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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today, in honor of National Ag Day, don’t just thank the farmer—ask questions and help start the conversation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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…
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 crops (at least during the growing season)…
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.
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…
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…
The goal is healthy soil, abundant crops, healthy animals and nutritious beef for my family and for yours!
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.