Benny Had a Good Life…

Likely the most often asked question by my non-farming friends is “How can you care for animals for long periods of time and then send them to their death?”

I love animals.  I love spending time around them, and I enjoy the daily interactions that go along with their care.  To be a caregiver is both a responsibility and an honor, and I am thankful to play that role. The answer to the above question exists amidst my own philosophical belief that different types of animals hold different types of purposes…

  • The stray dog that showed up one day at the feed yard lives in my house and falls under the category of “pet”.
  • The horses that live in my back yard are supposed to fall under the category of “work animal” (but likely trend closer to ‘pet status’).
  • The cattle that live at my feed yard are “food animals”.

I care for all of them with the same set of values as that is my God-given duty, but the actions of care that I provide differ depending on the animal’s purpose.   

Cattle exist to turn non-edible resources (like grass) into products that people need: a nutrient dense protein source, leather, soap/cosmetics, and human pharmaceuticals to name just a few.  They deserve a good life, but the end of life for a bovine holds a link to sacrifice as that is his express purpose.

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

I’d like to take a moment to share “Benny’s story” as I think that it illustrates my answer to the above important question.

Benny was born on the Karlberg Ranch and lived briefly with his natural mother.  Sometimes Mother Nature acts harshly, and Benny was orphaned not long after birth.  He got a new “mama” by the name of Jessa Karlberg.  Jessa bottle fed Benny until he was big enough to eat grass and grow on his own.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.

bennyjessaJessa cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

When Benny weighed about 940# (14 months of age), he left the Karlberg Ranch and traveled to Will Feed.  He traded grass for a feed yard casserole, and Jessa for me as a primary caregiver.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.  In just over 3 months, he gained 530#.

I cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

benny2-jpgLast Sunday, Jessa came to visit Benny.  A couple of days later, I “put him on the bus” to head 20 miles down the road to the Tyson packing plant.  Benny fulfilled his purpose, and offered 1450# of products to nourish and provide for all of us.  By fulfilling his purpose, Benny returned all of the care that Jessa and I offered to him during his lifetime.

Benny had a good life.

Benny’s life resulted in products that, in turn, ensure that each of us has a good life. There is honor in that story. There is honor in Benny’s gift.

I think that it is time for all of us to celebrate the reality of food production — To have faith in the farmers and ranchers that dedicate their lives to raise animals like Benny. When we are thankful for the gift, we ultimately respect the sacrifice.

It’s okay to think of Benny, Jessa, and I when you eat a steak.  Benny had a good life; and Jessa and I worked hard so that you could reap the benefit🙂

 

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., Animal Welfare, Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General

The First of the Lasts…

Whenever life begins to transition toward a new path, there exists a series of “lasts”.  Last week, I experienced the first of the lasts in the journey of shutting down the feed yard.  Friday morning, I traveled south of Sumner, Nebraska to load up a group of yearlings at the Karlberg Ranch.

With the approach of fall, grass supplies diminish and feed yards in Nebraska begin the fall run of cattle as animals are gathered off of pastures and shipped to farms like mine.

A feed yard is pretty much like a hotel for cattle — A place where the animals go when seasonal limitations of grass resources require shipping off of the home ranch.  The casserole of forage and grain that they receive on my farm enables them to continue to grow despite the fact that Mother Nature refuses to provide for about 7 months.

David and two of his three children -- I got to watch these folks "grow up" while working with their dad.

David and two of his three children — I got to watch these kids “grow up” while working with their dad.

David Karlberg and I have partnered raising beef for fifteen years.  David cares for his cattle until they are 12-16 months old before sending them to my feed yard.  The animals then make the short 30 mile trip from the ranch to my farm where they spend another four months preparing to make beef.  Birth to harvest, the cattle spend their entire lives in Dawson County Nebraska.

Working with folks like David provides an integral part of my business model of collaboration.  Tracing cattle performance, improving care over the animal’s lifetime, limiting animal stress, and searching for ways to improve quality in the end product: beef.

David and I became smarter together than we could have ever been alone. 

Over the past 15 years, we have cared for and improved the lives of close to 6000 animals — producing more than 5 million pounds of beef and bovine products.  Each one of you has benefited by our dedication and collaboration.

Friday morning provided the last time that I will bring David’s cattle (or any other new cattle) onto my farm.  As we begin to exit the cattle feeding business, we will now stop bringing new cattle into the “hotel”.  The 1835 animals already on my farm will remain with me until their time of shipment, but we will no longer “refill” the home pens with new animals after these cattle travel to Tyson.

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today -- more to come on "Benny" in the next post...

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today — more to come on “Benny” in the next post…

It was an emotional morning for me.  Although I truly believe that it is time for a new journey, the reality of stepping away from what I have worked so hard to build weighs on me.  There is regret and disappointment that I could not make my business model work as my management is a reflection of the values that make me Anne. I am thankful for David and my other ranchers who put time and energy into our partnerships – committing to search for ways to be better tomorrow than we are today.

I found my smile as I ended the day with a group of graduate students from the University of Nebraska @ Lincoln. The students visited the farm as part of the UNL Feed Yard Internship program which strives to prepare college graduates to be good cattle caregivers and businessmen/women. We had great discussions and I was very pleased that the professors and students felt that I had something meaningful to share.  I have faith that some of them will work to continue the legacy that I have tried to foster🙂

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Life is a Series of Callings…

anneagxc.jpgI believe that life is a series of callings.  Although my faith is deeply personal and generally manifests itself outside of church walls, my relationship with God leads me on the journey.  I followed my heart when I became involved in work to improve animal welfare for cattle and this same desire for positive change led me to coaching youth athletics.  Likely the only two things that these topics share in common is my passion to make a positive difference.

