The Spirit of Christmas…

I remember when my oldest daughter looked me in the eye and asked me if I believed in Santa Claus.  I replied, “Yes.  I believe that Santa represents the Spirit of Christmas and each one of us plays a role to ensure that it’s magic blesses each holiday season.”

Christmas traditions provide a wonderful way to bolster the Spirit of Christmas. From bringing life into the house with a freshly cut tree, to reading our favorite Christmas books, to making cookies and fudge in the kitchen while singing our favorite Christmas Carols –> the Feed Yard Foodie house is alive with holiday traditions.

This year, I decided to add a new tradition — one that not only provided personal introspection but also gave a special gift to others outside of our family.

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I created a Christmas Scavenger Hunt.

  • I filled 30 index cards with inspirational quotes (10 for each of my daughters).
  • My favorite farmer created hiding places for the index cards around the farm along with hilarious riddles to help the girls figure out the location of the cards.
  • The girls each received their packet of hints and set out to solve the riddles.
  • Once they collected all ten of their quotes and tied them together in a book for keepsakes, they raced back to the kitchen to find the final gift.

The final gift contained a certificate to be rebated with Heifer International. This international charity empowers families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity through donations of farm animals and animal care training. Bringing agriculture and commerce to areas with long histories of poverty, Heifer International projects provide both food and reliable income with products such as milk, honey, and eggs to be traded or sold at market.

Heifer International believes that passing on the gift creates sustainable communities filled with hopeful and proud individuals.  As the gifted farm animals reproduce, their offspring are shared with neighbors bringing an outreach much greater than any one individual animal.  Heifer International is one of my favorite charities for two reasons:

  1. I love to see agriculture play a pivotal role in raising families out of poverty.
  2. I love that the recipients of the gifts also receive training so that they can take the gift and turn it into a better life.

It isn’t just a hand out — It is the means to help end the cycle of poverty.  Focusing on cultivating pride, it provides necessary training to pair with the incredible work ethic indigenous to the recipient communities.

My girls and my favorite farmer chose to donate:

  • A Pig
  • A Share of a Heifer
  • An Alpaca
  • Two sets of Rabbits
  • Multiple flocks of Chickens, Geese, or Ducks

I loved watching them comb the website and discuss which gifts would help the most people. The Christmas Scavenger Hunt provided multiple angles of giving as my girls also collected a keepsake of inspirational quotes to read during the rest of the Christmas Season.  I hope that the memories of the day will help them to realize the true Spirit of Christmas.

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Together we can spread the gift of love — the gift of respect — the gift of hope, both within our families and all across the globe.

*A special thanks to John and Sandy Butler for inspiring me to create the Christmas Scavenger Hunt for my family.  Hopefully their gift of inspiration will continue on with each of you!

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The Moment of Truth…

I am often described as an intense person.  Part of it stems from my natural personality, but a portion of it also comes from my life experiences.  I spent my formative years as a serious competitive athlete — trading Prom for national swimming championships and learning from a young age that success comes to those who work the hardest.  Although I retired from competitive swimming before I started my life on the farm, many of the chores that I do at the feed yard often inspire that same intense Anne.

BovinePhotoBomb.jpgI remember feeling raw fear the first time that I walked among a large group of cattle on the farm.  Commingling with 1500# animals was not something that I learned how to do at Dartmouth College🙂

Our retired feed yard manager taught me how to herd, sort, and cowboy.  While it took a while to desensitize myself to the LARGENESS of the animals, the bovine mind intrigued me enough to take me past that initial fear.

Working with prey animals requires an intense concentration. Getting distracted not only erodes your effectiveness as the herd leader, but it can also be very dangerous.  Not too long after I started working at the feed yard, I began participating on the ship out crew.  This provided one of my greatest moments of truth.

The amount of power that a herd of 1500# animals exudes is nothing short of awesome. A savvy and seasoned cowboy works effectively to ensure that all that powerful animal energy moves harmoniously in the correct direction.  Moving those giant animals through the corral for the last time always offers me a moment of humility.

