Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady…

I want to begin by thanking everyone who has reached out to me personally over the past week.  Please know how important it is to me to hear from you.  As many of you have guessed, this is personally a difficult time and each positive thought that I receive puts a smile on my face and peace in my heart.

Making “life decisions” requires both a leap of faith and a vision for the future.  My favorite farmer and I have packed our faith — looking forward to a future of continuing to contribute to agriculture in a meaningful and positive way.  Shifting our farm and my role on the farm is simply the product of two responsible farmers figuring out how to do the best thing for their family and their farm.  Change is never easy, but showing grace amidst change is a priority for me both as a farmer and as a mom.

MegKarynbunk2.jpgMany of you will remember a blog post that my favorite blonde cowgirl wrote about a month ago.  The Rainbow Ends At the Pot of Gold provides a list of things Megan reported learning “growing up at the feed yard”.  Not long after Matt and I told our girls that we planned to close the feed yard, Megan asked if she could write a blog post.  I have always encouraged the girls to take pictures/write/and generally contribute to the blog so my immediate answer was “yes”.  That weekend, I came home from working to find Megan and Karyn laughing as they compiled this master *list* — reminiscing and chronicling lessons learned taking care of the cattle.

It made me laugh — it made me cry — it made me incredibly proud as I watched them turn their grief and fear for the future into something beautiful and positive.  I love that blog post for a number of different reasons, but it truly touched my heart to watch my girls dig deep and choose to embrace the positive as they struggled with the thought of change.

Although we will no longer have a cattle feed yard, the girls and I are making plans to purchase some calves next spring to graze our grass pasture.  We’ll need to find a new feed yard to finish them in come fall, but this project will allow them to continue to participate in the cattle business on a small scale.  I’d hate to remove all character building exercises from their lives😉

June 13 2012 feed yard 009Despite the fact that I’ve announced my impending retirement, my life still revolves around the feed yard.  I am checking cattle health this week as my cowboy is on vacation, so I get to start each day with a beautiful sunrise and a large number of bovines…

I am toying with the idea of creating a category on the blog site for Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady which would enable me to stay organized writing during this time of transition.  I’m open to other ideas for the category name, so feel free to share your thoughts.

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Return on Investment…

annemattbale1.jpgLess than a week after graduating from Dartmouth College, I put on my jeans and went to work at the cattle feed yard.  I knew almost nothing about taking care of cattle, but I packed my integrity and my work ethic in order to learn the job.  Looking back over the past two decades, I would like to think that I have transitioned into a savvy cattle caregiver — learning from my animals and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

Last Sunday morning, as I watched the sun rise while cleaning feed bunks with a scoop shovel, I thought about that young girl and how she evolved into the woman that I am today.  I pondered how things change, and I acknowledged that – despite my romantic nature – there are times when reality demands to be considered.

I went to work at the feed yard to continue the family legacy in cattle feeding.  There was a need and I worked hard to fill it.  It was to be my forever job as Matt and I worked together to grow what his dad and granddad started.  My favorite farmer has done an exceptional job of ensuring that the crop farm prospered — evolving the farm to meet the changing markets and using his entrepreneurial talents to remain relevant in the world of agriculture.

I have struggled to do the same with the feed yard.  While I truly believe in my business model and what I have worked to build, the daily struggle to remain viable in the ever-changing and often volatile markets has left me drained.  Today when I look in the mirror, I fail to find the optimistic spark that plays a large role in making me Anne.  My cup is closer to empty than full, and I am not able to effectively refill it.

My balance sheet tells me that I am not garnering a decent monetary return on investment, and my heart tells me that I need to rediscover my passion by taking an altered professional route.  Recently, I made the decision to begin the process of closing down the feed yard.  While I will remain a “feed yard boss lady” until Mid-February, I do not intend to refill the pens as they empty this fall and winter.

