In early September, the Colorado Cattlemen's Association launched a consumer-facing campaign to promote the benefits of beef, followed the next day by a producer-oriented field day that highlighted production technology sophisticated enough to rival anything being used to manufacture imitation meat products.
Together with the Colorado Livestock Association, CCA officially launched the Better With Beef campaign at the National Western Stock Show complex in Denver on Sept. 4. The promotional campaign includes a Twitter handle and educational website detailing the industry's economic impact and up-to-date peer reviewed research clarifying beef's positive sustainability record.
Headlining the kickoff event was none other than Governor Jared Polis, who set off alarm bells at an agriculture department event last month when he compared new generation plant-based burgers to hemp and blockchain and urged department staff to brainstorm how they could be part of the exciting new trend.
At the launch party, the governor pledged to "make sure that at the end of the day farming and ranching isn't just a storied part of Colorado's history, but an important, dynamic, and growing part of Colorado's future," and emphasized his commitment to supporting market development and expanding beef exports.
The following day CCA hosted a ranch gathering near Ft. Morgan, where ranchers had a chance to learn about the latest technologies available to improve genetic selection and benchmark their businesses.
The event was held at Yearous Cattle Company, run by brothers Duane and Kent Yearous, and co-hosted by Colorado State University.
In a nod to both innovation and tradition, the educational sessions were held in the same building on the ranch where annual bull sales are conducted by video auction and next to a renovated farmhouse where the Yearous' grandparents once lived.
One attendee, Kevin Greiman, said he had heard firsthand about the governor's infamous ag department visit from his daughter, who works at the office in Bloomfield.
Now retired from the medical field but still serving on a bio-safety committee at the University of Colorado, Greiman said most consumers are unaware of how technologically sophisticated the beef industry has become.
"The technology is advancing so quickly," he said. "I equate it to the medical field. It is constantly progressing."
Beef production is mostly a hobby for Greiman, who lives at Golden. When his dad was ready to sell his cows but couldn't bear to part with bloodlines he'd been developing since the 1950s, Greiman bought the herd and moved it from Iowa to Colorado.
But like most producers, he was serious about looking for ways to improve his management approach. One of his goals was to transition away from buying and maintaining his own herd bulls to using more artificial insemination instead.
Equally enthusiastic about the education and networking opportunities was Brad Yoder, owner of a landscaping business in neighboring Wiggins. After starting out with just two Angus cows five years ago, he has built up his herd to 32 head.
"I think I could learn a lot just by sitting down and talking with this guy for awhile," he said, gesturing at John Longacre, a gregarious fellow attendee from a nearby ranch that has been in continuous operation for more than a century.
The producer networking was interspersed with educational sessions. Dan Moser, president of Angus Genetics Inc., started things off by discussing the latest genetic selection tools.
He told the gathering that half of all cattle registered within the Angus breed are now DNA tested to improve performance prediction capabilities.
Genomic data improves the accuracy of expected progeny differences, or EPDs (a popular selection tool used by the industry since the 1970s) by indicating which ancestors in an animal's pedigree had the most impact on its actual genetic makeup.
By comparison, traditional EPDs weigh background performance as if all the animals in the pedigree are expressed equally, which is seldom the case, Moser explained.
The technology also helps project what type of calves prospective herd bulls are likely to throw, even if they have yet to sire any offspring.
Breeders are continuing to measure and score a growing list of traits, everything from foot health and docility to altitude tolerance or hair shedding (a characteristic valuable to ranchers who raise cattle in southern climates.)
"We are measuring more traits all the time, but that can be overwhelming, so we're trying to simplify that a little bit with combined indexing," Moser said.
Combined indexes group together multiple relevant traits into broad categories that represent specific areas of emphasis, such as pre-or-post weaning performance, feedlot and carcass traits or mothering ability.
Bobby Strecker, a regional sales team leader with ABS Global, explained how cattlemen can used sexed semen to fine-tune the selection process even more.
Sexing is done by staining semen cells with a dye and then sorting them, which results in an 85 percent probability of getting the desired gender, Strecker said.
Conception rates are lower on sexed semen, but Strecker said it has improved to where it is now about 85 to 90 percent of conventional semen.
Since sexed semen costs more, Strecker suggested using a combination of sexed and conventional semen, targeting the sexed semen to cows in standing heat rather than using it in a mass-mating situation where conception rates tend to be lower.
One way to make the most of sexed semen, he added, is to identify the best maternal cows in an operation and use sexed semen to get replacement heifers from those cows.
Yearous had a plan of his own, saying he intended to inseminate his larger framed, heavier milking cows with sexed male semen to get a line of bulls to market specifically for producing calves for the terminal market. Female replacements from those cows would be poorly suited to the limitations of the Eastern Colorado environment, he said.
Ryan Rhoades, a beef specialist who previously worked for the King Ranch in Texas before joining CSU Extension three years ago, was also at the meeting to introduce ranchers to a new benchmarking program that allows cow-calf producers to compare their performance with other ranches across the state.
Total Ranch Analysis for Colorado, or TRAC, builds on similar work being done in other states, including the Kansas Farm Business Management Association, which has been collecting thorough, useful production data for many years.
Rhoades said it was a big step forward to have a program tailored specifically to the cow-calf industry in Colorado.
He will give another presentation on it at the next CCA ranch gathering, planned for Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Jay Slash Bar Ranch near Durango.