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.

17 Comments

Filed under CAFO, Family, Foodie Work!, General

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, General, Rural Communities

10 Qualities of a Good Teammate…

lakekarynswimshirt.jpgIn preparation for a swim team meeting today, my favorite blonde cowgirl and I brainstormed and put together 10 Qualities of a Good Teammate.  None of these qualities are linked directly with natural athletic talent, however, all of them directly determine an athlete’s success.  Building these skills is not easy; however their importance extends far beyond the athletic field and into the game of life. 

  1. Heart: To be a good teammate, you must have enough faith to trust both in your abilities as well as every other team member’s.
  2. Friendship: To be a good teammate, you must extend friendship and acceptance toward all members. This includes recognizing that no one is perfect and being able to forgive in order to better both yourself and the team.
  3. Work Ethic: To be a good teammate, you must be willing to work hard – to push yourself to the point of exhaustion – in order to achieve new levels of strength and ability.
  4. Leadership: To be a good teammate, you must show a positive attitude and look outside of yourself in order to support and mentor others.
  5. Integrity: To be a good teammate, you must be truthful in your thoughts, words, and actions.
  6. Passion: To be a good teammate, you must give everything that you have in every moment of competition and training with a strong positive energy that comes from the heart.
  7. Kindness: To be a good teammate, you must always be both humble and kind. Learning to support others and help them to achieve greatness provides the basis for both personal and team success.
  8. Positive Culture: To be a good teammate, you must believe in and share the power of positivity – this occurs by encouraging others and inspiring greatness in all those around you.
  9. Competitive Nature: To be a good teammate, you must be willing to live in the moment of the race and fight for victory – not just for yourself but for those who proudly share the same uniform.
  10. Leave it all on the deck: To be a good teammate, you must leave all negative emotions and drama outside of the pool so that you can bond with your teammates and work together to build something greater than yourself.

One of my swimmers reminded me this week that “Perseverance = Stubborness with a Purpose” — Imagine how awesome our world would be if everyone persevered on the journey of being a good teammate!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, General, Rural Communities

Haymaker Swimming…

I competed in my first backstroke race the summer of 1979 at the age of 4.  My mom taught me to swim almost before I could walk, and USS Swimming played a huge role in the first 21 years of my life.  In addition to allowing me to compete as an athlete at the national level in high school, it also helped me to matriculate at Dartmouth College in the fall of 1993.  I wasn’t as smart as the general Ivy League student population, but I knew how to work and I was never known to back down from a challenge.

Although I drifted away from the sport during my twenties as I built a life on the farm and gave birth to my three greatest blessings, I became reunited with it the year my youngest turned 3.  At that point, swimming provided a healing influence, and played a vital role as I regained my health after a difficult struggle with Graves Disease.  The combination of physical fitness challenge as a swimmer and the mental fitness that I acquired as a coach enabled me to find the “old Anne” and shake off the deflated self esteem that often develops when battling a chronic illness.

Looking for a "high 5" at the beginning of the meet...

Looking for a “high 5” at the beginning of the meet…

Years later, our local swim team thrives with 46 young competitors aged 7-16.  Coaching is the highlight of my summer and I love to watch the sport play a positive role in the growth of our community’s young people.  It is not just speed and strength that gets developed in the water — it is character, work ethic, and respect.  The almost twenty hours a week that I put in as a volunteer coach during the summer months nurtures my altruistic side despite the fact that during hard workouts my athletes have been known to classify me as evil

What they likely don’t realize is that I push them because I care about them: both the young people that they are today and the awesome adults that they will grow up to be tomorrow.  I hope that sometime ten years down the road each of my swimmers will rattle off one of the many motivational phrases that I am known for and take a moment to appreciate what we built together.

Our league also allows for adults to swim, so each week I get to hit the water to prove to myself that I still can.  I love that I demonstrate with each day that passes that swimming is a life sport and fitness is fun.

  • Every practice is a challenge to be met.
  • Every race is an opportunity to embrace.
  • Every awesome effort proves that while the road to excellence is rarely comfortable, success thrives in an uncomfortable environment.

annecoach2.jpgGo Haymakers!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Rural Communities

Raising Food Builds Character…

I remember as a child when my parents would tell me that certain tasks “build character”.  It generally applied to things that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do, and I recall mentally rolling my eyes every time that I heard the expression as a teenager.  As often occurs, the cycle continues over generations and I find myself telling my own girls the same thing.  There are many things that happen on a farm that build character, and one of the best parts of being a mom/farmer is using those tasks to help my girls learn both good work ethic and a humble empathy.

My favorite blonde cowgirl announced after the blizzard last February, “I have enough character, I don’t need to scoop any more bunks!”  I replied, “Yes, you do because the cattle need for you to clean the snow off their plates so that they can have fresh breakfast.”  We scooped bunks for two days during the storm, and I may have to admit that Megan’s Mama also thought at some point on the second day that her “character cup” was full.  However, we persevered through the task because it was important to the livelihood of our animals.

