Snow Skiing Should Be Treated Like A Good Piece Of Chocolate…

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When I fell in love with my favorite farmer, I made the commitment to trade sand for snow.  Matt loves to snow ski — and we are the type of couple that likes to do everything together.  Over the years, my skiing skills have developed enough that I can ride the same lift and make my way down the blue slopes, but our philosophy regarding how to get down the mountain varies significantly…

I believe that downhill skiing should be treated like a good piece of chocolate.  The ski run should be savored — taking time to enjoy the experience and recognizing that the traverse can be just as enjoyable as the speed :)

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My favorite teenager and her blonde cowgirl sidekick are heading quickly toward their father’s school of thought as well as his skills.  The trio secretly laughs at me as they take rest breaks when we ski the same slope, but I remind them with a smile that at least I am in good shape so I can ski the run from the top to the bottom without resting myself (cutting down on their empathetic break time…).

Smarty pants farmer boy skiing down the slope backwards while teasing me -- his two cohorts in the background cheering him on...

Smarty pants farmer boy skiing down the slope backwards while teasing me — his two cohorts in the background cheering him on…

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Ornery squared…

My baby put on her rebel snow board boots working to learn a new snow sport.  With her good balance and athletic prowess, I am sure that it won’t be long before she will be beating her Mama down the slopes on the snow board.  She has her sights set on challenging her surfing/snow boarding Uncle Terry sometime in the near future.

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It was a beautiful day on the mountain and a nice change from farm chores.

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Life is much more enjoyable when we can bend and compromise in order to create great family times. 

We topped off the day with a tasty home-raised beef dinner.  The only thing missing was the piece of chocolate!

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Food Waste, Sustainability, and the Journey of Continuous Improvement…

In my never ending search for knowledge, I look to scientists to help me understand complex topics.  While I recognize that as a “layman” I will never completely understand the details, visiting with experts helps me to gain a good general understanding.  This enables me to make educated decisions in my daily life.  One of the best perks of working as a volunteer consultant outside of my farm is the opportunity to meet scientists who work in a myriad of subjects involving beef production.

As a mother of three girls, it is especially fun for me when the scientist is a confident and articulate young woman who holds all of the traits of a great mentor.  Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson spent some time sharing with us last spring explaining the topic of sustainability as it relates to raising beef.  She is back this week visiting with us on the topic of food waste and its role in the journey of continuous improvement.

 

Anne: What have you done personally in your life to improve your “food waste footprint”?

Kim: Reducing food waste is important to me and my husband. Cooking for two is sometimes challenging due to portion sizes that are available in grocery stores so we get creative with “left-over” recipes, which are becoming more and more popular and are easy to find online. My favorite beef leftover recipe is beefy sweet potato hash for breakfast, on beefitswhatfordinner.com. Another thing we do is raise backyard chickens. We have three Rhode Island Reds. We call them the “grandma chickens” because we named them after our grandmothers: Georgia, Carol, and Gaylean. They eat all of our food waste from preparing meals. Just this week I made tacos, so there was waste including stems from cilantro and avocado skins.

Anne: Can you please (as a scientist) speak to the topic of food waste relative to beef sustainability and the life cycle assessment? What role does it play in reducing the footprint of beef?

Kim: Food waste is an area where with small changes we, as society, can make a huge difference in sustainability. Approximately, 30-40% of our food is wasted in the U.S. resulting in a $161 billion dollar loss. The concern for me about food waste is not just monetary – it is environmental, and at a minimum we are wasting 2/3 of our natural resources on food that we waste. That is irresponsible. Beef is wasted much less than other foods, at 20%, but if we could reduce that waste by half we could improve the sustainability of beef production 10%.

Anne: What further research needs to be done relative to the topic of food waste?

Kim: The most pressing issues around food waste are communicating with consumers that it is a concern and teaching everyone ways they can help reduce waste – from backyard chickens that produce eggs, to more frequent trips to the grocery store, to left-over recipes – we all can help reduce food waste, help the planet and save money!

Anne: What further research needs to be done in order to accurately denote beef’s footprint relative to sustainability?

Kim: The science underpinning sustainability is quite new and while there has been tremendous progress made to better understand sustainability – like the beef industry’s comprehensive beef life cycle assessment – there are still a lot of unknowns, especially related to the unintended consequences of food production. For example, life cycle assessments aren’t comprehensive enough to capture the benefits of open space, improved water quality, wildlife habitat, land use change (from pasture to row crop), use of marginal lands for food production, or native grassland health – to name a few– all of which are dependent on the beef industry. In other words, we can’t yet quantify in a sustainability metric the whole food system as it relates to beef.

