Direct-to-consumer beef business Dakota Angus establishes a future.
By Kylee Kohls Sellnow
With posterity in mind, the Bruner and Wendel families looked for a processor to harvest, inspect and grade their high-quality Angus cattle. They would sell directly to consumers through Dakota Angus, LLC.
“It’s hard these days for a farm or ranch to support one family or multiple families at that,” Ashley Bruner says. “In rural America, if we want it to make a turn and grow again, we need to give opportunity to the next generation. Diversifying and adding Dakota Angus to our lineup gives our kids an opportunity to come back someday.”
Pilot partners in the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) Ranch to Table program, these North Dakota families took some of the market volatility into their own hands in April 2022.
The leap of faith now diversifies their income with high-quality beef options for their communities.
As seedstock producers, Bruner Angus Ranch, near Drake, and Wendel Livestock, a couple hours to the southeast at LaMoure, North Dakota, were focused on raising herd sires and replacement heifers for customers. Now they sell their finished cattle, as well as those of their customers, through Dakota Angus.
That partnership earned the 2023 CAB Progressive Partner award, and the two families were recognized in September at the CAB Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Data is Power
Shane Wendel is the numbers guy of the joint operation. With grid marketing data going back over 25 years, CAB and Prime have been constant targets.
The last load of steers made 76 percent CAB, including 65 percent Prime this spring.
Angus programs proved progress for the Wendels.
“We have huge amounts of data now, and data is power, innovation and value,” Shane says. “Certified Angus Beef is a great example of how many pounds are sold, records that keep being broken and consumers still demanding more.”
With data to back up his brother Mike’s high-performing genetic and management decisions, Shane had confidence in grading their own cattle on a smaller scale to start marketing them direct to consumers and close the loop in capturing 100 percent of the value.
But he needed to find a partner in The Business Breed who shared his vision and energy.
It didn’t take long for Travis and Ashley Bruner to say “yes” to Dakota Angus.
“Both of our families operate on high integrity, and we have strengths and skillsets that complement each other to make us a great team,” Shane says. “That’s what makes the Bruners a great partner.”
Closely aligned herd goals help explain the perfect fit.
Mike Wendel and his sons focus on foot scores, marbling and heifer longevity EPDs (expected progeny differences) in breeding decisions for their 500-cow herd. Embryo transfer plays a large role in their genetic program.
“When you’re working from conception to consumption, you really can’t veer very far from any one trait,” Mike says. “Everything from maternal to growth to carcass all have to be incorporated in a very moderate, conservative direction.”
Travis’s focus is on the 500-cow registered Bruner Angus herd and the two bull sales they host annually, selling 150 herd sires to commercial cattlemen.
They know their customers rely on those bulls to sire replacement females and raise calves that pay and weigh up.
“We’re always paying attention to feet and udders, docility and do-abilty,” Travis says. “As our business has grown, we are using carcass EPDs to have more well-rounded cattle, too.”
A Relationship Business
After the two families decided to launch Dakota Angus, they knew they wanted to incorporate the brand, to help inform consumers about differences in beef quality and value.
“We’re confident in the product we have,” Ashley says. “But the confidence we have with Certified Angus Beef behind us means so much more. And the more that we can talk to people and engage them with what we’re doing as producers and beef suppliers, the better it is for all beef.”
In the last 12 months, they’ve harvested more than 80 head in a federally inspected facility two hours from the Dakota Angus ranch store north of Drake. Federally grading every carcass lets them sell their beef by quality grade, allowing more accurate pricing for each pound.
Frozen halves, wholes and retail cuts sell in vacuum-sealed package out of the walk-in freezer the Bruners built in their garage-converted meat shop.
“Quality control includes Travis in our backyard at the grill,” Ashley says with a grin that recognizes a common bond. The beef they serve their own family is now a part of moments and memories for more neighbors because of Dakota Angus.
Even at the Tuesday night baseball game two towns over, you can find one of the Bruner brothers flipping burgers at the concession stand.
It’s really a family business from start to finish.
Click here to watch the video recognizing Dakota Angus’ award.