The Privilege of Diversity…

DSC03744Six weeks before matriculating at Dartmouth College I was mugged at gunpoint. A seemingly normal weekend night turned into a nightmare as a friend and I were assaulted a mere two miles from my house in Florida. My life changed that night as a stranger threw me on the concrete and placed a gun to my head. My guardian angel sat firmly on my shoulder that evening as the assailant and his accomplice stole my purse, but not my life.

I tell my girls to “always take God with you”. While the lesson wrapped up in those words holds many meanings, one of them dates back to that August evening in 1993.

My years at Dartmouth were a time of both healing and personal growth. Rural New Hampshire slowly brought back a sense of physical safety and ultimately l conquered the fear of walking across campus in the dark. I remained cautious, but the culture on campus helped me to find a healthy perspective and renewed my confidence.

Surrounded by intelligent and motivated students who held a great diversity of opinions, I was able to determine just “who Anne was”.   This concurrently sharpened my intellect as well as broadened my perspective. I started my time at Dartmouth a “jock with emotional baggage”, but I ended it as a confident intellectual who held a strong sense of purpose.

This is the beauty of a liberal arts education on a well-structured college campus.

  • A place where diversity is embraced allowing for the creation of mature thinkers with compassionate natures.
  • A place where a blanket of respect protects each student’s Freedom of Speech and personal rights in the midst of intellectually stimulating debates.
  • A place where students learn to recognize that life’s challenges do not define the individual, rather they are stepping stones for personal growth. This growth will, at times, bring discomfort but it also teaches perseverance.

Sometime during my tenure in Hanover, NH I figured out that I did not want to live my life as a victim — focusing on the past and allowing my heart to fill with discontent. Rather, I wanted to live my life as a humanitarian – seeking out the good in others and looking to the future with the desire to play a positive role on the ever important journey that we call life.

My alma mater found itself in the midst of controversy last week as a passionate student protest escalated to threaten the boundaries of respectful debate. My heart was saddened for a variety of reasons but perhaps the greatest was the apparent lack of inter-student respect on campus. Basic decency becomes lost when hatred toward a single ideology overtakes the value of compassion among individual classmates. Sadly, the second is sacrificed in the name of the first.

  • I dream of a world where people are valued for what they hold in their hearts rather than the image that they see in the mirror.
  • I dream of a world where people are lauded for the humanitarian work that their hearts empower their bodies to accomplish.
  • I dream of a world where diversity of thought is celebrated — Where our young people relish eclectic virtues and use them to make the world a better place.

Life is both a privilege and a responsibility. We must always move forward mixing our passions with compassion so that what I dream of today will be a reality tomorrow. Unfortunately, there will always be unexplained acts of violence like that which occurred to me so many years ago. However, we can lessen the impact of those acts by recognizing one act of hatred does not rationalize another.


Filed under Family, General

The Cozad Haymakers Embark On a Journey With FFA…

As a city raised “east coaster”, my first experience with FFA (Future Farmers of America) occurred as an adult several years after I went to work at the feed yard. As I became involved as a volunteer in agricultural advocacy work and the promotion of the Beef Quality Assurance program, my path began to cross with FFA instructors. Some of my favorite public speaking gigs have been with FFA students – sharing my story and answering questions from the best and the brightest that will soon be the future of agriculture.

I am excited to report that my home town of Cozad recently committed to building an FFA program in our school system. It is an honor for me to be involved in the process as a member of the community advisory group. While I truly believe that “it takes a community to raise a child”, I also believe that it takes a diverse blend of educators and community members to create situations where our young adults can increase their knowledge and skills in order to provide for the future.



Where does my food come from? — appears to be the million dollar question in 2015. Food unites us: from the Nebraska farmer to the urban executive to the small town electrician. It unites us because, quite frankly, we all need to eat. The ability to create a program where students in my home town can both learn where their food comes from as well as how to grow it – today, and on into the future – is an incredible privilege.

Agriculture provides the heart of our town. The majority of our community members are involved in farming in a variety of venues. What excites the team builder in me the most is the ability to pair these savvy folks with the awesome set of teenagers that make up the Haymaker school community.  The journey involves a passionate FFA educator bridging together these experienced and skilled entrepreneurial tradesmen with the next generation of farmers.


We believe in our designated journey. We have a calm and supportive ocean. We have a seaworthy ship. We just need a captain. The Cozad High School began taking applications for the FFA educator position last week. Please help to spread the word as we search for a passionate leader to navigate the journey. Contact Dustin Favinger at Cozad High School for more information.

