Category Archives: General

5 Reasons Why I Prefer a Cattle Feed Yard To a Shopping Mall…

Thoughtful Thursday

I prefer a cattle feed yard to a shopping mall…

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My daughters went back to school this week.  Just like many teenage girls, they thought that they needed to do  “school shopping” prior to the big day. They bemoan the fact that their Mama is a reluctant shopping participant…

5 Reasons Why I Prefer a Cattle Feed Yard To a Shopping Mall

1.  Cattle are generally respectful creatures, and can be trained to be consistently courteous.

2. Cattle are gregarious, non-verbal creatures; the feed yard is generally a quiet place where there is a blissful lack of bickering.

3. Cattle do not text or use “electronic devices” which allows for more focused personal interactions.

4. Cattle grow their own heavy coats in the winter, and shorter coats in the summer — they do not ask me to spend more than $100.00 to purchase a pair of jeans that already have holes in them.

5. Cattle live in the present and have no concept of the future — As such, they do not ask me to think about Christmas purchases in August…

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Good Coaches Don’t Just Build Athletes, They Build the Future…

I wear many different hats in my life, but perhaps the hat that brings me the most pride is my coach’s hat. When I think back to my own teenage years, outside of my parents, my swimming coach played the single largest mentoring role in my life. He taught me to work hard, believe in myself, and most importantly to be tough.

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My swimming coach and I after an “ocean mile race” off the beaches of South Florida…

My successes in the swimming pool and on the Cross Country course were plentiful. I graduated from high school a two time finalist at the 18 and under National Championships in both backstroke events as well as being an All-American High School 100 Backstroke qualifier.  I also brought home two Florida Cross Country Championship team victories playing the role of the #2 runner on the team placing individually in the top 10 my Freshman year and 2nd my Junior year of high school.

1991 Florida State Cross Country Champions...

1991 Florida State Cross Country Champions…

Although the medals and recognition brought me pride and self-confidence, it was the hours spent training and working with my coach that most shaped my character. Though he was a man of relatively few words, he inspired me to dig deep and always persevere with excellence. Although I never fully appreciated this gift until my adult years, I am now inspired to try and do the same for the young athletes in my community.coachannethumbsup.jpg

Saturday the Haymaker High School Cross Country team participated in a day long “training retreat” that combined a local road race 5K with additional fitness running, a swimming and running duathlon, and a blend of motivational speakers throughout the day. I was honored to be one of those speakers. My favorite teenager is a member of the team, and her coaches are two of the finest people that I know.

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While I shared a variety of things with the runners, my talk had three main points. Today, I share them with each of you…

  • The road to excellence is never comfortable. The brain is our weakest muscle and must be toughened in order to achieve excellence.
  • The most important part of a race is the moment you decide to believe and push through the pain in order to achieve victory.
  • Every race, every practice, every moment in life is an opportunity. Respect yourself enough to take full advantage of each of those opportunities as you will never get them back.

I learned these lessons as an athlete from an amazing man who cared enough to not only coach the swimmer but also to mentor the person. I internalized them and have used them every day of my adult life.

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Good coaches don’t just build athletes, they build the future by shaping the character of those that they mentor.

 

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Ashley Grace’s Heroic Journey…

Thoughtful Thursday

Heroic journeys, myths that tell the story of heroes, played an important role in early culture by inspiring and unifying the people.  My favorite teenager was tasked with writing her own heroic journey story this summer as part of the Duke TIP program at Trinity University.

On this Thoughtful Thursday, I challenge each of you to think of your life as a heroic journey and find inspiration in your own perseverance…

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The Story of Me

            December 9, 1999.  It is a cold, snowy day, or so I am told.  In Cozad, Nebraska, Anne and Matt Burkholder are waiting for the birth of their first child. The baby, who has already tried to enter the world a few months earlier, has the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck, and the doctors order a C-section. Three weeks early, I am born at about 5:30 P.M.

My life had begun.

