Cattle exist in the United States because they are an amazing machine to turn grass, a resource nearly devoid of protein, into one of the most powerful and desired protein sources across the globe.
A logical conclusion would then be that the end game of any cattle ranch is to raise beef for the U.S. and beyond.
But that's not so.
Actually, ranches can be split into two categories:
- Cow-Calf Operations
- Seedstock Operations
Over 95% of ranches fall into the first category, cow-calf, meaning they do indeed raise cattle for beef. Generally, these ranches raise cattle until they are a little less than one year old, then sell them to a backgrounding yard to put weight on. The backgrounder then sells them to feedlots to finish gaining weight, who sell them to packing plants, then distributors, then retailers, who then sell the final product out of their storefronts. Yep, the supply chain is long. That's why Honest Beef exists.
In order for cow-calf ranchers to succeed, they must have high quality genetics in their herd. Their cattle need to grow efficiently, be good mothers, and ultimately make great steak. In the very same way that hard work and discipline are not enough to become an Olympic athlete - superior genetics must also be part of the equation - great beef is a result of both high quality management and high quality genetics.
That's where the other <5% of cattle ranches come in. The primary function of seedstock operations is to sell genetics (in the form of a bull) to cow-calf operations, who are then able to breed their cows to high-quality bulls, and ultimately yield good offspring that make great beef. You can read more about how this works in The Business of Beef Genetics.
A few of the defining characteristics of seedstock cattle operations:
- Main source of revenue comes from selling bulls for genetics, not from selling cattle for beef
- Generally, cattle are purebred (all 100% of the same breed), and are registered with a breed association, such as the American Angus Association
- Records must be kept with data on the following:
- Weight at birth
- Weight at weaning
- Weight at one year old
- Scrotal circumference (in cm) of 1+ year old bulls
- Height at one year old
- How easy/difficult it was for a mama to have her calf
- How good/bad their feet are
- How fertile the males are by way of a Breeding Soundness Exam
- The quality and abundance of marbling (the fat flecks that make steak taste good) in the ribeye section of the animal.
- The thickness of fat on their backs
- How many average pounds/day they gain
- How tame they are (docility)
- How easy it is for a heifer to get pregnant
- DNA tests are taken to locate markers that affect numerous traits
A LOT of data. And they've been doing data since before doing data was hip.
Collectively, these data points are called EPDs, or Expected Progeny Differences. Cow-calf ranchers use these EPDs in conjunction with the physical appearance of the animal to make breeding decisions for their own herds.
Above: an example of an EPD sheet that appeared in the Connealy Angus 2016 Fall Bull Sale.
Basically, seedstock ranchers raise genetics for cow-calf ranchers, who use those genetics to raise beef for consumption.
A tour group from Argentina visiting Connealy Angus
Here's the kicker about Honest Beef: our beef comes from Connealy Angus, which is a seedstock ranch. But I just said that seedstock ranches don't raise cattle for beef, didn't I?
Connealy Angus is an exception. Because we're a seedstock operation, high quality genetics, exceptional management practices, and meticulous record-keeping are requisite components of our business - they are already in place. These attributes result in an unparalleled end product that you can feel good about because you know where it came from and who raised it.
Honest Beef Dry-Aged Ribeyes
So we did a little groundwork to figure out how to bypass the traditional beef supply chain and get our steak and burgers directly to you, and Honest Beef was born.
No matter what category a ranch falls into, ranching is a labor of love. As in all professions, ranchers reap what they sow, and at Honest Beef, we hope you'll agree that we've sown up something pretty darn good. Taste and judge for yourself!