Celebrate Differences

On my last day in Taiwan, I’m building on a previous post (Dewa Mata) in which I made some observations about the Japanese market for U.S. beef–here are some similar observations for the second part of my Fellowship trip. Will this be my last post? I’m not sure…I guess we shall see if the muse stays with me…

Safety is the price of entry (part deux)

At risk of sounding like a broken record, if safety is important in Japan, it is even more important in Taiwan (is that possible?). With an influential news media (dare I say the media here have a more sensitive hair-trigger than at home?), we can’t afford to give either politics or media a chance to tank the market. We know we do it right–we know we have the most stringent safety standards in the world. We know that the checkoff, in partnership with industry partners, makes significant investments in beef safety every single year. Let’s not take our eye off the ball (and remember to encourage our partners as well) to tell the story of our impeccable, continuing efforts on the beef safety front.

We’re baaaack

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Young Taiwanese love U.S. beef. Generally, they have fewer issues with eating beef than their elders (with respect to religion or husbandry as I’ve mentioned here before). Our job here (given what I’ve said above) will be to prove how yummy we are, especially when compared to pork, and build consumers the confidence to add more beef servings to their diet. And, as the CEO of the Beef Board, I’m allowed to say it out loud–in this market, pork=Goliath and beef=David. Pork is traditional, well-understood, well-loved. We know what we have to offer. We need to load up the slingshot and fire away.

Beef Can Be Mature and JIT here too

I’ve heard a LOT about wet and dry aging since I arrived. A noticeable trend in both retail and foodservice, it plays well with our need to ship product. However, the best steakhouses have product air shipped in a couple of days, then dry age it from 21 to 45 days onsite. They tell me discerning consumers pay for the waste, the hassle and the process. Good news for U.S. beef. Perhaps a dry aging movement would work well in Japan, if we associate it with the “mature” or “right time” concept mentioned before in this space.

Our Product Offering Works

In my closing post about Japan, I mentioned the trend of “Just for Japan” products. I believe (due to a growing “Westernization” of Taiwan) the products we offer our domestic consumers work well here, with the caveat that consumers here are more familiar with pork, and need education about the many ways to cook beef. And, like chefs at home, white tablecloth chefs here crave creative ideas to offer the discerning palates.

U.S. First, Company Brands Second

Even though we’re feeling the love, we still have some work to do to solidify our relationship with Taiwan’s younger consumers — to tell them about the product attributes of U.S. beef, to teach them about different cuts and appropriate ways to prepare beef. IMO, the Taiwan retail market is not as ripe for a brand bustout as Japan. However, I did hear in multiple foodservice meetings that restaurants need differentiation (read: brands) to compete in this HIGHLY competitive environment (particularly in Taipei). Opportunity exists for different production methods (natural, organic, grass-fed, and whatever else we can think of to differentiate), different product claims and creative ideas in Taiwan. Calling all beef entrepreneurs–come on out to Taiwan (but get ready to study and learn about how to do business in Asia. If you’re ethnocentric, you needn’t apply).

Taiwan Loves Baseball

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At the Elephants and Lions game last Tuesday night. Let me tell you, between the fan band, the horns, the drums and the yellow cone knocker thingies, this place has some enthusiastic baseball fans!

…and American ball player Manny Rimerez. Huh? It’s not as random as you may think. Taiwan loves American sport–particularly baseball and basketball. They admire American athletes (and athletes here at home). In the U.S., the checkoff funded “power of protein” concept pays dividends to encourage consumers’ love for beef. The health and nutrition message, coupled with images of strength and power, as the checkoff is doing at home, would work well here, with Taiwan’s youth, who are health conscious, more willing to turn to food (instead of supplements) to get the nutrients they need, and have a tradition of Chinese medicine (which teaches about the power of nutrients in food) to fall back on. The Power of Protein–call me crazy, but I think a campaign extension opportunity in Taiwan. The messaging would be slightly different (it’s not the same here, remember what I’ve said before about having the in-country expertise), but I think it has “legs.”

