YCC on The Road: Pasture to Plate

Young Cattlemen's College participants talking with staff members at Safeway in Littleton, Colorado about getting beef to consumers. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

The Young Cattlemen’s Conference (YCC) hosted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association had the opportunity to visit several facets of the beef industry while in Colorado. Take a "pasture to plate" tour of the beef industry in Colorado with the 2018 YCC class.

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Prior to joining the YCC group in Denver I drove up to Leachman Cattle of Colorado to have lunch with Lee Leachman. We talked about various topics in genetics and some projects he has been working on. After lunch we drove up to the ranch and stopped by the bull barn to look at a few bulls and do a video interview that will run later on Drovers


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One of the bulls that caught my eye was Leachman 18 Karat X235C, a Stabilizer bull developed at the ranch. This spring 18 Karat had the most sons offered at the Leachman Cattle of Colorado annual sale with a 69 bulls having his direct influence. Counting offerings at other sales there were more than 150 of 18 Karat's sons to sell this spring. 


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After reaching Denver and spending some time learning about different topics in meetings the YCC group headed north to Greeley, Colorado for a number of tours, including a stop at Five Rivers Cattle Feeding's Kuner Feedlot. Five Rivers was recently sold by JBS to Pinnacle Asset Management, L.P. for approximately $200 million.


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The feedlot was busy while we were on the tour with wheat silage being harvested and hauled to the bunker. Custom harvesting crews are used along with a custom processing crew to receive cattle, but the feedlot still employs 60 people full time. 



Five Rivers Cattle Feeding includes 11 feedlots and has a total feeding capacity estimated at 980,000 head of cattle, making it the largest cattle feeder in the world. The Kuner Feedlot would account for approximately 10% of the company's capacity. 



The feedlot feeds approximately 2.8 million lb. of feed daily. Steam flaked corn is one of the main ingredients in the finishing ration. 


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This pen of Angus-influenced heifers are entered in the Aspen Ridge Natural program that was established in 2011. More than a third of the cattle at the Kuner Feedlot go through the 3rd party verified program. To stay in the program cattle are never given antibiotics, additional hormones or fed animal by-products. About 12% of the cattle drop out of the program when they are treated for illness with antibiotics. 


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A few miles down the road from the feedlot is the JBS beef packing plant in Greeley. The plant processes 5,000 head of cattle per day and runs five to six days a week. Saturday kills are more prevalent during grilling season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but it can be more difficult to find labor for Saturday work at the plant. After entering the facility an animal can be processed in 28 minutes to end in the freezer room where the carcass will be labeled for country of origin. 


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A meeting with several members of the JBS USA headquarters was also held. The conversation centered around beef exports, traceability and sustainability. 


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A stop by Greeley Hat Works was made for YCC members to pick up some new headwear. 


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To bring the tour back to the plate the YCC class toured a Safeway grocery store in Littleton, Colorado. At the Albertsons/Safeway stores in Colorado beef is sourced locally from Colorado packing plants and has branding on various packaging.


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Beef in the meat case is cut in the back by butchers at Safeway from primals bought at local packing houses in Colorado. Several cuts of Prime beef were offered along with pre-made kabobs.


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These plant-based burgers from Beyond Meat cost $18/lb. The all-natural hamburger next it was about half of the price while a pound of conventional hamburger was only $4/lb. This is the first time that many of the YCC participants had seen the Beyond Burger product and it was a bit disheartening seeing it in the actual meat case next to real beef burgers. 


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Most of the alternative-protein could be found in the frozen aisle with Beyond Meat and Gardein having the most products. 


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Another item found in the frozen aisle that was interesting to see was Johnny's Quick Steak, a pre-sliced Philly steak kit.


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A great piece of marketing found in Safeway recognized the Bledsoe Ranch of Wray, Colorado, a third generation family operation.

The YCC class held a number of meetings in Colorado and also toured some businesses in Chicago before heading to Washington DC. The conference ends on June 7 after members visit with their Congressmen and Senators. More information about the conference can be found in the following story: 

YCC on The Road: Just Getting Started


Note: The author was invited by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to participate in the 2018 Young Cattlemen’s Conference as a media member. This is the second story in the YCC on The Road series.