A group of around 40 chefs, foodservice professionals and other food influencers from nine states studied beef production and the Kansas beef industry during the Kansas Beef Council Pasture-To-Plate Tour June 10-12 in south central and southwestern Kansas.
The 2 ½ day event began with a visit to the Cargill Innovations Center in Wichita. The facility is home to research, development, and food safety testing activities of Cargill Meat Solutions.
Mule Creek Ranch, a cow-calf operation located near Wilmore, educated the group on the importance of preventative animal health care, proper animal handling and legal identification as they vaccinated, castrated, dewormed and hot-iron branded their spring-born calves and began estrous synchronization of the cowherd. Ranch manager Kim Leeper was joined by son Cade and daughter-in-law Jody as they also discussed the significance of proper stocking rates and range management.
"This is where the quality product you serve your customers begins," stated Kim Leeper. "Thank you for helping put beef on more plates."
The Gardiner family at Gardiner Angus Ranch near Ashland explained their role as seedstock suppliers and the importance of genetic selection on end product quality. Mark Gardiner demonstrated how to artificially inseminate a replacement heifer and confirmed the pregnancy of another breeding female using ultrasound. Greg Gardiner demonstrated freeze branding and explained how individual identification is utilized in and crucial to their record keeping and herd management system.
Jeff Sternberger, manager of Midwest Feeders, led the group through the feedyard facility located near Ingalls. Sternberger discussed the importance of safeguarding natural resources and managing the environmental footprint created by feedyards and cited the numerous governmental regulations in place to ensure protection. Sternberger also discussed how cattle comfort and care are top priorities of feeding operations. He emphasized the availability of fresh feed and water, adequate amounts of pen and bunk space allowed per each animal and the daily routine utilized to check the health and well-being of all cattle at the facility. The group also viewed Midwest's feedmill and cattle processing facilities.
Larry and Becky Jones and family at JO Cattle Company near Holcomb hosted the culinary professionals for dinner and an evening of one-on-one conversations with area farmers, ranchers and cattle feeders. Chef Dave Zino and meat scientist Bridgett Wasser from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association presented the checkoff-funded Beef Alternative Merchandising program and showcased the smaller portion, lower price point menu examples of this merchandising tool.
Cargill Meat Solutions provided a tour of its beef processing and fabrication facility at Dodge City. Plant manager Tom Allen discussed the scope of products produced at the site and stressed the importance of food safety interventions in place to ensure a safe, quality end product.
Mike Lewis from Pratt Livestock at Pratt described how livestock auction markets connect cattle sellers and buyers and explained how prices of cattle are determined. The group watched a sample of Pratt's weekly sale via video.
Lastly, veterinarian Dan Thomson from Kansas State University's Beef Cattle Institute and College of Veterinary Medicine led discussions on how beef industry technologies are responsibly utilized to meet the protein demand of a growing world population. He detailed the extensive, government-required testing and approval process of growth hormones and antibiotics. Dr. Thomson also discussed the differences between animal rights and animal welfare.
"The tour was over the top," said Alan Lamoreux with the Bluegrass Hospitality Group, based in Lexington, KY. "Not everyone is fortunate enough to see firsthand the processes and progression and secondly, to meet the dedicated and committed people it takes, to bring great tasting beef from pasture to plate safely, affordably and proudly!"
Held annually, this beef checkoff-funded event is designed to expose food influencers to how beef is produced in hopes of increasing its usage and presence on menus nationwide.