308-784-2744 or

Go Haymakers!


Filed under General, Rural Communities

Pass the Peanut Butter…

I have enjoyed a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread and a banana for breakfast every day since the 22nd of September. I eat the peanut butter sandwich after I read bunks and exercise calves, and before I check daily cattle health. I eat the banana after the daily health check is completed late-morning.

Reading bunks and determining the daily feeding plan for my cattle begins at 6:00am.  It does not matter if it is Sunday, Halloween or the Thanksgiving holiday that we will celebrate next week – the feed yard day starts at 6:00, and there are thousands of animals that look forward to the morning routine. We start early because my cattle have taught me that a disciplined breakfast schedule benefits their health and comfort, and consequently reduces the environmental footprint of my farm.


September 22nd provided the first day of the “fall run of calves” at the feed yard. Each year, the extra cowboy chores that I take on during this time period wreak havoc with my breakfast choices. Since Graves Disease necessitated the destruction of my thyroid gland on my 33rd birthday, I am dependent on a pill to provide my body with the thyroid hormones that allow me to function. The thyroid pill is a bit picky, and (for my body) works best if I take it on an empty stomach. This means no breakfast for 30-45 minutes after I start my day by taking the thyroid pill.

Even though I enjoy breakfast, I enjoy sleeping more. I leave the house within 10 minutes of crawling out of bed. The result: a necessitated delayed breakfast after starting my day at the feed yard. During September, October, November, and the first half of December my mornings are so busy that I have to eat on the go. A peanut butter sandwich and a banana provide an easy solution to the challenge. Although it lacks diversity, it does start my day with protein, whole grains, and fruit.

By the time that Christmas rolls around, my pallet cries for a new breakfast flavor – almost as much as my body longs for a morning reprieve from the daily 5:35 wake up call. Such is the life of a feed yard boss lady in the fall months of the year. It’s a good thing that my freezer is full of home grown beef so that I can ensure that dinner promises more flavor and satisfaction than breakfast :)

BeefStripSteaksandMushroomKabobs I really prefer a beef meal where I can pass on the peanut butter!


Filed under Foodie Work!, General

We’re In This Together…

My favorite farmer’s and my mantra has always been, We’re In This Together. We met the fall of my freshman year at Dartmouth and quickly became the couple that we still are today. We are the ones that do everything together – from home, to work on the farm, to parenting our three beautiful girls.


The driving factor in our decision to head from the East coast back to the family farm in 1997 was our desire to build something meaningful together. Matt is my rock – the steady intelligent entrepreneur who somehow manages to thrive in a house of four very driven females.

My dedication to doing things right often makes me a work-a-hol-ic. I don’t rest until my animals have all that they need. That is just the way that God made me. I shrug off the fatigue and keep going, never stopping until the job is done. There are days that I am pretty sure that I exhaust both my husband and my crew, but they loyally stay and work alongside me. That is just the way that God made them.


There are two young ladies that make us all smile. Their presence puts everything into perspective, and their good humor breaks up the long weeks of the fall. I look forward to the weekends and rely on them to practically help complete chores while also to lighten the mood at the feed yard.

It struck me Sunday morning, just how much I need them. It left me a bit in awe as I realized how well they listen, how quickly they learn, and how incredibly capable they are. From scooping bunks, to exercising calves, to checking daily animal health, to spouting Beef Quality Assurance and Progressive Beef protocols — all with a smile, and all with the work ethic and responsibility that permeates the culture of the farm. They GET IT.


After we finished morning chores, we headed over to the feed yard office. Every Sunday morning, Megan writes a new inspirational quote on the white board in the office. The one she chose for this week could not have been more appropriate.


Some might think that I expect too much of my girls, but one of my greatest responsibilities as a parent is to place them in situations where they can develop maturity, responsibility, accountability, and the resulting self-confidence that comes from true accomplishment.

My gift to them comes in the form of a shovel, coveralls, and Bogg boots all wrapped up with the knowledge of how to use these tools to benefit the animals on our farm and ultimately the people that those animals will go on to nourish.


Between our home and our farm, our girls learn every day that life is more meaningful if we’re in this together.  I look at them and recognize Matt’s and my greatest success in our journey…


Filed under Family


As the “boss lady” of a small feed yard, I often moonlight as a cowboy. Particularly during the fall months, I spend at least half of my time cowboying. While some may think of fast horses and whooping noises when the term cowboy comes to mind, I think of purposeful movements and nonverbal communication. To me a cowboy is a caregiver.


