It’s All About Quality Beef Cattle

A psychology major, Anne knew she wanted to live in the open spaces where there weren’t so many people, but she was a city girl and knew very little about cattle and farming.  But…that was then; this is now. Always a hands-on “do it” type of person, Anne jumped right in, watching, listening, and learning from the experts. “My dad always said, ‘If you’re going to bother to do something, do it right’. I am a focused person. I learned on the go and things slowly came together, and by year five I felt I was ready to be a true manager and a leader.”

Now as she looks back at the past 12 years she says, “It is a wonderful business to be in. I have always loved animals. I spent the first 22 years of my life as a consumer. Now I am both a producer and consumer. Today consumers want to know where their food comes from. I believe that we in the cattle business need to step up and stand behind what we do to show consumers we care and that we’re educated and competent in providing food for the world.”
 
Although Anne and her husband Matt discuss farm matters with each other, Matt handles the farming while Anne owns and manages the feed yard. Ann says with a laugh, “We work together companionably, but we have different personalities and treat our businesses separately. Maybe it’s because he’s an engineer and I’m a psychologist!”  Anne believes that her degree has been a huge benefit for her. “Majoring in psychology has helped me better understand both the people and the animals that I work with” she says.
 
Although the feedyard has a 3,000 head capacity and can turn cattle three times a year, Anne notes that in many respects, it is a small feedyard compared to many others. However, she also believes that she and her employees have carved out a niche that meets the needs of many of her repeat cattle producers. “What we have chosen to do is to provide the producers with a data tracking system that charts each animal’s growth from Day 1 to Shipment Day. We take down the weight and tag data when they arrive and then continue to track their weight gain until they leave. This also gives us benchmark data for us to compare against other feedyards.”
 
Throughout this time, Anne encourages the producers to visit and see how their cattle are doing. “We find that many do take a special interest and do visit during the year.”
Along the way, Anne has utilized a system called Business Quality Assurance (BQA) which is a national program that provides guidelines for beef cattle production (check out the BQA website www.bqa.org/ for more information). She believes it has helped Will Feed, Inc. develop proper management techniques and a commitment to quality that, in turn, has raised consumer confidence. “BQA is a tremendous management tool that I believe has helped us do a better job of making things come together. It’s all about setting everything up for success, and it helps give producers ways to improve the quality of beef produced and delivered to the consumer.”  At the same time, BQA acts as an education program for producers by helping them identify management processes that can be improved. It all comes down to producers being open minded and willing to look at different ways to manage their herd. “BQA helps producers plan ahead by figuring out what could go wrong and then figuring ways to avoid it,” Anne said.
 
Performance is the key word when it comes to Anne, her employees and cattle and according to Anne, that comes through the BOA program. At one time her employees, although they were excellent workers, relied on Anne to make the decisions. “It has been fun to watch as my crew has gained confidence and become great decision-makers. BQA has helped give them the tools to succeed. We have regularly scheduled meetings to discuss BOA guidelines and to address any issues that might be occurring.”  Anne also enjoys building a customer base that desires performance and wants to trace the carcass data. “I believe we have to know what we are making, and I find it’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together. There are many ways to put this puzzle together, but in the end it must all be based on quality. Each year we try to tweak things a little to be more successful.”
 
When it comes to animal management, Anne utilizes a holistic approach. “I believe in low stress handling and getting the cattle to understand what it is we expect and want them to do.” For instance, as soon as a new bunch of calves arrive, Anne and her employees acclimate the calves to their surroundings, take them out of the pen to give them exercise and then, when they return, fresh food is right there. It provides reinforcement to the calves that this is where they want to be. Later, if some of the cattle fall off their feed, exercise and careful handling is again employed.  This is a family farm, and all three Burkholder children, ages 9, 7, and 4 enjoy being part of the farm action. “Each girl has a different interest so each enjoys something different.” In a teasing voice, Anne says, “Matt always said he wanted to be surrounded by a bunch of women. Now he is!”  On a serious vein, Anne believes that it is important for cattle producers to step up and stand behind what they do. “We need to show the consumers that we are conscientious, educated, and competent. Most of all, we need to show the consumer that we care about the animals that we raise.”
 
National Beef Quality Assurance (BQA)
At last February’s national convention, Anne Burkholder accepted the National Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Award sponsored by the National Cattleman’s Foundation. Each year the BQA award recognizes one outstanding beef and one outstanding dairy producer from across the country that incorporates BQA principles as part of the day-to-day activities on their operations. The winners are selected based upon their commitment to beef quality assurance while operating sustainable cattle operations. The National BQA award winners are selected annually by a committee of representatives from universities, state beef councils, and cattle industry groups. Anne was nominated by the Nebraska Cattlemen BQA.  Drew Gaffney, Nebraska Cattlemen BQA Coordinator, said, “Anne has been a driving force and key spokesperson for the Nebraska Cattlemen and the state’s BQA program. Anne has been very instrumental in producing and promoting BQA meetings throughout the state. She has not only been a featured speaker at BQA meetings but has also helped to promote BQA at local auction markets. With the help of the state coordinator, Anne developed Nebraska’s first BQA cattle auction held at the North Platte Livestock Auction Market in North Platte, Neb. That sale was held in the fall of 2007 and since then three more BQA sales have been conducted. Anne has proven time and again that she is more than deserving of this award.”
 
In response to her award, Anne notes, “Will Feed, Inc. is very focused on implementing BQA in every aspect of the feed yard. I ask that my veterinarian, pharmaceutical reps, nutritionist, and anyone else contributing to the operation are BQA certified. I work with the transporters of the livestock coming in and going out of the feed yard to ensure proper cattle handling techniques, and I also make sure that they are aware of the Transportation Quality Assurance (TQA) program that is available. Everyone in the beef industry plays a role in BQA, and I view the expansion of the original BQA program to include the BTQA and Livestock Marketing Association-BQA program as a vital step to ‘Completing the Quality Assurance Circle’ so that a calf is handled by BQA educated stockman from the moment he touches the ground to the time that he is harvested.”