What Do the Grocery Store and the Auction House Have in Common?

The entire beef lifecycle in one infographic. For more info visit FactsAboutBeef.com.

Each farm, ranch, or business involved in any segment of the beef community plays a unique role in ensuring safe, nutritious meat is readily available for both me and you to eat. The first part of the beef lifecycle begins on the ranch. Ranchers maintain a herd of cows who give birth and nurture a calf every year. The first couple months of a young calf’s life are spent gaining nourishment from the cow’s milk and grazing on pasture grass. When calves are about six months old and are big enough to fend for themselves, they are separated from the cow during what is considered “weaning time.” About a third of female heifers (a heifer is a female cow who has not yet given birth to a calf) will stay on the ranch for breeding purposes, while castrated male steers and all other heifers will be up for sale. Sometimes, they are sold to what is referred to as a “stocker or backgrounder” where they will continue to graze on pasture and put on more weight before moving to a feedlot. Some cattle are sold directly to the feed yard shortly after being weaned.

The majority of livestock are sold at auction. Today, it is not uncommon for weaned calves to be sold online. However, there are still hundreds of sale barns all over the United States that hold live auctions on a weekly basis. The Marana Stockyards, located just outside of Tucson, is an example of one such sale barn. For more information on the complete beef lifecycle, visit FactsAboutBeef.com.

The Marana Stockyards have been owned and operated by the Parsons family since 1992, and play a vital role in the Arizona cattle community. They auction off over 1,200 cattle every Wednesday afternoon. Summer is a slower season, but they expect to see as many as 2,000 cattle run through the sale barn each week this upcoming fall and spring. Now, that’s a lot of beef! This summer, I was able to sit down with Seth Nichols and Clay Buck Parsons, both of the Marana Stockyards, and get a feel for what goes into running a successful auction house.

Jane Nichols, Seth Nichols, Buck Clay Parsons, and Ally Parsons of the Marana Stockyards

One thing that was made very clear when talking to these two gentlemen, is that the Marana Stockyards always has their client’s best interest at heart. Both Parson and Nichols come from ranching backgrounds and understand what buyers and sellers expect. When cattle are received, they are sorted into “packages” depending on the current market demand. The packages are differentiated by a variety of factors including the number of cattle, sex, and age. The stockyard analyzes what trends are the most popular at the time in the cattle market and group animals accordingly. The end game is simple; get the most money for your cattle!

Marana Stockyards entrance.

The Marana Stockyards does their part in getting ranchers the most bang for their buck but also emphasize only so much can be done once an animal makes it to the auction house. As Buck Parsons puts it, “Getting top dollar for your cattle doesn’t start at the sale barn. It starts at the ranch itself and making cattle the most marketable they can possibly be.” Simple practices, such as vaccinating and castrating, bring a significantly higher price come auction time. Even such things as producing calm, relaxed, gentle animals go a long way and could potentially increase someone’s profits. The stockyards do their part in trying to educate ranchers on what management practices are the best and what will ultimately benefit the rancher in the end.

A bird’s eye view of the sale ring at Marana Stockyards.

While the majority of cattle who enter the sale barn are from Arizona ranchers, the animals next destination is varied. Stocker calves, who are smaller and need some more time to grow, may be headed off to a ranch, while larger weanlings are typically transported to Texas, Kansas, or Colorado feedlots. Older cows and bulls are purchased by buyers from packing houses.

The Marana Stockyards has been serving Arizona ranchers for close to 15 years. Just think of how many cattle have come through the barn in that amount of time! The stockyards  do an outstanding job of educating their clients on growing healthy animals. They continue to help better the Arizona cattle community. Both the Parsons and Nichols families are active in Arizona cattle organizations and encourage others to get involved. They know the importance of sticking together as one united community and feel that if everyone does his or her part, then Arizona beef will continue to thrive for generations to come.

Blog post by Michelle Allen, Arizona Beef Council and Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association 2016 Summer Intern.

Straight Talk on Beef’s Role in a Healthy Diet

By Shelley Johnson, R.D.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
Contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program

For decades consumers have been exposed to all kinds of conflicting information about the nutritional benefits of all types of food in the marketplace – this includes beef. Questions about food and health are often generated by emerging – and ever-evolving – science of diet and health.

Attention to nutrition began to escalate in the 1970s, when nutrition researchers captured the attention of legislators, regulators and those in a position to give dietary advice. It created an opportunity for the beef industry to deliver messages about the nutritional value of beef.

Over the past few decades, the beef industry has made progress in helping promote the use of sensible, science-based information about beef’s role in health. As a result of this straight-forward attitude, the beef industry has never been in a better position to promote beef’s positive role in the diet.  Following are encouraging updates about beef nutrition that will help set the story straight:

Following are encouraging updates about beef nutrition that will help set the story straight:

Fact: Heart-healthy diets with four ounces of lean beef can actually improve cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk. More than 20 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have showed that healthy diets containing 4-6 ounces of lean red meat, even daily, may improve cholesterol, blood pressure and weight management. The low fat diets that were once being promoted for heart health are not recommended anymore as a result of new science that examines the influence of the total diet on health.proteinbenefits

Furthermore, the fat profile of beef is frequently misunderstood. One third of beef’s saturated fatty acid is stearic acid, which has a neutral effect on cholesterol. And more than half ofbeef’s fatty acids are monounsaturated fat – the same kind found in olive oil.