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Kim, pictured with Georgia (one of her “grandma chickens”), at her home in Colorado…

I look forward to continuing to follow Kim’s progress as she develops ideas for reducing waste in the beef production system, as well as further determining beef’s environmental footprint…

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Filed under General, Sustainable Spring

A Student of Life…

I gained many great ideas at Dartmouth College, but an intrinsic love of learning provided the most precious lesson. Although I traded Hanover, NH for the plains of Nebraska almost 18 years ago, the desire to always build knowledge remains a steadfast component in my life journey. My favorite farmer smiles and rolls his eyes a bit when a new topic catapults me into research mode, but after 22 years with me he appreciates that it is one of the things that makes me “Anne”.

My journey studying food waste ultimately originated in volunteer work that I do relative to animal (bovine) welfare. Welfare provides an important component to sustainability both from a social perspective as well as an environmental perspective. I feel that one of my greatest environmental victories as a farmer comes from improving the feed conversion of my cattle – reducing the pounds of feed resources required to make a pound of beef. There are a myriad of factors that go into this improvement, but quality animal welfare (as determined by the unique needs of the bovine) rises quickly to the top.

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The bridge from welfare to sustainability ultimately led me to begin studying the topic of food waste. Prior to this, I had no idea how much food ended up in landfills making it a critical component to sustainability.  Last Thursday I shared with all of you a list of things that I do both on farm and in my kitchen to work to limit waste, today I share a few of the headline statistics that inspired me to devote more energy to the topic.  Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council compiled these findings as well as providing initial suggestions for areas of improvement relative to food waste from farm to fork.

One of my favorites -- smoked beef brisket...

One of my favorites — smoked beef brisket…

Getting food from farm to fork uses:

10% of the total U.S. energy budget

50% of U.S. land

80% of all freshwater consumed in the United States

Despite this valuable use of resources, 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten costing Americans over $160 billion dollars each year.

The majority of the uneaten food ends up in landfills and provides the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste — Thereby becoming a significant source (EPA estimate of 23% in 2010) of methane emissions.

Reducing food losses by 15% would provide enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans per year.

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Perhaps it is because I see everyday on my farm how many resources go into growing food, or perhaps it is simply because I want to preserve the natural beauty that surrounds me; but as I look at the above statements I am motivated to work for positive change.

I hope that you will stick with me on this journey and continue to offer your own suggestions for improvement.

 

 

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Food Waste — We All Play a Role…

A study performed by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2011 found that in the United States approximately 40% of all food grown for human consumption is wasted. While beef “food waste” is lower than that average, its’ 20% figure still staggers me.

Dr. Stackhouse-Lawson with my favorite blonde cowgirl...

Dr. Stackhouse-Lawson with my favorite blonde cowgirl (a couple of years ago)…

Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, through her work developing a lifecycle assessment for beef (NSF certified 2013), identified that cutting consumer waste of beef in half would improve the overall sustainability of beef farming by a whopping 10%. As a cattlewoman who cares about environmental responsibility, this statistic caught my attention.

Because I am both a farmer and a consumer, I recently spent some time thinking about things that I do, both at the feed yard and in my kitchen, to reduce waste.

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As a Cattle Farmer:

  1. The majority of my cattle are born and raised in the Sandhills of Nebraska. This unique grassland ecosystem allows for cattle to turn land not suitable for crop production into meat all while improving wildlife habitat and protecting the natural beauty of the land.
  2. After the cattle move from the ranch to my feed yard in preparation for harvest, more than half of what they eat is “by products”. In other words, during the final phase of beef production, cattle are *recyclers* and eat the part of the plant that is leftover after its’ primary use is complete.
  3. The majority of my cattle live their entire lives within a two hour radius of my farm which reduces both animal stress and transportation costs. Both of these components lesson the environmental footprint of my beef.
  4. The waste material (manure) that my cattle produce is recycled by my favorite farmer and used to maintain soil health on our crop farm.
Homemade meatloaf with home grown tomatoes is one of my summer favorites!

Homemade meatloaf with garden fresh tomatoes is one of my summer favorites!

