It All Started With a Beer…

Frankie Ballard has a new song out on the country music charts entitled, “It all started with a beer”.  There is something innately human about the song that really speaks to me.  The truth in the words of the melody pull at my heart and serve as a good reminder of what real life is all about.

There’s been highs and lows,

Fast lane freeways and bumpy roads
Cursed the devil and prayed to heaven,

Lost it all and we rolled some sevens
Been some smiles then there’s been tears,

Been more good than bad years
Ain’t it crazy baby how we got here,

Oh, it all started with a beer

annemattjeans.jpgMatt and I met at Dartmouth College at a party in the fall of 1993.  The life we started together in New Hampshire and then continued on the farm in Nebraska is wrapped up somewhere in the midst of those words coined by Frankie Ballard.  We celebrate 20 years of marriage this June and 19 years on the farm having experienced the joys of love, the trials of farming, and the journey of finding strength in togetherness.

When I look in the mirror today, my eyes do not hold the innocence and optimism of youth.  Instead, they carry the knowledge of life — the highs and lows, fast lane freeways and bumpy roads — the recognition that tackling challenges is just part of living.  Understanding that, perhaps, the tears and frustrations that come during the lows actually lead to a broader perspective allowing for a fuller life experience.

There is no doubt that the optimistic Ivy League graduate with stars in her eyes that landed in the heart of the Nebraska plains really had no idea of the journey ahead.  Sometimes it is hard to remember the girl who showed up at the feed yard that first day shaking with nerves, but determined to learn.  The years blur together, but adaptation is a curious process and I have (from time to time) both cursed the devil and prayed to heaven. 

The experiences of creating a family combined with the trials of learning to understand cattle and running a business have instilled me with patience and resilience.  The uphill battle of bringing positive change to an agricultural industry steeped in both testosterone and tradition taught me that small periods of failure often precede a roll of sevens.annemattjeanskiss.jpg

Through the decades, my favorite farmer has shared both my smiles and my tears quietly supporting me so that I would have more good than bad years.  His faith in me never waivers and the love that we have nurtured on the journey humbles me.  On this Valentine’s Day, it seems quite hard to believe that

It all started with a beer

 

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Blizzard 2016…

The blizzard that resulted from winter storm Kayla wreaked havoc on our farm Tuesday and Wednesday.  We received over a foot of snow with winds up to 50 mph.  The worst of the storm passed through from 8:00am – midnight on Tuesday.

Since our day at the feed yard starts at 6:00, we all arrived safely Tuesday morning before the worst of the storm.  My favorite farmer opened up the gravel road between our house and the feed yard with a tractor and I followed behind with my favorite blondes in my 4 wheel drive Tahoe.  We all spent the morning clearing snow, scooping the feed bunks, and delivering breakfast to the cattle.

Trying to walk north into the wind to get to the next bunk to scoop...

Trying to walk north into the wind to get to the next feed bunk to scoop…

Our bunk sweeper broke on the first feed bunk, so we scooped bunks the old fashioned way — with a shovel.  Between our 24 feed bunks, that made a length of more than 3500 feet to be cleared with a scoop shovel both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.  Fortunately, we had the bunks cleared of snow and full of breakfast for all of the cattle by about 10:30am.

Scooping bunks in a blizzard makes for icicle eyebrows...

Scooping bunks in a blizzard makes for icicle eyebrows…

About the time we finished morning feeding, the storm got really nasty and we had some challenges getting feed trucks (and my Tahoe) from the feed yard back to the shop.  Visibility was non-existent and the snow drifts formed so quickly that we could not keep the alleyways open.  It took an hour to get all of us out of the feed yard and less than a half a mile back to the shop having to use the pay loader and the tractor to get “unstuck” multiple times.  At that point, we all rested and ate some chili that I had made Monday night.

Winter storm Kayla dominated all of Tuesday afternoon.  My foreman and his son stayed at the feed yard and were able to reopen the roads and deliver the second feeding of the day about midnight Tuesday night when the weather showed signs of improving.  The rest of us arrived back at the yard about 6:00am Wednesday via tractor and 4 wheel drives to re-scoop bunks, move snow out of the corrals, and help deliver breakfast.

It takes a blend of equipment and people to care for cattle in a storm...

