Gaining a New View

My name is Hayes Hutter and I am a summer intern for Rock Hills Ranch. I am from southwest Missouri, around the Springfield area. I am currently between my freshman and sophomore year at Northeast Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Oklahoma, majoring in Animal Science.

My family includes 2 sets of twins—I have a twin brother, along with a younger brother and sister, who are also twins. Both of my parents are in the education field. My dad teaches Agriculture Education at Missouri State University and my mom is a high school English teacher.

Our family ranch is primarily a commercial cow/calf and stocker operation. The land has been in the family for four generations and I hope to take it over one day. The Rock Hills Ranch internship appealed to me because of the focus on grass production, the grazing practices, and the different types of terrains and forages they have here in Lowry, South Dakota. I hope to expand my understanding of grazing and herd management practices so that I can take new ideas back to our family operation.

The Permans have welcomed me with open arms since I stepped foot on the ranch. I’m excited to be here and can’t wait for the experiences this summer as opportunities to learn much from Luke and the rest of the crew. 

Pennsylvania to South Dakota

About a week ago I drove about 23 hours to get to Rock Hills Ranch from State College, Pennsylvania. Hello my name is Ben Patterson and I am a 2019 Summer/Fall Intern at Rock Hills Ranch. I just graduated in the May of 2019 from Penn State with an Animal Science major and an Agribusiness Management minor. My family, my parents and my older brother, are from York, Pennsylvania. My dad is an elementary school principal, my mom works in human resources at a Wellspan Hospital, and my brother teaches 7th grade social studies. As a family we spend most of our time together in the woods hunting.

I do not come from an agricultural background. My grandfather always had a few pigs and a cow here and there. My great uncle had a whitetail, red stag, and dairy farm in Northern PA that I spend some time at during the summers. But overall, I have gotten the majority of my experiences in agricultural over the last three years. During my summer after my freshman and sophomore year I worked at Cedar Hill Pork, a farm that has a 700 sow farrow-feeder hog barn and about 70 registered Angus cow-calf pairs. Last summer I worked at Penn State’s Haller Farm, a rotational grazing research facility that has about 70 cow-calf pairs of commercial cattle.

After those experiences, I wanted to find an opportunity to see a different part of the cattle industry. My friend from college, Matt Kelley, was the summer intern last year and told me how great his experience was here at Rock Hills Ranch, so I decided to apply. After just a week I realized that the internship is even better than I expected. Luke is a great teacher and mentor. Since the first day he has allowed me to jump right in and start experiencing and learning new things. The first week was very busy and we put in a lot of long days but I enjoyed every moment of it. The Perman’s are so gracious and kind; they have really treated me like I was part of their family. I am excited to be able to be at Rock Hills Ranch for the next few months.

What makes US beef special?

Last week I received an email from the head chef at Keen’s, an award-winning NYC steakhouse, with the following question:  What makes US beef special?  He is going to Japan in May to speak at a New York foods festival and will be speaking on this topic, and wondered how I would answer.  Below is my reply:

Bill,
I’ve thought about your question the past few days, and while I didn’t have any grand epiphanies over the weekend, I’ll share what came to mind.
For me the first thing that comes to my mind, because it is our passion, is the integral part of cattle on the landscape.  North America is home to some of the world’s largest intact grasslands, which play key roles in air & water quality, plant and animal species diversity, and climate change mitigation.  The prairie was developed with bison and elk as a keystone species, and now cattle perform the function of the large ruminant herbivore.  The US beef industry’s foundation is these grasslands.  We have the ability to raise cattle, not in spite of, but in cooperation with a very important ecosystem.  Grazing lands are not a single-use resource, only providing food for humans via beef.  It provides a whole host of ecosystem services, something even a vegan can appreciate.  Even better, this is a regenerative system.  Cattle grazing, done properly, takes nothing away from the resource.  There are very few industries that can make that claim.
US farmers and ranchers have been ahead of the curve in adopting technology to improve the entire production cycle.  From genetic selection, to feed efficiency, to environmental impact, to food safety, we have the most advanced systems in place of any nation in the world.  This makes our beef more predictable, more safe, better quality (with all due respect to Kobe), and more economical than many competitors.  The processors and distribution networks also have very high standards and employ technology to ensure food safety all the way to the consumer.
There are some structural advantages we have as well.  With diverse climate and geography, the US can grow a lot of different things.  Our transportation network means we can move things (cattle and feed) to the appropriate places.  The cattle industry is integrated with other food and fuel systems, utilizing byproducts from the ethanol, soybean, potato, and sugar beet industries, among others.  The US farmers’ incredible ability to grow corn means we can finish as many cattle as we want on a very consistent and predictable feedstuff.  This lends itself to managing cattle flow out of feed yards, providing the processors and then consumers with a steady supply.  It also provides a more predictable finished product than using forage alone.  That said, we have the forage resources to finish cattle to fit grass-fed markets as well.  No matter the consumer preference, the US beef industry has the resource base to provide the eating experience desired.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the people who care for the cattle.  I guess I can’t speak to the traditions and values of cattlemen and women elsewhere in the world, but the for the American farmer and rancher it is a labor of love for certain.  The hours are long and the business climate is filled with uncertainty in markets and weather.  The skill set most farmers and ranchers have would make a lot of CEO’s blush.  Marketing, finance, HR, R&D, strategic planning, operations, succession planning, investing, biology, physics, zoology…these people are the original multi-disciplinarians.  Problem-solving ability develops out of necessity.  “Design thinking” has been a recent trend in Silicon Valley.  It’s been a way of life for generations for farmers and ranchers.
In a nutshell, I think American beef is special not just because of what it tastes like, looks like, or smells like on your plate – it’s the entire process leading up to that eating experience that makes it special.  It’s how cattle-raising in the US is not a zero-sum game, playing key roles in grassland ecosystems and upcycling resources thrown away by other industries.  It’s the way technology is leveraged to create efficiencies and safety mechanisms to provide highly dense nutrition at an affordable price.  It’s the passion that folks have in raising those cattle and caring for those resources.  I think these are what make American beef special.
But I also think Japanese beef is pretty special, which is why we using Wagyu and Akaushi genetics on our Angus cows.  They have a great history.
What would have you said?