Convenience

People work long hours here, and many women go to the office every day too–especially in Taipei. Convenience plays an important role here–just like in Japan (and the U.S. I’m sensing a trend…)

Packaging Matters

Like Japan, packaging matters. But here, I mean ANY packaging. Many Taiwanese shop for meat hanging from a hook in an open-air wet market (it is the traditional way of marketing pork and chicken). Elder consumers want to touch and smell for freshness. Young consumers, however, don’t have time (or interest?), and go to supermarkets. Again, we have opportunity with younger consumers here. Some creative shopkeepers now sell meat in temperature-controlled cases, in independent shops close to wet markets–taking advantage of the close-to-home location of the markets.

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Disclaimer: This blog and the thoughts on it are my own flights of fancy. They don’t represent the views of the beef checkoff, CBB, the Operating Committee, or USMEF. I’m so glad the checkoff has in-country experts who know these markets and work on behalf of producers every day.

Random Photo of the Day:

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A quick game of “Name that Meat” anyone? I’ll give you a hint: the long ones are tongues. Thank you Lord, for international markets.

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Heeey…wait a minute? You talkin’ about me?!?

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Snot soup? Booger bologna? Nosh a nostril? Schnoz sandwich? Loogie lasagne?

Catch you back in the states, dear reader!

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The Circle

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The circle does not contain any part of the U.S.–in fact, it does not contain any part of the North or South American continents. The circle is mostly water. And it contains the least populated country in the world (Mongolia). Additionally, the circle contains very little arable land, compared to other parts of the world, meaning the vast number of people within it need reliable, safe sources of nutritious food.

Why is this important to U.S. agriculture? It’s not, really. Unless you want to grow your market, make yourself and your industry or commodity more profitable, or become a larger part of a global economy. Or you dream of feeding the world.

Special Thanks

IMG_0886[1]The Eisenhower Fellows Association in the Republic of China (Taiwan) is a remarkable network. The most active Fellowship group outside the U.S., members of the group sponsored my trip to Taiwan, and acted as generous hosts, tour guides, educators and mentors throughout my time here. Today after an informative and educational discussion with former prime minister and vice president of Taiwan Mr. Vincent C. Siew (1985 Fellow), I attended the group’s monthly board meeting to enjoy a meal and express my thanks for my experience here. To give you an idea of the scope and breadth of Eisenhower Fellows in Taiwan, I’m including a list of attendees to this particular board meeting, along with business titles below. This is a small percentage of the total number of Fellows in Taiwan. Several of the gentlemen listed below spent time with me over the past days, helping me to understand the many economic, political and practical aspects of a wide range of topics including architecture, associations, history, food, culture, education, government, consumers, relationships, and, of course, agriculture and the beef business in Taiwan. I list the attendees here not because I’m a name dropper (although if I were to indulge, this list would be a good place to start!), but because I am once again amazed at the power of the Eisenhower Fellowship  network–in Taiwan and around the world–and I want to share that with you.

  • Mr. Shui-teh Hsu (Chairman, 1978 Fellow)
  • Mr. Lung-sheng Chang (Host, 1975 Fellow) — Chairman, Urban Regeneration R&D Foundation
  • Mr. Earle J. S. Ho (1980 Fellow) — Chairman, Tung Ho Steel Enterprise Corporation
  • Mr. George Yu-jen Kao (1983 Fellow) (TBC) — Chairman, 21st Century Foundation
  • Mr. Vincent C. Siew (1985 Fellow) — Former Vice President for ROC
  • Mr. Paul Cheng-hsiung Chiu (1988 Fellow) — Chairman, Bank SinoPac
  • Mr. Shih-chien Yang (1994 Fellow) — Chairman, Capital Management Fund
  • Mr. Ching-Chang Yen (1995 Fellow) — Chairman, Yuanta Financial Holdings
  • Mr. Chi Schive (1996 Fellow) — Minister without Portfolio, Minister of State, Executive Yuan
  • Mr. Thomas Mu-tsai Chen (1997 Fellow) — Chairman, China Development Financial
  • Mr. Jimmy Shoei-Jiang Chang (1998 Fellow) — Chairman, Choice Publishing Co., Ltd.
  • Ms. Jih-Chu Lee (2001 Fellow) — Chairwoman, National Chunghwa Post Co., Ltd.
  • Mr. Harvey Chang (2002 Fellow) — Chairman, TVBS (Television Broadcasts Satellite)
  • Mr. Eric Li-luan Chu (2003 Fellow) — Mayor, New Taipei City Government
  • Mr. Chung-Hua Shen (2006 Fellow) — Professor, National Taiwan University
  • Mr. Julian J. Kuo (2006 Fellow) — Former Legislator, Legislative Yuan
  • Mr. Victor Kuan (2011 Fellow) — Chairman, Citibank Taiwan Ltd.

