North Dakota farm family rebelling against traditional way of marketing

Connie Sieh Groop
Special to the Farm Forum

An idea grew from a dream to a rebellion for a cattle family in the area around Havana, ND.

Lacey Block created Ranchers Rebellion Beef Company, LLC, to help other producers around the area move their beef to a retail line as well to diversify and generate more income from their operations.

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“This is a crazy time to be doing business so hopefully this virus moves out soon,” she said. For Lacey and her family, it is frustrating to raise quality beef and then not realize a significant return.

“The traditional way beef is brought to the table is not working anymore; someone is making a whole lot of money and it isn’t the cow/calf guys, the backgrounders or the feedlot operators,” she explained. “As a rancher I know for a fact every rancher I have ever met or I will ever meet raises the best beef in the world! It is time to take back our industry and diversify. Ranchers are smart, we can impact how people get our beef in a way more positive than we do. I know if my boys are going to make it as 7th generation independent cattle producers, our ‘normal way’ of selling bovine has to change and I have changed it. My love for raising cattle runs in my family for over 100 years. I believe our current generation has a future in agriculture; it’s just now a necessity to diversify our income.”

Lacey said, “I spent the last couple years trying to come up with ideas. For those who wanted beef directly off the farm, we’d haul the animal to the locker plant and then sell quarters. I had a good response from people. The way the cattle industry is changing, it’s been a real struggle. I never imagined it would not be positive to be a rancher. I knew there had to be a way to do it better.”

This process allows Lacey to pay producers more on the backside with a reasonable price for consumers. Lacey hopes to market beef from 100 critters through coolers and online this year.

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The couple works together to make their operation work. Drew Smith grew up raising cattle at Havana and Lacey grew up at Lake City. Drew focuses on raising the animals while Lacey does the marketing. They have a mixed cow herd with Gelbvieh bulls providing consistent quality. “The calves provide impressive meat quality and are processed at Oakes, ND, plus I’ve had to add another processor. The kids help. Reece, my 4-year-old, loves to bottle feed the calves; 12-year-old Dane is a better cow-hand than I am. They are both excited to be helping. It is rewarding to raise my kids this way.”

Production started the first part of March and meat is now available at the stores and through mail-order or delivery. The meat is hormone-free, from pasture-raised, grain-finished yearlings. The biggest obstacles is the kill-capacity at the local facilities. But everything is in line and moving ahead.

She sells by-the-pound packages processed at a USDA plant and distributed to freezers she owns in retail outlets such as Cliff’s One-Stop in Britton, Kwik Stop in Forman, One Stop in Gwinner, ND and added Bucks C-store on I-29 this week. With social distancing, the sales at the C-stores have slowed as people aren’t going out. For now, Lacey added local deliveries and offers online nation-wide shipping.

Lacey said in November, she really started digging into the process. She checked with the United States Department of Agriculture to follow the steps to direct sell cuts of beef in her own coolers in local retail stores. “It’s a last ditch effort to continue on with what will be the seventh generation (with my son) of cattle production. With so many generations in the business, we have a real sense of pride with why we are doing it. We want it to pencil out for us.”

The bad light thrown on agriculture and the packing companies taking the profit, frustrates Lacey, leaving little for the producers. “I’m hoping this will take off and be positive for us.”

With Country of Origin Labeling not in place, customers picking up packages of meat in the stores are not sure where their beef originates. In conversations with people, others have found it hard to find processing plants with USDA inspectors.

In the past, she’s sold 10 quarters of beef a year. Through Ranchers Rebellion, “I have my own label and use my own processors. There is a demand from U.S. ranch-raised beef. This gives me the ability to sell the high quality beef on a per pound basis. When we sell cattle at regional markets, we’re far from breaking even. We need a more sustainable outlet and Ranchers Rebellion provides that. Everyone should have the right to have high quality beef at an affordable price.”

Early on, Lacey talked to the manager at some convenience stores who listened to her proposal and he indicated that he believes in what she’s trying to do. “He told me it would add value to his stores. That encouragement affirmed that I was on the right track. That was months ago as I wanted to make sure it sounded workable at the retail level before I proceeded. It was a good feeling to know I was on the right track.”

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Her idea or “rebellion” has been well received. “I have been busy taking calls from other ranchers all over the country looking to change their operations and pull their cattle out of this nightmare of an industry and try another approach. It’s been an emotional investment to hear from other producers who are trying to make a go in the industry. Farm-raised beef is in high demand but people need help in dealing with people to sell their beef. I tell them I can do this; you keep raising the cattle.”

To learn more, call (701) 680-3976 or go to https:/ranchersrebellion.com

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