S.E.F.A — A Cowgirl’s HACCP Plan…

My 13 year old blonde cowgirl grew up at a cattle feed yard. She learned about cattle, Beef Quality Assurance and HACCP practices as she learned how to walk and talk — internalizing them during her formative years.  Megan lives life with an interesting blend of faith, quiet confidence, determination, and a never ending smile.  Her adventurous spirit blended with the practical skills learned on the farm create a unique package.

Although this picture is several years old, the look on her face as she lopes her beloved horse says it all...

Although this picture is several years old, the look on her face as she lopes her beloved horse says it all…

Some might say that Megan is a bit of a “wild woman”, but the truth is that underneath her outwardly exuberant personality is a calm problem solver.  She holds steadfast under pressure and always has a plan.  I attribute a lot of that ability to the hours that we spend together at the feed yard.  During those times, I expect her to focus, be tough, and make good decisions — constantly adjusting to the situation in order to ensure the best possible outcome.  This skill carries over into other facets of her life.

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Sometime in the middle of track season this spring, I heard Megan refer to her S.E.F.A. kit.  I was focused on something else at the time so I did not ask her about it.  A few weeks later, I found a black cosmetic bag with bright pink duck tape on the front.  It was filled with first aid tools: neosporin, band aids, vasoline, q-tips, anti-itch cream, chap stick, and ibuporfen.

Printed on the pink duct tape was the acronym:

S: Super

E: Extreme

F: Freak

A: Accident Kit…

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I have to admit that I laughed when I first saw the S.E.F.A kit.  It was just so Megan: Confident enough to always engage, but smart enough to be prepared for any outcome.  Megan knows that there are no guarantees in life.  She lives on a farm where life is sometimes very harsh and even the best plan can go awry.

I have taught her to accept that behind every adversity is the opportunity for improvement. To face life head on: confident enough to expect the best, but realistic enough to be prepared for the worst.

When I finally asked my favorite blonde cowgirl about her S.E.F.A kit, she smiled and said:

“Mom, it’s my HACCP plan”.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Family, General

Busy Times…

Over the past two weeks, I have failed at blogging.  The days passed in a hurry and my tired voice found little strength to share.  Thus, I put Feed Yard Foodie aside, pausing to put my thoughts together and hopefully find inspiration.

I plan to spend the rest of the summer figuring out the future of Feed Yard Foodie — whether to continue as it has been, modify it going into the future, or retire from social media for a indefinite period of time.  After 4 and a half years, I think that it is time to reassess and figure out a vision for the future.  I am open to all of your thoughts, so please feel free to share your opinions regarding the blog site in the comment section below.

In the meantime, I figured that I would update you all on the happenings of the farm.  About ten days ago, the feed yard had its annual third party audit.  June and July are also filled with maintenance work, and my guys taking turns being on vacation.  When you have a “4 man crew”, it is always a bit hectic when you run short on help.  My blonde cowgirl has stepped up to help fill in the gaps, and I have been glad to have her smiling face around.

Here are a few family tidbits from the last few weeks:

Our family adopted a student from Spain for the summer.  Carlos arrived just over a week ago.  My mom lived with his grandmother’s family in Spain more than 50 years ago, and our families have gone back and forth across the ocean visiting periodically for more than half a century.  My favorite farmer is very excited to have a boy living in the house and we look forward to the next month that he will share with us!

In addition to working on improving his English, Carlos has already learned to water ski and also been introduced to various farm chores :)

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The end of June brings the harvesting of prairie hay to the Feed Yard Foodie farm.  Some of this hay is baled in large round bales to be fed to our cattle, and some is put up in small (60#) square bales to be fed to both our cattle and horses. The small square bales require some good old fashioned labor to transport them to the barn where they are stored.  I always view this as a great project for the kids to help with — They likely disagree, but I see it as a character building experience.  My favorite farmer still slings small squares like a teenager.  He commented after we finished the project that even though the girls are bigger than me, that I still unload and stack bales faster and better than they do.  I guess that means that I am not finished parenting them yet :)

Good life lessons are often taught amidst a robust session of manual labor...

Good life lessons are often taught amidst a robust session of manual labor…

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June also brings on the main season for the Haymaker Swim Team.  I am proud to report that our team finished the regular season with an undefeated record!  Over the next three weeks, we will head to the Qualifying Meet and ultimately the Championship Meet the third weekend in July.  I have a great group of swimmers this year and we are well positioned for some awesome performances in the latter part of the season.  In addition to coaching, this year I am competing in the 19 and Over age group to celebrate my 40th birthday — I suppose that this is my “mid-life crisis”.  Thankfully, my body still remembers how to compete in the pool :)

This picture was taken about a month ago -- since then, my favorite 10 year old has passed me by and I am now the shortest two-legged member of the household!

