On the Road with BLI
An assistant editor’s perspective of the prestigious Angus event — Beef Leaders Institute.
When I talk about what I love about working for the Angus Journal, three main things come to mind. First has to be the people — I can’t ever seem to stop myself from gushing about the very real love and passion that binds the Angus family together. Second comes the opportunity to travel to connect with the members of that family. Finally, in third (and arguably the most satisfying) comes the chance to consistently have my dinner plate filled by quality beef products.
With this list in mind, it’s likely not hard to understand why I jumped at the opportunity to travel with the 2021 class of the Beef Leaders Institute (BLI). I labeled the week as a chance to expand my knowledge as an Angus breeder and the opportunity to listen in on the stories of those whom I hope read what my team works to print behind each cover of the Angus Journal.
What I experienced was so much more than that. It was a trip of 16 individuals with exceptionally different backgrounds brought together by The Business Breed. It was a trip where I saw these cattle producers for more than just their quality herds of black-hided cattle, and got to witness the characteristics that make them unique.
Day 1: Faces to names
The event started the way most group activities do. Participants who had met before seemed to flock together, and I served as a fly on the wall during presentations led by my co-workers at the American Angus Association headquarters in Saint Joseph, Mo., snapping pictures and taking notes.
Having only been working at the office for two months at the time BLI started, I enjoyed listening to the inside scoop of the inner workings of the Association. As my co-workers spoke about their role in serving the members of The Business Breed, I could see the awe and appreciation shining in the faces of our BLI guests.
It was a feeling I understood — before I served as an intern at the Association three years ago, I had never stepped foot in the state of Missouri, let alone the building the Association calls home. I had just been a California gal who loved showing Angus cattle. While I understood there must’ve been people stationed somewhere who put in the hours to transfer registration papers and send off DNA samples I sent in, it wasn’t until I shook their hands that I truly understood how grateful I felt to those who worked at the Association.
The stoic faces of the BLI attendees finally started to crack by the end of this first day, as laughter rang out during the final presentation. As they were taught how not to send in DNA samples, the first of many jokes rang out in the meeting room.
It was at this moment that I found myself a part of the event rather than someone just looking in. Smiling and laughing alongside the 16 breeders, Monday ended with my realization this was certainly going to be a week to remember.
Day 2: Feedlot focus
After a morning of more time spent enjoying the history showcased at the Association, the groupboarded a bus to Herington, Kan., to visit Tiffany Cattle Co.
The custom feedlot is co-owned by Shawn and Shane Tiffany — two brothers who emphasize quality on the army air corps bomber base-turned cattle facility.
As Angus Media offers the Angus Beef Bulletin® to commercial-based cattle operations and I work for the Angus Journal, my work typically leads me to seedstock operations rather than feedlots.
This “bias” was reflected in the experiences and expertise of the registered breeders attending BLI. They shared the same sector of the Angus industry that I did, meaning we all found ourselves in awe of the work and the facility presented to us by the Tiffany brothers.
Shane connected the dots between each segment of the beef production chain, really putting things into perspective for breeders of seedstock cattle. It’s the genetics registered breeders promote that determine if cattle feed out to be Choice or Prime. Shane says individuals like the BLI participants serve as the foundation for livestock that make their way to the feedlot.
After the feedlot tour, our group made our way to the Little Apple Brewing Company in Manhattan, Kan., where we enjoyed the first of many Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB) meals.
One of my biggest takeaways from this trip was that a good steak, a glass of wine and a generous serving of bread pudding are the perfect way to end a day.
Day 3: The long road to Ohio
The day started out with promise. Coffee would accompany the 3:45 a.m. wakeup call, and I looked forward to dozing on the plane ride to Ohio. Within minutes, however, I found myself groaning along with the BLI participants as we learned our flight had been canceled.
I sat back with a smile on face (though I can admit I was still slightly grouchy from lack of sleep), and I watched as the 16 participants refused to give up on the remaining half of the journey. The BLI team came together and managed to talk our bus driver into making the 14-hour drive to Wooster that same day.
