Robert Wells and Mike Campsey stand near a holding pen on a bright December morning, watching thousands of cattle chew feed from bunks.
Today is a big day for both the men and the cattle they're surveying. It's sale day for the Integrity Beef Alliance at OKC West Livestock Market in El Reno, Okla.
Wells, Ph.D., the executive director of Integrity Beef and a Noble Research Institute livestock consultant, and Campsey, a founding member of the alliance, chat as they survey the sea of smoke- and black- colored calves.
"Do you hear that?" Wells stops and says to Campsey.
"Hear what?" Campsey asks.
"We are talking without yelling," Wells said.
Both men smile.
On most sale days, it would be impossible to hold a conversation by the feed pens without yelling. The bellowing of thousands of cattle would easily drown out any words.
Today, however, the usual ruckus of such a sizable herd has been replaced with only a few scattered bawls from the back pens. The cattle closest to the front are content to eat, because these cattle are different. These are Integrity Beef cattle.
A higher standard
Integrity Beef is a preconditioning cattle program for cow-calf producers who seek to send the best quality product into the marketplace. Through uniform and elevated standard practices, Integrity Beef producers' cattle far surpass industry standards for health, performance and behavior.
"When Integrity Beef cattle leave the ranch, they are in good health and know how to eat from a feed bunk, preparing them for a productive term in a stocker operation or feedlot," Wells said. "We can honestly tell the buyers that every one of these animals that goes through the sale maintained integrity and upheld all the standards of our stringent program."
Integrity Beef was established in 2000 by a group of Noble Research Institute agricultural consultants and is a culmination of all the best management practices recommended on a daily basis to the 1,500 agricultural producers who participate in the Noble Research Institute's no-cost consultation program.
Integrity Beef began small with a handful of select producers. Success brought interest and more participants, but membership has been reserved for dedicated ranchers like Campsey. "Integrity Beef has been heavily guarded to ensure it was about quality and not quantity," Wells said.
To ensure this focus, the Noble Research Institute agricultural consultants formed a producer panel from Integrity Beef producer members to receive input for the direction of the program. The panel has now evolved into a board of directors who are the primary decision makers for the alliance.
Over the past 11 years, the program has grown steadily, and Integrity Beef became its own nonprofit organization this fall.
The program is also now more widely available to those who meet a set of standards and receive approval by the board of directors. Current requirements include specific calf, cow and bull criteria; following the Integrity Beef herd health program; and being an active participant in the Noble Research Institute consultation program. "The board believes that one of the biggest advantages of being in the program is the affiliation with the Noble Research Institute and the consultation process they get out of it," Wells said. "It constantly challenges them to think about new things and new ways of looking at the industry."
The higher standards and extensive preconditioning equate to higher levels of profitability.
Producers in Integrity Beef can participate in a commingled calf sale at OKC West Livestock Market each year. As part of the sale process, all Integrity Beef cattle are first simultaneously delivered to the sale facility, separated by sex and breed type, divided into weight groups, and then formed commingled into uniform drafts.
Buyers request the most uniform drafts to take to feedlots and stocker operations. The Integrity Beef program has been able to provide just that.
Before Integrity Beef, Campsey could easily spot his cattle at auction. On this day, he sat with Wells in the stands watching a draft that contained some of his cattle.
Wells leaned over and asked Campsey, "Can you spot your cattle?"
"Yes," he said. "But only because of that blue ear tag. Otherwise, I'd have no idea."
Both men smiled because they know premium uniformity means a world of difference.
The 2012 Integrity Beef Alliance sale averaged 14 percent higher sale values than commodity cattle sold in the same weight class at the same sale.
"The program is a benefit for both the producer's bottom line and the integrity of the cattle industry," Wells said. "Integrity Beef truly lives up to its name."