Agriculture Needs To “Pack”…

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As I watched these young ladies dominate the team competition at the Broken Bow Invitational Cross Country meet on Saturday morning, I thought of farmers.  A very wise coach has taught these athletes how to “pack run” — setting both group and individual goals, and mentally supporting each other through the long 5K high school races.

I think that many distance runners would tell you that the middle of the race is the most challenging.  The adrenaline from the start has worn off, but the promise of the finish line is still miles away.  The culture of the “pack” lends strength to both the individual and to the team as well as building tenacity for the long run.

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The journey of the American farmer is much like a distance running race.  Growing food is an expedition full of challenges.  From Mother Nature, to the availability of natural resources, to food safety, to animal welfare priorities, to ever increasing government regulations, to sharing the story of food production.  Every day is it’s own race, and the days clump together into something similar to a marathon.

I believe in the power of teamwork.  The lonely individual marathon of farming can be overwhelming, especially while embarking on the trek of transparency and sharing the realistic story of modern day food production.  It is hard to motivate at the end of the day to post blogs and pictures — even when you believe in the necessity of reaching out and explaining your farm story.  Some of the challenge comes from simple physical fatigue, and some comes from the fear of ridicule and harassment from those that do not believe in raising animals for food production or using modern food production systems to raise them.

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While each individual farm has it’s own uniqueness, farmers share many things in common.  Embracing the “pack run” philosophy could be a very powerful tool for American agriculture.

There is certainly some of this already occurring, but it is a concept that could be used on a much more powerful scale.

  • The first step is for farmers to adopt a universal set of basic standards for responsible food production. The Beef Quality Assurance program is a great place to start for this relative to beef production. A pack offers support but, in turn, requires its members to contribute in a meaningful way. Quality animal care is imperative and needs to be unanimously adopted across food animal production.
  • The second step is acceptance of all farming practices that meet the basic standards, and respect for all farmers that care enough to join the pack of responsible food production.
  • The third is an important element of teamwork – recognizing that no matter how strong we are as individuals — together we are stronger. Mutual respect and support of each other makes for a powerful combination and a unified voice telling the true story of food production.

When I peruse the internet and see farmers fighting amongst each other or making their own way by belittling others, I am saddened. I think of the success that my daughter and her cross country team have on the running course, and I wish that farmers could be as unselfish and supporting as these teenage girls.

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I think that agriculture needs its own wise coach to lead a unified effort to share the true story of American farmers.

I think that agriculture needs to learn to pack…

*Author’s note #1: In Nebraska, Varsity High School Cross Country runs 6 and scores 4.  The four girls pictured at the top ran an impressive race as a pack finishing strong with Ashley Grace and one of her teammates running the last mile at 6:20 pace and finishing the 5K under 21 minutes. The second two runners were very close behind and the girls individually earned 10, 11, 12, and 13 places to win the title.  This young team gets stronger and more confident with every day that passes — it is a true pleasure for this Mama to watch.

*Author’s note #2: I have always had a strong passion for animal welfare and have worked to improve this in beef cattle for more than 15 years.  I found my pack on this journey with the Beef Marketing Group and it’s Progressive Beef QSA program.  I began the lonely blogging journey to share the story of how feed yards prepare cattle to become beef in the spring of 2011.  I am still waiting patiently for other cattle feed yards to take this step in order to offer appropriate transparency to the beef production cycle.  The list of other cattle feeders that have packed with me on this journey is very short.  Unfortunately, the list of people who ridicule and label me as a factory farmer is much longer…

 

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Cozad’s Ag Exposure Day…

Thoughtful Thursday

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On this Thoughtful Thursday, I am thinking back to yesterday when I participated in the Ag Exposure Day for the 4th and 5th graders in our town of Cozad.  Every two years, a group of 30+ volunteers put together a “farm day” at Platte Valley Farms for our upper elementary students.  Sisters Ann Smith and Judy Eggleston organize 150 students who spend four hours going to 9 different stations to learn about different facets of agriculture in Nebraska.

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With the help of a Cozad high school student (the daughter of one of the ranchers that I purchase cattle from), I am in charge of the “Cattle Learning” station which consists of giving a 15 minute presentation about cattle and beef to nine different groups of 15 students.