Matt and I plan to return the feed yard pen area to farm ground, and use the shop and feedmill buildings to further enhance our crop farming operation.  My two long time employees will transfer over to the farming business continuing to work for our family.  This has been a long and difficult decision to make, but I am confident that it is the correct one.  I truly believe that fear of change should not dictate the future — rather looking for new ideas to improve your legacy should drive the long term decision making process.

Easterfamily2.jpgThis transition will be a long one — spanning many months to possibly a year — as I am determined to close my feed yard with the same integrity that has marked my twenty years of management.  Our dedication to animal welfare, environmental responsibility, and quality beef production will continue to drive the daily care on our farm.  I plan to share our transition story with each of you — continuing to blog and cataloging our shifting lives on the farm.

There are still many details to be worked out and much work to be done; but my commitment to transparency necessitates me sharing the news.  I hope that each one of you will stand by me as I travel down this new fork in the road.  Your support is important to me.

 

 

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A Proud “Mom” Moment…

AnneKarynAug2016My youngest daughter, Karyn, embarked on a challenging journey beginning the fall of 2011.  She contracted a severe viral pneumonia infection the week of Thanksgiving that left her hospitalized for 5 days and created lingering lung health issues.  Her time in the hospital was very challenging for me as a parent, and I will never forget what it feels like to sit there and watch your child fight to breathe.

In December of 2013, after little progress fighting her resulting “illness induced asthma”, I took Karyn to a pulmonary specialist at Boys Town National Research Hospital (three and half hours away from our farm).  I needed answers, and Karyn needed a better treatment plan.  It was the best decision that I have made as a “mom”.  Dr. Kevin Murphy not only brought pediatric pulmonary specialty skills, but also a belief that a combination of medical treatment and physical fitness could provide the answer for my budding young athlete.

After 32 months of naturally increasing Karyn’s lung strength using a combination of running and swimming activities, and carefully choosing asthma treatment drugs to remove the inflammation from the soft tissue in her respiratory tract — my rock star of a daughter is now boasting a lung capacity of 111% and is asthma free.  My “dream day” when Karyn could begin to maintain lung strength and good health without the use of a daily asthma steroid inhaler happened yesterday🙂

My heart is happy, and I am very proud of Karyn’s personal dedication to fitness.  Her hard work over the past few years brought one of the very sweetest kinds of success: good health.  While I am a “life long” athlete, I never quite imagined myself the “personal trainer” of a lung compromised elementary student.  Karyn and I traveled the road to good health together and I feel so very blessed that she begins middle school today able to chase after her athletic dreams with a healthy set of lungs.

When I think of all of the things that Karyn learned on this journey, likely the most important is realizing that positive improvement comes from positive action.  There are no excuses in life — there are simply obstacles that each one of us works to conquer — using faith and dedication to persevere with strength.

 

 

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Pick Your Battles…

Last week while I was moving cattle, I had a calf try to crawl through the feed bunk into a neighboring pen.  I adjusted my angle to the calf and encouraged him back to the rest of his herd mates.  Part way through the interaction, my cowboy became aware of the situation and starting barking orders at me and “loving Pete”.  I chose to ignore him as I had the situation completely under control.

AnneMeg.jpgMy favorite blonde cowgirl happened to be along that day and later asked me why I just quietly continued to move the calf instead of responding to my cowboy’s criticism.  I summed it up in three words, “Pick your battles”.

She looked pretty perplexed with my response so I decided that it was a good time to share a well learned life lesson.  I asked her, “Megan, did the calf respond appropriately and do what I asked him to do?”  As she nodded her head affirmatively, I pointed out that the goal was accomplished so there was no point in creating drama with my crew.

There are many kinds of leadership – passive, active, verbal, and non-verbal.  In regards to cattle handling, I choose to lead by example.  Cattle move best in situations where the handler maintains mental composure.  As the lead handler in this situation, it was in the calf’s best interest for me to continue to interact calmly.  I know my cowboy well (we have worked closely together for 20 years), so I also recognized that ignoring him while completing the task correctly was the best choice.

Sometimes it isn’t about who is right –

It is about completing the job well and doing the best thing for the animal.    