This picture was taken about a month ago — since then, my favorite 10 year old has passed me by and I am now the shortest two-legged member of the household!

I hope that this summer finds you all making great memories.  Happy 4th of July to each and everyone of you!

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Filed under Family, General

Mind the Fence, Shut the Gate, and Respect the Animals That Bring You Food…

While I grew up in urban West Palm Beach, my dad leased the hunting rights to some rural ranch land west of Clewiston, Florida. During my childhood, we spent weekends at the “hunting camp”. Although I knew little about cattle, I learned at a young age something called gate etiquette.

Gate etiquette is really a very simple concept – If you find a gate open, you can leave it open – If you find a gate closed, then you must re-shut it after you pass through it. Gate etiquette ensures that cattle remain in the pastures that they are meant to be in and do not stray somewhere that they do not belong. In addition to taking care with gates, we also made sure that we did not disturb or harm the fences in between pastures.

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the “hunting camp”…

Our family was both thankful for the ability to hunt on the ranch land, and also for the cattle that grazed there. In addition to growing beef, the presence of the bovines played an important role in ecosystem which improved the health of the land and the quality of the hunting. My dad was a stickler for rules, and I know that the rancher appreciated our diligence.

When I moved to Nebraska in 1997 and went to work on the farm, I learned to truly appreciate gate etiquette. It, along with good fence maintenance, ensures the safety of both our cattle and the community members that drive the roads near our farm. I cannot stress how truly important this is. I also cannot stress how truly frustrating it is when people from outside of the farm do not respect fence and gate etiquette.

The fence prevents accidents and ensures safety -- please don't tamper with it!

The fence prevents accidents and ensures safety — please don’t tamper with it!

Unfortunately, in the last 18 years, I have seen all of the following things occur on our farm. As a result, we have lost cattle (a few that were never recovered) who became a liability for everyone as they wandered and strayed across roads where they might cause accidents.

  • Poachers cutting down fence in order to illegally trespass and hunt on our property.
  • Careless off farm repairman who are hired to come to the farm to fix a problem but open gates and forget to close them.
  • Irresponsible electrical company workers who take down fence along property lines without asking in order to do maintenance on power lines, and then not rebuilding the fence properly when their work is complete.
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A properly closed gate protects both the animals and the people that travel the roads near farms…

One of the worst feelings in the world is a phone call from the sheriff’s office in the middle of the night informing you that cattle are on the highway. Regardless of whether they are your cattle or the neighbor’s, it leads to a sleepless night.

The truly sad part of this story is that all of this can be prevented if everyone took the time to care.

Minding the fence, shutting the gate, and respecting the animals that bring food to your table is everyone’s business. It keeps our animals on the farm where they are safe, and off of the roads where they endanger not only themselves but also innocent road travelers. Please take the time to do your part.

Together we are responsible providers: to our animals, our land, and to each other.

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Seeing In Pictures…

If you have read one of Dr. Temple Grandin’s books or seen her movie, you will remember hearing that cattle see in pictures. What this means is that cattle view the world as a collection of images. They are not linear thinkers – rather, they live in the visual moment. Good cattle caregivers understand what it means to see in pictures because they spend their days doing just that in order to effectively communicate with their animals.

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session...

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session…

I believe that when asking cattle to move from one place to another, the handler not only needs to see in pictures, but also to envision angles within the images. Moving cattle calmly and correctly necessitates applying appropriate pressure from the appropriate angle to instigate orderly movement. Depending on the personalities of the animals as well as their past interactions with human handlers, this angled pressure can range from incredibly soft to strong in nature. Regardless of the level of life involved in the pressure, it is the release of that pressure when the animal or group of animals responds correctly that creates a healthy animal/handler learning moment.

There are two kinds of bovine movement: a frantic flight/fight response that is fueled by fear, and a deliberate thinking response that comes from an effective interaction. The goal is to accomplish the latter, and it always makes me smile when I am savvy enough to enable a calf to think. At that moment, harmony exists as the right thing becomes the easy thing.

While this short video is several years old, in it my favorite blonde cowgirl does a nice job of showing appropriate and angled pressure as she asks a group of yearling cattle to exit the home pen. In order to effectively communicate with this group of animals, Megan has to see the pen through the same lens as the cattle and then interact with them in a meaningful way. One of Megan’s greatest strengths as a cattle handler is her ability to see in pictures and accurately read and respond to cattle behavior. This sense allows her to respond with the appropriate level of urgency to each interaction.