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today -- more to come on "Benny" in the next post...My foreman and I greeted last Friday morning early to ship cattle to Tyson. Although the sky was clear, the crescent moon provided little light as we moved through the darkness to herd the animals from the home pen down to the corral.  The 18 degree temperature provided for both a cool experience and poor visibility with steam rising off the animals as well as from our own breaths.  The ground was frozen unevenly due to a recent rain storm and the cold temperatures.

I felt both intensely human as well as intensely vulnerable as the animals moved through the corral and up onto the semi-truck.  Each time that we ship cattle, I accept the personal risk that exists when working with animals almost 15X your size.  I can control my own actions and use my skills to create positive herd movement. However, there are no guarantees.  In a purely physical match, I would lose every time.  This creates a moment of truth.

We ship our cattle without the use of any large equipment: simply a cowboy on foot or on horseback. The art of moving the large animals safely from the home pen up into the semi-truck lies in the hands of a small cowboy crew.  Success requires a blend of intuition and skill, and putting the big ones on the bus provides the most challenging task performed at the feed yard.

In just over two months, I will ship my last pen of cattle to slaughter.  Even though I close that chapter of my life, I will forever carry with me a deep appreciation for all of the cowboys that continue to perform this task on farms all across the Midwest.

The blend of vulnerability and intense strength in the action creates a memory that lasts a lifetime.

 

 

 

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The Glow That Illuminates…

Last week, I joined Idaho rancher Kim Brackett to film a podcast for the monthly joint effort by Purdue University and Beef Magazine known as The Beef Roundtable.  Our podcast will run in December and offers information on “sharing the beef story”.  As I prepared for the filming, I found a quote that resonated with me.  I think that it provides a perfect point of reflection for the week of Thanksgiving.  James Thurber states:

There are two kinds of light — 

The glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures.

Finding the quote sparked some quiet personal introspection in the days that followed.  I asked myself:

  • Do my words and actions provide a glow that illuminates? 
  • Am I a vehicle that allows others to find new and beneficial knowledge for their journey of continuous improvement?
  • Do I make a positive difference in the lives of others?

There exists no greater honor than being a catalyst for positive change.  I not only believe that on a philosophical level, but I also try to work for that in my life.  It starts with a willingness to respect the thoughts of others, and continues with the quiet strength needed to persevere kindly amidst a myriad of opinions.

Over the weekend, I took my oldest daughter to visit Notre Dame University and then attend the Division 1 NCAA College Cross Country Championships. My favorite farmer and I believe that our girls will gain both knowledge and motivation by experiencing life outside of our farm.  While it is hard for us to imagine them leaving home, we realize that a broad perspective will provide an illuminating glow as they make their way to adulthood.

The trip accomplished a number of “bucket list” items for my favorite brunette.

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On the way to Notre Dame, we pulled off the road and found Lake Michigan.  The pure joy you see on my daughter’s face comes not just from seeing the lake and dipping her toes in the water; but also from her realization that I value what is important to her.

Sometimes the glow that illuminates exists by simply allowing others to realize that what holds importance to them holds similar importance to you — just because you care. 

I found this unselfish spirit pervasive on the Notre Dame campus.  It was obvious to me that the culture of compassion and respect found on campus provided a healthy and happy environment for the students. Just as I know that I will always treasure my daughter’s smile, I also realize that fueling it comes from her innate ability to find her passion and express it with kindness.  The true light that illuminates glows from an unselfish desire to improve the lives of others.

Creating this type of culture rests within our reach — we simply need to embrace it.

Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

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How Do You Tear Down a Feed Yard?

Three primary alleyways provide the “blue print” of the feedyard with cattle home pens located on both sides of each alleyway for a total of 24 pens.  Our cattle farm dropped below 1/2 capacity (1500 bovines) last week as we shipped the final pen out of our 1st alley.

Early in the fall, I arranged the logistics so that the first alley pens emptied by early November.  This allows for us to begin the “tear down” phase on part of the farm while still taking care of cattle in the pens that make up the 2nd and 3rd alleyways.

