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  • Thursday 23rd August

    Paperwork day today, went into the USDA office with Willard to get information on grading in the USA. The USDA are very proud of their system, and believe all other countries are envious of it.

    This is the end of the blog now, the last day has passed and as the report I write will cover the grading side there isn't too much to report from today.

    The people we have met here over the last 2 weeks have been very welcoming and accomodating, and have been happy to share information with me. I have learnt that the Americans are very different to the Welsh as they share all information, almost without asking whereas we play our cards slightly closer to our chests.

    I would like to thank Hybu Cig Cymru for giving me this opportunity, I hope you find my report of interest and possibly some use when it is complete.

    I would also like to thank Paul Edwards (Managing Director, Llanybydder) and Jonathan Brinie (Ag-research and development manager, Dungannon) at Dunbia for allowing me to take part in this scholarship.

    THe next part of my scholarship will be to review grading systems already in place in Europe, so I will start blogging again then.

  • Wednesday 21st August

    Another early start today, picked up at 5am and we jumped in the car with Willard and Randy and drove up to Douglas, Wyoming. A fair drive but needed to see a ranging sheep production facility.

    This couldn't be more different than the feedlot system we saw earlier in the week. Brad Boner owns an 85,000 acre ranch just out of Douglas, this means that the ranch ran for 12 miles along the road! This system is different to most of Western USA as the land is owned, very often farmers will own stock but not much land and they then claim land from the government in order to graze or harvest it. Brad also rents 15,000 acres nearer the river plane in order to grow crops for the lambs, mainly alfafa.

    Brad is a Director of Rosen mountain lamb which is the company who rent the cutting room at JBS Greeley lamb plant. Rosen mountain lamb is a co-operative group of farmers (approx 140) who got together to try and improve their lamb sales. They have been very succesful, a very forward thinking group who understand the customer needs very well. From understanding the customer well they have been succesful and have a plant in Chicago. The reason for this is that lamb is eaten more on the East coast than in the West of the USA. The co-operative had their next challenge lined up, to get retail ready packs into Walmart.

    I have visited a few Super Walmarts while I have been here and they sell everything, they are like a more powerful version of TESCO - one store even sold and fitted car tyres so they are huge. Of all the stores I have seen, not one stock lamb.

    Brad had a stocking rate of 1 ewe per 8 acres or one cow (with calf) per 40 acres, a total of 6000 ewes and 550 registered Angus cattle. The low stocking rate is because there is very limited growth, especially with the droughts they have had here this year. It is tremendously dry here. While we were driving around the ranch you could see a haze covering the whole area, this was smoke from the fires further north. The land was sandy - no soil cover at all. Some grass would grow if they got rain, otherwise the sheep would eat the sage bush they have growing here. I showed some photographs from home and they couldn't believe how green we are in Wales. It was decided that too much sun or too much rain is damaging as we both wanted some of the others weather!.

    While we were at the farm the vet came to take blood samples from the angus cattle to test for Brucellosis and Yoni's. Brad was exporting some breeding heifers to Kazakstahn later in the year so needed to have these tests done before a sale could be agreed.

    This evening we travelled back towards Loveland, but we did stop at Cheyenne, Wyoming to purchase cowboy boots - with a real cowboy!!! After this stop we stopped again at a livestock market - it was the end of the day but went in to see the sale ring in action.

    As it was the end of the day they were selling horses, by the pound, for kill - all went to a known horse slaughterhouse buyer apart from one who went to a lady to use at home. The horses were all old, or injuerd in someway. There was one I would have bought, most expensive of the day selling at $28 per lb.

    The mart was like being at Tregaron or Llanybydder - and everybody turned and staired at us as we walked in, just as we do at home when somebody new arrives!!

    Tonight we are staying at Loveland, tomorrow we are heading back into the USDA offices for more information on the grading side.

  • Tuesday 21st August

    Nice early start today, left the hotel at 6.30am and headed straight up to the JBS lamb plant at Greeley. David was unable to host us today so Willard Goad from USDA has been looking after us.

    The JBS lamb plant is the biggest lamb plant in the Western states, killing aroung 1500 a day currently but able to do about 3600 a day when busy.

    Kevin Quam who is the MD for the site gave us a tour of the factory. What was interesting about this plant is that the butchery and packing rooms are leased out to another company so JBS only deal with kill and carcasses. THe kill floor was very modern and they are the only lamb plant to have a chain running through as it is an old beef facility and has kept this feature to run the lamb side.

    Walking through the carcass fridges we again saw the large carcasses of 125 pounds, but we also saw their new season lambs which were nearer 60 pounds.

    The lamb industry in America last year saw the higest prices they have ever had, and this has been part cause of their low prices this year. Caterers took lamb off the menu and the domestic customer has stopped buying because of the price. The price of imported lamb (ie Australian), is so low that domestic production just can't compete. This has caused the price of lamb to crash for producers as nobody is buying it at the moment. Skin value has also decreased in the same way it has in the UK.

