I am a die-hard realist. I have always trended that way, but the last 15 years of raising cattle and managing a feed yard in Nebraska has cemented that tendency. It is not that I do not have lofty aspirations and goals; it is simply that I live in a world of practical implementation.
When everything that you do is tied in with Mother Nature, you learn to take what you get and then try to mold it into what you want. I manage my cattle feed yard with the promise of offering optimal care for my animals and producing the highest quality of beef. I also strive to ensure that my farm remains environmentally sustainable.
The weather can be both my greatest ally and my biggest foe. My animals live outdoors in dirt based pens. One of our top priorities is to keep their living conditions comfortable. We frequently clean the pens to prevent manure build up—the manure is then spread on our crop ground to ensure good soil health.
Despite our hard work, there are times when pen conditions are not what I want them to be. Sometimes during wet periods we struggle to dry the pens out to eliminate mud and sometimes during dry periods we search for ways to control dust.
This year is dusty. In fact, it has not been this dusty for almost a decade. I dislike dust because it can create health issues for my cattle. Dust pneumonia is an added challenge during drought years. While the dust in a feed yard is usually worse than the dust on pasture ground, this year it is so dry that the dust blows off of the pasture and farm ground with just as much abundance as the gravel roads and my cattle pens.
As a cattle caregiver, it is my job to figure out how to control the dust at my feed yard so that my cattle can maintain optimal health. An effective way to do this is to cross fence the pens. This decreases the living space for the cattle by half and allows the animals to pack down the dirt and eliminate the worst of the dust.
Cross fencing my cattle pens is a far from perfect answer to the problem. While the obvious positive outcome of cross fencing is managing the dust in the pens, there are drawbacks to doing this. The first drawback is that the cattle have less room to play and interact. The second drawback is that it is more difficult to keep the pens clean of manure, and good pen cleaning is a more laborious process.
When I make the decision whether or not to cross fence, I have to weigh the pros and cons. I know that there is not a perfect answer, so I must go with the best one given the circumstances. My top priority is to keep my cattle healthy because I know that healthy cattle make healthy beef. That priority drives my decision.
I am hopeful that we will receive some rain soon, and I will be able to take the cross fences out of my pens. As we move later into the fall, the days become shorter and there are fewer “drying hours” which should also help. In the meantime, I continue to take what I get from Mother Nature and do my best to mold it into something that both I and my cattle can live with…