How Trevor Lienemann is making a name for himself in the Angus breed and in the cattle feeding business.
***This article originally appeared in our Winter Ranch House Journal. Never miss another feature! Subscribe to the magazine here.
By Kate Miller
One of the most striking characteristics about Trevor Lienemann is his vision. You hear it in his voice when he speaks and you can see it in the evolution of the experiences of his life.
His experiences are uncommon, as an accountant by trade who revolutionized a sector of agriculture equipment industry. While today Lienemann, whose operation is just south of Lincoln, Nebraska, is busy hosting dignitaries from all corners of the globe such as China, Ghana and even the minister of agriculture from Belarus; it hasn’t always been this way.
Lienemann’s origins in the cattle business are humble, which makes his ascent into the upper echelon of elite Angus genetics even more impressive. The herd began as six single heifers purchased for $750 per head from a neighbor. As an accountant by day in a private firm, the cattle were a family affair and a hobby. But Lienemann’s interest in Angus genetics was based on a familiar field: numbers.
The Angus breed’s use of expected progeny differences or EPD’s struck a chord in the accounting-centric rancher, who dove head first into improving the cattle he was raising. The first bull calves he raised, looking at the numbers, seemed to be pretty good. He sold the first bulls for $1500 per head, money in the early 1990’s that put him in the black, and soon a business model emerged.
As the cattle operation grew, so did the demands. With children and both he and his wife Torri being employed off the farm, the feeding ritual had to be streamlined. There simply was not enough hours in the day, and efficiency, a central theme to Lienemann, must be optimized. That is…to make the system as perfect, effective and functional as possible.
The Cone Insert Feeder was born of this necessity, a pursuit to become more efficient in the cattle business. “Being employed off the farm, I just did not have the time to commit to feeding hay every day, so I was putting out round bales a few times per week. But as an accountant, my mind is geared toward understanding costs and looking for efficiencies. Seeing 25 percent of the hay left on the ground was not efficient, and I knew there had to be a better way,” said Lienemann.
AN IDEA IS BORN
The first cone insert was patented in the early 2000s, and it revolutionized the way cattlemen thought about feeding hay. But Lienemann, ever in search of better ways, was still unsatisfied with the initial design. The insert was costly from an investment standpoint and cumbersome in the field in terms of usability. So he went back to the drawing board, and in August 2007 the first Bextra Basket Feeder was sold and became available nationwide.
Bextra, a new word in the industry, stood out among established brands, not just for its original name, but its original design. The product boasts an independent third party stamp of approval through research trials at Oklahoma State University. The work at OSU effectively tested the efficiency of multiple feeders on the market. The study found that conventional feeders had a hay loss of up to 25 percent, while the Bextra feeder was less than five percent. Not only did the feeder reduce waste by 20 percent, but it also showed a reduction in mechanical cost and labor. The study was published during the height of the most recent devastating drought in Oklahoma, and it brought forth a sustainable way for producers who were struggling with high hay costs to stay in business.
“For me, that has been the most rewarding part of the process,” said Lienemann, “Customers call and thank me, and they tell me the stories about the products effect on their bottom line. It is rewarding to be aiding my fellow industry allies in creating efficiency when feeding cattle.”
“The Bextra feeder is an investment, not a cost,” he said, spoken like a true accountant. But his logic is sound: Bextra feeders reduce waste and increase production efficiencies, reducing how much it costs to raise cattle. By becoming more economically efficient, producers can create a more sustainable and competitively priced commodity.
THE BUSINESS BREED
When he was not focused on changing the agriculture equipment industry, he focused his time on Angus genetics. His approach toward genetic quality gave rise to the operations name: Lienetics, a portmanteau combining Lienemann and Angus genetics. “It is our responsibility as seedstock producers to improve the industry. Our belief is that Angus cattle can do that. We focus on optimum impact, not selecting for any one trait to an extreme, but looking for balanced traits at a high level. We are producers of genetic materials at the heart of what we do,” said Lienemann.
Their focus on genetic quality is evident through their participation in the Montana Midland Bull Test (MBT) every year. A Lienetics bull won the contest in 2012, competing amongst the most storied names within the Angus Industry, a moment he marked with pride. “I liken Midland to my college years, when I took corporate tax accounting as an elective. It was the worst grade I received at school, but it is the class I learned the most from,” said Lienemann. “That mentality is why we send bulls. The process is tough, sometimes it is humbling, but every year we learn. That learning equates to progress not just for our operation, but for the breed.”
They buy back feeder calves from their bull customers and put them on feed at a local feedlot. “This process allows us to understand the true performance and true carcass quality and the impacts of the genetics we have selected in real time,” said Lienemann.
But Lienemann’s true vision extends beyond just bull sales, he is looking all the way to the plate. “We as an industry have to produce a product that is consistent and offers the quality the consumer is looking for,” he said.
When questioned about the largest challenge the industry faces today, consumer education ranks first. He understands the necessity of cattlemen getting out of their normal lifestyle to reach a public that is barraged with misinformation.
“We have hosted the Certified Angus Beef tour now three years in a row. The tour brings chefs from the nation’s largest cities, and they get to experience where the beef they serve originates,” said Lienemann. “It is a powerful thing to watch them understand how breeding decisions I made three to five years before the product comes into their restaurants affects the quality of the beef they serve. Helping them see that beef is truly a sustainable product, that cattle are nature’s best converters of solar energy, and that we as cattlemen are the stewards of the resource we have been given, helps to dispel the masses of misinformation they receive.”
But perhaps the most endearing quality of Lienemann’s is the pride with which he speaks of his family. The humble appreciation for his wife and the delight in his children Maci, Taylon, Sydni and Skylar, is evident in every word. There is rich satisfaction in the accomplishments of his children within the industry. Their start in Angus cattle began young, and the focus on developing responsible herdsmen made Lienetics an all-encompassing family venture. “The kids own their own cattle. They have their own checkbook and they have to make real world decisions on developing their own herd. Through this process they develop an understanding of business and life’s issues. They win some and they lose some,” he said.
All of the Lienemann children have been highly involved in junior activities. This involvement he credits to much of their success. “As a family, we felt like the National Junior Angus Program was 20 percent about showing cattle, and 80 percent about the relationships we made along the way,” said Lienemann.
In 2016 the family hosted the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Ball at their home. The event promotes beef as part of a nutritious and balanced diet, showcases rural Nebraska and most importantly raises funds for the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. Of the event, Lienemann said, “Having Clint Black singing in your yard brings a moment of reflection as to how you got here. This is not where we thought we would be 23 years later.” Ever humble in his appreciation of his successes, he credited God, his family, the industry, fellow cattlemen, and friends that made so many opportunities possible.
Looking back over the last two decades, the Lieneman story is about more than efficient feeders and Angus cattle; it is the modern portrait of the American Dream. It is the result of years of creating opportunity through foresight and challenging work. But even having come so far, in his voice you know he is not yet through. There is work yet to be done and efficiencies yet to be captured. Surveying all Lienemann has accomplished already, we should be glad that a once accountant is now a cattleman.