            I was a bossy child. Being the oldest, I spent my first 2 ½ years in a household where I was the queen. My world was rocked when my parents brought home my sister; again the world shook 3 years later. Shortly after my youngest sister was born, my mom was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an autoimmune disorder that caused her thyroid to produce its hormones too fast. Six year old Ashley was suddenly thrust into a world of responsibility; a world where I was the one cleaning and taking care of the kids while my dad worked. All I remember from this period was the house always being dark so that my mom could rest.

            Once she recovered, my mom threw herself into making up for the lost time. I did every sports activity offered in town. I participated in Destination Imagination, a program where teams are given problems to solve and they make a skit to display the solutions. I did speech and essay competitions galore. We went to Kenya for Christmas one year, where I learned not to take my life for granted.

            In seventh grade, I was allowed to do school sports. I soon fell in love with Cross Country, and have learned so many life lessons pounding the pavement of Cozad. I participated in HAL mod, where we took the ACT, and did Quiz bowl and History Day. Last summer, I went to the UK with my grandma, which prepared me for spending long amounts of time away from home.

            In January, I got an envelope from Duke TIP inviting me to come to a summer camp. That was really my herald, bringing the possibility of an adventure. I was all for it, but my grandma and guidance counselor/cross country coach had to convince my mom first. She finally said yes, and six months later I walked through the doors of Prassel Castle, not knowing what to expect.

            My plane had been delayed, so I arrived late. Consequently, everyone was at Orientation and I sat alone in the back. Afterwards, I didn’t know anyone, so I went back to Prassel inconspicuously following a group of girls, but not quite walking with them. I felt so alone. Once I was introduced to my RC group, however, I rebounded quickly. My roommate, Leah, and my entire group have become good friends and allies.

            The first day of class, I was so nervous that I wasn’t going to be as smart as everyone else. I had been having nightmares that I would get sent home because of my inadequacy. Of course, I soon learned better, and began to really enjoy class. Miss Wiley has become a sort of mentor, because she made me realize how powerful I am and that I can change the world.

            Running consistently has been another struggle I have faced here. The morning runs didn’t start until four days after camp began, and I stressed about whether I would be able to achieve 200 miles this summer. I have also had trouble setting my alarm, so I have not been able to go to every run. This experience has certainly taught me to be more responsible!

            So far I have tried so many things I never thought I would get the chance to, including, but not limited to, authentic Mexican food, Ultimate Frisbee, yoga, and brick painting. I also have an awesome tutu to show for this summer, and I can’t wait for the TIP-Sync competition and Tiger Fest.

            I think that my shadows on this trip have been my own demons. It has been my own insecurity or self-doubt that have plagued me during this adventure. The threshold guardians have in some way, been my family. My youngest sister would not let go of me as I climbed into the car, and my mom’s teary eyes almost made me give up.

            In the future, I hope these trials will have made it possible for me to graduate high school, (valedictorian, please!) and go to a good college (possibly Stanford, or an Ivy). I want to work with underprivileged children as a teacher and friend, in this country or others. Hopefully, I will get married and have children, and be as good of a mother as mine was for me.

My story has just begun.

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

Cattle Psychology – Where the Romantic Meets the Pragmatist…

A couple of weeks ago at the International Symposium of Beef Cattle Welfare, I heard Dr. David Fraser speak about the conflicting ideas of “romantic” vs “industrial” thoughts toward animal welfare. Listening to his presentation cemented my belief that I was a conflicted romantic and pragmatic animal welfare supporter.

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Saturday morning while exercising calves during a beautiful sunrise, it occurred to me that perhaps I am so drawn to cattle psychology because it is where the romantic meets the pragmatist.

I had spent the week working with some 550 weight fall born calves which arrived at the feed yard anxious and unsettled.  The first morning they waited grouped together in the back corner of the pen too unconfident to actively seek the feed bunk. Using great care, I entered the home pen and asked them to move in straight lines seeking to engage the “thinking” part of their brains. I then gently asked them to exit the pen gate and travel down the alleyway. Sensitive to their large flight zone, I used very mild alternate pressure to guide their movement.