    We also had a look at the JBS beef facility which kills near 5000 head a day, at a rate of about 400 per hour. We only had chance to see the grading halls here. They grade beef when the carcass is chilled, and they cut into the rib eye to get an idea of the marbling. This is then used to calculate a yield grade for the whole carcass. This plant are using cameras alongside the graders to develop the grading technology, but still rely on human judgement for grading the animals.

    After lunch we met Randy Hammerstien who is a market reporter for USDA and he took us to visit Harper Livestock. This is a sheep feedlot business run not far from the lamb plant in Greeley. A very efficient business run by Father and Son, very well maintained. The feedlot employs 10 people for various jobs, one is to keep the water system clean, one for fence maintenance - these are both job which would take a substantial amount of time.

    Harper Livestock has a permit to hold 65,000 head but currently holds 45,000 lambs. This is a mixture old and new season. The stock are fed twice a day with a mixture of corn, distillers grains from the methan factory, have 24hour access to water and roughage. On arrival they are vaccinated and if there are any ailing animals at the lot, then they are brought out, treated (antibiotics) and kept in a sick pen for recooperation, then when better go back into the main lot.

    After this visit we went to see a beef feedlot - they had 90,000 head of cattle here, their own automated feed mill - and this was one feedlot the company owned, and not the biggest one. The stock were all very healthy looking, very content in their lots but it is strange for us to see any animals when they are not on grass!

    I will attach photos I have taken today but I am afraid they won't convey how vast these places are. I was unsure as to what my thoughts and feelings would be on seeing these massive feedlots, but having seen them the welfare systems are good, they are calm places with well looking, content stock. Very impressed.

    This evening we went to Kenny's steak house. We had steak, and it was superb, so tender and very tasty - but I am sure their ounces are heavier than ours because it seemed large for a 6oz!!

    Tomorrow we leave at 5am and head for Cheyenne and Casper in Wyoming - cowboy country here we come!!!

    Interesting points about the surrounding area:

    In 1800-1900 (ish) Colorado Springs was announced as a TB town, so sufferrers of TB would travel here as they could breathe easier due to the higher altitude having thinner air.

    The Coors factory is in Colorado, the river runs down from the Rockies and into the factory so it is all mountain water used the make the beer.

  • Monday 20th August

    Spent the day with USDA (US Department of Agriculture). David Szabo of USDA picked me up from the hotel at 8.30am and we went straight out to their head office in Lakewood, which is a suburb of Denver.

    Spent some time explaining our EUROP grid grading system and comparing it the US method of grading.

    Discussion got to the topic of the large carcasses we would later see in the plant at Denver. THese large, fat carcasses are a problem this year, weren't like it last year at all but because the lamb price has fallen so much here, farmer and ranchers are holding their stock back, continuing to feed the lambs which is really causing an even bigger problem.

    Lamb is not a meat that is eaten alot here, but there are people who do want to eat, and they want to eat high quality product, and aren't happy to buy Australian lamb, but there isn't enough here. Seems to be alot of potential for good lamb production here, but beef is by far the most important sector of the two, for farmers and ranchers.

    After lunch I was given my own grading guide and measuring probe (who needsd to buy souvenirs!!), which I later put to use at the Superior Farms Denver lamb plant.

    I will add some photos of some carcasses I have seen today, and of some cuts i have seen too, but please remember that this wasn't the case last year.

    TOmorrow morning we leave Denver at 6am and are heading up to see the grading at the JBS Swift plant in Greely, I also hope to visit the beef plant as they are next to eachother. Beef is already looking at using a camera for grading carcasses. There are a few issues with this which must be resolved before the camera is put to use.

    At Greely we will also see the lamb feedlots where stock is kept and fed before selling. We then plant to head for WYoming to meet some large lamb producers (ranches).

    Interesting points about Denver:

    The USA olympic swimmer Missy Franklin is from Denver - the Americans are all asking us about the Olympics here - they have really enjoyed it all!

    There is a shopping mall here called Cherry Creek mall, which is HUGE - just next to this mall is Cherry Creek North which is 16 blocks of shops and eateries!

    At 1 mile high, people in Denver reckon you get drunk quicker because of the altitude......I wouldn't know!!

  • Friday 17th August - last day in Davis :-(

    Greg picked me up at 8.30am again this morning and we headed down to Rio Vista to meet with Richard Hamilton from Hamiltons ranch. Larger than life character with nearly 500 head of sheep. Very much into genetics and getting a composite ram to suit the land he farms. The area is very dry, and irrigation doesn't run as far down the valley as where Richard is.

    Different crops and land management were key to the Hamiltons in the production of the bucks which would go for sale.

    They had very good knowledge on what type of lamb suited which market, and they would sort and sell accordingly in order to gain the best profit margin.

    Richard took us on a small car ferry across the Sacramento river the Ryer Island , which is a man made island that has land below sea level. Alot of vineyards here, along with orchards and stock grazing fields of crops which had been harvested.

    Coyotes are the main concern regards predators for the Hamiltons - they use various methods to deter them. The coyote is a very vicious dog looking creature.

