Beef Industry

A fast-moving late winter wildfire burned acres of grassland and destroyed miles of fencing at the Kirk Ranch in Clark County, Kansas.
Bryan Thompson / for Harvest Public Media

Gena Kirk did not realize the largest wildfire in Kansas history was closing in on the Kirk Ranch on March 6 until she got a call from her brother-in-law. After realizing that her herd was in danger, she jumped into her pickup and sped up the hill where several of her cattle were grazing.

As she herded her cattle onto a green wheat field that would not burn as easily as nearby dry grassland, winds gusting to 60 miles an hour fanned the flames quickly in her direction.

File: Stephanie Paige Ogburn for Harvest Public Media

It started on March 17 with raids on meatpacking plants in Brazil, one of the world’s largest exporters of beef. Federal police carried out the sting, which left two of the country’s biggest beef companies standing accused of egregious food safety violations.

Student research technicians Brandon Stewart and Rob Fenton test samples as part of a study on E. coli.
Jack Williams / For Harvest Public Media

When the dangerous organism known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli gets into the food system, it can be deadly. 

That’s why more than 50 researchers at 18 different institutions are hoping to find ways to identify and wipe-out the strain in beef, as part of a major USDA-sponsored study. The $25 million project began in 2012 and was recently extended for at least another year.


On a brisk and busy January morning at the Oklahoma National Stockyards, cattle arrive for auction in trailers pulled by pickup trucks — and leave in double-decker cars towed by semis.

A ranch foreman unloads a trailer of Red Angus to winter in a pasture near Alva, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A federal investigation has been launched into the alleged embezzlement of $2.6 million by an employee of an obscure state board that promotes the beef industry, money created by a mandatory government program funded by farmers and ranchers.

Expansion in the country’s beef cattle herd is bringing cheaper meat prices to the grocery store just in time for the summer grilling season, but those reduced prices might get some scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

A slaughterhouse is a safer place to work than it used to be, but data gathered by federal regulators doesn’t capture all the risks faced by meat and poultry workers, according to a new government report.

We all learned it as kids: Old MacDonald has a farm and on that farm he has a cow that says “moo.” But why? Why do cows moo?

Whenever I’m out reporting in the field I can tell many ranchers have a powerful connection with their cattle – they can almost understand them. But researchers today are trying to figure out exactly what cows are saying.

I drove out to the beef research farm at the University of Missouri Columbia to meet cattle geneticist Jared Decker and ask him: What’s in a moo?

Missouri’s beef producers roundly rejected a proposal that would have forced them to pay an extra dollar for every head of cattle they sell.

Some in the beef industry wanted to add the fee to create what’s called a state beef checkoff – a fund meant to promote Missouri beef and beef research.

Nearly 75 percent of the beef producers that voted in a state referendum by mail rejected the proposal, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. In all, 6,568 valid ballots were returned, the department said.

On a cold windy morning, Kelly Nissen feeds the cows at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm north of Ames. Far from just tossing hay, he weighs out specific rations and carefully delivers them to numbered feed bunks.

“When you’re feeding, you’re always double-checking yourself to make sure it’s going in the right lot,” Nissen says.

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