Tag Archives: Farmer

Local Food…

Although I spent my formative years in a large city, I am a small town girl at heart.  I fell in love with rural America as a young girl fly fishing the trout streams in Wyoming with my family.  Today, I raise my own daughters on the beautiful Nebraska prairie.  My adopted state boasts 77,300 square miles of land, 1,869,000 million people and 4,330,000 million cattle.  Agriculture is the single largest industry in Nebraska — quite simply, we are in the business of growing food.

cattlepasture2014.jpg

I classify my beef as locally grown.  Most of my cattle are born and raised in Nebraska, and harvested at the Tyson Foods facility about 20 miles from my farm.  They are pasture raised on ranches and grain finished at my feed yard— with the feed that they eat also being grown in Nebraska.

While the vast majority of my cattle are traced from birth to harvest on the prairies of the Cornhusker State, the beef that they make likely travels a significant distance before it lands on your dinner table.  Nebraska produces much more beef than its local population could possibly consume.  Our state has the land and the resources necessary to raise cattle, but not nearly enough people to eat all of the beef that they produce. As a result, we export it out of the state for the benefit of others.

annemattbeef1

My beef is locally grown, but globally consumed.

Although it is a personal goal to one day be able to market and trace my beef as a branded product all the way to the grocery store/restaurant, today the specific traceability of my beef ends at the packing plant.  A significant portion of my beef qualifies for the Certified Angus Beef brand, so you may have the good fortune of eating Anne’s Beef if you purchase beef with the CAB logo. However, I cannot specifically tell you where the beef that is grain finished on my farm ends up (other than the one animal a year that ends up in my own freezer!).

G

The conversation revolving around local food is an interesting one.  While the origin of food obviously plays a key role in this discussion, I believe that perhaps the underlying topic is more one of trust toward the farmer that grows it.  The more local the food, the more likely you are to know the farmer that grew it — perhaps you even have the ability to visit the farm where the product is raised.

As our human population continues to concentrate in urban areas, food production will predominantly be limited to rural areas. This will, in particular, apply to beef production because cattle require larger expanses of land to grow.  The growing geographic distance from farms to urban dwellers will necessitate that food connections evolve virtually in order to meet the need for a connection between those that grow beef and those that eat it.

This calf was born on a ranch about 30 miles from my feed yard.  The white tag links the calf back to both the cow and the bull that were his parents...

This calf was born on a ranch about 30 miles from my feed yard. He is locally grown but his beef is likely exported out of Nebraska to more urban populations…

Perhaps the time has come to expand the definition of local food to include cattle that are raised locally, but the beef that they produce is shared globally.DSC03744

Most of you have never met me, do you trust me enough to grow your beef?

 

 

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Filed under CAFO, General

What Does Your Farmer Look Like?

Thoughtful Thursday

MegMatt.jpg

97% of all farms and ranches are family farms like ours, so there is an excellent chance that your farmer looks quite a bit like this…

Feel good about the food that you eat because we feel good about the way that we grow it!

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Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

National Ag Day…

If you had asked me 20 years ago what the letters Ag stood for, I would not have been able to tell you.  Those initials represented a community of people that I seldom ran across in the swimming pools of South Florida.

This week our country celebrated National Ag Day and many social media posts thanking farmers permeated the cyber sphere.  I have no memory as a child of being any more aware of National Ag Day than the term Ag.  Today, I wonder how many people outside of farmers celebrated this special day?

Sometimes you just have to take the plunge...

Sometimes you just have to take the plunge…

As I think about our farm and what Matt and I have worked for over the past 16 years, I feel a myriad of emotions.  Most of all, I marvel at the maturity and the insight that I have gained.  I find myself struggling to remember the 22 year old young woman that moved to Nebraska and set out to learn how to be the Boss Lady at the cattle feed yard.

He teaches me compassion and compels me to understand his needs...

He teaches me compassion and compels me to understand his needs…

While I am sure that parts of me (namely the stubbornness and determination) are still relatively prominent, I look at the world very differently today than I did when I moved to Nebraska in 1997.  As I remember the girl with unusual dreams and stars in her eyes, I marvel at her confidence.

I have loved him more than half my life...

I have loved him more than half my life…

Youthful optimism is a powerful mental tool—Just as I never doubted that Matt and I were meant to build a life together, I also never doubted that I could learn to be a good cattle caregiver.  As I became successful at the feed yard, I began to broaden my spectrum and to work in a volunteer status to improve cattle care practices through the Beef Quality Assurance program.