    We were taken for a meal at Foster Big Horn at Rio Vista - which was an old bar full of stuffed animal which the previous owner had shot and brought home - ranged from elephants to coyotes.

    Greg then brought us up to Sacramento early evening, we sampled some of the steak and seafood here (good!) and had a look at Old town Sacramento - very tourist driven but kept its old character buildings.

    Flying to Denver today, ready to meet with David Szabo from USDA Monday morning.

    Other points from the day:

    Food portions here are HUGE - will be hitting the gym hard when we get back!

    The Gold rush was 150 years ago - a quiet city had been left behind, although a very pleasant city to walk around

  • Huge lambs!

    Saw carcasses today - the small bracket were bigger than we handle at Llanybydder!

    92lbs was one carcass and they showed me a ticket for a lamb at 165lbs - this one was also the fattest grade you can get!

    Due to the slow movement at the moment they have many live lambs at about 200lbs!

    Carcasses were the same length as me!

  • Thursday 16th August

    Spent this morning in the Superior Farms lamb plant which is just out of a town called Dixon (doesn't resemble Llanybydder in anyway).

    Current kill is about 1000 head per day and the cut is the same. Main customers are food service, where the big cuts are very suitable, although the size and price of the racks have been so high many in the food service have stopped stocking them and have started on cheaper cuts.

    Different types of packaging used here, including MAP packs which had 30 days life, this product was for the retail customer. Another type of packing was vac packed onto a tray, which looked very attractive and again had good life.

    Touring the plant was interesting, they were proud of the plant, and it is an employee owned plant which the managers feel is a benefit to the company for the work ethic the staff have.

    Carcasses are washed after the skins are removed, not so much for contamination as we do, but because they get dust on the carcasses due to the dry weather conditions. Grading is done differently here, but you can read my end report to learn more about that!!

    I was introduced to Lisa and Cody who work for the California Wool Growers Association and they gave a background on the lamb industry at the moment, and provided me with a fair amount of bed time reading. The wool growers association are there to help and support sheep farmers and promote the industry positively.

    This afternoon I met different heads of departments at Superior Farms HQ in Davis (this office is separate to the plant). These included some of the procurement team and head of marketing. Procurement travel far and wide to source lambs, and stock is moved around publicland for grazing at different times of the year.

    Tomorrow we are off for a farm visit before heading to Sacramento.

    Points of interest from today:

    Hot weather here, 97 F or 36 C at the end of the day, starts to cool as the sun sets, but temperature also dependent on the humidity (frizzy hair days here!!)

    Wine is a very strong industry here, Napa and Sonoma are dominant areas, but areas around Davis are also producing very popular wines.

  • 15th August 2012

    Arrived at Davis, California.

    Spent time with Greg Ahart from Superior Farms today. He took me for a drive around Davis and Dixon to give an idea of the crops grown in California. It is incredible growing land here, good soil and good weather!

    They grow crops for stock feed such as winter wheat,lupins, corn and alfalfa. They also grow tomatoes (pronounce as you feel appropriate) sunflowers, walnuts, almonds, olives and watermelon - all within close proximity to the town.

    This afternoon Greg took me to UC Davis to meet the man who looks after agriculture. He is a lecturer and farm manager. The farm is 5000 acres, yet the sheep side is very small, 200 head on 17 acres. The main part of production was dedicated to viticulture. Having said this, there is a beef facility, pig area, equine and donkey facility. The most interesting part here would be the facility they have to teach about slaughter, grading and carcass cuts.

    The University has a total of 30,000 students, 4,500 of these are agri students aiming to be vets. Majority of students are NOT from an agricultural background, mainly urban and get into farming by renting land and keeping sheep.

    Points of interest from today:
    Pests for sheep and lambs here are coyotes, mountain lions and wolves. Wolves are a protected speices, if you are found out for killing a wolf you face prison.
    TB not and issue here
    Lambs not grass fed at all
    Currently finishing lambs at 150 to 200 pounds (much heavier than usual)due to lack of demand. Lamb price is $1 per pound.

  • 14th August 2012

    Had a couple of days in the USA now so I am used to the time difference and when and when not to eat.

    Spent some time in San Francisco and from meeting and chatting to people there understand that the food scene is very in at the moment. People want to know more about their food, so what is it, what is the nutritional value, but also where is it from and how has it been treated. Animal welfare is something people are aware of when they are buying meat.

    San Francisco is somewhere where there is money in order to purchase these foods.

    Met a farmer who sells his lamb in a farmers market at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, 2 loin chops were near $20. Compared to UK meat there was a lot of intramuscular fat, but it was obvious that the fat around the chop had been trimmed.

    I struck up a conversation with a taxi driver and he wanted to know where his meat was from and wanted to know that the beast had been treated well from farm to slaughter house. He felt that as the economical situation improved people would be more interested in purchasing whole beasts with their friends to ensure the product is good and treated well.

    Some points that aren't to do with lamb:

    Cars are considered and advertised as economical when they achieve 36mpg?!
    Alot of poor in San Fran, obvious everywhere with tramps entertaining for money and collecting rubbish for recycling

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