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So, how do you tear down a feed yard?

Returning the cattle pen area to crop farm ground and grass pasture provides the goal for the “tear down” phase.  The logistical process occurs in the following order:

  • Take out the fences to open up the landscape.
  • Scrape the home pen surfaces to remove excess nutrients (manure) which we transport to my favorite farmer’s fields located within a 10 mile radius of the feed yard.  This manure helps to replenish nutrients and maintain good soil health where we grow crops each year.
  • Even up the land by removing “pen mounds” in order to create a flat surface for farming.
  • Disconnect cattle drinking water lines and remove water tanks from the home pens.
  • Remove concrete to be recycled.

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Completing this process for each of our three alleys allows for the transition of 24 cattle pens into approximately 40 acres of farm ground and pasture.  These acres will combine with other adjacent farm ground that already provides us with a nice crop of alfalfa.

November, December, and January will be split months for us as we continue to take care of the remaining cattle on the farm while also working on the transition project.  Once the last pen of cattle ships to slaughter in early February, our efforts will concentrate fully on the conversion of the land. We hope to finish the tear down by summertime in order to plant a transition crop on the irrigated acres and grass for the non-irrigated pasture ground.  The winter and spring weather will play a large role determining if we are successful in meeting that time goal.

While this project provides uncharted waters for us, we are working in consultation with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality in addition to the Natural Resources District.  My favorite farmer is an agronomy nerd and I am a passionate believer in the Native American philosophy that the earth was not a gift from your parents, but rather a loan made to you from your children, so managing for good soil health and the protection of our farm’s natural resources drives the decision making process.

Speaking of my favorite farmer, I need to grant him photo credits for the top two pictures shown above.  I am afraid of heights, so he nobly offered to climb the elevator leg at the feed yard to get the aerial photos😉

 

 

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Building a Dream…

At age 70, my mom devotedly continues her teaching ministry at Cardinal Newman High School.  Mrs. Gibson’s high school English classroom exhibits a magical culture of passion as my mom inspires her students to analyze literature, learn to write, and develop personal accountability.  Her vision of inspiring teenagers to greatness continually refills her cup and gives her life a special purpose.

anne-dandyMuch to my mom’s chagrin, I never developed a kinship with Shakespeare.  However, despite the fact that I chose animals over literature, I took a part of her with me as I internalized the belief that a healthy life vision revolves around fueling your passion to make a difference.  When I graduated from Dartmouth College and started my new life on the Nebraska prairie, a feed yard became my personal version of her classroom and I went to work looking for ways to understand the bovine brain in order to improve animal welfare and beef quality.

My cattle taught me patience and perspective.  They instilled in me a new level of maturity as I discovered a fascination with seeing the world through the eyes of a bovine.  Along the way, I developed long term dreams of helping to bring the concept of total fitness (mental, emotional, and physical) to the art of daily cattle care in order to improve both welfare and animal performance.

What started on my farm grew to hold a larger audience as I shared my ideas with other cattlemen in my volunteer efforts on Beef Quality Assurance, as well as hosting interested high school and college students at the feed yard.

When you believe in something, it is natural human tendency to want to share it.

The above video was filmed four years ago.  I had a potent moment this week when I clicked on it and heard myself talking about my passion for cattle, sharing the story of beef production, and realizing that the future would bring change.  In the fall of 2012, I had no idea that I would make the decision to close down my feed yard.  However, as I listened to myself on the video, I heard wisdom and foresight in my attitude toward the future and my role in it.

After this winter, I will no longer be the boss lady at Will Feed, Inc.  Despite that, I plan to continue to build my dream of improving bovine animal welfare and beef quality.  Beginning in February, I start a new phase with a new team as I join the crew of the Beef Marketing Group.

  • I have new goals for expanding the reach of my cattle care philosophy.
  • I have new goals for figuring out better ways to share how cattle are raised and where beef comes from.
  • I have new goals for refilling my cup of passion so that I can continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

I am really excited to be able to tunnel my energy and passion into my two favorite components of being a beef farmer: animal care and sharing the story.  I will work directly with five feed yards in Nebraska on the Progressive Beef QSA program focusing on high quality animal care.  Additionally, I have the privilege of expanding my social media reach beyond Feed Yard Foodie to write blog content and work on communications efforts for my new team.

