Washington D.C. is the North American headquarters for Meat & Livestock Australia. As well as looking after the United States, they also cover Canada and Mexico. I got to spend a day in their D.C. office and talk with the staff about what they are doing to build demand for Aussie Beef in North America.
The staff are present at a number of trade shows from the east to west coast of the United States. They always cook product at these trade shows to give people a chance to taste Aussie beef (as well as lamb and goat) and through this, a number of networks are built within the retail sector. The main aim for MLA in North America is to promote a point of difference for purchasing Aussie beef. One example includes chilled Australian beef has a 120 day shelf life, whereas US beef only has a 45 – 50 day shelf life, something very important for retailers in particular. Australia will export 250,000t of beef this year to North America, which makes it our second largest export market.
Consumers, not only the United States, but worldwide, are becoming increasingly aware of where their food comes from, and sustainibility and food safety are high on the list of importance. Part of the job in promoting our beef to chefs, hotels and food service operators, is that their philosophy is line with what MLA in the US are trying to sell. If a famous chef, for example, is then pushing Australian beef, consumers are more likely to want to buy it. There is also an opportunity in niche markets for Aussie beef in the US, such as organic and Wagyu.
What a great opportunity to get a firsthand look at how our beef is being promoted to the US!
After a short plane ride, I finally arrived in the Lone Star state to have a look at the WHR Shorthorn herd of the Rasor family. As we were driving through the front entrance to the property, the herdsman was holding up a Rattlesnake that he had just killed!!! What a great introduction to Texas!
The Rasor family run around 300 cows. 150 being registered Shorthorns, with the other 150 being recipient cows. They flush about 10 of their best cows every year and put their embryos into these recipient cows. One day was spent pregnancy testing some of these cows and heifers that had either been joined by either A.I or natural service, or had embryos implanted. The cows were preg checked by ultrasound. One of the heifers that was checked was in calf about 30 days and you were able to see the foetus pretty clearly, along with the heartbeat.
I also got to help out with their show cattle, of which they sell a number of (mostly heifers) to junior cattle enthusiasts every year. They give these young people all the assistance they can to get them more involved and to be successful in the beef industry. They have a production sale every year, held the last Sunday in March, selling show prospect and donor females, as well as bulls. We also did some general cattle work, which included taking some cull cattle to a sale barn and weaning calves.
As well as having cattle, Sydenstrickers also operate 10 John Deere tractor stores, all located in Missouri, which also includes one of the largest outlets in the United States! They have all sorts of machinery, new and used which includes combines, tractors, mowers and ATV’s and precision agriculture equipment that utilises GreenStar precision technology that is able to gather information, reduce input and labor costs, increase efficiency, or better manage land and water resources. I got a tour of their entire store from the offices right through to the workshop which included a massive wash bay that is big enough to get a combine into!
Going further north in the US, to visit Waukaru Farms, didn’t seem to cool the weather down, but a swim in Lake Michigan certainly did! Waukaru is a Shorthorn herd located in Rensselaer, northern Indiana and owned by the Jordan family. The first registered bull purchased by the family was in 1902, which perhaps makes them one of if not the longest running purebred Shorthorn herd in the United States. It felt very much like home when I arrived at their place and saw this sign!
Along with breeding Shorthorn cattle, they also raise some crops, with 1225 acres of land this year planted to field corn. After the corn is harvested, they are are then able to utilise the corn stalks (left over after the ears are harvested) as feed to winter their cows on. A lot of farmers in the United States rely heavily on corn stalks to winter their cows on, and due to the prevailing drought (the worst in 50 years) that is affecting a big majority of the country, there will not be the feed available that there has been in previous years. A further 500 acres of pasture land is used to run their cattle on. They have a herd of almost completley pure red cows for greater market acceptability, and also breed some Durham Red bulls (Shorthorn/Red Angus cross). The Durham Red program is a composite breeding stratergy that capitalises on breed complimentary, between Shorthorns and Red Angus, and heterosis. This year they will join 300 females, including heifers.
I got to look around all their cows and calves, including some embryo calves and saw the mother of Waukaru Patent 8161 ET, that is being used in Australia at the moment with some great success by Sprys Shorthorns. As well as Australia, the Jordan’s have exported cattle and genetics to a number of countries around the world. We did some general cattle work, put mineral out, stacked hay, fed cows and prepared their show team for the state fair.
The National Junior Angus Show (NJAS) was this year held in Louisville, Kentucky. The Angus have one of, if not the biggest Junior National breed shows in the US. This year, cattle from Texas to North Dakota and California to New York, 40 states in total, and even from Canada were represented. A total of 712 competitors presented around 1350 head for judging, which made it a great place to go and see the wide range of Angus genetics currently in use in the US. The steer, cows & calves, bulls and bred-&-owned heifer judging went for almost two days, but could have been over a little sooner if not for a slight complication. There was a pretty nasty storm that came across Louisville with strong winds and bad lightning. It blew the roof off the motel that a lot of people involved with the NJAS were staying at, including me! The fire alarms went off and we were all evacuated, but it was about an hour before anybody actually knew what was going on. Pretty scary stuff!!!
There were also a number of other activities at the show for the competitors, which included showmanship, a judging competition, a cook-off and a quiz bowl. In the owned heifer show, which had approximately 550 head, both the Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion Heifers ended up both being by the same bull. They also had a carcass steer show on the first day of the show in which they showed steers and then loaded them so they could then be judged over the hook.
On the last day of my visit with the Schlutz family, I went with them to a talk being given by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor, Kim Reynolds. They had been in the area giving talks on the drought-stricken parts of the state and were then given a tour of the Grimm Brothers Plastic Factory, where I attended, in the eastern part of the state. A breif talk was given by them both after the tour, and afterwards people in the auidience were free to ask questions about a number of issues. After the Q & A session was held, I was lucky enough to be able to meet them both!
The Da Es Ro Angus herd of Bob & Marillyn Schlutz had been in operation for almost 60 years with around 150 breeding females. We looked at some cows and calves, their show cattle as well as a couple of their best donor cows. We looked through the pedigrees of most of their cattle after looking at them in the paddock, which highlighted what was breeding well for them.
They recently had 3 winners at the Iowa Angus Preview Show, which is held before the National Junior Angus Show as a warm up to the event. Two of the bulls they bred themselves and the other was a bull they have just purchased a half share in. As Bob is also on the Iowa State Fair Board, we went and visited a couple of county fairs. No judging was taking place, but it was good to go and tour around the cattle sheds and have a look at the exhibits.
For the past 16 years, the Blue Ribbon Foundation, a fundraising body for the Iowa State Fairgrounds, has held a Corn Dog Kickoff which supports its annual fair that is held in August. I went to the event, which is a major fundraiser and includes a live and silent auction, food stalls and merchandise stands. All the items are donated by businesses or privately with the smaller items going into the silent auction and the bigger value items in the live auction. Two of the items in the live auction made $20,000! One was a handcrafted wooden table, the other a tour of the Barilla pasta factory in Northern Iowa, plus a meal cooked by a professional chef afterwards.
There was so much food there I think I almost burst trying all the different things! There were deep fried Oreos, funnel cakes, hot beef sundaes, giant Turkey legs, fairy floss, apples with caramel sauce, sweet and salty popcorn and fairy floss (just to name a few), and of course the ever popular corn dog, or Dagwood dog as we would call them in Australia. What a great way to experience American state fair culture!