I had a brief foray into coaching immediately after graduating from college and moving to Nebraska.  I served in the volunteer role of assistant coach to the high school Cross Country team in the late 1990’s prior to the birth of my favorite brunette.  A busy life running a cattle feed yard and raising a young family took me away from coaching for about a decade, but life has a way of placing a person in the right place at the right time.

I had a wake up call the year that I turned 30 as I lost my health due to an autoimmune system disease.  The following five years provided a personal battle that reminded me how precious a gift each day truly is.  God has a way of putting life into perspective and, as I worked to regain my health, I found myself inspired to coach again — this time at the swimming pool.  Seven years later, with the help of the same awesome lady who guided me in my first foray of Haymaker XC coaching, our local community has a thriving recreational swim team where fitness and fun combine to teach life skills to almost 50 budding athletes.

This fall I took on an additional volunteer coaching gig — coming full circle back to the Haymaker Cross Country team.  Ironically, my favorite brunette is now a member of the team which makes me smile as I was eight months pregnant when I hung up my XC coaching hat the first time.  I am back on the Haymaker roster as an assistant which allows me to mentor just under thirty junior high and high school athletes on their quest for greatness.

CI2.jpg

Coaching refills my cup — it touches my heart as I see God in the young people that I get to mentor.

CIG1.JPG

There is something so truly special in playing a leadership role in an athlete’s journey.  You learn to coach the athlete in the moment that they need you — filling each unique void — giving direction while also inspiring good independent decision making.  Athletics teach toughness, work ethic, empathy, and personal sacrifice.  They are about developing fitness: mental, emotional, and physical in order to work toward a common goal.  There is nothing more rewarding than watching a culture of greatness develop amongst teammates.

The Haymaker Cross Country team personifies all of these things, and I am truly blessed to be a part of it.  Like many coaches, I don’t coach for the win.  I coach for the athlete — focusing on developing personal life skills that create leaders.  The development of this positive culture brings the win, and it is so much sweeter when the athletes lead the way.

The calling of a coach is a special one.  It comes from a quest to use your talents to make a difference in the lives of the young people who will create the future.  When I see the athletes dig deep to persevere during competition or unselfishly reach out to teammates in need, I know that God is at work and my heart fills with optimism for all of those times yet to come.

Go Haymakers!

 

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General, Rural Communities

“Anne Gates”…

Annegate3I think that it is impossible to pour your heart and soul into a business for 2 decades and not leave some sort of a *mark*.  The running joke at the feed yard revolves around what my favorite farmer affectionately calls Anne Gates.

I’ve always been a small person with a higher than normal energy level.  In short, I fit in small places and move pretty fast.  Over the years, I have created a variety of small passageways that allow me to move seamlessly around our corral systems at the feed yard.  Since I care for animals that are 6-13 times bigger than I am, I have the advantage of being able to fit through spaces that cattle would not even consider going through…Quite frankly, I can fit through spaces that my favorite farmer wouldn’t consider squeezing through🙂

My crew thoroughly enjoyed my three pregnancies laughing that, at least for short periods of time, I had to be normal and use the real gates.  While I did not mind spending a few months walking in their shoes, I was always glad when my babies arrived and I could go back to using my own unique paths around the feed yard…

annegate1.jpgWhen I look back on the last 20 years as a beef farmer, my mind recalls many Anne gates — some of which are not physical passageways, but rather metaphorical bridges from my farm to the outside world.  This blog is one of them.  In 2016, agriculture in the United States faces many challenges.  Quite likely the greatest comes from a lack of effective gates from the farm to the dinner plate.  Less than 2% of Americans work as farmers, and most of our urban counterparts are more than two generations removed from the farm.  Understanding where your food comes from is no easy task, and finding good information on it resembles the old adage of finding a needle in a hay stack.

Raising cattle takes a unique set of resources as well as a relatively long period of time.  Beef farming epitomizes the newly popular slow food movement as breeding cattle live more than a decade, and cattle raised solely for the production of beef thrive for close to 2 years — grazing grass pastures and then spending a few months in a feed yard at the end of their lifetime.  Doing it right takes dedication, patience, and a whole lot of hard work.

One of the things that I have attempted to convey with Feed Yard Foodie is the complexity of caring for cattle and growing beef.  The gate of transparency challenges farmers, and figuring out how to explain daily animal care and business decisions to those that live outside of the farm is hard.  I struggle with this, and I know that I am not alone.

After six years of sharing, I can report that I have likely learned more than I have imparted.  I realized in the early days of Feed Yard Foodie that my social media experience needed to be bidirectional as relationships and trust (even virtual ones) are built not just through sharing but also by receiving.  The good thing about a gate is that it doesn’t cost any more to travel two directions and you can build it as big as you need it to be😉

While I am closing the gate to my feed yard in about six months, I do not plan to “close the gate” to this blog.  It is an Anne gate that I am keeping until I both run out of things to say and run out of things to learn…Many thanks all of you for taking the journey with me.

 

 

 

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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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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, Family, Farming, General

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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