As I take the students through the life of a calf, why it is raised, why we eat beef, and how to offer basic care to a food animal; I field a variety of questions.  While I find each one of the students’ questions interesting, there was one yesterday that gave me pause.

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A 5th grade boy asked:

How can you get the meat off of the calf without killing it?

 I answered,

You can’t.  The animal gives it’s life in order to provide us with nutritious food.

My answer was met with a new level of understanding and a quiet nod.  I do not think that this young man will ever look at a hamburger the same way again.

My favorite 4th grader at AG Exposure Day...

My favorite 4th grader at AG Exposure Day…

As the students completed the last station and filed off to the nearby field to enjoy a hamburger lunch, I continued to think about this question — baffled that a 10 year old boy would think that meat would be harvested off of a calf without the calf dying.

How has our society become so far removed from food production? 

and perhaps more importantly…

How are we going to fix this?

Today, I charge each of you with the task of helping to educate others about where their beef comes from — whether it is your own child, or the person next to you in the grocery store line — take the personal responsibility to ensure that beef production is properly understood.

He has dedicated his life to caring for cattle and raising beef --- He cared enough to mentor me.  We proudly grow your food.

Farming is his life — He cared enough to mentor me. We proudly grow your food.

Farmers dedicate their lives to raising safe and nutritious beef

– animals give their lives so that we can nourish our families –

Shouldn’t each one of us take the time to properly appreciate the sacrifices that occur so that we do not go hungry?

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Preparing For the Fall Run…

The month of August can mostly be described as the calm before the storm at the feed yard. It is during this time that we finish up maintenance projects in preparation for the fall run of cattle. In Nebraska, many cattle move off of grass pastures and into feed yards from September to late November. The grass becomes less plentiful and the grazing season draws to an end.

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As the grass growth slows, cattle not involved in breeding herds are typically loaded onto semi-trucks at the ranch and shipped to feed yards in order to save the remaining grass for the mama cows and bulls. The fall run starts with yearlings (15-18 month old cattle) in August and September and then transitions into calves (8-10 month old cattle) in October and November.

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Large numbers of new cattle into the feed yard equates to longer hours and a large work load. Newly arrived cattle are exercised/acclimated, processed (vaccinated, de-wormed, tagged and sometimes implanted), and health is watched very carefully as animals become accustomed to their new life.

In addition to the increasing chore list relative to cowboying at the feed yard, the numbers of feed truck loads increase significantly as well. We have 7 different rations for our cattle depending on their age/size and how long they have been at the feed yard. Rations are similar to casseroles — they are a blend of a variety of feed ingredients.

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At our feed yard, our core ingredients are: Wet Distillers Grains, Rolled Corn, Alfalfa, Ground Corn Stalks/Wheat stubble, Grass Hay, and dry Supplement pellets. When cattle arrive (regardless of size), they are given a casserole that has more forage (alfalfa and ground corn stalk/wheat stubble, and grass hay) and less grain (rolled corn) blended with wet distillers grains. Throughout the time that the cattle spend at the feed yard, the percentage of forage is lessened while the percentage of grain increases.

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Increasing the grain allows for the beef to be more tender and the flavor to be enhanced.

As we prepare for the fall run, I remind myself and my crew a few core work principles:

  1. Initiative: Always look for ways to contribute –this is imperative in effectively handling the chore load in the fall. Don’t wait to be asked to do something – if it needs done, Do It!
  2. Attitude: A positive outlook is critical to maintaining good morale — this leads to effectiveness in cattle care. Taking care of all of the little things while having pride in your work makes the difference in the lives of your animals.
  3. Teamwork: We are a team and a family at the feed yard — focusing on what is good for the group allows for unselfish efforts and a degree of unity amongst the crew. Each one of us experiences times of great fatigue during the fall months, but teamwork creates a culture where we cover for each other so that the quality of our work never diminishes.

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Haymaker Victory!

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My favorite 9th grader and her Cozad Haymaker teammates brought home the team trophy last night at the first Cross Country meet of the season.  Ashley Grace earned the 6th place individual medal in the varsity girls race with a time of 21:22.6.