As a Mom and a “food consumer”:

  1. My favorite farmer and I eat dinner leftovers (reheated for lunch)
  2. Food not eaten by our family is fed to my favorite teenager’s Rhode Island Red Laying Chickens, and thereby *Recycled* into eggs for our family.
  3. We make frequent trips to the grocery story (mostly because as a working mom I struggle on organized planning for meal preparation, but on the positive side this decreases the amount of food purchased that deteriorates in the refrigerator before being eaten.)
  4. Any portion of food individually taken at the dinner table is expected to be eaten. Our girls are good about cleaning their plates and not taking more food than they are able to eat. This facilitates saving leftovers for future lunch use.

It is estimated that food waste costs the average American family of four $1365.00-$2275.00 per year. This out of pocket cost is in addition to the environmental impact of wasted resources as well as food security issues. While reform is needed at each sector of the food production system, food waste at the household level is the most costly as the resources needed to deliver the food to the plate are highest at this last stage of the food production chain.

How do you limit food waste in your kitchen?

Author's note: Reducing food waste is a personal goal.

Author’s note: Reducing food waste both on my farm and in my kitchen is a personal goal. I plan to revisit this topic periodically and hope that you will share in the journey by thinking of and sharing ways that you too can reduce food waste.

Together we can make a more sustainable planet…

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General

They Can’t Take It Off…

As part of my NPDES permit issued through the Environmental Protection Agency, I keep daily weather records at the feed yard. I record precipitation, daily high and low temperatures, wind speed and wind direction. In addition to fulfilling my government regulation responsibilities, my favorite farmer uses the weather data during the crop growing season to help him manage irrigation on the farm.

As I reviewed the weather data entered for the last three weeks, I gave thanks that cattle are very resilient creatures. The highest temperature during the 21 day period was 70 degrees and the lowest 4 below zero (-4). In fact, our farm saw seven days from January 23-February 13 marked by more than a 40 degree temperature swing. The record for the period was a low of -4 followed by a high of 61 degrees the next day. We also had two significant winter storms during those three weeks.

While humans view the respite from winter on a beautiful sunny February afternoon a blessing, my cattle suffer from it. Quite simply, we all take our coats off when the weather warms – Cattle don’t have that luxury.

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They can’t take it off…

“Shirt sleeve” weather for a bovine is 55 degrees. In Nebraska during the winter, cattle put on heavy coats to protect them from the cold. Instead of shirt sleeves, they spend the winter in a down jacket. As seasons change, cattle acclimate to the resulting changing weather at the rate of approximately 1 degree per day. Using that model, it would take approximately 65 days to acclimate from -4 to 61 degrees. February 5th, Mother Nature asked my animals to do that in 12 hours.

They can handle the cold — They can handle the heat — But the extremes in temperature swings bring significant challenges for them.

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When cattle struggle with weather stress, they are more fragile. We place them on a special ration (bovine food casserole) that is easier to digest, make sure that an ample supply of fresh (not frozen!) drinking water is available, and work extra hard to make home pen conditions comfortable for them.

Good care requires an attention to detail, and times of weather challenge make me especially proud of my crew as we work diligently always placing the cattle’s welfare as our top priority.

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18 Years of Life At a Feed Yard — 4 Years of Blogging…

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Matt and I, on stage for the Trailblazer Award, last week in San Antonio at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Convention.

 

As a result of the 2014 Trailblazer Award, Beef Magazine asked that I write an article reflecting on important issues for cattle farmers.  This was a great opportunity for me to share thoughts relative to 18 years of working in a feed yard and 4 years of blogging.  The target audience was cattle farmers, but I wanted to share the piece here as well.

In the article, I share lessons personally learned from both my cattle and my beef customers.  You can view it by clicking here.

**On the home front, we are celebrating being free of the flu as well as the crutches that plagued our house for a couple of weeks.

  • My favorite teenager’s 9th and 10th basketball team finished their season with an 8-1 record, and a final game Friday night will end her Junior Varsity season as well.  She is gearing up for the high school musical performance that is a few weeks away, and looking forward to the start of track.  Last but certainly not least, she brought home the 3rd place award for the Nebraska Voice of Democracy Oral Essay contest last week in Lincoln.
  • My favorite blonde cowgirl will have her first competitive gymnastics performance of the year this weekend in Lincoln.  Having mostly healed from her first career pole vaulting accident, she is also gearing up for the start of track.  I am very glad to have her back as a contributing member of the chore brigade and once again helpful on the farm!
  • My favorite 10 year old is rocking the volleyball court with a second place tournament finish last weekend.  I never thought that I would have a child play middle blocker on the volleyball court, but she stands several inches taller than any other teammate so seems well placed!