Over the last two decades, the words pick your battles have circled through my head tens of thousands of times.  Whether it is interacting with my own crew or sitting in a meeting with other folks involved in raising beef, I think that one of the most important lessons is learning when to speak up and when to bite my tongue.    I discovered a long time ago that life isn’t about pride and personal affirmation; it’s about doing the right thing to create positive improvement.

  • I am anal about cattle care.
  • I am passionate about always trying to be better tomorrow than I am today.
  • I stubbornly stick to my values even when the right thing isn’t the easy thing.

But, I have come to understand that meaningful change occurs when my idea becomes someone else’s idea.  Sometimes the best way to make that happen is to let my actions speak and keep my words where they belong – inside of my mouth…

Megan got awfully quiet at the end of our conversation, and I could tell that she was looking at the situation with my cowboy from a different perspective.  Perhaps the next time someone “yanks her chain” and she starts to fight back, she will stop and remember the art of picking your battles🙂

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Efficient Living…

cornanneOur family returned via airplane to Omaha from our trip to New England on Monday night of last week.  I got up Tuesday morning and got on a different set of airplanes to head to Springdale, Arkansas for a Animal Well-Being meeting.  Always one to find ways to be efficient, I jumped on the chance to combine the two trips and cut out the 7 hour round trip car ride from our farm to the Omaha airport…

It made for a long time to be away from home — 11 days — but my foreman and his son, along with my cowboy took care of animal chores for me while I was gone.  The summer months are the slowest time in the calendar year at the feed yard because Mother Nature provides grass pastures for cattle in June, July and August which seasonally limits the role of a Nebraska feed yard.

I traveled to Arkansas as a member of Tyson’s 3rd Party Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel.  I serve on the panel as the cattle/beef farmer specialist for the group.  I knew very little about Tyson as a company before I became involved as an Advisory Panel member in May of 2013, but this role has provided me with a tremendous personal and professional growth opportunity.

I love both the ability to make a difference in “food” animal welfare as well as the interaction with Tyson team members as we work together to brain storm ways of improving how we grow food.  Our Advisory Panel meetings fuel the “intellectual Anne” as we tackle subjects that encompass animal welfare, sustainability, and food safety for poultry, pork and beef.  The Tyson leadership team and the animal welfare scientists that make up Tyson’s Sustainable Food Production team are first class.  I am continually impressed by their intellect and understanding of the highly complex issues that surround growing food; and value their ability to work as a team to move forward in a meaningful way.

I have served on many different beef industry committees in the last two decades, and I can honestly say that being a member of the Tyson Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel is the one that I value most.  It is refreshing to spend time with a bunch of smart people that just want to figure out how to be better tomorrow than we are today.

I arrived back at the farm late Thursday night glad to sleep in my own bed.  I am reminded every time that I travel that leaving the farm opens my eyes to a broader perspective and offers me incentive to think outside of the box as I continue to complete the important task of putting nutritious food on the table…

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Heading East…

My favorite farmer and I met my freshman year at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.  Although we have only returned back to visit twice in the last 19 years, the school holds a special place in our hearts.  Matt is the best thing that Dartmouth gave to me, and our journey together reflects two decades of love and partnership as we work to create a meaningful legacy on our farm.

My dear friend, Karyn, is the 2nd best thing that Dartmouth gave to me.  I met Karyn when I visited Dartmouth on a swimming recruiting trip the fall of my senior year in high school.  As a freshman member of the swim team, she had the privilege of “hosting” me on my weekend trip.  She did such an awesome job that weekend that she became “stuck” with me for her remaining years at Dartmouth…  Although our lives headed in different directions (thousands of miles apart) after graduation, I still count on Karyn’s support and friendship twenty years later.