The cowboy plays one of the most critical roles on a cattle farm. He sets the culture for all cattle-human interactions, as well as acting as the primary caregiver. Although cowboying involves a lot of physical labor, I enjoy that part of my job.

When I was a little girl, I used to sit in my room and dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Depending on the day, I settled on different professions but one constant in my dreams was the desire to make a difference in the world. Animals have always tugged at my heart, and I am more at home around them than people. In many ways, cowboying fulfills those childhood dreams as there is nothing more rewarding than working hard to ensure that God’s creatures can thrive.

Denke3April.jpgSo, what does a cowboy do on the Feed Yard Foodie farm?

  • Acclimate newly arrived cattle – teaching them to feel comfortable in the home pen as well as gaining their trust as a caregiver.
  • Work on the processing crew – every animal on our farm receives routine vaccinations (like people getting the flu shot) to bolster their natural immunity to fight off illness. The cowboy gives those vaccinations according to instructions from the veterinarian.
  • Check daily cattle health – every animal on our farm is checked every day. The cowboy knows what the animal looks like when it is healthy, therefore detecting sickness means looking for the absence of health. The veterinarian trains the cowboy to diagnose and treat sick animals, and mentors him for this important chore.
  • Ensure nourishing feed and water are available to each animal.

A good cowboy has both a compassionate and practical nature. A good cowboy puts his animals ahead of himself. A good cowboy recognizes that effective care requires viewing the world through the eyes of the calf rather than the eyes of a human.

After almost twenty years, I remain fascinated by my animals and truly enjoy the daily interactions of working with them. There are days when my body hurts and deep fatigue sets in, but the knowledge that my efforts make a difference enable me to meet each new sunrise with a smile.


While I am not sure that the little girl ever dreamed of a cattle farm, the animals intrigue the woman and inspire her to be a good cowboy.


Filed under Animal Welfare

In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle…

A college friend introduced me to the book, In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle, by Madeleine Blais more than twenty years ago. Based on an Amherst Lady Hurricanes high school basketball team in the mid-1990’s, the book is a tribute to hope, respect, and dedication to team. My friend was a member of that team, and her story influenced me greatly as I began my adult life.

Prior to this fall, I had not thought about the book in many years, but the 2015 Lady Haymaker Cross Country team brought those memories back full circle. A small team, led by an awesome coaching staff, defied the polls and walked away with numerous titles. Their accomplishments included bringing home the Nebraska Class C State Runner-up trophy last Friday.


In Nebraska, Cross Country teams run 6 and score 4. Due to injuries, the Lady Haymakers ran 5 and scored 4. Demonstrating an impressive display of “pack running”, the top four girls finished the 5k race within 15 seconds of each other. Despite the fact that none of the girls received individual medals, their accomplishments garnered them the Runner-Up team trophy.

While there are many things about the state race that I will forever take with me, it is the look of determination on each girl’s face that warmed my heart the most. They had a goal. They believed. They trained. They built the muscle of hope just as they built physical fitness.


And they persevered with greatness…

My oldest daughter led the team as each member competed with character, love for one another, and a deep respect for the sport. While the trophy that brought tears as well as smiles will now live in a cabinet in the Cozad High School, the joy that comes from building the team will travel in all of their hearts for the rest of their lives.

Haymaker Cross Country personifies a culture of excellence. The positive mental development of the athletes provides the true beauty of the program. Somewhere in the thousands of training miles under the leadership of head Coach Dustin Favinger, a bond is forged among the runners that transcends the physical.

It is truly a joy to witness…


Throughout the season, I watched the girls “fill in” for each other during the races. They packed up tightly, running together and feeding of off the muscle of hope that beat deeply in their hearts. The girls tenaciously battled challenges, always determined to accomplish the prized end goal: a state team trophy.

As a parent, I cherish the life lessons that Ashley Grace learns pounding the running trail in search of excellence. Comraderie, self-discipline, and confidence all tie together creating the realization that true success occurs when selfless individual efforts forge together to create a team.


I will never forget the smile on her face as she proudly held the trophy. It is the smile that results when hard work, determination, and hope provide the promise of victory.

That is the recipe for excellence – That is Haymaker Cross Country.


Filed under Family, General, Rural Communities

Following Up On Subway…

I am a cattle farmer who blogs. This combination leads to an interesting life, but yesterday’s blog experience surpasses anything that I could have imagined. There are times when I wonder if anyone reads what I write – I did not have to wonder yesterday as my email box filled with hundreds of messages as I did my normal “cowgirl” chores.