After the board meeting, the Fellows handed me over to U.S. Meat Export Federation for two additional days of education. We head home via Tokyo and San Francisco on Saturday. Again, heartfelt thanks to these and others who made this gestalt-shifting experience possible. Special thanks to Chinatrust, and Mr. David Liu, Ms. Sandia Lee (thanks for your astonishing patience with my constant flow of questions), Mr. Matt Li, Mr. Bruce Hu (a big Dodgers fan) and last but certainly not least, Mr. Vincent Lin (2013 Fellow and Chairman, TransAsia Airlines).


Value of Trust

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I’m fulfilling an Eisenhower Fellowship with the goal of helping beef producers better understand the customer in Japan and Taiwan, especially with regard to the reputation of the product branded U.S. beef, and also specific branded products offering added value built on the foundation of company names and reputations.

Heads up: To my beef industry colleagues and to the beef producers who are my bosses, my friends or my industry partners, I’m about to tell you something uncomfortable.

I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant. ~H. L. Mencken

Consumers in Asia don’t trust us.

(I know, some experienced international marketers will say that this is not a news flash.)

Now, deep breath. I can feel the hair on the back of your neck rising from all the way over here. I can hear you saying, “If they don’t trust us, then it’s their problem!” But truly, it is our challenge–and our opportunity. We have the responsibility to earn and maintain their trust–just like we have the chance every day to earn and maintain domestic consumer trust. And, like domestic consumers, if we lose trust, we lose on many fronts. Freedom to operate. Market share. Flexibility. Profit potential (would you rather throw tongues in a waste bin or sell them for $8/lb? Your choice).

At home, when I’ve mentioned earning consumer trust by fair dealing and honesty. Some people (who are, I believe, trying to help me) tell me:

  • I’m naive and I need to be less “Polly-anna” (pun intended);
  • Consumers should feel lucky they have food on the table;
  • Asian consumers should feel lucky they get American beef;
  • “They” could never understand what we do–and
  • Further, we don’t have to explain it to them because we’re the experts;
  • “They” should take what we give them (and furthermore, and “they” need to learn to cook)

Stubbornly (and I pray daily to the good Lord to save me from my stubborn self), I’m once again telling folks: I haven’t changed my mind. I still believe in the importance of transparency and fair dealing with our consumers. As a matter of fact, I believe it even more strongly after seeing more of the world outside U.S. borders.  I believe straightforward honesty built American agriculture. I believe that’s how most farmers and ranchers operate on a daily basis. I still believe that’s the foundation of America.

I’ve met with several large importers in both Japan and Taiwan–these are customers of the major and minor U.S. packers.The Eisenhower Fellowship gave me the opportunity to listen to the chairmen of these import companies. Powerful men, who run billion-dollar companies, who purchase nearly every pound of beef entering Asia–from the U.S. or elsewhere.

The importers I visited say that the cultural divide between West and East makes business dealings a bit harder–but certainly not impossible. What muddies the water now, they say, is the lack of trust. Trust in what we tell each other as we continue long-term relationships with partners here, or begin new business relationships. Trust in the safety of U.S. beef, and the care producers have for animals, land, quality and safety.

