If you want to present the public with a positive portrayal of modern livestock production, you can’t do any better than letting some real farmers and ranchers tell their stories. For that reason, producers comprised a sizable portion of the list of presenters at a conference last week hosted by Colorado State University and the Colorado Beef Council.
The conference, titled “Beef + Transparency = Trust,” targeted influencers such as consumer media, food writers, nutritionists and food-business executives, intending to provide objective, honest and factual information about modern beef-production practices and the reasons behind them.
Passion for cattle and beef production was evident as three producers described their family operations and explained how they raise and care for their cattle. The group included Colorado rancher Sara Shields, Gary Teague, a cattle feeder, rancher and farmer also from Colorado and Anne Burkholder, who operates a feedyard in Nebraska.
Sara Shields and her family operate the San Isabel Ranch in the mountains of southern Colorado. “You need to understand the heart of the rancher to understand the industry,” she told the audience. She described how her great grandfather started the ranch in 1872, initially raising sheep. Her father shifted the ranch to purebred Hereford breeding, and today the operation has evolved to specialize in bred heifers along with commercial calves and commercial hay production.
Using photographs, Shields described how the family cares for cattle, trading all-night shifts during calving season, using a tractor to plow paths through the snow to deliver feed after storms and tending cattle on Christmas Eve when weather demands it.
She ran though a long list of “position titles” for ranch staff members, including general manager, financial specialist, marketing director, equipment specialist, irrigation technician, hay farmer, range manager, cattle foreman and several others. But while the list of titles is long, the staff includes just Sara and her husband Mike, who share the duties.
The ranch has won prestigious conservation awards, and Shields outlined how the family continues a multi-generational tradition of protecting open spaces, water quality, wildlife habitat and quality of life within their community and region. The future of ranching, she says, “will still be about wise use of resources and still be about family.”
Gary Teague and his wife Laura exemplify entrepreneurship in agriculture. They began Teague Diversified Inc. in 1994 while still in graduate school, leasing and operating a small feedlot in eastern Colorado. Today the family operation has grown to include a 25,000-head feedyard, ranches in Colorado, Texas and Nebraska, crop farming and a swine operation.