The huge outpouring of comments and the just short of 500,000 reads renews my faith that Americans are willing to engage with a farmer to learn about where food comes from.

This afternoon, Subway issued a revised statement which brings me hope that we can work together to form meaningful change. I have copied the relevant verbiage in the below paragraph which came directly from their website. The bold green portion is the additional language that appears in the revised statement as of today.  Subway states:

Our goal is to reduce and eliminate the use of antibiotics in the food we serve. Elimination of antibiotics use in our supply chain will take time, but we are working diligently with our suppliers to find quality solutions that also ensure our high quality and food safety standards are upheld and not compromised in any way. Our plan is to eliminate the use of antibiotics in phases with the initial focus on the poultry products that we serve in the U.S. We are in the process of transitioning to chicken products made from chicken raised without antibiotics and expect this transition to be completed by the end of 2016. In addition, turkey products made from turkey raised without antibiotics will be introduced in 2016. The transition is expected to take 2-3 years. Supply of pork and beef products from animals raised without antibiotics in the U.S. is extremely limited. We expect our transition to take place by 2025. That said, we recognize that antibiotics are critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly to preserve their effectiveness in veterinary and human medicine. Our policy is that antibiotics can be used to treat, control and prevent disease, but not for growth promotion of farm animals. Accordingly, we are asking our suppliers to do the following:

  • Adopt, implement and comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) guidance for industry 209 and 213, which requires that medically important antibiotics not be used for growth promotion. Visit the FDA site to learn more.
  • Assure that all antibiotics use is overseen, pre-approved and authorized by a licensed veterinarian before they are administered to any animal.
  • Keep accurate and complete records to track use of all antibiotics.
  • Adhere at all times to all legal requirements governing antibiotic withdrawal times. This assures that antibiotics have been eliminated from the animals’ systems at the time of slaughter.
  • Actively encourage, support and participate in research efforts focused on improving animal health while reducing antibiotics use.

I view Subway’s revised statement as a victory for all of us.  I am incredibly thankful to everyone who read my post and contributed to the discussion.

I went through the comments from yesterday’s post and grouped them into a few different categories that require further explanation:

  1. The Title: I gave a lot of thought to what to call my blog post, and the chosen title demonstrated how I felt (as a cattle farmer) when I read Subway’s first announcement. The title was a reflection of my feelings – something that I think is appropriate on a personal blog site. I view the scenario painted by the title as a very real possibility in the future of food production if farmers are not included in the discussion of “how food animals are raised”.
  2. Today, there exists a diverse food production system in the United States that includes both conventionally raised animals, and “niche market” animals such as organic and cattle that have never received an antibiotic. I think that this is a valuable system. Within this current system, organic and never treated animals can be moved out of niche market production and into the regular markets when they become sick and require treatment. While there are logistics involved to ensure that withdrawal times are adhered to before these animals are marketed, the system is relatively seamless. I think that Subway’s initial statements threatened rather than enhanced the current diverse system. The company was quoted as saying that the time line for beef and pork was elongated in order to allow the meat industry to change its practices while keeping the cost of their meat supply stable. This tells me that the premium for niche market animals would fall by the wayside with the creation of a new system where niche market beef sells for regular prices, and meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics would sell at a discount (with the eventual possibility of being deemed worthless).
  3. Someone asked what makes animals get sick: Animals get sick when they come in contact with either a bacteria or a virus that penetrates their immune system. Stressful events caused by weather, movement, or coming in contact with other animals outside of the home herd are common contributors. I have worked hard over the past 15+ years to find ways to lower stress on my animals, and I have been successful in reducing the number of animals that require treatment. I mentioned in my post that last year I treated 7.8% of the animals in my feedyard. I would like to get that figure under 5% and am working with both my veterinarian and my rancher partners to accomplish this.
  4. Sub Therapeutic use: I serve on multiple national committees made up of scientists (including veterinarians) and farmers that are currently working to eliminate sub therapeutic antibiotic use in food animal production. Antibiotics necessary in human medicine are no longer used for growth promotion, and veterinarians play a key role in preventing and diagnosing illnesses so that they can be effective when necessary. I believe that we are moving the right direction.
  5. I think that further research on antibiotic resistance is critical as we all search for continuous improvement (both on the human and the animal side). Each and every one of us has a “footprint”, and it will take a team effort to make meaningful improvement. I am committed to this. I also think that we all need to be committed to being good stewards: to each other, to our animals, and to our planet. As someone pointed out, there are “bad actors” that exist in every industry – we need to turn those people into stewards so that positive improvement can be attained.