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 I hope that your week is full of joy!

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Filed under Family, Feed Yard Foodie "In The News", General

The Traditional Career Mom…

Earlier this week I traveled to San Antonio to attend meetings at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Convention. My favorite farmer and I drove west Tuesday afternoon to watch our favorite basketball playing teenager and her team defeat the Ogallala Indians, before turning around and heading east to Grand Island to get ahead of a storm that moved in late that night.

Despite the snow, we landed in Texas (just a few hours delayed) on Wednesday and began the marathon of meetings that makes up NCBA’s annual convention. In addition to being the boss lady at the feed yard, I serve in a volunteer capacity as the Region 9 Director to the Nebraska Beef Council; and as a result, I serve on the National Federation of State Beef Councils working to enhance the image of beef to customers both in the United States and abroad.

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In addition to the normal array of meetings, this convention will be a special time for me as I will officially receive Beef Magazine’s 2014 Trailblazer Award Friday morning. That same day, my favorite teenager and her grandmother will travel to the Governor’s mansion in Lincoln to discover whether or not she won the Nebraska Voice of Democracy Essay contest – Leaving my favorite blondes at home with their beloved Defa (grandpa) and a whole multitude of animal chores.

Our house seems to be a revolving door. I left three loads of laundry (clean but yet to be sorted) in my living room, and a full (but clean) dishwasher. While I am assuming that the girls will put away (or at least use) the clean dishes in the dishwasher during my time in Texas, I am pretty confident that the clean clothes will still be in the living room waiting to be sorted. Just a short distance away from those clean clothes sits the ever growing pile of dirty clothes that will be waiting to be washed when I arrive home (hopefully in time to watch another Lady Haymaker basketball game) on Saturday afternoon.

I am one of millions of women who work tirelessly to balance family, chores, and a meaningful career. We put ourselves last on the “priority scale” and unselfishly give to those whom we love, as well as to the causes that we treat as vocations yet casually refer to as jobs. We do the weekly juggling act by focusing on each day and refusing to let the challenges of the future daunt our enthusiasm.

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We are Wives – Moms – Boss Ladies – Philanthropists – Mentors – and Maids.

Our days revolve around others, and our most precious goal is to make a positive difference.

We are traditional career moms.

Did I mention that Saturday is my 40th birthday? Yikes!

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Filed under Family, Feed Yard Foodie "In The News"

Biosecurity – And a Bout Of Influenza…

A longstanding definition of biosecurity reads “a set of preventive measures designed to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases”.  As a caregiver for thousands of animals, the term is never far from my mind.

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This past week, my concern with biosecurity reached past the feed yard gate and into my home. Influenza A plagued my favorite basketball playing teenager and left her very ill for several days. During this time, I felt compelled to lecture my girls multiple times on the basics of controlling the spread of disease.

  • Proactive vaccination against disease wherever possible
  • Dedication to good sanitation
  • Isolation of the affected individual during the contagious period of the disease

Looking back over the events that led to the flu episode of last week, the only one of the three listed above that Ashley Grace abided by was the first one. Our family had quality time getting flu shots last October as we do every year. I started the tradition when the girls were little — we go “oldest to youngest” with the rule that if the person before you doesn’t cry, then you can’t cry when it is your turn for inoculation :)

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My favorite teenager has a tendency to drink straight from the milk jug (viewing glasses as superfluous). She spends her winter in the classroom, on the basketball court and traveling on a bus to games — relatively tight confinement in settings that sometimes share her lack of dedication to good hygiene.

Influenza A passed through our town with a vengeance over the past couple of weeks. Given the facts listed above, it really did not surprise me when chills racked her body and left her in bed for three and a half days despite getting tamiflu on board early in the illness. If asked, she would likely report that I became a bit paranoid during her illness – banning her to her room and isolating her from her younger sisters; in addition to following along behind her with Clorox wipes.

I believe at one point I threatened to kick her out of the house if I caught her drinking straight from the milk jug…

An after school excursion last week designed to keep them away from the sick girl...

An after school excursion last week designed to keep them away from the sick girl…

I am glad to report that Ashley Grace returned to school yesterday the same sassy girl that we all know and love. I am also glad to report that (at this point), the rest of our family has remained unscathed from the nasty bug. My favorite blonde cowgirl spent last week moonlighting on crutches due to a pole vaulting accident but THAT is a story for another day…

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