Fact: Despite upward trends in obesity, as waistlines have expanded, beef intake has declined. The Meat, Eggs and Nuts category of American food consumption has increased just four percent between 1970 and 2008, while overall caloric intake has increased by 30 percent. Americans consume twice the refined grains recommended by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, and added sugars contribute 16 percent of the total calories to the American diet.

protein-challengeA related fact: higher protein diets with beef can help manage weight. Research shows that protein-rich diets that include beef support weight management. If you’d like to test this out for yourself, sign up for the 30 Day Protein Challenge at BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com.

Fact: Building a healthy diet with lean beef can be a calorie-saver and add valuable nutrients. The new Dietary Guidelines released in 2015 emphasize variety and flexibility, and recommend lean meat. By-and-large, consumers are responding, and eating beef responsibly. Current research shows that beef consumption contributes only 5 percent of the calories to Americans’ diets, while supplying more than 10 percent of the daily value for 10 essential nutrients like zinc, iron and B-vitamins.

As Americans continue to battle the obesity crisis, beef can be part of the solution as a high-quality protein source, providing more nutrients in fewer calories than many other foods. Compared to beef, it takes more than twice the calories to get the same amount of protein from beans, nuts and grains.

Fact: Scientific evidence does not support a cause-and-effect relationship between meat and cancer. Some cancer reports in the past several years have suggested there might be a link between colorectal cancer and red meat. Furthermore, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at the World Health Organization (WHO) last fall said red meat was probably carcinogenic to humans.

After the IARC results were announced, media reports generated many questions and challenges about the conclusion. A few days later, though, the WHO attempted to temper their communication about the conclusions in the report.

One reason is probably that independent reviews of these reports present a different interpretation. They assert that “the totality of the available evidence does not support an independent positive association between red meat and cancer.”

Why? Because associations were based on correlation (not causation) in epidemiologic research (the study of health and disease among populations); because about half the time, no association was found; because when they were found, associations were weak; because initial results were confounded by unhealthy diets and lifestyles; and because the evidence is weakening over time with improved research quality.


The beef industry, through its Beef Checkoff Program, is doing more than just answering these questions to help people build healthier diets with beef.

For instance, we’re showing consumers how they can pair beef with healthy grains, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy to improve nutrition profiles. Research has shown that consumers who ate more lean beef also ate more servings of vegetables. A new checkoff-funded focus, Families in Motion, is helping demonstrate that beef’s nutrient combination – zinc, iron and protein – provides essential fuel for active families, and when paired with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, beef makes a foundation of a nourishing meal. More information can be found on the “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” website.

The bottom line is that there is credible information that Americans can build better diets with beef. It’s a science-based message everyone can appreciate. beefsbig10


The Congratulatory Slap

By Dean Fish, Santa Fe Ranch Manager

Fall fair season is upon us! Many of us have family members or friends who are getting those fat steers ready for their shining moment in the ring. The way it works in your mind is that the “apple of your eye,” i.e. your kid, is leading the calf that is slapped by the judge as the Grand Champion Steer. This happens once at each county or state fair every year. The complications arise when there are multiple “apple of your eye” types entered in the fair. The more entries, the more likely that you will not get the winner’s slap.

The Grand Champion slap happened for the Fish family!

Between my son Garrett and I, we have campaigned twenty such fat steers. Between the two of us, we have gotten the grand champion slap once. Once. That’s like batting .050 in baseball. You would certainly get cut from my beloved Diamondbacks baseball team for that, although you might still be able to play for the Padres. In the interest of fair disclosure (pun intended), he had one Reserve Champion. I had three Reserve Champion steers, however, Garrett believes he is still ahead of my record because he won the “big one.” Whatever he would like to believe is fine. Three trumps two in my book and since I am writing this blog, I have the last word.

In my multiple careers as an exhibitor, parent, leader and spectator of fat steer shows I have reflected on the many, egregious ways that a steer show is lost. They fall under two main categories: dishonesty or incompetence.


A fun #FlashbackFriday: Dr. Selke, long time Livestock Judging Coach at the University of Arizona and acclaimed Livestock Judge, doing his thing Santa Cruz County Fair, home county of the Fish family.

Outright dishonesty: Somehow the judge is crooked, bribed, or somehow otherwise enticed to select your rival’s steer. It has to be. That is the only way that an obviously inferior steer shown by a less polished showman could have beat your kid, right? Even if the judge has an impeccable reputation, has judged major stock shows and trained under the leading livestock evaluators of these fine United States, he or she really took that bribe or helped a fellow breeder out by selecting another’s steer. Maybe he or she was instructed which brands or ear tags were supposed to win. If you hang around the sideline long enough, you will begin to learn all about the various, devious ways that judges can pick the “right” steer. Let’s not even start on the fitter’s culpability in this “fix.” Fitters can do all kinds of stuff from airing and pumping steers to gluing fake tailheads and flanks on calves. Of course, any number of feeding tricks are employed to make sure that the winning steer handles correctly.

