by Cheryl Kepes
photos courtesy D&D Beef
D&D Beef builds birth to butcher business.
D&D Beef encompasses a dream come true for a Nebraska native with a heart for ranching. Michaela Mann, along with her family, started the ranch direct beef business four years ago. “I have always enjoyed raising cattle,” Michaela Mann shared. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. It is what I have always wanted to do.”
The business was a venture born out of hopes and necessity. Though Michaela longed to work at her family’s ranch, D&D Cattle, located in Herman, Neb., the operation’s bottom line couldn’t support it. “We have all heard those stories. They (rancher’s kids) want to return home, but there is not enough of the pie for everybody,” Michaela explained.
Undeterred, the South Dakota State University graduate found a way to get back to doing what she loves. Michaela created D&D Beef as an extension of the family’s registered Angus and Red Angus operation. D&D Beef markets its meat straight to consumers on a local and national level.
Jumpstarting the Business
Michaela’s business got its jumpstart when her dad, Dan Braesch, asked her to move some fats they had on feed. This wasn’t necessarily a new concept to Michaela because her grandpa, Duane Braesch, sold quarters, halves, and wholes, to friends and family, for more than 50 years.
When Michaela created a social media post to see if anyone was interested in purchasing beef, the response shocked her. “I was bombarded,” Michaela recalled. “I was taken aback by how many people wanted meat.” The overwhelming response was all the fuel she needed.
She enrolled in an online course to learn how to build a solid foundation for her new business. Then slowly and steadily she grew D&D Beef. “It really was a blessing to take it slow and make sure I got my business set up right,” Michaela said.
Odds and Ends
D&D Cattle Company was founded by Michaela’s dad and grandpa. It started as a commercial cattle operation and shifted to a registered seedstock operation decades ago. The seedstock operation runs purebred, registered Angus and Red Angus cattle. The animals selected for D&D Beef’s program come from D&D Cattle Company.
When D&D Beef first started, Michaela would choose what she calls the “odds and ends” from D&D Cattle Company’s calf crop. Each season after D&D Cattle Company selects replacement females and bulls, the rest are sent to the sale barn.
Inevitably, there would be calves that did not fit with the rest of the group selected to go to the sale barn. These animals might be a twin, weigh less, or be bigger than the average animal in the sale barn group. Whatever the case, these “odds and ends” were a perfect match to be moved into the D&D Beef program.
The family found this strategy to be a win-win. Removing the “odds and ends” from the sale barn group ensured those animals would eventually bring a premium. If they went to the sale barn with the original group, the animal would be discounted simply for not fitting in with the rest.
Though it requires a lot of additional time, work, and effort to direct market beef, the family says it is worth it. “We are making that premium that we should have been making all along,” Michaela explained. “We are feeding them, and I am marketing the final product, so we are making what we should be making, not the packer.”
Making the Grade
The demand for D&D Beef products has soared. The operation now keeps back additional calves each year, instead of only the animals that don’t fit with the sale barn group. The company prides itself on the quality of the meat it provides consumers. “I do feel like the way we are doing it, the high-quality feed we are feeding and having all our animals registered, I feel it has been able to provide us with a superior product,” Michaela said.
All the beef comes from the family’s registered Angus and Red Angus herds. The family tracks and analyzes the EPDs of its animals. “I always tell people, ‘I can tell you your steak’s great-grandpa’s birth weight,’” Michaela shared with a chuckle.
Knowing the animals’ genetics, gives Michaela confidence her products will meet her customers’ expectations. “I know our calves are going to grade. I know they are going to be feed efficient and provide all the flavor, marbling, and taste consumers are looking for,” Michaela said.
Birth to Butcher
D&D Beef’s customers appreciate the fact the beef they purchase is source verified. All the animals in D&D Beef’s program are born, fed, and raised at the family’s ranch. Michaela’s customers find comfort in knowing Michaela and her family take care of the beef from the beginning.
The meat is processed by a local, family owned and operated, USDA inspected butcher. The butcher dry ages the beef for 21 days, which is much longer compared to the industry standard of a 48-hour chill. The 21-day dry aging process gives D&D Beef’s product more time to tenderize and concentrate its flavor.
D&D Beef utilizes its website, email list, social media, and other platforms to market its products. In addition, Michaela sells beef at a farmer’s market in the Omaha area during the summer. She runs weekly specials, ships products, and coordinates pickup locations.
Due to the success of her business, many ranchers across the country reach out to her for advice on starting their own ranch to plate beef operation. “If you are interested in selling beef direct – quarters, halves, and wholes are the way to go. It is the most rancher friendly, from the ranchers’ standpoint,” Michaela explained. “It’s a great way to start selling direct to consumers without a large investment.”
One of Michaela’s priorities is to share with consumers about raising and caring for cattle. She produces videos and writes blogs to give consumers a view into the lives of ranchers. In addition, she shares information, recipes, and cooking tips. Michaela works to spread a message that promotes unity and collaboration between ranchers. “As long as we work together, that is what is best for the consumer,” Michaela stated.
Michaela attributes much of the success of D&D Beef to the support, work, and effort her entire family pours into the business. Her husband, Jared Mann, assists with chores and caring for the animals in their branded beef program, and her parents, Dan and Marilee Braesch, run the family ranch D&D Cattle Company. “This means so much to me because of all the hard work my family has put into it,” Michaela shared. “I feel like people get to see the labor of love that goes into what we are doing, and they get to enjoy it.”