COVER STORY: By the horns
BISMARCK, N.D. - The Alvin Braun family is poised to take on the branded beef business by the horns. In the past six months, the Bismarck, N.D., cattle-producing family has established a retail store in Bismarck and has purchased a kill plant in ...
BISMARCK, N.D. - The Alvin Braun family is poised to take on the branded beef business by the horns. In the past six months, the Bismarck, N.D., cattle-producing family has established a retail store in Bismarck and has purchased a kill plant in Harvey, N.D., where they're handling their animals as well as custom cutting.
All this is new for Alvin, who was raised on a farm and ranch six miles east of Bismarck.
From German and Germans-from-Russia stock, Alvin just turned 47 years old. He had two older sisters and one younger sister. He graduated from St. Mary's Central High School in 1978 and immediately joined his father, Adam, on the farm.
In those days, the family hade 230 head beef cows and 1,000 acres of cropland. Today, he's expanded that to 400 head of cows, and he's added some pasture.
"Dad, at one time, had registered Herefords," Braun says.
As time went by, he put Angus bulls on Herefords, and then on black replacement heifers, so the Angus side of the genetics expanded. By the late 1970s, the cattle primarily were Angus.
As time went by, Alvin gravitated to the care of the cows and his father specialized in the grain farming. In 1983, Alvin incorporated the farm and made it Braun's Angus Inc., and that made it easier and more comfortable to transfer ownership as his father retired.
From cattle to meat
About eight years ago, Braun perceived he wasn't being offered what he expected in the marketplace for his calves, so he decided to retain ownership in a feedlot.
He started placing calves at a feedlot near Washburn, N.D., owned by Clark Price. He retained ownership on fall-born calves and put them into a feedlot near Carrington, N.D., run by Audie Bacca at Bacca Cattle at the site of the old sale barn north of Carrington.
"Over the past couple of years, as we've had calves go to a finish plant in Dakota City, Neb., we always got a premium for top-quality calves. I started to wonder why that meat couldn't stay here and be sold," he says.
With that conviction, he explored an idea - his own logo and brand name. He and Juanita judged that with population changes in North Dakota, there were fewer people with direct access to North Dakota-produced meats than in the past, and this was an opportunity.
In January, Braun decided to go full-course toward getting a retail store. From his 400 cows, he'll produce 400 calves. A small number of calves are sold annually as half-blood heifers and bull calves in a production sale, but the rest go to Bacca's feedlot and then to Harvey, N.D., where Central Dakota Beef Cooperative ran a kill plant. The plant originally was built as a Halal beef processing plant, to provide meat for Muslims, but it faltered after 9/11 and has been reorganized a couple of times.
The Brauns opened the retail store - North Dakota Branded Beef - June 8 at 3120 E. Broadway in Bismarck, N.D. When Alvin started offering input to the Harvey management about quality concerns, the co-op offered to sell the plant. Alvin and Juanita thought about it for a month before deciding to make a bid.
"We decided that if we wanted our store to continue to survive, that (Harvey) plant needed to survive," Braun says.
The Brauns started some interim management of the Harvey plant July 10, and the sale was completed Sept. 1 through First State Bank of Harvey. They named it North Dakota Branded Beef & Pack L.L.C.
Alvin expects good results for the business as a sole proprietorship than a group project.
"I'm not afraid of asking other people if I don't know how to do something," he says.
The Brauns hired Dan Firth, from the previous management, as a production supervisor. They hired Bill Cohee of Streeter, N.D. The business employs about 30 people.
By mid-November, Braun says production had been up 60 to 70 head a week. About 15 to 20 of those are from Braun's own cattle, with the rest custom.
Braun says times have changed and demand has changed.
"Customers today are more focused toward branded products," Braun says. "They want to know where the product is coming from. If the government won't do COOL (country-of-origin labeling), the consumer will ask for it."
The Harvey plant also is handling some bison.
"With the resurgence of the bison industry, there is a demand for bison products and branded beef to be done by the specialty plants like we are."
Some of the plant's bison production is for Cook's Bison of Illinois.
Braun says he can't be pessimistic and running a business. He was awarded an Agricultural Products Utilization Commission grant for marketing at the store.
"We have a good product and good facility. The demand is ripe," Braun says. "It's a matter of finding the right people in the right places."
North Dakota Branded Beef & Pack L.L.C. can be reached at (701) 324-2886 or at email@example.com .