While I can readily admit that I would not have chosen to spend an entire Wednesday on a bus traveling cross-country, the experience allowed me to get to know the people beneath the cowboy hats.
In fact, the trip felt more like a family road trip than it did a last-minute change to a work trip.
Multiple movies graced the small television screens the bus came equipped with, thanks to a generous police officer who took one of our breeders to a Redbox near one of the gas station stops (Jordan Hunter, be glad I didn’t include the picture of you riding shotgun in the police car).
Complaints about the air conditioning in the bus rang out periodically during the day, resulting in exchanged jackets and chattering teeth until the heater became so overwhelming that the voices called once again for the colder temperature.
Competitive spirits were kindled during games created to help pass the time as the bus continued to our destination.
The 14-hour ride was not glamorous. It was not how any of us expected to spend our day. Although, it certainly made me realize why we call ourselves the Angus family.
Day 4: Behind the brand
I can preface the summary of the next two days with a confession: this was the portion of the trip I was most excited for.
I had never been to Ohio, and certainly hadn’t visited the Certified Angus Beef headquarters and Culinary Center.
Like a mythical legend passed down from generation to generation, I had heard of the great powers at work in the kitchens in Wooster, but I had yet to experience them. So despite the long day on the bus prior to our group’s arrival, I found myself barreling out of the hotel that morning.
The new day was marked with a new closeness amongst the group, and I was pleasantly surprised by the sudden requests people had of me and my camera. It seemed everywhere I turned, people were now posing for pictures, propping themselves up against welcome signs, holding coffee mugs, posing with their new CAB gear.
The positive attitudes trickled into the rest of the day’s plans. From the presentation given by CAB president John Stika to the facility tour, BLI participants never fell short in their supply of smiles and questions.
A standout was a small competition held amongst the group, where they worked to accurately identify the various cuts of a carcass as well as the additional value of each thanks to the CAB brand.
I don’t include this next part to make y’all jealous, but I do need to say that what we ate at CAB certainly exceeded expectations. I might be a writer, but I’m not enough of a food critic to write an accurate description of just how delicious the dinner we had was.
They do say that a picture says a thousand words, so I hope you drool a little at the picture-perfect plate.
Day 5: Retail reality
I found myself biting back a smile once again, as on this last day of BLI, our group spent time in front of the meat counter at a local retail store.
It was certainly easy to spot the Angus breeders as they wandered through the store. Marked by the brims of their cowboy hats and heard by the clicking of their boots on the tile floor, the cattlemen stood out clearly from the other early-morning shoppers.
Despite all of us spending a majority of our time around the animals responsible for the products laid out on the shelves in front of us, every participant seemed enamored by the aspects of retail merchandising.
From the location of different qualities and cuts of beef to the various marketing techniques and logo placements, I don’t think a single item for sale avoided an inspection that morning.
We returned to the Culinary Center for more time in the cooler, learning how to properly break down a carcass while also learning how to rock a white lab coat and hats proudly displaying the CAB brand.
Every moment with the BLI group and the CAB team further confirmed in my mind just how unique the Angus breed is. There truly isn’t anything our members won’t do to better their herd and create a better end product for the dinner tables of our consumers.
I came back home to Missouri with a newfound respect for the cattle industry. I had broadened my knowledge of the production chain, but more than that, I was reminded of what really makes this industry so special: the people.
We all come from different parts of the country. We all prefer different types and kinds of cattle. We all like different seasonings on our steaks.
Yet we all share a few key things in common. We all love what we do. We all know there is no better work than a day spent amongst fellow cattle producers. And we all know that we call the best breed — The Business Breed — home.
The Beef Leaders Institute (BLI) is designed to provide American Angus Association members insight to all segments of the beef industry.
The 2022 BLI is set for June 13-17. Open for members 24-45 years old, the annual event is limited to 20 participants. Applications are due by Feb. 15, 2022.
From more information contact Events & Education Department at the American Angus Association at 816-383-5100 or Caitlyn Brandt, Events and Industry Partnership Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more and apply.