After working with them in the main corral for a few minutes, I asked them to again travel back to the home pen where fresh breakfast had just been placed in the feed bunk. The long stem prairie hay and calf ration in the bunk caught the attention of several of the heifers as they traveled back into the pen, and before long many of the calves were lined up at the bunk finding breakfast.

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As part of my regular cattle acclimation protocol, I followed this same routine every morning for five days. Each day the animals gained a greater level of confidence and a better understanding of life in their new home. When I entered the pen on Saturday (day 5), I knew that the cattle were acclimated.

They looked at me with curiosity and hesitated before agreeing to leave the home pen as if to ask “are you sure that I really have to leave?”

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A good cattle caregiver can sense when a group of animals is settled and comfortable.

The natural energy to leave the home pen is less than the energy seen when the animals return to the home pen. In addition, the cattle travel down the alleyway and past a handler with confidence. Sometimes it is hard to attain this, but when it happens it is a thing of beautiful harmony.

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I love it when a calf asks me a question. I love it even more when he accepts my response and offers an appropriate reaction.

The romantic in me smiles because I know that I have made a positive difference in the welfare of the calf. The pragmatic in me also smiles because my “job” as a cattle caregiver just got a lot simpler. That calf will now handle more easily, is less likely to get sick, and converts his feed more efficiently thereby reducing the environmental footprint of my beef.

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Reliability…

Thoughtful Thursday

During the summer months, my feed yard crew works on maintenance projects that the weather precludes us from doing during the winter.  One of our main projects this summer is building new fence in our receiving/shipping/cattle working corral.  This week, we began painting the fence to help “weatherize” it.

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My daughters, in addition to my graduate student intern from the University of Nebraska, all added onto the regular crew to work on this popular task.  It is amazing what comes up when a diverse group of smart minds spend hours performing manual labor tasks…

 At one point, my favorite blonde cowgirl announced Mom, you should write a blog post about reliability because it is the most important quality in an animal caregiver.”  As I thought about her statement and the explanation that followed, I realized how truly perceptive she is.

Reliability provides the basis to being a good animal caregiver — from showing up to work on time every day, to working diligently and carefully to provide good feed and animal care, to consistently demonstrating calm leadership to the animals — my cattle rely on us every day of the year.  They don’t tolerate excuses, instead they inspire responsible diligence.

The Feed Yard Foodie

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Equal Opportunity Barnyard Supporters…

Since we missed "Thoughtful Thursday", instead you get Friday update on the chickens from my favorite teenager...

Since we missed “Thoughtful Thursday”, instead you get a Friday update on the chickens from my favorite teenager…

As you all know, the Burkholder Family gained five new members at the start of the summer. Ten weeks later, they are no longer tiny, fluffy balls that fit in the palm of my hand: the “ChickiDees” are formidable feathered friends.

"Sliding" down the ramp...

“Sliding” down the ramp…

Although they were reluctant at first, the Burkholder chickens spend the great majority of their day in the the fenced in run, aka “The Forest”. Their hobbies include playing Hide and Seek in the tall weeds, squawking over the food dish, and pecking the hand that feeds them.

Juliet has also expressed an interest in becoming dog food. (A few weeks ago she was almost eaten when Shellie grabbed her from the coop and ran around a bit. Apart from being completely traumatized for a few days, she was perfectly unharmed.)

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“Shellie”

Their favorite color is alfalfa dust green, as they have been known to eat the dust off the top of the food. They also enjoy cherries, and, to my disbelief, squash and other vegetables from the garden.

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Our four barn cats showed quite a bit of interest in the coop during its building phase, and you will be pleased to know that the interest has not waned. The yellow cats especially, Simba and Little Bit, take great pleasure in spending their leisure sitting outside of the run. Simba also likes to climb on top of the run and peer down at his imagined entree. The chickens have eventually become desensitized to this behavior, and it is now a game to mock the cats.