My belief was so strong that I never looked back...

My belief was so strong that I never looked back…

Quite honestly, it never occurred to me that I would fail.  That is the beauty of youthful passion and faith.   Through the years, it seems as though maturity has replaced that youthful confidence. Today, as I look at agriculture from the eyes of a 38 year old mother of three, there are days that I can no longer find the stars that used to inhabit my eyes.  A myriad of challenges threaten to replace those stars with doubts.

  • Mother Nature
  • Volatile commodity markets
  • Pressures from both increased government regulations and activist groups
  • Lack of unity within the agricultural community
  • Lack of trust between farmers and urbanites

In particular, the last three weigh heavily on my “not so youthful” optimism. Quite frankly, I worry about this at night when I should be sleeping.  I find myself imploring both farmers and non-farmers to open up the needed conversation regarding food animal production practices.

Caring for our animals is much easier for us than sharing how we care to you--it is the nature of the cowboy to be introverted...

Caring for our animals is much easier for us than sharing how we care with you–it is the nature of the cowboy to be introverted…

I feel the tremendous need for this conversation at the same time that my heart is concerned that it may be too late, or that we will not be able to see through the emotion clearly enough to respect each other and have a meaningful conversation.

When I look at her, I see the optimism and confidence of youth...

When I look at her, I see the optimism and confidence of youth…

As I celebrate National Ag Day in 2013, I look to my faith and to my children to give me the needed strength to keep moving forward.  I look into my girls’ eyes and draw on that optimism that so closely resembles what I used to see when I looked in the mirror.  I recharge my soul with the knowledge that this challenge is too important for us to not be successful.  I pray that we can come together as a country to find a sustainable and appropriate blend of food production systems in order to ensure the security of our future.

We must always look for the beauty in one another...

We must always look for the beauty in one another…

Today, in honor of National Ag Day, don’t just thank the farmer—ask questions and help start the conversation.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Blending Dreams With Reality Leads To Harmony…

For every little girl that dreams of a life in rural America being a cowgirl, there are many others whose dreams take them to beaches, cities, and a diversity of other places.   What each little girl holds close to her heart is unique and personal—changing over time to meet her maturing perspective.

I now have three girls with big dreams of their own!

When I had grandiose visions of being a cowgirl as a child, I thought of tall grass and beautiful wild flowers with cattle munching as they moved from one mountain meadow to another.   The scene was peaceful and picturesque with a rider on horseback guiding and caring for the cattle.

She’s found the grass and the wild flowers, now she heads off in search of the cattle!

My childhood dreams came back to me last week as Megan and I moved our grazing cattle.  The grass was a lush vibrant green, the cattle moved peacefully from one pasture to another, and I had the company of my daughter as we experienced the beauty together.

Found them!

The cattle ranching component of our farm is the only one that resembles my childhood dreams, however, there are many other parts to our farm that help to make it more viable and sustainable.  For us, a diverse farm is what happens when dreams are blended with reality. 

Our land and our cattle blend together in harmony to make our farm sustainable…

This week marks our 15thanniversary on the farm.  As I look back, I can see how our dreams and ideas have blended with reality to create innovation and harmony.   Our farm evolves and changes daily as Matt and I become better and more experienced caregivers for our land and our cattle.  I am confident that 15 years from now, our farm will be even better than it is today.

What are the biggest changes that we have made on our farm over the past 15 years?

Our cattle…

  1. The purchasing and selling of our cattle has become vertically collaborative as I realize my dream of tracing cattle from birth to harvest in order to improve the health and care of our animals and the quality and safety of the beef that they produce.
  2. With each day that passes, I place an ever increasing importance on animal psychology and holistic care that has a basis in Beef Quality Assurance and low stress cattle handling.
  3. The ethanol industry brings the feed product of wet distillers grains to our cattle farm which has improved the nutritional care that I offer to my animals.  Wet distillers grains is what is left after the ethanol has been extracted from the corn kernel, and it makes a fabulously rumen friendly feed for my cattle.  We blend the wet distillers grains with alfalfa and corn stalks / wheat stubble to create a blended feed of grains and forages.

    Our crops and alfalfa dehydration plant…

  1. The capitol purchase of a saw dust burner allows the alfalfa dehydration plant to be fueled by recycled materials instead of natural gas.  This reduces the environmental footprint of Matt’s alfalfa business.
  2. The capitol purchase of a Claas Jaguer chopper (pictured above) allows Matt to harvest more alfalfa using fewer pieces of equipment, fewer man-hours, and fewer amounts of diesel fuel—this makes his crop farm more efficient.
  3.  The production of a blend of traditional crops and organically certified crops gives our farm diversity in sales and products which helps to keep our farm economically viable despite the current volatile markets.