Last week our family headed east to visit Karyn and her family as well as look at colleges for my favorite brunette who thinks that New England is the region of choice for college.  While it seems hard to believe that I am old enough to have a daughter looking at colleges, the years tell a different story.  We had an amazing trip — catching up with good friends and discovering more about the 5 colleges that Ashley Grace picked to visit: Cornell, Williams, Dartmouth, Colby, and Harvard.

tripfamilygroup

This photo reminds me of how much Karyn and I have to be proud of — 23 years after fate brought us together in the mountains of New Hampshire…

Karyn "squared" outside the library at Dartmouth College...

Karyn “squared” outside the library at Dartmouth College…

My favorite brunette enjoying the Williams College campus...

My favorite brunette enjoying the Williams College campus…

The girls took a brief moment to dig their toes in the sand on the beach in Maine -- remarking that there were likely more people on that beach than our entire town of Cozad...

The girls took a brief moment to dig their toes in the sand on the beach in Maine — remarking that there were likely more people on that beach than in our entire town of Cozad…

Matt and I felt the need to wear our Dartmouth shirts as we walked around Harvard's campus -- still feeling the competitive rivalry 20 years later...

Matt and I felt the need to wear our Dartmouth shirts as we walked around Harvard’s campus — still feeling the competitive rivalry 20 years later…

tripacaitlinI think that we even talked my favorite horse-loving God daughter and her big sister into coming out to the farm to visit next summer — with any luck they’ll bring their Mama with them🙂

I know that the trip reminded me how important it is to take a break from a crazy busy life to spend some time with those I love — refilling the cup giving thanks for all of my blessings.

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The Rainbow Ends At the Pot Of Gold…

megfeedyardcollageAfter 14 years living, working, and growing up under the magnificent Nebraska sky I learned a lot from the people who were kind enough to share it with me. Now I want to share it with you. My experiences in our little town are not ones that many people get to have. There are lessons hidden in each memory and each story — lessons that most people in our country may miss or look over. These are my 15 favorite lessons that I have learned growing up on a farm — Megan🙂

  1. Home is where the heart is… When I first went to kindergarten I cried every day because I did not understand why I had to sit in a classroom and count whatever was on my piece of paper instead of counting cattle at the feedyard. I did not want to leave my comfort zone where I loved to be.
  2. Two wrongs don’t make a right… I first learned this when perched on the arm of the chair in the inner cubical of the office, staring blankly at the computer screen full of numbers – never leave a mistake without correcting it. Always fix what went wrong even if it means admitting that you are human and you made a mistake. If you do not correct a mistake, the problem just grows.
  3. For the love of Pete… Whenever our cowboy is agitated but not quite angry enough to start cussing, he starts loving Pete. Usually he says this under his breath, but after a while you can understand the mumbling language. We have never figured out who Pete is but wherever he is, he is much loved.
  4. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life… People come to stay with us every once and a while and right before they leave Doug, our beloved foreman, always tells them that he has never worked a day in his life. They get very confused because they have just watched him working hard. He explains to them that he loves the job that he has; consequently, he has never worked a day in his life.
  5. Work smarter, not harder… My mom always says that you should work smarter so therefore your work is easier. Do not get me wrong, hard work is essential to any job, especially those on a farm, but if you work hard and smart then you will be more efficient and do a better job.
  6. Sarcasm… It is not just the words that come out of your mouth; it is a lifestyle. Sarcasm can lighten any day if put in the correct context. Doug is especially good at adding a little to our day, and I have learned from the best. He always told me when I was little that he never called the bunk a C when the cattle did not clean up all of their feed. The bunk was always a D because he skipped C. He told me that was because he could actually spell the words that started with D – I think perhaps it is because his name starts with a “D” but I humor him🙂
  7. Count in your head… When the cattle come off the truck and into the feedyard we always count them to make sure we have the correct number. When my sisters and I were little, this was one of our first jobs. We would climb up so that we were tall enough to see into the unloading chute and then “count” the cattle that came off the truck. My mom had to start counting using her hands because we would say the wrong numbers aloud. To this day she still counts cattle with her fingers. Doug used to try to teach us to count ears instead of tails. Or sometimes he tried to have us count feet…
  8. Leave it how you found it… When cooperating with members of a “team” you should always: leave things how you found them, replace tools to their proper “home”, and, when in doubt, shut the gate. When working with farmers, mechanics, or welders always put their tools back where they belong. They get very angry very quickly if they cannot find the tool they are looking for. Always shut the gate behind you. A feedyard manager’s worst nightmare is leaving a gate open. My mom has nightmares about accidentally letting loose a pen of cattle on the county road.
  9. Think like a calf… It is important for any cattle handler to step into the calf’s hooves. Looking through a calf’s eyes can be tricky. In order to do that you have to have empathy and think like a prey animal. I learned this when I was little so it comes like second nature to me but some people struggle changing their perspective.
  10. Give it to God… Some things you cannot control. Mother Nature likes to throw everything she can at us farmers. We cannot hope to control it; we can only try to manage what comes our way. Rain is a good thing for dad but not for mom. When it rains no one in our house sleeps very well. Snow is even worse. Before I was actually put to work, I thought snow was the best part of winter. I was wrong, snow means work.
  11. Gnats are extra protein… In the summers there are a lot of bugs. There are an especially large number of them this year because we had a wet spring. When you walk through the feedyard you cannot help but get a gnat somewhere you really probably did not want a gnat to be. That is not at a total loss because gnats are extra protein (not that a beef farmer needs that)…
  12. Cowgirls don’t cry… When you are working with animals, they depend on you. They need fed on Easter and Christmas and Sundays. This does not give you time to sit down and feel sorry for yourself. If you fall, you get back up again because there is always more work to be done. When your finger gets caught in a gate you do not have time to watch it turn purple and swell, there are still cattle that need tending to.
  13. Help will always come to those who ask for it… No one can give you a helping hand if they do not know you need it. It is not a bad thing to request help. Needing help does not make you weak or incompetent.
  14. Build character… There are many ways on a farm to build character. Scooping bunks is one of the most common ways. Another good one is throwing small square hay bales. I can also tell you that touching the hot electric fence does not build as much character as you would think…
  15. A little dirt never hurt anyone… Sometimes it is okay to get a little dirt on your hands. The work that results in that dirt is worth something to someone.ResizedImage951374766405614

