BLI: An Original Experience

I’ve only been with the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand since May 1, learning more about beef and cattle in three months than in my entire life growing up on a Texas farm and showing stock.

Past experience showed me enough to get where food comes from, but not enough to understand how it gets from point A to B and then to me. Now I get the beef story, and a huge part of the credit goes to the week I spent with the American Angus Association’s Beef Leaders Institute (BLI) in June.

There are many, many reasons why I loved BLI. Here’s my top three.

1. Packing Plant Tour

Tyson Dakota City was unforgettable. BLI rotates to different plants but there’s always a major packing tour. After basic instructions and strapping on coats, hardhats, glasses and audio gear to hear above loud machine noise, we stepped out onto a catwalk overlooking the fabrication floor.

Rows upon rows of people with knives were gradually slimming down primals into subprimals, then individual cuts to boxes for shipping off to restaurants, grocery stores or wherever demand might take it.

We followed along into the grading cooler (for food safety, tours always move backward through the plant) where USDA inspectors were railing off carcasses by grades like Select, Choice and Prime. Of course, we saw those from Choice and Prime accepted for CAB. We also saw the relatively new grading cameras work automatically while still allowing human graders to override.

The first step and yet final, incredible, piece of the tour was the harvest floor.  We saw carcasses lifted, dehided, eviscerated and halved. So much was going on at once, I didn’t know what to look at but tried to take it all in and more than once I took a step back and stared in awe. As we boarded our plane from Omaha to Cleveland, all I could think was I’m going to want to see and appreciate that again.

2. Brand Headquarters

I might be a little biased, but the things we went over here during BLI would not have occurred to me otherwise for many more months or even years. This was tailor made for BLI, starting with the incredible food CAB chefs prepared—all worthy of some 5-star skyscraper deck restaurant.

Our in-house meat scientist Diana Clark, full of puns, quick wit and sharp knives, taught us how to fabricate (break down) a sirloin subprimal into steaks and tri-tip roasts. Then we were handed the knives and got to work ourselves! I quickly realized watching someone here or from the Tyson catwalk is an entirely different experience from doing it yourself.

What was most fascinating, however, was the “Taste the Difference” presentation. Most of the BLI group normally ate from their own freezer; I grew up on my family’s Limousin beef. We had never tasted the difference between Select, Choice and CAB Prime. So after all the numbers were displayed and the producers knew CAB brought them a premium, it was time to actually taste the difference. And boy, there was a difference! We tried grass-finished, Select, CAB traditional wet-aged, CAB Prime and CAB dry-aged. I could explain some of the differences to you, but really, you need to taste it for yourself at the CAB Culinary Center.

3. The People

At BLI’s first night, CAB production brand manager Kara Lee said by the end of the week, we’d be putting each other on our Christmas card lists. I saw a few weird glances from unfamiliar faces then, but of course Kara would be right.

We came from around the country—South Dakota, Arizona, Kentucky, Montana and everywhere in between—I can’t think of another opportunity to learn from such a diverse group with a common passion. And while everyone had a herd of some size, some also worked at other ag jobs, from the Oklahoma Youth Expo to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and more. We each had stories to tell, and we shared those while learning from each other.

As we did all that, we were having a grand time. Talking on the bus in between locations rarely stopped. Friendships were formed, laughs were had and refreshments shared between stories. At the end of the week, no one truly wanted to say goodbye. It was more like, “I’ll see you soon.” So while this trip was an incredible way to learn the ins and outs of beef production and distribution, I will argue that the best part was the people we spent it with.

Talk to you soon,



About the author: Abbie Burnett

I grew up among the cotton fields of Texas, loving God, my family and a camera in hand. As a 2018 graduate from Texas Tech, I jumped at the chance to be a CAB storyteller because I know it’s the farmers and ranchers who have the greatest stories to tell. I look forward to meeting you and telling your story while snapping a few (OK, maybe a lot) of sunset pictures along the way!