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Published June 25, 2011, 04:18 PM

Top grades and relationships

Nobody likes to be told that they’ve done a bad job. Think of the situation-comedy or movie scene: a junior high student has worked for weeks on a final science report or English paper, eagerly awaiting the grade. When the teacher delivers it, she shakes her head in disappointment. The young one’s heart sinks, seeing a big red “C” — or worse — at the top of the paper.

Nobody likes to be told that they’ve done a bad job.

Think of the situation-comedy or movie scene: a junior high student has worked for weeks on a final science report or English paper, eagerly awaiting the grade. When the teacher delivers it, she shakes her head in disappointment. The young one’s heart sinks, seeing a big red “C” — or worse — at the top of the paper.

As cattle producers, your feedback from the consumer isn’t as direct, but you’ve invested exponentially more time and put a whole lot more work into your final project: those steaks, roasts and hamburgers that somebody is going to eat.

Today the social media scene is abuzz with ways to get closer to those who raise food, while the ag version is just as set on answering the call. Gate-to-plate, connecting with consumers and telling your story are topics at almost every industry convention and meeting.

Those efforts are really trying to show urbanites and even non-farm rural residents where their food comes from. They’re noble and worthwhile, but as you consider this move to get closer to the consumer, you might revisit that desire to deliver something worthy of the top grade rather than disappointment.

Every expert in this arena will say you must be able to defend everything you do on your farm or ranch. You have to have a reason for doing what you do, and the way you do it.

That might take looking at your business through the eyes of a critical, possibly uninformed, but highly interested observer.

How would you answer if a mother from your community point-blank asked you, “What are you doing to ensure that you raise the kind of beef I want for myself and my family?”

It starts with your choice of genetics. You have to keep the basics, like calving ease, maternal function and weaning weight in mind, but at the beginning do you give so much as a passing thought to the end product? If you do, then you’re well on your way to building a relationship with this target demographic.

Animal care would be another big one. Everybody in production agriculture thinks this goes without saying, but the inquisitive mom would want to know that everything you do is for the wellbeing of your animals. Reviewing those could help do more than just improve your external image. Many handling practices have been shown to improve health and beef quality, and ultimately profit.

Then there are all the other day-to-day details from weaning to vaccinations to feeding.

If you get involved in ranch tours, blogging or Ag in the Classroom, it doesn’t mean that consumers will be sourcing product directly from your ranch. You won’t have to answer directly for a tough steak or a dark cutter. You will, however, become an ambassador for the industry, an industry that needs more of its members out there trying to build bridges.

The question becomes: How will you reassure them that beef producers are focused on their wants and needs?

If you live it first, your cattle will make the grade. Somewhere down the line consumers will fill out a steakhouse comment card and give your product an A+ with stars. It might have been medium-rare, but ah, you get the sweet feeling of a job well done.

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