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Corner on Quality

Five Angus families recognized with Certified Angus Beef® awards.

Angus producers from coast to coast quietly do their best to bring high-quality beef to the table. That goes on every day. Once each year, the Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) brand honors a few at the top of their game.

This year’s five CAB producer award winners were recognized at the brand’s Annual Conference Sept. 22-24 in Tucson, Ariz.

Abbie and Mark Nelson’s Five Star Land & Livestock, Wilton, Calif., earned the 2016 CAB Ambassador Award for their outreach to the public. State legislators and lobbyists, journalists, Rotary members, eighth graders, politicians and friends always leave the ranch knowing a lot more about the beef community and this family that embodies it.

On top of everything else they do — growing the herd, maintaining a business and keeping together a growing family with nine grandchildren — the Nelsons are never too busy to stop and answer a question or two.

Winning the Progressive Partner Award was the Backus Quarter Circle U Ranch. Chuck Backus, a nuclear engineer and college provost who took up ranching in the high desert east of Phoenix, has made great things happen with his cow herd and greater community. Innovation advanced a herd of nearly 400 cows from no CAB qualifiers 10 years ago to 95% today — and most of those Prime.

Backus has selected cattle that thrive on “22 square miles of rocks, cactus and mountains that we call pastures,” and they keep getting better.

Backus the engineer uses data and genomic tools to add the highest feed efficiency to his premium beef goals, while Backus the teacher plans new ways to share results with others. Where many would not have dreamed such achievements possible, he simply says, “We still have a long way to go.”

Riverbend Ranch received the Seedstock Commitment to Excellence Award. Frank and Belinda VanderSloot and longtime ranch manager Steve Harrison reflect many years of developing genetics that work for every customer from the commercial ranch to the consumer. Although primarily a seedstock business, Riverbend also has a commercial herd, stockers and cattle on feed. The team knows each segment and designs cattle that work best for everyone.

Starting with a foundation of great mother cows chosen one at a time, the ranch based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, kept improving by selecting for maternal abilities, performance at the feedyard and consistently great beef. When an animal leaves the ranch, each one on the team knows it represents them, and that’s what drives their decisions.

Receiving the Commercial Commitment to Excellence Award, Shawn and Jen Christensen’s Springvale Ranch at Hot Springs, Mont., carries on a family commitment. They use feedback from valued partners up and down the supply chain to make cow herd improvements. Christensen individually matches each cow to the best sire for satisfying demand from pasture to cattle feeder to consumer.

Through studying data and genetics, he’s learned to produce consistently high-quality cattle. Fifteen years ago they reached 71% Choice, with 25% CAB acceptance. Today very few miss the Choice mark with 65% CAB. Carcass weights increased 73 lb., with a younger calf crop, while mature cow weight did not change.

“He’s always thinking and always evaluating and looking for ways to improve his genetics and his management, too,” says Ben Eggers, Sydenstricker Genetics, Mexico, Mo. “Kind of a student of the Angus breed, really.”

Poky Feeders, Scott City, Kan., received the Feedlot Commitment to Excellence Award. Since its founding in the 1980s, manager Joe Morgan and staff have transformed their company into a huge, but family-oriented business dedicated to the people side and premium-quality beef. Sales on behalf of 300 customers last year included nearly 45,000 Angus cattle accepted for the CAB brand, enabling 13 million pounds of product sales.

Their dedication to customers shows in limiting ownership by the company to only the few highest-risk pens. From the start, Morgan says, “We figured that to grow, it was going to be more and more important to do the right things. It was going to make us more successful and our customers more successful.”

To read individual stories on each of the award winners, see the October 2016 Angus Journal, available at

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