I will get to do all of this while maintaining a more human friendly schedule that allows for time with family and for volunteer coaching efforts in my rural community.

While I will never have my mom’s talent for making poetry come alive to teenagers, I am confident that this new journey in my quest to build a dream will allow me the ability to make a difference in the lives of others — both two legged and four legged🙂

 

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Goals, Accountability, and Teenagers…

  • I believe that setting goals and working to achieve them gives life purpose.
  • I believe that accountability empowers integrity and results in making good decisions.
  • I believe that in all of my life journeys, the one that I take as a parent is the most important.

I live in a house full of teenagers.  My girls bring me intermittent bouts of joy and exasperation as we make our way together as a family.  They are both my greatest pride and my best challenge.  What we build together provides life’s greatest blessing.

I am a habitual goal maker.  Setting and working toward goals keeps me passionately excited to be better tomorrow than I am today.  I set goals in every facet of my life and hold myself accountable while working toward achieving them.  I try each and every day to pass this habit on to my daughters. This often results in interesting feedback from them😉

agstatexc3I remember a couple years ago when my favorite brunette was struggling during track.  I asked her at the dinner table one night what her goals were for the season.  Her reply caused me to grit my teeth as she stated: “I don’t have a goal for the season.  I am afraid to set a goal because I might not reach it, and I don’t want to fail.”

Fear is real.  It is part of being human and affects the decisions that each of us makes every day.  Acknowledging it empowers you to deal with it and ultimately move past it.  Setting goals that are challenging, yet achievable is one of the best ways to keep fear under control and gain confidence on the journey.

Although that night at the dinner table I wondered if my mentoring was flawed, the maturity and fortitude that my daughter went on to show in the next two Cross Country seasons demonstrated that we were both on the right path.  She ended both seasons as the lead runner on the respective XC squads helping to bring home the runner up team medal in 2015, and garnering an individual medal in 2016.

While she would likely tell you that the hardware was her greatest achievement, I would argue that learning to set goals and finding the personal strength to hold herself accountable for them creates her greatest accolade.  Over the last 18 months, I have watched her dig deep, over come adversity, and persevere with greatness.

This weekend, I will watch proudly as she competes in her first 1/2 marathon.  Completing the race accomplishes a long term goal and checks off a bucket list item.  She loves to run, and I love to watch her love to run.

Finding the appropriate balance as both her parent and her coach provides my greatest accomplishment.  While I want her to find success more than anything in the world, I realize that success only holds meaning when she learns to do it for herself.  From finding the personal discipline to get through the daily grind to daring to dream and packing her faith to go after it — that’s what makes her a winner.

She may be a teenager today, but tomorrow her contributions will help to shape our country.  That’s plenty of motivation to fuel us both on the journey🙂

 

 

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What is ‘Ethical Beef’?

When people talk about ‘ethical meat’, what does it mean?

This great question came my way from nocrumbsleft via the girlcarnivore last week while I was in Denver.  Kita, AKA Girl Carnivore, attended the Top of the Class seminar for beef advocacy where I held an honorary position as ‘faculty’.  I love the passion that Kita has for all things meat (even the farmers that grow it!), and I have a great respect for her ability to bring people together online for important discussions.

DSC03744As I offer “Anne’s answer” to what is ethical meat, I am going to operate under the premise that it is ethical to eat meat, and instead address the question from the standpoint of what farming practices enable meat to be described as ethically raised. To my knowledge, there is no official definition or label for ethical meat, so please bear in mind that anywhere you see the term ethical meat you are reading someone’s opinion.

For the sake of this article, I am going to focus on beef since that is the meat that I grow on my farm.  I personally define the word ethical as ‘morally correct and striving to use practices that do not harm either people or the environment’.