Earlier this week, I talked about information that cattlemen need to know to properly care for cattle during the heat of the summer.  If you recall, one of the major mitigators of heat stress is a constant supply of cool and clean water.  In Nebraska, we are blessed to live above the deepest part of the Ogallala Aquifer and it provides us with fresh 58 degree water despite hot air temperatures.  My cowboy has the responsibility of cleaning all home pen water tanks weekly, and the water tanks in our hospital pens 2X per week.  When he goes on vacation, someone else must do the job.megwatertank5a

I decided that Megan was the perfect girl for the task!

There are life lessons to be learned everywhere that we look.  In fact, Megan’s weekly quote on the crew board in the office this week reads “Everyone can teach you something.”  Physically washing the water tanks at the feed yard reinforces the critical animal care lesson of always providing the basics of life.  Our cattle deserve fresh feed and clean water each and every day, and there is no better way to understand that then to be a part of the process.  Washing water tanks is one of the most menial and yet the most important tasks that happen every day at the feed yard.  The person who cleans tanks is undeniably the unsung hero.

Growing food is a naturally dirty job.  You never truly realize that until you go to work as a farmer.  Megan may choose a life path outside of agriculture, but she will never fail to appreciate the food on her plate or the hard work of the person who put forth the effort to grow it.  She will never forget because she lived it.  The character that she steadily builds with the scoop shovel and the tank cleaning brush permanently changes the way that she looks at the world.  She intrinsically knows that each effort that she puts forth each day creates sustainability — no matter how menial the task may be.

There are two words that provide one of my favorite mantras:  Life Matters.  Learning to respect life, to positively contribute to its sustainability, and to give of yourself to help those in need are all consequences of building character.  It isn’t usually romantic, often it involves dirt and sweat, and it is rarely easy; however, having the humility to recognize what it takes and the work ethic to take on the challenge creates a successful contributor.

MegCattleMarch16.jpgNo matter what I accomplish in my professional life, my true report card is the character of my children.  It is awesome when instilling those values in my girls fits seamlessly with the work of growing food.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, Family, General

Managing Heat Stress…

annecattlebunk.jpgA combination of events provided motivation for the writing of this post.  I received a number of requests for information regarding dealing with heat stress over the past seven days from fellow cattlemen and blog followers.  In addition, I spent the latter part of the week and the weekend trying to effectively care for newly received fall calves experiencing severe heat stress due to grazing toxic fescue grass prior to shipment off of the ranch to my feed yard.

The threat of heat stress to animals is very real and, while it cannot be truly abated by anything other than a reprieve from Mother Nature, there are things that we can do as animal caregivers to help our cattle to more effectively deal with it.  Below is a list of facts that every cattlemen should know about cattle and their tolerance to heat.  The information comes from Dr. Dee Griffin and Dr. Terry Madar.

  • 55 degrees is “short sleeve” weather for cattle — 82 degrees is upper critical temperature.
  • It takes a calf 30 days to acclimate to warm temperatures (approximately 1 degree per day).
  • Heifers are more susceptible to heat than steers due to natural female cycling.
  • Air flow and wind are critical as they decrease the heat index temperatures according to wind speed ( 1 degree = 1 MPH drop in index temperature).
  • Humidity exacerbates heat stress:  cattle are much more comfortable in dry heat.
  • Black hided cattle are more susceptible to heat stress than lighter colored animals as their internal temperature will be 1-1.5 degrees higher.
  • High performing animals often have a faster metabolism and as a result can be affected the most by heat.
  • Stable flies (and other flies and gnats) increase total stress on animals so it is important to maintain the farm to limit insect pests.
  • Water requirements of cattle increase from 10% to 20% per hundred weight of body weight during times of heat stress.  An ample source of cool and clean water provides your best mitigator against heat stress.
  • Hot days combined with nights where the temperature does not fall below 70 degrees are the most problematic, especially if humidity is significant and wind speed is low.
  • There is a two hour lag between the highest heat of the day and when a calf has the highest level of heat stress — after the peak, it takes approximately 6 hours for the calf to cool down.