The pot of gold in Nebraska that sits under all the morning rainbows is the hay carefully stacked by loving hands that feeds the animals which give us food.

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Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Performance…

The Haymaker Swim Team took 46 athletes in 170 individual events and 23 relays to the Plains Tsunami North Qualifying meet last Saturday.  All 46 of those athletes earned the opportunity to compete next weekend at the Championship Meet.

swim picture 20161.jpg

The kids would likely report that the fun of competition and the excitement of getting to the next level provided the highlight of their day.  Mine was the fact that although I only get to coach and mentor these kids for 8 weeks each summer, our team completed the meet with no disqualifications and a large number of excellent athletic performances.

Each swim season we create a mantra which appears on the back of our team shirts.  This year our shirts carry the statement Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Performance.  As the coach of a recreation league summer sport, I try to focus on fitness and the development of strength and work ethic.  I know that learning to do it right at practice sets the kids up not just for success in the pool but also in life.

While the glory of competitive victory glows brightly, a true winner shines just as radiantly during the hours of practice.  It is during those hours of preparation that true character is revealed.  Convincing my swimmers of the necessity of passionate effort creates one of my greatest challenges.  Settling clearly provides the enemy of greatness, and is spurred by unfocused practice.  Each year I create Pitchfork Challenges to help the kids find focused goals to strive for during practice sessions.

For the 2016 season, Pitchfork Challenges included long Individual Medley swims requiring correct stroke technique, sprint freestyle swims with no breathing, and a blend of core “on land” strength challenges.  I always enjoy watching the kids accomplish far more than they envisioned possible, and I know that these challenges play an important role in creating a successful season.

This week provides the culmination of the 2016 season.  The kids look forward to competing at Championships with a blend of nerves and excitement, and dreams of coming home with medals.  I spend the week trying to prepare them knowing that perfect practice makes perfect performance.

Go Haymakers!

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