I am very proud of what Matt and I have built over the last 15 years.  Our hard work and innovative ideas have allowed the farm to prosper.   We have also been blessed to add three new dreamers to the family with the birth of our girls–it’s been a busy 15 years–I wonder what the next 15 will look like?

 

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Filed under CAFO, Farming, General

My Haymaker…

My Haymaker and his trusty side-kick…

Cozad, Nebraska is rumored to be the “alfalfa capitol of the world”.  Our school mascot is “the Haymakers”.  As our name demonstrates, we are a rural farming community.

The home field…

My husband is a Haymaker through and through.  Not only did he play football on this field and set records on this track, but he is a “professional haymaker” on our farm.

Matt’s school record in the 200 meters held for 21 years until a new dynamo runner broke it last year…

So, outside of being Cozad’s team mascot, what exactly is a Haymaker?

In farming language, hay can mean many things…In my husband’s vocabulary, hay means alfalfa and a haymaker is an alfalfa farmer.  Alfalfa is a perennial legume plant that can be harvested for 5-8 years after planting.  It is a high protein forage (17-19%), and has an excellent amino acid profile.  In other words, alfalfa provides the essential amino acids that animals require, but can not synthesize on their own.  It also has a high level of soluble fiber which is important for animal digestive health.

The leaves provide the protein and the amino acids—the stem provides the fiber…

Because it is a legume, alfalfa takes the nitrogen out of the air and makes it available to the plant so that no nitrogen fertilizer is necessary for its growth.  When the alfalfa dies, it also leaves residual nitrogen in the soil which helps to fertilize the next crop.  My husband starts harvesting mature alfalfa about the 1st of May and hopes to get four cuttings (harvests) of the plant during the growing season which ends in October.

This is a swather–which is the machine that cuts the alfalfa. It is like a big lawn mower and places the cut alfalfa in windrows (strips) down the field.

After the cut alfalfa has laid in rows on the field for several days (which allows the sun to dry it), the chopper picks up the alfalfa, cuts it into small pieces, and deposits it into a truck.

The chopper is really big which allows it to pick up and chop up to 50 feet of cut alfalfa…

The trucks transport the cut up alfalfa from the field to the alfalfa dehydration plant where it is further dried and compressed into animal feed pellets.

The alfalfa dehy pellets are both easy to store and easy to ship…

While I feed some of Matt’s alfalfa (in the form of big bales instead of pellets) at the feed yard, much of what he grows and dehydrates is shipped to feed animals all over the world.  From cattle to chickens to horses to gerbils to zoo animals—alfalfa is a great animal feed.My haymaker has traded his football and track shoes for work boots, and has become a true alfalfa farmer…

A hurdler and two distance runners…The legacy continues!

Our girls are loyal Cozad Haymakers and have their eyes locked on one day holding their own track records—Matt and I hope that one of them will also set their sights on transitioning from a Cozad Haymaker to an alfalfa farmer to continue our family tradition…

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Filed under Farming, General

Learning To Understand The Balance of Life…

One of the things that I love most about my husband is his natural tendency to think and problem solve.  Whether it is figuring out how a piece of equipment works as he uses it, thinking of ways to improve our farm, or struggling through social and political issues; he is a natural intellectual and inspires me daily. He never takes anything at face value, and digs deep when researching a topic.  My children roll their eyes and groan when they ask a simple question and get a detailed chemistry lesson from their daddy in return…

Matt and his captive lecture audience...

When I think of two words to describe a farmer, realistic and pragmatic come to mind.  Farming is an inherently “hands on” profession and is beholden to both science and the local natural resources of an area.  It is also intrinsically tied to the cycle of life.  Our goal, as farmers, is simply to ensure life and grow things.  When we fail to accomplish our goal, we are faced with a sobering glimpse of death. Whether it is the death of an animal or the death of a crop, it is an experience that is long remembered and provides great motivation for continual improvement.

On our farm, we have many things that are alive…

*Our family and our employees…

*Our cattle…

*Our crops (at least during the growing season)…

*Our soil…

The cycle of life on our farm can only continue as each one of these things works together to nurture each of the other things.  If any of the above four components are lost, then the cycle is broken.  Maintaining balance is like putting the pieces of a jig saw puzzle together.

