Mary Ann Kniebel
Kniebel Cattle Company
White City, Kansas
By Audrey Hambright
As many in the agriculture industry know, there are hardly specified roles or job descriptions for anyone involved in the operation. This is definitely the case for Mary Ann Kniebel of Kniebel Cattle Company near White City, Kansas. For her, it’s a “do what needs to be done” attitude.
Kniebel, originally from Shawnee, Kansas, graduated from Kansas State University with a bachelors in animal science and went on to obtain a masters in reproductive physiology. Her first job out of college took her to Texas where she worked in embryo transfer. Not long after she made the switch to nutrition, which brought her back to her home state where she eventually met her husband, Kevin.
Kniebel Cattle Company has a long history dating back to 1878. Since then the ranch has become home to three families and has developed a unique business model that truly ranges from conception to consumption.
“We raise our calves and sell them as finished beef,” she said. “It gives us a little different view into the beef cattle industry.”
That model provided them with the initiative to help found U.S. Premium Beef, a marketing company that provides U.S. beef producers an opportunity to retain ownership of the beef they produce from the ranch to retail.
“It gives us the ability to do what we do and not have marketing be an issue,” she said.
Even though the Kniebel Family has been in the beef business for years, they are always looking for new opportunities.
“We’re constantly trying to do a better job,” she said. “There’s always things you can do better, such as utilizing resources more efficiently.”
With the consumer demanding more information about where their food comes from, Kniebel believes that producers have to do a better job advocating for the industry, but each in their own way. For instance, each May Kniebel Cattle Company hosts a group of second and third-graders from the local elementary school on their annual field trip.
“They write letters to us when they get back and we find what really resonates with them,” she said. “It’s only one afternoon, but hopefully it makes a connection that carries forward.”
To help meet industry challenges, Kniebel stays involved in several industry organizations. She serves on the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Board and as a chairperson of the working group for emerging issues for the animal health division. Recently, she was appointed to her second term on the advisory committee for animal health for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and also serves on the advisory board for the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
To complement her professional leadership activities, the operation has taken an active role in Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) training.
“Everybody on the ranch is BQA trained,” she said. “BQA allows for producer input as they expand the program. It’s real and it’s something we practice and institute every day.”
In recognition of their work in the industry, Kniebel Cattle Company received one of their highest honors when they were awarded the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) Commercial Producer of the Year in 2008.
According to Kniebel, those just staring out in the industry or even those returning to the family operation should know they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
“Become a part of something that allows you to participate on a bigger scale at least until you get your feet under you,” she said. “A lot of good organizations provide resources. Pick an organization you believe in and be involved.”
Kniebel Cattle Company holds a joint registered red/black Angus bull and commercial bred heifer production sale with Downey Ranch of Wamego, Kansas the first Friday in November.