Anne’s short answer to the question is,

“Farmers behave ethically by employing core values that encompass good animal welfare, environmental stewardship, and effective safety practices in their quest to raise food.  Ethical farmers grow ethical beef.”

As a city girl turned farmer, I have often pondered what makes quality food.  After twenty years on a farm, I seem to always circle back to the role of the farmer.  The very heart of food exists with the farmer.

Farmers care for animals day in and day out:

  • Working with a veterinarian to ensure good welfare
  • Making decisions of how to use and protect the natural resources on the farm
  • Striving to incorporate safety into daily farm practices

To me, food is simply an extension of the person who toils to grow it.  Perhaps the long winded answer to this question manifests itself in another question:

“How do you know that the food that you buy was grown by an ethical farmer?”

Doing the right thing tops Anne’s priority list.  Whether it is caring for my cattle and our farm, mothering my three girls, or mentoring other youth in my community through coaching athletics — I take the responsibility of doing a correct and careful job to heart.

I recognize that many of you (my beef customers) don’t personally know me, so it is hard for you to trust me.  This creates a dilemma as every time you decide to purchase my beef, you must take a leap of faith trusting that I am competent and honorable in the care that I offer to my cattle.

Almost five years ago, I found a beef farmer program that not only provided a framework to my daily cattle care, but also offered an audit tool to verify my competence.  I settled on Progressive Beef  because it was the most comprehensive and practical QSA program that fit my core values of quality animal welfare, environmental stewardship (sustainability), and food safety.

Progressive Beef provides me with 39 different Standard Operating Procedures to ensure a daily culture of good ethics on my farm.  Crew training and in depth documentation requirements pair up with audits that verify the behaviors and management practices of my crew and I.  The core values of the program become a promise of competence when I pass the audit; thereby lending credence to my claim of being an ethical farmer.

In essence, Progressive Beef closes the gap between the farmer and his/her beef customer when a personal relationship between the two is unattainable.

Aligning our core values within the Progressive Beef QSA allows for both of us to enjoy ethical beef.

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Advocacy…

bovinephotobomb-jpgI traded dirt roads for the Denver pavement this week in order to participate in the MBA Top of the Class Training.  While most folks think of an MBA as a business degree, in my world, the letters represent Masters of Beef Advocacy.  Sponsored by the farmer funded Beef Check Off, the MBA program exists to inspire farmers and other beef advocates to share their story. 

The core information learned in the MBA program creates a basis of necessary knowledge and skills to begin the advocacy journey.  The Top of the Class Training consists of a two day intensive seminar which enables MBA graduates to find a higher gear on their journey.  Top of the Class graduates are “super advocates” who consistently channel their passion in order to share the story of beef.

I was invited to provide the Keynote Address as well as mentor other bloggers in one on one learning sessions during the two day event.  The topic of my Keynote Address was “The Evolving Journey of a Beef Advocate”, and preparing the power point presentation for the speech was a bit like traveling down memory lane.  My advocacy journey began with public speaking events and routine media interviews in 2006.  It eventually lead me to creating this blog in 2011.

  • I became a farmer because I fell in love.
  • I became a farmer advocate because when you believe in something, you want to share it.

After more than a decade, I remain an advocate because I believe that the stability of our country is intrinsically tied to the availability of food.

A plentiful and safe supply of food relies heavily on eliminating the knowledge gap between the 98% of the population that consumes food and the 2% of the population that not only consumes it but also grows it.

  • Farmers need to share their story.
  • Others outside of agriculture need to engage and listen.

Together we create a meaningful dialog that leaves all of us smarter and ultimately protects the livelihood of our country.

Feed Yard Foodie is not just “Anne’s Story” — Feed Yard Foodie is a piece of Anne.  I sustain in my advocacy journey by remaining true to my core values and creating a revolving fountain of energy through the personal growth that I gain from living on a farm and writing about those experiences.  I tell my girls to always pack their FAITH. 

F ortitude

A ttitude

I ntegrity

T rust

H umility

These are the core values that make me “Anne” and they provide the heart and soul of my advocacy.  I may not always be right, but I always care and that’s what keeps me going…

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