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How Many People Owned Your Steak Before You?

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Let's talk about the steps in the Beef Chain versus the significance of the Truly \ Beef - "Birth to Butcher" model. How many changes of ownership does a cow go through before ending up on your plate? To understand why our “Birth to Butcher” system is unique and so attractive, you need to understand the mainstream alternative first. The beef industry is a complex and diverse system and commodity beef found at the grocery store goes through a minimum of 6 exchanges of hands before ending up on your plate.


Steps in the Beef Chain #1 - Cow & Calf Producers:

These are the ranchers with the mama cows. They are usually located in an area with a lot of grassland and pasture like the south/central/northern plains, and the midsouth/southeast US, or even Hawaii. Once a year, their cows will give birth to a calf. These cattle producers make sure the cows are well fed and that a calf is born healthy. Calves stay at the cows' side, grazing and nursing, until weaned around 6 months of age or when they reach approximately 500-600 pounds, and then are sold at local auction to a Stocker Operation. #2 - Stocker Operation: Stocker Operations buy weaned calves at auction and raise them until they are large enough to go to a feedlot. They may sort them into groups by weight and teach them how to eat out of feed bunks. They can be located about anywhere in the country but are usually close to a source of cattle. Cattle may be purchased directly from the cow/calf producer or at a sale barn where they are organized at a local auction. These larger groups of cattle weighing 800-950 lbs will be sold to a feedlot. #3 - The Feedlot: Feedlots purchase groups of cattle to add weight. They are fed a variety of feeds to take the animal from the 800 lb weight to their “finish weight”, somewhere around 1300 lbs per animal. The feedlot will own these animals for 120-150 days. Occasionally, a feedlot may buy them as weanlings and put them on feed for 280 days. Feeds might include silage (chopped corn plant), grains, protein sources, hay, etc. Feedlots are typically located near areas of high grain production, or sources of animal feed such as the Midwest, plains states. These feedlots sell cattle directly to a buyer for the Meat Processor. #4 - Meat Processor: Processors are the slaughter facility where animals are butchered and packaged. 35 million cattle are processed into about 26 billion pounds each year by 60 major processors. There’s an oligopoly of meat processors known as The Big Four: JBS, Tyson, National Beef, and Cargill. These four companies account for about 80% of all the beef processed in the US, but two of them are foreign owned companies with interest in foreign beef. (I’ll talk about that later) #5 - Warehousing & Distribution: These are the cold-storage facilities that link the meat processor and the retailer. They are often owned by the meat processor themselves. Products are coordinated and shipped to retail outlets. #6 - Retail: You’ll recognize these businesses as restaurants, grocery stores, delis and caterers. **Side Note: Technically, every time cattle are loaded on a truck and transported to another buyer, ownership is temporarily transferred to the truck driver who assumes liability while the cattle are in his/her care. But I didn't feel that was a significant enough change of ownership to really include it.


How many times does Truly \ Beef change ownership before it ends up on my plate?? NEVER. Truly \ Beef is a genuine farm-to-table operation in its truest form. Never once does our beef leave our ownership and oversight, literally from "birth to butcher"! #1 - We are Cow & Calf Producers: We have been cow & calf producers since 1887,

and have been perfecting our herd genetics ever since. We NEVER source our beef

cattle from other ranches. #2 - We Raise our Own Beef Herd: We are our own Stocker Operation and keep back a

limited number of calves every year to raise for another year as beef cattle. #3 - We Finish Our Cattle in the Pasture: We offer two finish types for our customers to

choose from: “barley-finished” beef and a 100% grass-finish. We NEVER confine our

cattle to small spaces. Our cattle have access to large, biodiverse pastures full of

native grasses, legumes, and other forages for their entire lives. #4 - We Are USDA Meat Processors: In 2020, Taylor and I opened our own USDA Meat

Processing Plant. When our beeves are ready for harvest, they never change

ownership or travel long distances. And unlike The Big Four, our meat processing plant

is 100% locally owned and operated, supports over 25 employees and is the lifeblood

of our community, serving hundreds of meat producers and thousands of consumers

nationwide. #5 & 6 - We Distribute & Retail Our Beef: We store, deliver & retail our beef ourselves to

wonderful customers such as yourselves as well as to many restaurants in Wyoming.

