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Web a lifeline for networking

Karl Falster says it
frankly: He wouldn’t have his breeding stock business if not for the online
networking he has embraced. Falster sells breeding stock and semen from his
miniature Hereford and Jersey herds east of Dallas at Winnsboro, Texas. He
maintains his own extensive website (falsterfarm.com) complete with husbandry
tips and a blog. He also maintains a link to his website in The Cattle Breeders
Directory at RuralAds.com.

“We had our biggest year
ever, and I credit it all to our online presence,” says Falster about 2010.
“It’s $100,000 in sales that we wouldn’t have had without the exposure of the
Internet.”

Falster notes that for most
beef producers, 99% of sales go through a local sale barn. His business runs on
a different model – private treaty – with many contacts from people doing an
Internet search. Some of them end up buying a bull, semen, or maybe even part
ownership of a cow.

Animal husbandry
information, unrelated to his specific breeding stock or sales, is extensive on
Falster’s site. “I believe that what goes around comes around. You impart
information to help people care for their animals, and it comes back to you in
some way,” he says.

He recalls a woman who came
to his site 20 times and says she learned something new every time. “She never
bought anything, but that’s OK because we helped her.”

The Internet contacts have
led to a whole new business for Falster in just the last year: a cow investment
program. Interested folks with money to invest can own a cow (or several) that
Falster will care for. A man wanted to own part interest in a Falster bull, and
after much discussion, Falster said, “Why not just buy a cow and let us manage
her for you?”

A new business was born. For
investors, it’s a way to diversify retirement or other investments. A top
purebred cow might cost $7,500, and that will yield a nice return if she
delivers top offspring.

Online Gets Comfortable

Beth Andersland, Emmons,
Minnesota, actually calls herself a nontechie. But she knows enough to list her
business, which sells freezer quarters and halves from her Simmental herd, on a
website called Minnesota Grown, a project of the state department of
agriculture. Beth pays $60 a year to have a page on the site
(www.minnesotagrown.com) and for a license to use the Minnesota Grown label.

“I could put a sign out
front, but I never see most of my customers,” says Andersland. “They pick up
the meat at the processor or have it delivered.

“I should have my own
website. But if you aren’t prepared to spend the time to keep it up, it doesn’t
do you any good,” she says. With help from husband Bruce, she sells some
breeding stock. What doesn’t make that grade becomes freezer beef, and
customers come to her over the Internet, many from the Twin Cities a couple
hours to the north.

Response from the Internet
listing is definitely growing, says Andersland. “More people are comfortable
doing business online.”

While most of her
competitors for the freezer beef market promote grass-fed or some form of
natural beef, she’s finding a client base that likes corn-fed meat. “My cows
are real calm and tame, and I think that helps on meat tenderness. I started
selling beef this way back in the 1990s when things were done by word of mouth.
But nothing stays the same,” she says.

Advocate For Ranchers

Debbie Lyons-Blythe uses the
Internet and various social media for another reason: to tell the world about
life on a Kansas cattle ranch where she is the primary caregiver for 500
animals. She started blogging on her Blythe Angus website (blytheangus.com) a
couple of years ago, and now she shares daily ranch happenings on social sites
such as Blogspot (http://kansascattleranch.blogspot.com/), Facebook, Twitter,
and YouTube.

“I want to be an advocate
for ranchers, and I decided to do it through blogging,” says Lyons-Blythe, the
daughter of former NCBA president Jan Lyons. “What I write is not for other
cattle people. Some of them follow me, but I really want to reach people who
buy groceries, to give them a flavor of life on the ranch. One time, I talked
about the difference between a steer and a heifer. Another time, I told and
showed a story about freeze branding. Today, I shared a favorite Christmas
recipe.

“If we are not willing to
take the time to show people what we do to raise beef, then we have to be
willing to accept that laws and regulations will be passed by the 98% of the
public who has no daily contact with farming or ranching,” she says. “They want
to know who is raising the cattle, and we can easily show them.”  

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