Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life Lessons at a Cattle Show

I always get a little sad when I leave a weekend cattle show; especially a junior show. Maybe it's the camaraderie; maybe it's the enthusiasm. It definitely isn't the hair, hay and wood chips that I'm allergic to. This weekend the Illinois Junior Angus Association hosted the Eastern Regionals, and it was somewhat nostalgic for me, as I reflected on some of the life lessons I learned while participating in 4-H, FFA and Junior Hereford programs. Here are some of those lessons combined with some observations from the weekend.

1--Responsibility: I didn't spend my summers in front of the TV or playing video games. I got up every morning, fed, rinsed, and made sure the lambs and cattle had water and shade. I exercised my lambs every night and practiced showmanship with my heifers and my dad each evening. When I was real little, my parents made me set on a 5-gallon bucket and read out loud to my lambs as a way for them to get used to me.

2--Work ethic: Sure I tubed the Niobrara River almost daily, but AFTER my work was done. And, I learned that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right the first time.

3--Competition: We went to progress shows nearly every weekend, and my dad taught me if I didn't want to get beat, we could stay home. And, if we did get beat there would be a different judge the next weekend to offer his or her opinion of our animals. Nothing is more discouraging to me today, than to hear a parent say to a child, exiting the showring, "that judge is just stupid; we have bigger shows to win anyway." Parents, please try to teach your kids to win gracefully and lose gracefully.

4--Team work: This weekend, I witnessed a girl show a heifer for one of her "competitors" who had two heifers in the same class, then turn around and show her own heifer in the next class against the same girl who had another heifer in that following class as well. That takes integrity in my book; way to go Jessica R!

5--Family togetherness: My parents and I took two vacations that didn't involve cattle or sheep shows and sales--one when I was 4 to the Black Hills and one when I was 22 to South Texas. Enough said.

Yes, these livestock projects offer a lot of benefits to young people. They did 25 years ago, and they still do today. I hope they remain in tact for years to come, and I hope I am part of them in some way or another.

Friday, June 11, 2010

YCC: Life Changing Experience

Ok, so one week ago I wrote about the first three days of the Young Cattlemen's Conference (YCC) conference that I was attending.
Little did I know that the best was yet to come.

The trip was intense. We slept a little, traveled a lot, experienced much and made friendships to last a lifetime. We toured feedlots in our shit kickin' boots, and made our way to Capitol Hill in business suits to talk to our respective state congressmen and senators to be a voice for the beef industry. We toured the plant where McDonald's hamburger patties are formed and we watched as the Chicago Board of Trade opened on Monday morning. We drank beer. We danced. We tried tongue, and other cuts of meat that are usually exported.

We exchanged ideas and shared information. We rode in buses, airplanes, and even crammed 22 of us in a 12 passenger van. We shared cabs and we shared rooms. And, in the end we are stronger in our beef industry knowledge, leadership and communications skills. We heard from people who work at NCBA, USDA, FAS, USMEF, JBS, OSI and CAB. We supported the PAC--oh man did I support the PAC! We graduated with our MBAs (Masters of Beef Advocacy) and we survived YCC.

I wish I could give a day-by-day and play-by-play account of this trip. I could talk about it for days, and I will, so don't get me started unless you really care and have a lot of time. I would encourage any of you involved in the beef business to GET INVOLVED. Join NCBA. Apply with your state affilliate or the Angus Foundation to attend YCC. It is an experience that will change your life. I know it did mine.

This entry is dedicated to my classmates: 2010 YCC, you are the best and brightest in the beef industry. Thanks for sharing 10 days and many memories with me!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tater's Thoughts

Well, tonight ends one of the best experiences of my 37 years so far. My YCC class will have its wrap up, final dinner and party and say our farewells, until we meet again. The past 10 days have been intense: early mornings, later nights, buses, airplanes, three time zones in three cities, packing plants, feedyards, congressional briefings and visits with our lawmakers and a party at Whitestone Farm. Yes, intense says it best. When I get in my cab tomorrow morning, I'm leaving knowing I've made 53 new friends in the cattle business, and I am already looking forward to seeing them and meeting their families in the near future.