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Is it possible for us to build trust in Asian consumers? I believe it is.

I, for one, am not worried about what will happen here when we offer consumers a choice of beef produced in different ways (natural, organic, never-ever, use of various production technologies)–and label it (and price it) accordingly. In Taiwan, U.S. beef is known as the best quality available. Taiwanese (especially young people) crave it–they want to buy it, it’s the buzz on the streets. At a fantastic dinner the other night hosted by my new friend and Taiwan EF Fellow (see Food and Heart, I had some of the best Top Cap I’ve ever eaten, U.S. beef of course), one of our group literally said a cheer for U.S. beef right in the middle of a toast (they toast a LOT here in Taiwan!)–seriously, a cheer for you, my friends in beef. Made me proud. The beef produced in Taiwan cannot hold a sputtering candle stub to the quality, consistency and taste U.S. producers offer. But the discussion about U.S. beef is almost always followed by a “but” … is it safe?

Without trust as the foundation of our relationships, with companies, with consumers, there are no workable talking points. We, and our business partners at home and in country, have to trust each other to make it work. It takes two (as Pearl Bailey said) to tango.

Tell the truth. Offer choices. Build trust. Sell beef.

It’s really that simple. At home, and abroad.

PS. Allow me a small space here to talk about U.S. packing companies. Producers, feeders, like it or not, they are the ones that put a face on your product once it leaves your farm and feedlot. They tell your story around the world to your international customers–through their business reputation, their brands, their actions, their people, their words. Packers represent you to customer-facing businesses like importers, retailers and foodservice. In a global marketplace, your profitability lives and dies with their ability to sell your product for the best price, worldwide.

Random Photos of the Day:

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Chiang Kai-shek Memorial in Taipei. That’s a guard standing by, even though he looks like a tin soldier. The memorial statue is huge.

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This dragon snuggled up to me at a street festival. Here, kitty, kitty…

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With the Dean of Ag and key agriculture and forestry faculty at National Taiwan University. From left, YuanTay Shyu, Dean, College of Bioresources and Agriculture, Randy and your faithful scribe, Ming-Ju Chen, chairman, Department of Animal Science and Technology and Biing T. Guan, chairman, School of Forestry & Resource Conservation.

 

Weekend Warriors

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As an American who lives in the western part of the country, I may take our national parks for granted. Anytime I want to, I’ll day-trip up to Rocky Mountain National Park and enjoy some of most stunning mountain vistas in the nation (the world, actually). But not every country has the resources to protect natural environments in this way. Fortunately, within the last 50 years, Taiwan’s government established a park service and now has eight areas under protection–including the stunning Taroko National Park in Hualien and Nantou counties.

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This particular park, first recognized during the Japanese occupation, was unestablished (I guess that’s what you call it) in 1945, and then reestablished in 1986.

The park’s most stunning features (IMO) lie in Taroko Gorge, made entirely of marble laced with Taiwan’s only jade deposits. Two hundred million years, massive tectonic plate compression, and subsequently the persistence of flowing water, formed the gorge. The Tupido tribe built the first trail through this natural wonder, and the original tribal family lived there until Japanese troops eliminated some and evicted others.

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Guardian dog: marble. Bridge railings: marble. Walkways: marble. The place is a natural palace.

The park carries an element of danger, for you thrill seekers. Active rock slides and narrow passages make the trip up and down the canyon road (a single lane in some places) a white-knuckle seat-gripper. It rained hard the night we stayed over (I started looking for animals two-by-two, hurrah! hurrah!), which (for those from desert country, like me) causes rock slides. We are from Colorado, rock slides happen regularly in the mountains, so we weren’t as impressed as the Danish people in the shuttle bus when the driver stopped at a curve on the elevated road, citing a slide. I though he meant they were clearing rocks from the road–until through the windshield I saw giant boulders cascading down a cut in the mountain, and into the river beneath. After the dust cleared (literally), a road guy in a yellow vest began hopping excitedly and waving his little red baton. The shuttle driver stomped on it, and we drove through there like a bat out of hell. After a short silence in the bus, Danish guy says, “Well that explains why they drive so fast!”