In some ways, I think that it is easier for a child to develop this sense. Their unbiased perspective and simplistic view of the world enables them to more easily shift from “human thinking” to “bovine thinking”. Once a young person develops the attentive focus needed to interact, her/his brain is unencumbered and more open to a natural interaction.

It's always a good thing when the cattle handler wears a smile!

It’s always a good thing when the cattle handler wears a smile!

I am not a natural visual thinker and my linear tendencies sometimes challenge my cattle handling skills; but I recognize the importance of thinking like a bovine. Over the years, I have consciously re-programed my brain to view cattle and their surroundings in pictures. Moving cattle out of the home pen and down the alley becomes a series of images and angles that flash through my mind amidst the rapid fire pictures of cattle expression and behavior that combines to determine my actions as the handler. It takes a clear mind and a keen focus, but provides an incredibly interesting journey…

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My favorite farmer read this post on Sunday afternoon and informed me that it was “marked by nerdiness” — I hope that someone other than Megan finds it interesting :)

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When They Become Useful…

The day that your children shift from needy to useful provides a pivotal moment on the parenting journey. I remember the first time that my girls made dinner for the family. It not only brought me a sigh of relief after a long day, but also a tremendous amount of pride when I tasted how good it was!

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For several years now, my girls have played key roles in many household chores: washing both clothes and dishes, cooking, taking care of the cats, dog, horses, and chickens, and mowing the grass. Quite honestly, these days I wouldn’t get through the summer without their help.

While it takes a bit of time initially to help them learn how to do a task (and a bit of time after that to periodically remind them of their responsibilities), I think that playing an active role in the chore brigade teaches both important skills and a teamwork mentality.

When farming is your profession, the lines between family and work are blurred. All three of my girls spent large amounts of time tagging along after both Matt and I before they started school. Weekends and summers led the way to continued involvement after they got older. Many dinner time discussions at the Feed Yard Foodie residence revolve around the farm, and my favorite farmer and I have made a concerted effort to keep the girls involved.

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This summer my favorite sarcastic teenager and my favorite blonde cowgirl will both play key roles on the farm – Ashley Grace in the office and Megan out at the feed yard. Their personalities allow them to share their strengths by helping the farm in difference capacities. Their tired Mama loves this new transition from needy to useful!

While there are many risks as well as unrelenting responsibilities involved with owning your own farm, being able to share it with your children is one of the redeeming perks. While time will tell if any of our girls decides to build their own professional careers on the farm, at least they will spend their formative years developing useful skills :)

I am certainly looking forward to sharing my summer as well as some of my responsibilities with them!

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Filed under Family, Farming

The View From the Eyes Of a Coach…

This week marked the beginning of the summer competitive season for the Cozad Swim Team. Every day for the next two months I will trade my dirty cowboy boots for flip flops and walk onto the pool deck as a coach. I view mentoring these kids as one of my greatest blessings, and the hours that I spend coaching on deck are the highlight of my summer.

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I love the sport of swimming. I found and defined myself somewhere along the hundreds of thousands of laps swum during my teenage years. While I am proud of my competitive accomplishments, I am more proud of the tenacity that I learned from the journey. Today, I still find peace moving the water and the pool continues to hold a special place in my heart.

Sharing this love with 60 young members of my community puts a special twinkle in my eye. I spend the summer watching my athletes attain mental, emotional, and physical strength. Amidst the shared smiles, high fives, and hard work they learn the joy of fitness — the importance of perseverance – the confidence that comes from learning to believe.

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While I love medals and victories just as much as my kids, as a coach I recognize that these are simply the icing on the cake. As I teach my swimmers to compete, I teach much more than simply how to win the race.

They learn:

  • That training hard builds self-respect just as much as muscle.
  • That being a good teammate builds a culture where everyone thrives.
  • That laughing in the face of challenge — as you conquer the challenge — is good for the soul.
  • That setting goals so that your hard work has a purpose enables you to attain greatness.
  • That excellence is not about comfort – It is about reaching above and beyond your capabilities in order to accomplish far more than your dreams.

Somewhere along the journey, together we both find purpose and fulfillment. Last winter I wrote about how much I love the George Strait song “I Saw God Today”. During the summer months, I see God in these kids every day as they figure out how to believe in themselves and work to build the self-respect that ensures them success.

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Twenty years from now, they likely will not remember their times or places at the Championship meet.

My hope is that they will remember to love themselves, respect their peers, and

ALWAYS — ALWAYS persevere in the face of challenge.