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All in all, I believe the chickens have transitioned into their place at Casa de Loca, and like all of our animals, have truly found The Good Life. They are rapidly growing on my own special diet of alafalfa dust, vegetable scraps, 5 Seconds of Summer music, and The Fault in Our Stars quotes.  The last ones definitely have the greatest effect……

Author Extraordinaire: Ashley Grace

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The Road to Excellence Is Not Always Comfortable…

I am one of the coaches for the Cozad Swim Team. Our primary season is late May through July, and I spend the noon hour during the summer on the pool deck coaching practice as well as Saturdays at swim meets.

I love the sport of swimming and spent the better part of my formative years training in the pool. My high school tenure found me practicing four hours a day and traveling across the country to compete in swimming meets. My journey as a competitive athlete taught me so very many things, but likely the most important is that the road to excellence is not always comfortable.

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While I loved my time as a competitive swimmer, being a volunteer swim coach has grown my love for the sport exponentially. It allows me to touch the lives of the youth in our community and help to shape their tenacity and character. This year our team had almost 50 members that ranged in age from five to fourteen as well as a few brave adults competing in the 30 and over age group.

I believe that one of my most important jobs as a coach is to teach my athletes to build mental strength and confidence. As the mind begins to believe, the athlete learns to push him/herself into the uncharted waters of true physical exertion. There is nothing comfortable in this journey, yet it ultimately results in the true beauty of fitness and excellence.

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Regardless of any individual athlete’s God given talent, learning the life skill of breaking outside of what is comfortable in order to attain improvement is critical. I would argue that this is a life skill that reaches far outside of competitive athletics. Mental toughness and the desire to always improve (regardless of whether that journey is comfortable) is a skill that I have used every day in my adult life.

This year, I created the Pitchfork Challenge for our swim team to add a new element to practices. Each swimmer was tasked with discovering how many laps they could complete without breathing while swimming (in both Freestyle and Butterfly strokes). Each no-breath lap was immediately followed by 15 wall push-ups with no rest in the continuous effort for multiple laps.

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Watching the young athletes figure out that they could indeed achieve success in the Pitchfork Challenge was a fulfilling experience. As they realized that I believed in their ability, my swimmers also began the personal journey of believing. Many of them pushed the limit, with my favorite blonde cowgirl going the farthest with 7 consecutive laps of freestyle no breathing with 15 wall pushups as the only “rest” in between laps. I had 38 athletes complete the challenge in freestyle, and 17 of those 38 completed it in both freestyle and butterfly. Additionally, there were another 6 athletes under the age of 8 that completed the challenge with only one breath.

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A nice “side effect” of the Pitchfork Challenge was a tremendous improvement in both work ethic and fitness amongst my athletes. This led to an undefeated season for the Cozad Swim Team and a dominating performance at both the Plains tsumani Swim Team Qualifier and Championship meets.

Forty eight of our swimmers qualified for the Plains tsunami Swim Team Championships and those athletes brought home 166 medals (31 Gold) and 7 high point winners. Cozad brought home the 1st place team victory with 1792 points (more than 400 points ahead of the 2nd place team—a total of 24 teams competed in the meet).

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Likely, the most important result of the season is the personal growth that each of my swimmers developed during the summer as they discovered that the road to excellence is not always comfortable…

I would like to take a moment to congratulate every athlete that swam on the team this summer. Each one of you played an important role in our team journey, and it brings me great pride to be your coach. I hope that in the future, when life throws a challenge at you, that you will think back to the Pitchfork Challenge and dig deep in order to persevere with excellence.

 

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True Partners…

Thoughtful Thursday

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There is tremendous beauty in a true partnership marked by trust and devotion.  From it springs an unselfish desire to care unconditionally and love without reservation.

The Feed Yard Foodie

 

 

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