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…and here’s where all that marble comes from.

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If you keep a bucket list of amazing places on the globe, I suggest you add Taroko. (I checked one thing on my bucket list–seeing a monkey in the wild. Sorry, no photo, the sighting was of a huge male and it happened too fast to capture it). Stay at the Silks Place hotel while you’re there–a Japanese-style hotel with a zen attitude that will remind you to be thankful for the blessings of our planet–and your place on it.

Random photos of the day:

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Seriously, Mr. Brown Coffee? It’s one of the most popular brands in Taiwan! Ewwwww…

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Not quite sure how it happened, but the weekend also found us at a world-class whiskey distillery–complete with a tasting of award-winning single malt. Hint: If they can ever get corn and beans in the ground (endless rain and 16 inches of snow last week in Minnesota means Randy probably won’t miss any planting while we’re here), the crew is in for a unique toast when they’re done.

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Breakfast view at the Silks Place Hotel. Have I mentioned the fantastic fruit in Taiwan? Succulent pineapples, magnificent mangos, wonderful watermelon…

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Please behave yourself, for heaven’s sake.

We also visited the National Center for Traditional Arts this weekend–a special request of mine. Here, preservation of traditional arts means artists practice forms of Taiwanese art and crafts, and have a market for the art, including ceramics, jade and wood carving, weaving, music and dance, candy and cake making, puppetry, and much more.

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Carved and painted detail on a temple column at the National Center for Traditional Arts.

Most Important Meal

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Experts say skipping breakfast encourages weight gain and may make you sluggish all day. It’s called “the most important meal of the day.” I like it because it’s another excuse to drink excellent tea.

I think the experts have been talking to folk in Taiwan, actually. Breakfast is a big deal here. And happily, beef fits right in with traditional dishes, offering a nutritional boost to carb-heavy breakfasts, and yet another opportunity for beef market growth.

Every morning, vendors awake way before dawn to prepare handmade, fresh food for the morning rush. Some open actual storefronts, but many set up on the street. In Taipei, office workers rush by, stuff a hot, freshly made dumpling, bread pocket, twisted cruller or omelet in either mouth or pocket and head to work. Emphasis: speed, but the food? Fantastic. Crispy breads, filled with goodies and baked with sesame seeds on top. Fragrant dumplings, filled with savory meat. Fresh, sweet fruit. And the omnipresent cruller, crunchy and flaky.

“I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time’. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.” ~ Steven Wright

This differs slightly in the southern part of the country, where the large manual labor population needs a filling, hot breakfast that will get them through until lunch. Often, this is a thick, rich soup filled with goodies, which can include meat. Breakfast all over the island usually also includes soy milk or porridge.

If we’re seeking ways to encourage Taiwanese to include additional servings of nutritious beef into their diets, breakfast is a no-brainer. Pass the flavored congee, I’m hungry.

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Industrial-sized steamers for dumplings outside a breakfast shop in Kaohsiung.

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Rich soup with homemade noodles.

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Sesame bread pockets filled with peanut butter and other goodies. Some are sweet, and some, savory–but all freshly made.

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Hot omelets, from fresh eggs.

For more great info, check out this slide show.

(Not so) Random Photo of the Day:

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CNN called them “the world’s most revolting food” but let’s get serious, in a historically protein-deficient country that relies on eggs for balanced nutrition, someone exercised creativity when she thought of this preservation method (it had to be a woman, didn’t it). Pictured is a “Century Egg” — a duck, quail or chicken egg preserved by soaking in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months. The process turns the yolk an indescribable black-green color and the egg white looks like dark-colored jello. It smells kind of odd, but not as bad as stinky tofu (which will make you run the other direction!) Outside, the shell is a slightly speckled color, giving no real hint to what’s inside, unless you know what’s coming. I couldn’t bring myself to try this one–although it’s the first thing (OK, the second, I couldn’t try the stinky tofu either) I’ve gracefully (at least I tried to be graceful…I’m afraid the look on my face when she sliced the egg open may have given me away) declined on my entire trip.

