Sustainability: My point of view

I am going to explain this word from my point of view.  Many things have led to my definition of it like the way I was raised, the environment or area of the country I have lived in, the places in the world I have traveled to, and most importantly the different ideas people have shared with me on how to live and think.

For some reason I have a huge desire to learn and develop knowledge and skill, then try to take this even higher. I feel the only way to do this is to is let your ego take you where you need to go, then overcome the ego to learn even more, and allow your skill to improve to the point your ego shows up again to start the whole process over again.

When you get satisfied and think you are as good as it gets, you are right.

To me this is really dangerous not only on a personal level, but also on the world level and industry level as well.

On the subject of the sustainability of beef, ego is playing a huge part.  It has become us against them.  The problem is there are not many of us and a whole bunch of them.

As I said before many things have influenced the way I feel and think.  I am exposed to more opinions from all sides than most folks.  The hard part is getting the facts and not opinions or wishes from both sides.

The place I grew up on in the Helena, Montana area is now a housing development around a golf course.  There are many huge homes and paved streets.  The golf course has a fancy clubhouse, restaurant, pro shop and a very large paved parking lot.

The shop, hog barns, and slaughter house are used for golf cart storage and to keep all the equipment it takes to operate a golf course stored or worked on.  The corrals, feed lot and the fences are all gone.  No animals or crops are raised on the place any longer.  Just big expensive houses and a golf course.

I am sure many of the people that live and play on the place believe beef is bad for the environment.  I beg to differ.  It seems to me we were operating a sustainable operation.  We grew hay and grain to feed the cattle and hogs.  The manure from the cattle and the hogs was used to fertilize the soil.  We rotated crops with alfalfa to put nitrogen back in the soil. We were a part of the community and provided a service with our slaughter house for folks to harvest their own food.

My grandfather’s place bordered the place with the golf course.  We ended up buying the place.  The creek that ran through the golf course came through our place as well.  The plant life in it was so thick that you could hardly ride a horse through it and the flow really slowed. It was much different than before the golf course.  We had real big trout in it before, but I think they have all disappeared.

With so many houses and sewers the ground water contamination was getting to be a concern.  Most of the people had dogs and that was always a concern to have them chasing stock and I would sometimes see the cattle running.  I think it was a fun pastime for some golfers to see if they could hit a cow with a golf ball.  We also got a lot more traffic on foot and in cars.  The golf course and subdivision really changed everything.

My definition of sustainable is this:  Using something in a way that maintains or improves quality.

That’s it.  Producing beef, pork, and growing crops on that land was sustainable.  Not only for the land itself, but it was not hurting the surrounding area, and was creating protein for humans while improving the land.

Something had been grazing and  putting manure and urine on that few hundred acres for thousands of years.  Grazing had made it sustainable for all those years.  From the way I see it, our farming and ranching enterprise was as good or maybe better than the previous use, and I am certain it was much better for this land than a housing development and a golf course. I guess I can see this because I was there.  I am proud of the way it was taken care of by my family.

Mother Earth is what is important.  We need to sustain her.  I truly believe grazing animals must be a part of that.  It’s not about the beef, it’s about what the cattle can do to improve and sustain the soil and water.

Big companies like Walmart and McDonald’s may not know what they want from those of us raising beef. The customer may be unreasonable in their desires. It may be a conspiracy theory by the United Nations. We may not be able to feed the world because of it, or one of the many other reasons I have or haven’t heard.

It’s really about figuring out what is right for everyone and then doing it.  If the consumer doesn’t approve they will change their consuming habits.  If the producer can’t make a profit long term they will change the production model or stop producing.  The government can regulate us out of business, or subsidize to keep us in business, or stay out of it and let supply and demand control it.

I don’t care what you call it, but it has to be right for two reasons, first to be able maintain or improve soil and water in a profitable manner, and second to produce a product the consumer wants.  That is sustainable beef.

The way I see it sustainable beef is the best term for it.  If you have a better term, let’s hear it. I would really like to here what you have to say about this, and how you would label it.

Watch this YouTube video and it will show how I feel every time I go by the old place.

~ Curt Pate

Sustainability and the customer

Last week was the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s annual convention.  It’s a big time deal and I am proud I got to be a part of it. I had lots of good experiences, met lots of good folks, and got some new things to think about.

A man from McDonald’s gave an interesting talk on the sustainability commitment that the company has made.  The most interesting thing that I found was that favorable public perception for the fast food giant was very low.  The customer has spoken and they are trying to do something about it.  They may not know exactly what to do, but they are working on it and I bet they will figure it out.

The A&W burger joints in Canada have gone to all natural beef.  They even go so far as to feature the main suppliers and the sustainable practices they use. To learn more about what they are doing check out: www.awbetterbeef.ca

Several companies have been able to already convince or capitalize on the more affluent members of society about sustainability and create or satisfy a customers needs for organic or natural labeled foods.  I did not know if this was a trend or a fad, because it was a pretty niche market.

I used to get kind of a big kick out of going to the natural food store in Helena, Montana to shop with my wife.  We had a big old diesel pickup with a bale bed and brush guard and it would really stand out in the parking lot full of Subarus.

You are supposed to bring your own bags to these stores and I had lots of them from all the cattle trade shows I was involved in.  The trouble was they had been given out by all the drug companies. You will get some looks in the natural health care isle if you are putting natural cold remedies in a bag with a cattle vaccine logo on it.

Just me being in the store with a cowboy hat on created quite a lot of stress.  I would seek out the folks that seemed to be the most opposite of me and ask them questions or try to get them to help me.  Some would be a little hard to catch up with.  At the check out line it was really interesting because so many of the folks had to stay there with me and felt uncomfortable knowing I was a rancher and just maybe a republican.  Most of them had a brace up against me, but if I smiled and asked them some question or complemented them on something they would talk to me, and a few of them would even look at me.

My point is that I was very different in my lifestyle from the people that chose to shop in this store.  They were skeptical of me and I had to make a big effort to change the way they perceived me.

The reusable bag with a medicine bottle and a syringe picture carried by a guy with a cowboy hat and manure on his boots was just as sustainable as the the guy with the tattoos and nose rings and the hemp bag.  I was reusing a bag and expressing my lifestyle through my appearance the same as him.  We may have been more alike than either of us thought. Or maybe not …

It sure looks to me like the sustainable movement is not only here to stay, but is growing at a very rapid pace.  When Walmart and McDonald’s are marketing to the customer as sustainable it’s pretty hard to deny it.

The funny thing is after the seminar I heard lots of negative talk about this whole sustainability thing.  It confuses me as to why beef producers don’t understand that we produce a product for a customer.  Most of us don’t sell directly to to the consumer so we hire someone to do it for us (i.e. Walmart and McDonald’s).  I am pretty sure they know what the customer wants but we don’t seem to want to listen.

Most people don’t see when a bull is on the fight or a horse is going to buck them off, until they have been run over or bucked off a few times.  They just could not see it shaping up.

I don’t know how it’s going to shape up, but sustainability is an important concept for our consumer of beef. If we can’t see this by now we are about to get run over and bucked off hard.

My grandfather always said we need to “separate our wants from our needs.” People don’t have to or need to eat beef.  We in the beef industry “need” to get consumers to “want” to eat beef.  They are telling us what they want and we need to listen.  Enjoy it and profit from it.

~ Curt Pate