This is getting long, so I will wrap it up. It has always been my intent to be a positive instigator for continuous improvement in this journey we call food production. I put in long hours on my farm offering care to my animals, and additional hours reaching out to each of you to share how I grow beef. While I will never achieve perfection, I try to make up for it with hard work and sincerity.Annealley.jpg

Thank you for traveling along with me.


Filed under Animal Welfare, Antibiotics

Subway Announces That a Bullet Is Their Treatment Of Choice For Sick Animals…

**AUTHORS NOTE: Due to the huge response to this blog post and my responsibilities on the farm, I am unable to respond to each comment made by readers.  I am reading the comments, and I plan to post a new blog responding to questions brought up in the comment section within the next few days.  Thank you for reading, and thank you for caring. It renews my faith in our country that 400,000 of you all care enough about your food to read a farmer’s thoughts.

Tuesday, Subway restaurants made the announcement that beginning in March 2016 it will serve chicken raised without antibiotics. Further, the company will source turkey, pork and beef in the same manner within a 10 year period. A spokesman for Subway stated that company’s goal is “eliminating antibiotics from all of its meat supplies within 10 years”.

There are two different things going on in the above statement that are being blended into a mass of dramatic confusion. I want to take a moment to clarify so that everyone can be educated food purchasers.

  1. Eliminating harmful levels of antibiotics from meat has already been accomplished.  It is illegal in the United States to market food animals that carry unsafe antibiotic residues. This is a non-negotiable fact of food production. The meat that you purchase from Subway today is safe. That is the law. Subway’s announcement makes no change to that fact.
  2. Sourcing meat from animals that have never been treated with an antibiotic affects how the farmer raises the animal. It does not change the meat, it changes the way that the animal is raised.

annecattlecab.jpgIn my mind, Subway’s announcement states that a bullet is their treatment of choice for sick food animals. They wish to only purchase meat that comes from animals that have never been treated with an antibiotic. Food animals (like cattle) are grown for the sole purchase of providing a high quality dietary protein. If Subway does not want the meat from an animal that required antibiotic treatment for illness at any time during its lifetime, then I have two choices: leave the sick animal to suffer until it likely dies, or shoot it with a bullet and end its life immediately.

Quite frankly, neither choice is acceptable to me. I hope that neither choice is acceptable to you.

As a cattle farmer, it is my job to raise my animals humanely in order to produce safe and healthy beef. It is unreasonable for my customers to demand the impossible. I cannot raise 100% of my animals over a lifespan of almost two years without ever using an antibiotic. Things happen – Animals can get sick.  It is my job to help them when they do.

I want healthy animals that make healthy beef because that creates responsible and sustainable food production. It is the right thing to do to treat a sick animal that needs special care. I should be able to expect my customers to understand that the meat product that comes from that small percentage of animals is still fit for human consumption.

Let’s do a little bit of cowboy math to look at the reality of Subway’s statement…

In the twelve month period of August 1, 2014 to July 31, 2015, I treated 7.8% of the cattle on my farm with an antibiotic for an individually diagnosed illness. These animals were treated under the direction of my veterinarian according to Beef Quality Assurance practices. Additionally, in compliance with federal law, those animals were held on the farm until the required withdrawal time passed to ensure that no antibiotics were present in their meat when they went to slaughter.

I marketed approximately 5500 animals during that 12 month period which means that somewhere in the neighborhood of 430 of those animals were treated on my farm for an individually diagnosed illness. Each of those animals produced approximately 820# of meat and other products. Either shooting these animals with a bullet at diagnosis or letting them suffer until they died would result in an estimated 352,600# of wasted product.

That scenario is both irresponsible and unacceptable. I am a dedicated animal caregiver, and I am proud of the beef that comes from my animals. It is safe – I feed it to my family. However, some of it comes from animals that required additional care in the form of an antibiotic to regain health at some point in their two year life time.


As a mother, a farmer, and an American: I recognize the importance of the antibiotic resistance issue. I have blogged about it many times. However, we need to respond intelligently in our quest for a remedy. There is nothing intelligent about a corporate statement that dictates wasting millions of pounds of food each year.

It saddens me that food production has slumped to this level, and I refuse to comply.

**Subway issued a revised statement this afternoon.  You can find this statement along with my responses to questions asked in the comment section of this blog post in a new post by clicking here.


Filed under Animal Welfare