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Thinking Outside of the Box | January 2024

By Cheryl Kepes

Photos courtesy Waugh family

Cannon Valley Ranch expands its business offerings to ensure stability for the future.

The journey to success many times requires a hefty dose of patience. The owners of Cannon Valley Ranch, Bruce, LeeAnn, and Taylor Waugh know well the lessons and opportunities gleaned over time. “Someone told us when we first started in the Angus business that an overnight success in the Angus business was at least 15 years,” LeeAnn Waugh shared. “It does take a lot of time to build that reputation and for people to try your genetics.”

Throughout the past several decades the Waugh family has built a successful Angus seedstock business in Goodhue, Minn. In recent years, Cannon Valley Ranch added direct beef sales to its operation, marketing Angus and Akaushi (a specific breed of Wagyu) beef straight from the ranch to consumers. “This expansion and diversification grew as a direct result of both our sons’ desire to be involved. And fueled by Taylor’s decision to come back to the ranch after college to make ranching and raising cattle his future,” LeeAnn said.

Cannon Valley Ranch’s premium beef business provides the Waughs a platform to showcase the overall quality of the end product of their herd’s genetics. Additionally, the new branch of their business generates income and creates sustainability for their operation.

Ranch Roots

Bruce and LeeAnn started their cattle operation shortly after they were married 39 years ago. In the beginning, their herd consisted of commercial cattle. Then 24 years ago they made the transition to a registered Angus herd. “We are first generation ranchers. We both grew up on farms, but this isn’t a family legacy that we have taken over, everything that we have we bought on our own,” Bruce Waugh said.

The operation consists of 120 registered Angus cows that graze the rolling hills of Cannon Valley Ranch located approximately 45 minutes south of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and 25 miles north of Rochester. The Waughs utilize AI and embryo transfer to accelerate the genetic quality of their herd. “We focus on balanced EPDs, we don’t chase anything too far. We do pay a little more attention to the carcass side of the equation since we have our meat business,” Bruce explained.

New Venture

Credit to a friendship developed through the cattle business, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic the Waughs recognized the demand from consumers for direct beef sales. They launched their direct beef business, Cannon Valley Ranch Premium Beef, to meet the need and it’s been growing ever since. Cannon Valley Ranch’s proximity to large cities helped to position the beef business for success. “We are right in the middle of the metro area (Minneapolis-St. Paul) and Rochester and have a lot of hungry mouths available to us,” Bruce said.

Though their direct meat sales business started due to opportunity, it was also born out of necessity. “We really see this as a way of sustainability that we need to have the meat business or it is just going to be too hard to make a big enough income to live off of if we don’t branch off and do something different,” Bruce shared.

Animals that fall short of the Waughs’ standards for their registered Angus operation are fed out for the freezer beef program. However, since many of Cannon Valley Ranch’s cattle are sold as seedstock, the Waughs also buy their customers’ cattle to utilize in their direct beef operation. “We have some really longtime customers who have been using our breeding stock for 20 years. So, their herd is almost a commercial version of our herd. We purchase back cattle from them and our genetic partners, along with our bottom end steer calves and heifer calves, they get fed out too,” Bruce explained.

Open Doors

Family and friend connections contributed to marketing opportunities for Cannon Valley Ranch Premium Beef. The Waughs’ son, Aaron, works for Forager Brewery in Rochester. The restaurant was one of the Waughs’ first customers. Forager Brewery features Cannon Valley Ranch beef in some of its signature dishes including a popular menu item, Cannon Valley Stroganoff.

The Waughs’ other son, Taylor, who works as a meat cutter, plays a significant role in the operation. His expertise on carcass cuts and quality control serves as a valuable asset to the ranch to table aspect of the business. Other extended family members who work as meat scientists helped guide Bruce and LeeAnn in the areas of carcass utilization and pricing individual cuts of meat.

Thanks to the assistance of an acquaintance, the Waughs secured a spot in a large farmers market in Rochester. Selling their product in the farmers market helps them to build their brand and grow their customer base.

A bonus of marketing their product at the farmers market is the interaction with consumers. “People just love when we talk about our story at the farmers market, they really appreciate the hard work that we put in and I think the consumer really wants to connect with their food,” Bruce shared.

Akaushi Beef

One of the goals of Cannon Valley Ranch’s premium beef operation is to offer unique and diverse products for consumers. It processes about 80 animals a year at USDA inspected facilities. Some of the animals processed are Akaushi, a breed of Wagyu that’s known for its tenderness and intense marbling.

The entry into raising Akaushi cattle developed through a work relationship with an Akaushi breeder. The Waughs completed a substantial amount of embryo work for the Akaushi producer, and the result was three cattle operations sharing the embryos. The Waughs continue to work with the Akaushi producer on other genetic partnerships.

The Akaushi comprises a portion of the direct beef offerings with the majority of the products being high-quality Angus Beef. “It’s been a nice complement to the Angus, and it has opened a few doors for us that maybe would have been harder for us to crack open otherwise,” Bruce said. “We focus on the Angus and then the Akaushi is a higher value brand ladder or higher value product that we also focus on.” The Akaushi products sell at a higher price point compared to the Angus products.

Unique Offerings

The Waughs have expanded their product line to include cuts and products that are different and unique. Cannon Valley Ranch Premium Beef’s offerings consists of typical cuts as well as Flat Iron, Denver, Bavette, and Picanha to name a few. Other items include hot dogs, beef and cheddar sticks, jerky, even wild bird suet.

As they expanded their business, Bruce, LeeAnn, Taylor, and Aaron discovered a demand for ready to eat beef. The Waughs added to their offerings “heat and eat” products such as seasoned taco beef, smoked meatballs, and Sloppy Joe beef.

Conservation Practices

The ranch operates with conservation strategies at its core. Cannon Valley Ranch focuses on rotational grazing, soil health, and regenerative ag practices. The Waughs follow the regulations of the Clean Water and Land Legacy Amendment. Additionally, the operation earned the designation of a Minnesota Water Quality Certified Farm through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

The Waughs believe their love and care for their land and cattle hold importance and value with their customers. During the ranch’s fall Angus production sale, the family hosted an open house to showcase their sale offerings as well as their direct beef business.

The event gave cattle customers and beef consumers the opportunity to see all aspects of Cannon Valley Ranch’s operation. Seedstock producers attending to view sale cattle saw firsthand the end product of some of Cannon Valley Ranch’s genetics as well as met the consumers buying beef products. “People could see, Wow, these guys have a great following with their end product too! People love it and think it is unique and it is special,” LeeAnn said.

The success and positive feedback from customers continue to fuel the Waughs and their goals to grow their operation. Bruce, LeeAnn, and family are working on additional ideas to expand their operation in the future.

18th Annual Herd Builder Sale:

Saturday, April 6, 2024

1:30 pm CST - Goodhue, Minn.

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