Taylor, Jack & Cathryn Kerns, Owners & Founders of USDA meat processing plant, Western Heritage Meat Company, with plant manager, Brian McGuire inside the dry-aging cooler. Photo by Mayzie Purviance Cremer in March of 2021 for Western Ag Reporter.


What’s Wrong With Commodity Beef?

  • Lose Quality: Beef is just as complex and unique as wine. But you lose everything that makes that beef unique when it changes ownership so many times. You lose the traceability, the story, the quality, the health & genetic history. Instead you get a very bland, mediocre, “it-all-tastes-the-same” product with a cloudy history.


  • Environmental Footprint: Cattle are GREAT for the environment, but the Commodity Beef Chain is a large network, and beef often travels a LONG WAYS many times before making it to your plate. The environmental footprint can be huge.


  • 1 Burger, 1000 Animals: It’s common practice with the Big Four Meat Packers to throw all the trim from all the animals into the grinder to make ground beef. This means that 1 pound of burger can have the meat of up to 1000 beeves in it.


  • The “Fresh-Never-Frozen” Marketing Scam: It’s not profitable or efficient for the Big Four Meat Packers to dry-age meat, a traditional practice that brings out tenderness and enhances the natural flavor. So instead, they “wet-age” their commodity beef, meaning as soon as the beeves are killed and the carcass is cold, they cut into steaks and the meat “ages” in the packaging.


  • Misleading Labeling: “Organic” does not mean that animal had quality care and a good life. And “Product of the USA” only means the beef was processed in the USA. With two of the Big Four being foreign owned companies, a good portion of our USA raised beef is exported overseas for more money and cheaper beef from South Africa to Argentina and everywhere in between is imported to the USA and sold as a “product of the USA” because of where it was processed. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to try beef from all over the world, just like I’d love to sample wine from all over the world, but don’t lie to me about what it is!


  • Foreign Standards Vs. American Expectations: How closely do the medications, feed and care standards in each country align with those of the US? Until there is COOL (Country of Origin Labeling), we will not be able to distinguish the source of our beef in the commodity beef system.


  • The Meat Packer Oligopoly Destroying the Family Ranch: The Big Four meat packers and their oligopoly are industry price setters. They can literally gather around a table and make decisions about what they will pay for beeves that year, and the consequent chain of payments trickles down to us ranchers at pennies on the dollar. To give you an idea, a 2017 Wyoming Census showed that Wyoming ranchers were living AND operating on a 2% profit margin. Put that to 2017 cattle prices, and Wyoming ranchers profited $16 per head (per cow). How many cows would you need just to pay your electric bill? And how much land would you need to sustain those cows? According to the USDA, 40% of family ranchers have gone out of business since 1980. Why? Because we aren't making living wages with the traditional market! Friends, when I say that your support of Truly \ Beef is making a difference for our family and changing the beef industry, I'm not kidding. Our family would not be ranching today if we hadn't diversified our business with cattle drives, farm-to-table beef, our processing plant, AND without your support! So THANK YOU!


Would you prefer to know everything about where your beef came from?? We can tell you...

  • When it was born

  • Who its mother is

  • Who its grandmother is

  • Who the fathers are (we let our bulls handle the birds & the bees)

  • What it ate

  • Where it lived its whole life

  • Its health history

  • Who processed, cut and packaged it

  • That it was expertly dry-aged for 14-21 days

  • Your burger is a single source burger (meat from 1 animal only)

  • There’s no BS labeling

Truly Beef. Simple. Pure. Delicious. Nutritious. I feel 10,000 times more confident nourishing my family with when I know everything about the food I serve! But, you tell me! Of the two options, Commodity Beef or Truly \ Beef, what would you prefer? I would love to hear your thoughts. Joyfully, Cathryn Kerns



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