Sweet Serendipity

IMG_0790[1]Serendipity:

When you’re headed for an Agricultural Research Station, and find yourself in a town named Ever Spring (Hengchun), holding a juicy, perfectly ripe mango, standing on a stunningly beautiful tropical beach.

After all, what should I call it? Blessing. Fate. Karma. Never coincidence.

We headed south from Koahsiung, on our way to the Hengchun Agricultural Research Station. On the way out, we passed Wang’s Steakhouse (I kid you not, I suffered irrational chortle fits for 30 miles thinking about it) and two hours later, we arrived at the station, where they have some cattle, and a lot of goats. Truth is, they do fewer bovine research projects in Taiwan than they used to. Researchers Dr. James and Mr. Simon trained in Texas for a while, and now dedicate time to researching a short list of beef breeds in Taiwan, and preserving the native Taiwan Yellow beef breed for traditional dishes like hot pots and meat balls (ask me about the meat balls we had for supper last night sometime, or better yet, ask Randy). As I mentioned before, Taiwan folk eat quite a bit of pork and goat, and depend on imports to satisfy a rapidly growing hunger for beef. That’s serendipity too, for U.S. producers.

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They don’t look addicting, do they? I wish you could smell the sweet fragrance.

Our visit to another (much larger) Holstein feedlot proved fascinating.

But…
Honestly, I’m not sure the feedlot was quite as fascinating as seeing mangoes, bananas, pineapple and sweet apples on the tree, simply because that was all new to me. Especially the part where each luscious mango and beautiful banana bunch hides beneath a lovingly applied paper wrapper while finishing the ripening process–to protect the precious fruit from sun and insects. After harvest by hand, farmers place each mango in a mesh foam wrapper and stack them carefully for transport.

(Can you visualize me at this moment, trying to keep the mango juice running off my chin from dripping to my keyboard as I type? I’ve never tasted fruit like this. I’m totally addicted. I’m not alone, they’ve loved ’em in India for thousands of years, too. I think I will experience withdrawal when I get back to the States. Maybe my friend William at the Mango Board can hook me up. I hear they worship mangos in Key West…can they possibly grow them like this in Margaritaville?)

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Sleep tight, sweet mango, until you are perfectly ripe.

But I digress.

Thank you, thank you James and Simon. For the magnificent mangoes.Sigh.

…Oh, and for the wonderful information about agriculture in Taiwan, translating the technical stuff at the feedlot and your kindness. Here are some feedlot photos–mostly about the ration, because it was a great lesson in using what feedstuffs you have available to produce nutritious beef.

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Cassava byproducts, processed into pellets, fed to the steiners at the Sung Sing feedlot. What is cassava, you may ask? Cassava is an edible, woody shrub that is a dietary staple to nourish tropical Africa. Nearly every person in Africa eats around 80 kilograms of cassava per year. About 37% of dietary energy there comes from cassava. If prepared incorrectly, the cassava plant can produce cyanide, a deadly compound when consumed. Rich in rich in carbohydrates, calcium, vitamins B and C, and essential minerals, Americans may know it better as tapioca.

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The Sung Sing lot (certified by Taiwan Good Ag Practice or TGAF) feeds 15 metric tons of chopped fresh Napier grass and 40 metric tons of wet distiller’s every day.

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Soy sauce meal, a byproduct of soy sauce production, pressed into wafers at the manufacturer and sold as feed. The owner told me this provides potassium supplementation as well. Other feedstuffs in the ration include Pangola grass, soybean hulls, barley straw, and wet distillers’ grains, both corn and sorghum.

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Clean, modern feeding facility for older calves. Baby calves are housed in a climate controlled facility using “wet pads”–a sort of evaporative cooling system–to help combat heat stress.

 

Random photo of the day:

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Midnight snack, Taiwan style: Seaweed Sun Bites and a Taiwan Beer while watching Manny Ramirez play ball on TV.