I figure that gives me bragging rights as a 6:53 minute mile average for her first 5K race is pretty awesome :)

She’s fueled by beef and tenacity —Have you had your steak tonight?

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Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., General

Believing…

Thoughtful Thursday

My favorite 9th grader: Circa 2002...

My favorite 9th grader: Circa 2002…

Today is a very special day.  My favorite 9th grader will don her Haymaker Cross Country uniform and compete in her first Varsity race.  Beneath the nervous pre-race jitters, I look into her eyes and see the determination and focus of an athlete.  What I see makes me a believer — I am not only her mother, but also her biggest fan.

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Today, as pride fills my heart, I remember a quote by Drew Brees:

“Believing—there are several layers to it.  There’s the surface-level type of believing, where you acknowledge that something is true.  Then there is a deeper kind of belief–the type that gets inside of you and actually changes you.  It’s the kind of belief that changes your behavior, your attitude, and your outlook on life, and the people around you can’t help but notice.”

What kind of believer are you?

Go Haymakers!

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Birthday Fun For Our Favorite Farmer…

Our favorite farmer celebrates his 43rd birthday today.  In honor of his birthday, Ashley Grace and Megan have written their top 5 reasons why Matt loves being surrounded by women…

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1. His days are filled with lots of smiling faces and very little attitude…

2. He is surrounded by fashion advice and never has to worry about going out of the house with clothes that do not matchOr be concerned that he won’t be able to find an emergency supply of lip gloss and hair rubber bands in his pickup truck…

3. Dreaming of the boys that will soon permeate his house gives him great incentive to teach us all of his best wrestling moves…

4. It is good for his ego that all of his girls can smoke him in all four strokes in the swimming pool…

5. Fear of no longer being able to beat his girls on the track provides excellent ambition for exercising and staying fit…

Happy Birthday, Dad!  We love you :)

Happy Birthday, Dad! We love you :)

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Responsible Sourcing — It shouldn’t be a marketing ploy…

Thoughtful Thursday

Everyone wants to eat food that has been responsibly raised. Taking care of our Earth and the animals that roam on it is a priority for the vast majority of us.  I believe that our future and the vitality of our families depends on good stewardship.

As a farmer, I spend the majority of my day caring for our animals and our land. I try my best to make responsible decisions which ensure sustainability and judicious use of our resources. Animal welfare, food safety, and environmental stewardship are the core pillars that drive my decision making process.

I believe in wisely developing and using technology to grow food. I think that technology improves the environmental footprint of my farm, the quality of my beef, and also the care that I offer to my animals.

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I believe that I grow responsibly raised beef—pasture raised on a ranch, and grain finished in a feed yard.

Because there are a variety of eco-diverse regions where American farmers grow food, I do not believe that there is a “one size fits all” protocol for responsibly sourced food.

I have faith that the vast majority of farmers make responsible decisions while raising food even as I recognize that many different types of farming practices are used to put quality food on the grocery store shelves. There is not one management system that is better than another provided that those systems maintain a commitment to animal welfare, food safety and environmental stewardship.

Their address has changed but the quality of their care has not...

The cattle’s address has changed but the quality of their care has not…

It angers me when corporate food companies give into pressure from special interest groups, make demands regarding farming practices, and then use the term responsible sourcing as a marketing ploy to increase their profit margin.

This type of practice belittles the American Farmer and confuses the American consumer.

Responsibly raised and responsible sourcing covers the vast majority of the food grown in this country — it is not a special niche marketing tool to be manipulated — it is the reality of the United States food production systems.

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Is it too much to ask for a little bit of trust so that I can do my job as a farmer responsibly?

 

 

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Dawn Through Megan’s Camera Lens…

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My cowboy is on vacation this week, so my favorite blonde cowgirl and I started the week by checking cattle at the feed yard Sunday morning.  The following set of pictures is:

Dawn through Megan’s Camera Lens…

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Dawn is my favorite time at the feed yard.  As Megan took pictures of the morning glory, I could feel my dad smiling down on us. 

His “four wheel drive” girl and his camera — a good combination…

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