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Hitting the quality target – 2013 Part 7

A taste bud tickling wisp of savory aroma announces its sizzling arrival just moments before delivery to the table. The knife is met with little resistance and the first juicy bite delivers the rich, buttery flavor the aroma promised.

It’s not a good steak; it’s a great steak. The kind used to celebrate a promotion or an anniversary or impress a first date. While the only ingredient is beef, producing such a decadent treat requires months, even years, of prep work. Work that starts long before the steak is delivered to the kitchen.

Tyson Fresh Meats cattle buyer Kevin Allison knows it takes good product coming in to make sure that the product leaving the process-ing facility will have the fork holder smiling. It’s his job to seek out quality cattle that won’t bring any surprises during processing. And a er more than 15 years on the job, he knows what to look for in cattle and feeders.

“When cattle do well in the feed-yard, nine times out of 10 they’ll do well in the packing house,” he says. “We want to buy cattle that have been handled and fed properly.”

Cattle that come to the bunk every day to eat, have plenty of water, are in pens with plenty of room and are overall comfortable simply do better, he says. They come into the facility hydrated and, especially with the cattle purchased from Knight Feedlot, they’re less likely to have bruises and other injuries that result in discounts as they’re handled in a calm fashion without the use of hot-shots.

Allison can also rely on the fact that Knights have fostered relation-ships with ranches that provide them with quality cattle to work with. When the reputation Salers-Angus cross cattle that make their way from Jim and Terry Wilson’s V Ranch in Thermopolis, Wyo., through the Knight background-ing and feedlot operations at Lyons, Kan., arrive at Tyson’s door, premiums, not discounts, are the norm. at’s because packer, feeder and rancher have worked together to determine a goal and all do their part to meet the expectations.

Tyson Fresh Meats has set up a grid for Knights and other Beef Marketing Group feeders to incentivize quality, convenient product coming in.

Wyoming cattle purchased through Jim Wilson continually hit the mark. Though hailing from many different ranches, the livestock are linked genetically providing uniformity in size and performance over a large group. And their collective performance has drawn the attention of not only the Knights but Tyson, too.

“We know the background on the Wyoming cattle. We like their uniformity and quality,” Allison says.

Making the grade

Success at processing startsback in the Wyoming pastures. A tight calving window and careful selection of breeding stock at the V Ranch and the ranches Wilson works with yield a truly uniform group of cattle.

“Uniformity is great for the efficiency of a facility. Once the cattle have been harvested and we are breaking them it’s great to be able to do all 800 lb. carcasses for an hour instead of a few 600 lb. carcasses, a bunch of 800 lb. carcasses and a couple 900 lb. carcasses,” Allison says.

When carcasses are all the same size they produce consistently sized cuts of beef, making for more uniform product in one box and a better end user product.

“In a lot of cases cattle brought in are commingled from a lot of sources and we get a wide variety of genetic base in those pens and variety in size and quality,” Allison says. “With groups of specific ranch calves they tend to be very consistent, very uniform, especially those coming out of Wyoming through the Knights’ feedyard.”

Uniformity is great for efficiency, but quality grade is what drives the industry. Allison is always looking for high-quality cattle that will cut Choice or Prime and that still have a cutability yield grade of one, two or three. Yield grade four and five carcasses are not desirable as theyrequire a lot of time-consuming, profit-clipping trimming.

“The Wyoming cattle are consistent and predictable in cutability and quality grades. They do a nice job on our grid and there are a lot of premiums earned on those cattle,” Allison says.

It’s a quality that has been built thanks, in part, to years of carcass data flowing back to the ranchers, allowing them to tweak their breeding programs to produce cattle that perform to the highest standards.

“A lot of these higher qualitycattle can go into niche programs such as Chairman’s Reserve Premium Beef and Certified Angus Beef programs,” Allison says. “Those cattle are great because they add value for everybody as they move forward.”

Familiarity also brings confidence and accountability when it comes to cattle handling.

“We are concerned that cattle are handled properly from the time they’re calves through the packing house. We want to be stewards of good animal welfare,” he says.

Years of building relationships between rancher and feeder and feeder and buyer allows Allison to be confident that the welfare of the Wyoming cattle purchased from Knight Feedlot has been carefully protected from the pasture through to processing.

“At Tyson we’re always workingto build and hold our relationships with the feedyards,” he says.

“We’re all striving for a betterproduct in the end and relationships like the one we have with BMG and Knights and the one they have with their supplying ranchers help get us there.”

The end result is the production of a steak that not only satisfies taste and hunger, but satiates the conscious with the knowledge that it was produced in a responsible and respectful manner.