Matt and Anne Burkholder earned their degrees at Dartmouth, an Ivy League college in Hanover, N.H., and considered jobs in Midwest cities, but the Burkholder family's diversified agriculture operation near Cozad was calling.
They returned to the family operation, and Anne, a Florida city girl, eventually became manager of Will Feed Inc.
"It took a tremendous leap of faith to give a job to a 22-year-old woman who had no background in agriculture," Ann says, referring to her father-in-law Dave Burkholder. "But he didn't give me the manager job right from the start. I went to work for $6.85 an hour, running the feed truck, scooping bunks and processing cattle."
As manager today, she still does most of those tasks.
She has made many changes at the feedyard and within the greater beef industry. One of the more recent was Will Feed signing on as Certified Angus Beef -licensed feedlot in 2008.
The feedlot recently was recognized as the 2011 CAB Feedlot Partner of the Year for operations with up to 15,000-head capacity. Matt and Anne accepted the award at the CAB annual conference in Sunriver, Ore., Sept. 20-22.
"The niche we've really tried to get into is tracing calves from ranch to rail," Ann says.
Rather than pay the costs to truck in a calf from Idaho or down South, she tapped into the local pool of high-quality genetics. "I can give a good chunk of that money to the rancher instead of putting it into freight," she says.
It's also a stress-reducer for the animals.
She started working the connections she'd made from involvement on Nebraska Cattlemen committees and the list grew. Today there are times when the yard is 100% full of Nebraska-born, age- and source-verified calves.
"We do all the little things right," Anne says. "If somebody doesn't get to the bunk that day, we make sure we get them looked at. We exercise and acclimate calves when they come in."
Exercise goes on for five to seven days. During that time they're being fed mostly prairie hay with "just a touch" of wet distillers on top and that gradually that gives way to a calf ration before they work their way through the normal feedlot formulations.
Nothing gets an implant until it's been there for 30 days. "When you implant an animal and they're under stress, your implant isn't as effective and it can impede the animal's ability to marble," she says.
Anne adds, "I want to produce something that tastes good and something that's tender. Beef is not inexpensive, so it's something that a lot of people have to sacrifice to put on the dinner table."