Below are a list of practices that I employ on my farm to help my animals get through the heat of the summer:

  • I manage the business part of the feed yard such that the majority of our larger animals ship to harvest prior to the high onset of heat in July and early August.
  • I reduce the total number of head of cattle in each pen so that there is more room for air flow across the pen as well as more access to the cool water that the water tank provides for drinking.
  • I maintain my pens such that tall mounds allow for cattle to better take advantage of wind speed.
  • I move in portable shades to the pens of cattle closest to harvest dates, as well as cattle that are more susceptible to heat stress as a result of another challenge (like toxicity from fescue grass on the ranch prior to shipment to the feed yard).
  • Any cattle handling (acclimating, processing or shipping) occurs during the early morning hours during cooler temperatures.
  • Breakfast is delivered early (between 6-8:00am) so that all cattle can eat prior to the onset of heat.  We feed “linner” (my girls’ expression for the combination of lunch and dinner) later in the afternoon so that cattle can eat again at night.
  • Our daily cattle health check is performed early in the morning prior to the onset of heat so that if an animal requires individual attention, it can be provided during the cooler hours of the day.
  • I feed MGA to heifers in the feed yard to prevent the natural female cycling that raises her internal body temperature.
  • My crew and I take special care to not “over feed” our animals during times of heat stress.  Careful feed bunk management is critical to animal health and comfort — especially in the hot summer months.

MegShade1.jpgAs mentioned above, ample cool drinking water (in Nebraska our water comes out of the Ogallala Aquifer in the summer at a temperature of 58 degrees which gives our animals a nice cool drink) and access to air flow (wind) are the two most critical components for alleviating severe heat stress.

It takes a “team effort” to help our cattle, and I am proud of my crew’s dedication to caring.  I am also thankful to have a team of dedicated veterinarians and nutritionists to help us make the best decisions for our animals.

 

10 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

A Bovine Anniversary…

annefeedyard2.jpgMy favorite farmer and I achieved 20 years of marriage yesterday.  It was an interesting day with lots of work and very little time for celebration.  Such is the life of a farmer…

I started the day at 5:45 shipping 9 loads of cattle to Tyson.  We don’t often ship that many animals at a time, but June is our busiest month to ship animals ready for slaughter because of the natural weather cycle in Nebraska.  The last truck left the feed yard about 8:00am.  I am excited to see the beef quality data. We are closely tracking performance this summer after switching to a new all natural feed additive known as Natursafe to both reduce the antibiotic footprint of the feed yard and also to provide a pre-harvest food safety mechanism to further reduce ecoli and salmonella on the farm.

  • After shipping cattle, I had two pens of newly arrived fall calves to exercise and acclimate.
  • I landed at the pool to coach swim team by 11:15 and spent a couple of hours sweating while mentoring about 40 of Cozad’s talented youth.
  • The afternoon brought paperwork at the office in preparation for our annual 3rd party feed yard audit that starts at 7:00 this morning.
  • At 5:30 I headed back out to the feed yard to unload another set of newly arrived fall calves.

We sat down to a meatloaf dinner about 7:15 and greatly enjoyed the delicious chocolate cake that my favorite blonde cowgirl made.  I think that I sweated several buckets over the course of the 90+ degree day, but all ended well.  It was a great day to be reminded that marriage is a journey, not a single event to decorate a calendar.

annematt2.jpg

Cheers to my favorite farmer for 20 years of awesomeness — We certainly have built something special:)

3 Comments

Filed under Farming, General

Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons…

My favorite farmer gave me a diamond ring on my 20th birthday — a beautiful single solitaire with a thin gold band.  I loved that ring.  I loved it because Matt chose it for me.  I loved it because it represented the promise of tomorrow while verifying the love of today.

I wore the ring all of the time – for 21 years.  I remember being heartsick when the hospital made me take it off when my first two daughters were born.  I remember laughing when my finger was so swollen when Karyn was born that they had to leave it on and just put tape around it…

annemattbale2.jpg

Matt and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in a few days.  About a month ago, he asked me if I wanted “something pretty” to commemorate the two decades of marriage.  I told him “no”, that I had everything that I needed.

About a week after our conversation, an accident happened while I was shipping cattle to Tyson.  As my cowboy and I brought the 1400# steers up the alleyway to load on the semi-truck, one of them kicked a gate into my left hand.  I reacted quickly, but my engagement ring was bent beyond repair.  I’m still not really sure of the details – I tend to get into a “zone” while shipping cattle – but we successfully got all of the boys onto the bus with my engagement ring being the only casualty.

My heart hurt a bit when I showed Matt the annihilated ring.  His response was classic

“Anne, at least it was the ring and not your finger.”

He has always had a knack for putting things into perspective.  It is one of the many reasons that I love him. Over the last twenty years, we laughed together, cried together, lost our tempers together, and found peace together.  Through it all, we have learned that the secret to success is the ability to make lemonade out of lemons.

annemattring2.jpg

  • I have a beautiful new gold ring to showcase the gorgeous diamond that Matt gave to me 21 years ago.
  • I have a functional finger to put the ring on.
  • I have a loving husband who inspires me to see the beauty in life each and every day.
  • Together we have built a meaningful life on the farm to share with our three greatest blessings.

Keeping things in perspective is likely one of the most important life skills. It takes effort and faith, patience and time.  Lucky for you all, Emily had just begun her visit when the cattle shipment incident occurred.  Her role as “guest blogger” provided just enough time for me to make that lemon into lemonade…

6 Comments

Filed under Family, Farming, General