These next thoughts are not mine. They are Tater's. Tater is from Montana, and he's "kinda a big deal." That's how he introduced himself more than a week ago as we made our initial introductions around the NCBA offices in Denver. He's a rounder fella with glasses and mustache and obviously a great sense of humor. I've been trying to set with someone different each bus/airplane ride, and last night on the way home from Whitestone Farm, Tater drew the short straw. But thanks to Tater, I may have gained as much insight in that 45 minutes as I had the previous 10 days.

You see Tater and I talked about life. We talked about love and we talked about careers. And, for a feed salesman/rancher, used-to-be-college-rodeo-coach, Tater had a lot to offer this sometimes lost spirit who appears to have it all together. So, here are a few of the thoughts Tater shared with me.

1. Marry your best friend. I asked Tater how he met his wife, and he told me the story, and told me about their initial long-distance relationship, and how they got to know one another first.

2. Marriage takes a lot of work from both sides, but it is so worth it. He said he knows he's gonna want to sleep when he gets home, but he also knows his wife is gonna want a little help with their three kids since he's been gone so much.

3. Take time for yourself.
We were talking about how I have some frequent flier miles, but don't know when or how I'd have time to use them. He said to make time.

4. Climbing the corporate ladder isn't the only thing in life that matters. Tater did this for a while. Traveled the country, lived in the big city, but ultimately knew what was important in life.

So, thanks for these thoughts, Tater. I know my life got a lot richer last night because I rode the bus with you. I wanted to get them written down. I know they impacted me, and I know your heart is as big as that Montana sky.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Experience of a lifetime

Yesterday I embarked on the experience of a lifetime. For me, like most people, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am honored that the management team at the American Angus Association selected me for this honor. You see, I am not part of the 2010 Young Cattlemens Conference (YCC) class through the NCBA. So, I flew to Denver on Wednesday afternoon, only after putting the 2010 BLI class on it's bus North, and started my trip of a lifetime.

YCC is designed for young cattle producers and industry professionals 25-50 years old, and one must be nominated and sponsored by an NCBA affiliate. I'm the third staff member the AAA has sent. Thanks Bill, Bryce and Rich! So, what is little ol' event-planner me doing on this trip? I am meeting cattle ranchers, feeders, cattle women and NCBA staff. Some are Angus enthusiasts and some are not; but we all share a passion for the beef industry. Yesterday I shook hands with the CEO of NCBA; and I've made friends with the president-elect of NCBA, Bill Donald from Montana. Some of my "classmates" are from the King Ranch and Parker Ranch, both so well known; and others are from small family farms; while yet others represent the feeding industry in SW Kansas. And others use Angus genetics. Today one producer from Washington just got his data back from his AngusSource calves, and had 85% grade Choice or better, so I discussed Certified Angus Beef qualifications with him.

So, what have we done on this trip? Day 1--yesterday: we met at the NCBA offices, met one another, learned about NCBA, and had a personality assessment from the folks at Elanco. I'm a BLUE according to the Insights assessment--organized, analytical. Who would have guessed...And last night we had wonderful steaks.

Day 2--today: we spent the day in Greeley at the JBS plant, which meant I made it through my third plant without passing out, visited the Fiver Rivers Kuner feedlot, and then had dinner at JBS offices, which were fantastic. Their staff prepared us cuts of beef not traditionally available in America, but rather cuts that Asians and Brazilians would eat. And, yes, I even had tongue for the first time. And, I liked it!

What will days 3-10 hold? 1 1/2 days left in Denver learning more about the industry and touring a Safeway store; Monday morning we'll wake up in Chicago and visit the Board of Trade and OSI. And Tuesday through Thursday, watch out D.C. We're going to visit our respective state law makers, visit the USDA and Canadian Embassy. We'll have media training and issues training first--all things I'm VERY excited about. Wednesday night, we'll be back on some familiar turf, as Whitestone Farm at Aldie, VA, hosts us for dinner. I can't wait!

Stay tuned for more about my adventure of a lifetime. Thanks to Logan Ipsen and Jerry Cassady for taking the 2010 BLI class on tour this year, and thanks to all the staff pitching in at next week's Board meeting! I know I will walk away from YCC with a new perspective, new ideas, new colleagues and friends, and memories of a lifetime!