Our family and our employees provide labor to convert our resources into food for human and animal consumption. Both plants and animals need a number of macro nutrients in large quantities to operate their metabolisms and build their bodies.  The important ones are carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A farmer takes molecules that are organized in a low energy state and reorganizes them into forms that have energy that are ultimately available and usable to humans.

A little intelligence and labor combined with a seed and healthy soil is the first step...

Add water and solar energy and the corn plant grows...

The same is true for alfalfa...

A balanced meal for cattle is made from the corn and the alfalfa...

The cattle eat the feed and grow...

The cattle are harvested to produce a digestible human nutrient packed protein source...

Soil samples are taken after crop harvest to determine how many additional nutrients are necessary to maintain a healthy soil for the growth of the next crop...Fertilizer samples are also taken to provide the rest of the information so that Matt can determine how much fertilizer to apply on each field by tying the needs of the soil to the nutrient levels of the fertilizer...

Natural fertilizer (indigestible nutrients of mainly phosphorus, nitrogen, and other organic matter) is recycled and applied to the farm ground to keep the soil healthy for a new crop...

In this way, water plus carbon dioxide are recombined with other nutrients and used to create starch/sugar/proteins for human use.  While I have simplified the process, the core components necessary for understanding are explained. It takes precise and intelligent human labor to properly combine resources and efficiently grow food.  In 2012, this puzzle has an added challenge.  Less than 2% of the population are actively involved in the reorganization of these nutrients into food.  The resulting limit in labor creates a necessity of efficiency.

To me, the big question is: How do I know that I am caring for the soil and the natural resources that are available to me while I reorganize them to make food?  The answer is simple: look and observe…test and measure…focus on the details and continually improve…

We test the soil.

We test the fertilizer.

We measure our yields (both crops and cattle).

Every single growing cycle…

Here are examples of test sample sheets for fields that we are currently spreading fertilizer on–getting ready for the next growing cycle in 2012. We get these back from the lab when we test the farm ground and the fertilizer produced by my animals…

Soil Sample Fall 2011

Manure Sample fall 2011

Matt takes this information to match up the soil and crop needs with the nutrients of the fertilizer…Below is a sample document from a field that we spread fertilizer on prior to the last growing cycle. This shows how we make sure that we did it correctly…

Brownfield manure application report winter 2011

The goal is healthy soil, abundant crops, healthy animals and nutritious beef for my family and for yours!

Raising food--it's a family affair on our farm...

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Filed under CAFO, Environmental Stewardship

From Flipflops to Cowboy Boots…

I am a firm believer that past experiences combined with natural personality make you who you are.  If the past and the present make up who you are, those experiences combined with dreams and goals make up who you will be.

Everywhere that I go, I am asked how an urban Florida  girl ended up managing a cattle feedyard in rural Nebraska.   While the short answer to that question is a 6’1” handsome blue eyed native Nebraska boy, it is (as many things are) more complicated than that.

When I got on a plane as an 18 year old bound for Dartmouth College, I told my parents that I was not sure where my life would take me; however, that it would not be returning to urban Florida.  I knew that my life would be somewhere in rural America.  I had seen glimpses of rural America traveling across the country and searching for good fly fishing rivers in the Rocky Mountains with my family.  I knew that I wanted to live in a place where the pace was slower and I could continually “recharge” my soul as I interacted amongst Mother Nature in “God’s Country”.

My experiences living in rural Nebraska for the past 14 years have far surpassed any picture that my imagination could possibly have painted .  I live in a community where people care.  We look out for each other, and that is just the way that it is.  Our farm and our community are constantly challenged by Mother Nature, and when this happens, it becomes instinctual to collaborate with each other and support each other.  Since the vast majority of us in rural Nebraska are involved in some form of agriculture, we share this greatest challenge and it brings us together.

I love the fact that my children are growing up not only understanding what their daddy and I do every day, but also playing an active role in both that and our community.  My favorite expression is “Take the time it takes to do it right”, and my children always groan and moan with tremendous drama when they hear me say it.  But, watching me (and helping me) to care for animals every day, 365 days out of the year, gives substance to my “parental pontifications”.  I am proud that I raise and care for animals which will quite literally ‘feed the world’.  This sense of purpose drives me to continually work to improve myself every single day.

I gladly trade my flip flops for cowboy boots, because I know that I am achieving my long held goal of making a positive difference in the world that I am so blessed to be a part of.

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Filed under Family, General