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Filed under Family, Rural Communities

Monkey In the Middle…

As a kid, I played Monkey In the Middle with my older brother and his friends. They delighted in throwing the ball far above my head making the likelihood of me catching it microscopic in nature. Every once in a while, I outsmarted them and snagged the ball which earned me temporary bragging rights — but mostly it left me frustrated and unequipped for success.

The buzz word sustainability often takes me metaphorically back to that childhood game.  The word itself encompasses such a broad range of ideas and topics that it becomes difficult to tie it down into meaningful bullet points for action.  The politics surrounding the word also exacerbate the inherent complexities as large corporate businesses, NGO’s, and politicians bat the word back and forth in an effort to prove to Americans that they are engaged in the conversation.

Without a doubt — the sustainability of our country, our culture and our planet is vital to both our present and our future.  Effectively learning from the past, changing our actions in the present, and teaching our children how to protect for the future helps to ensure our livelihood.  There is no easy or simple answer to the challenge of creating something meaningful and sustainable.  It takes both a grass roots understanding of the challenges as well as dedication on the part of each individual to work toward positive action.

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Sustainability is not a headline — it is not a marketing label — it is not piece of legislation — it does not appear magically at the end of a rainbow… 

Sustainability is a team effort — One that effects each and every one of us in multiple ways. 

I spent a large amount of time this winter covering the topics that I believe are vital to the sustainability of our future:

  • Identifying and reducing food waste
  • Getting balanced and meaningful science back into both the education and the research on nutrition
  • Realizing that good personal health comes from a diversely balanced diet teamed with appropriate levels of exercise
  • Understanding that responsibly growing food animals is a complex challenge that includes a dedication to environmental stewardship and quality animal welfare.

    They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious.  They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home...

    They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious. They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home because they trust me as a caregiver.

There is one component of sustainability that is often not voiced. 

It is trust. 

I am deeply saddened at the lack of trust and faith that Americans have in farmers.  From the individual American — to the large corporate grocery store– to the philosophical intellectual foodie — to the NGO — to the government — In the last twenty years, our country has collectively abandoned support for the people that grow food.  Instead of building appreciation and goodwill; a plentiful, diverse and safe food supply has rendered the American people unsatisfied, distrustful, and accusatory.

Sustainability is not possible without nourishment. 

Widespread nourishment disappears when the American Farmer decides to only feed his/her own family and leave the profession of agriculture behind.  There will come a point when those of us who work to feed the world will decide that it really just isn’t worth the pain when the only thing that you get in return is the ability to wear the monkey hat.

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Do you value the farmer who feeds you? Please take the time to request that farmers be included in the sustainability discussion.

*If you missed the winter blog posts on this subject, some of them are chronicled according to topic below.

Food Waste:

A Student Of Life

Food Waste We All Play a Role 

Food Waste, Sustainability and the Journey of Continuous Improvement

The Love Food Friday spring series offering food waste elimination tips from Chef Chris Giegel.

Nutrition:

Raising Teenage Daughters Amidst a Sea Of Dietary Confusion

Perhaps It’s Time To Stop Apologizing For Fat

Policy Does Not Equal Science

My Comment Letter To Secretary Burwell and Secretary Vilsack Regarding the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

Fitness Foodies

Environmental and Animal Welfare:

When Your Husband Needs You For Your Manure

Good Timing

Answering Questions: Responding To a Recent Comment

Trust But Verify

How Do You Know When a Group Of Calves Are Acclimated?

Reviewing the Topic Of Antibiotics

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., Farming

Love Food Friday Tip #9: Get Serious!

Love Food Friday!

ChrisNCBAkitchen2.jpgLove Food Friday Food Waste Elimination Tip #9: Get Serious — Document — and Save!

Chef Chris Giegel

For anyone serious about reducing food waste, it helps to know what is often wasted. Designate one week where you keep a journal or record all the food that gets wasted in your household. This will help you make informed and wiser buying decisions. If you buy less you waste less.

This could be as simple as freezing half a loaf of bread because you don’t eat an entire loaf before it goes bad, or realizing that your family doesn’t like something and avoiding purchasing it in the future. Buy a smaller gallon of milk if that regularly spoils before you can drink it all.

It’s easier to form a plan to reduce your food waste if you know what’s wasted. It’s well worth the time and will likely save you some money too!

BeefStripSteaksandMushroomKabobsGrecian Beef Strip Steaks & Mushroom Kabobs…

A great way to celebrate May as Beef Month and Memorial Day Weekend

Wishing you a fun filled holiday weekend, from our family to yours :)

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