Outright incompetence: Either the judge is blind, hungover, pre-hungover, tired, or under some other influence that does not allow him or her to make a rational, educated decision. If they were competent, they would have picked your steer as the champ. Otherwise, how could that crippled, yield grade 5 no-good calf from the other side of the county beat your perfect calf? What happens when they get a swine breeder to judge a steer show? Oh boy, wait until the Livestock Committee or Fair Board hears about this! It is a well-known fact that a judge who picked a Charolais steer in 2007 would never pick a black calf to win it all in 2016.

I hope that by now you realize that this is a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the market steer experience. There is not a better way, in my opinion, to instill valuable life skills in a young person than by raising and exhibiting livestock. My participation in 4-H helped to develop critical life skills that I use to this day. My son is a much better person because of the experience and knowledge he gained by showing cattle and goats. One of the most important things that we learned as a family is how to lose. I will confess that I caught myself at my first county fair soon after my son’s defeat talking to the judge. In the heat of the moment, I proclaimed to him that a “good little one beats a bad big one.” I immediately recognized that as very poor sportsmanship and apologized, but the damage was done. It was difficult to swallow my pride and admit that maybe a “good big one beats a good little one.” Regardless, the judge has a hard decision to make and a lot of times it boils down to personal preference.

A very young Garrett Fish with one of his prized goats.


I hope that you go out to your county fair, state fair or other livestock show this fall and cheer on all of the livestock exhibitors. Only one of those exhibitors is going to be truly happy, but each and every one deserve your support and encouragement. Also, take a moment to thank all of the volunteers that dedicate their time to help keep this great tradition of livestock shows thriving. Sure, it’s not perfect, but they are doing a competent, honest job of running a good show. Ribbons fade and trophies disappear over time, but the lessons learned remain.  And if you, or someone you know, gets that “congratulatory slap,” make sure that you enjoy it. Heaven, and the Fish family, knows they are rare.

Sometimes It’s Not About Beef

This week’s blog is not about beef because we know (this may shock you, so make sure you’re sitting down) it isn’t always about beef. Cathy Wilkinson, of BossCook – Comfort Food for an Uncomfortable Time, provided us with this special treat of a blog after a recent celebration took place for Lauren. Thank you to Cathy and Lauren for allowing us to share this special story. And delicious brownie recipe.

Sometimes it’s not about beef.

Sometimes it’s about sweetness, chocolate, bourbon, love, and the promise of a lifetime of commitment.

Sometimes it’s about waiting with faith, patience, and anticipation for your true, one and only love who will be at your side for the rest of your life.

IMG_2113Sometimes it’s about a lovely young woman who is kind, smart, generous, fun provoking, and wise who makes a batch of brownies for her true love and gets an engagement ring in return. Sounds like a fair exchange to me!

I only know Lauren through her work and leadership with the Arizona Beef Council, Facebook, and cooking or beef events. Many of you know her so well and so intimately that anything I write is merely confirmation of what you’ve known for a long time. I follow her adventures (in a race car with her Dad, on a horse, or speaking to the beef industry with passion and knowledge) with a smile because, well, Lauren is the kind of person who just makes people SMILE. I love that. A lot. Lauren has a gift for making people feel valued and she inspires people to be happy, to be productive, and to be better people.

When I shared my recipe for “Salted Butterscotch Bourbon Brownies” with her, we jokingly renamed them “Put a Ring on it Brownies” because they are the kind of brownie that makes a man go all weak at the knees. And, at the time, she had no idea how true that would turn out to be!


I’m thrilled Gregg loves the brownies, but, of course, it wasn’t the brownies that promted the proposal. It was Lauren. She’s one of my favorite people on the planet and I’m so honored she is a friend. I know she will become a wonderful wife, partner, and best friend to her brownie victim, Gregg. He’s one lucky, VERY lucky guy.

So in honor of their engagement and in hopes of making many more guys (or gals!) weak in the knees, here’s the recipe. But to be absolutely sure your strategy works, you should probably grill them a steak too.

“Put a Ring on It Brownies”
A box of Trader Joe’s Truffle Brownie Mix (and here you thought these were from scratch!)
2 eggs
1 stick of butter, melted
1 shot of bourbon (my choice is “Maker’s Mark”)
1/2 bag of butterscotch chips
Chunky sea salt (my choice is Maldon)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, and bourbon. Stir in the brownie mix, until just combined. Pour batter into generously buttered 8” X 8” nonstick
pan. Sprinkle with the sea salt all over the top, to preference. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Let cool for several minutes, then flip pan over onto cutting board, give the bottom of the pan a good whack to release brownies then cut into desired size pieces.
Stand back and let the proposals fly!

Sometimes (2)

Disclaimer: The groom-to-be would like to make mention that he did not ask just because of the brownies. But they did make for a delicious celebration treat.