It takes a blend of equipment and people to care for cattle in a storm…This picture was taken after the storm.

Consistently delivering feed is very important during winter storms as the digestion process helps the cattle to remain warm and weather the environmental stress.  It is priority #1.  I am incredibly proud of my crew and my family for their hard work and dedication. The herculean effort that goes into caring for cattle during a blizzard is truly difficult to describe, and the welfare of our animals is dependent on our perseverance.

Below are some pictures from after the blizzard conditions abated.  I have to take my gloves off to take pictures which limits the volume of them …

Scooping bunks Wednesday morning with my special short handled shovel-- the 2nd morning in a row...

Scooping bunks Wednesday morning with my special short handled shovel– the 2nd morning in a row to hand scoop :)

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Drifts in one of the pens on the north end of the feed yard…

My corral area is completely closed in with 4'+ drifts...

My corral area is completely closed in with 4’+ drifts…

My cowboy dug a heifer out of this drift when she got partially buried...

My cowboy dug a heifer out of this drift when she got partially buried…

I wasn't the only one left wearing icicles...

I wasn’t the only one left wearing icicles…

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The road from my house to the feed yard — the ditches were so full of snow that you could not tell where the road ended and the ditches began…

My favorite blondes playing on a snow pile at the feed yard after helping to scoop bunks...

My favorite blondes playing on a snow pile at the feed yard after helping to scoop bunks…

Wednesday evening's beautiful sunset...

Wednesday evening’s beautiful sunset…

We are all tired and glad that the “emergency” time is over.  It will take at least a week for us to completely dig out from the blizzard, but we are thankful to have come through the event successfully. We did our best to offer care despite Mother Nature’s wrath.  The girls will all head back to regular school tomorrow :)

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Blizzard Warning…

I was first introduced to a “blizzard warning” during the winter of 1996 when my favorite farmer and I traveled back to Nebraska for a visit. I remember standing by the window at Matt’s parents’ house fascinated with how the snow flakes whipped across the prairie in a frantic horizontal pattern.  As a three year resident of New Hampshire, I expected to see the nice gentle New England vertically falling snow that covered the country like a gentle white blanket.

When I became a Nebraskan a year later, I quickly learned that is not the kind of snow that typically visits Nebraska…

Before the storm...

Before the storm…

Almost twenty years later, I hear the term “blizzard warning” and my stomach automatically clenches.

Mother Nature brings along a blizzard every couple of years with varying intensities and snow fall amounts.  However, there is always one constant: a howling wind. It amazes me how much havoc can be wrought with a little bit of snow and a 30-70 mph wind. White out conditions desecrate visibility and create snow drifts as tall as my house, while brutally cold temperatures make it virtually impossible to stay warm while outside doing chores.

Ten years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, we received 6-8” of snow with 70-80 mph winds. The storm lasted over 36 hours and it took us weeks to repair the damage. To put it in perspective (or at least in Florida lingo), a category 5 hurricane carries winds in excess of 70 mph. These blizzard storms result in power-line and tree damage similar to a hurricane, but then you exchange rain for snow and add on bitterly cold temperatures.

Tonight, winter storm Kayla will lash out at Central Nebraska and Northern Kansas. The snow began to fall earlier in the day while we were working cattle about 11:00am this morning, but the bulk of the accumulation will occur over night. It is likely that we will receive up to a foot of snow. While 12” of snow provides some work with both a scoop shovel and a tractor, it is not the snow itself that will disrupt life on the farm.

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The wind will be the debilitating factor.

At this point, we are expected to receive 35-45 mph winds beginning tonight and continuing for about 24 hours. Today, we did our best to prepare for the storm, in addition to performing our normal feed yard chores. Three years ago, prior to Winter Storm Q, I blogged about how we prepare for a storm. You can read that by clicking here.

So tonight, I sit by the window and worry. As I watch the snow come down, I pray that the wind will leave.

  • I think about all of the animals that live outdoors.
  • I think about all of the people who will travel out into the storm to care for them.

The worry will abate shortly before dawn when the work begins. The powerless feeling that comes during the dark hours of the night is replaced by the determination to act during the early morning hours.

We will offer care – doing the best that we can – dealing with whatever Mother Nature gives us. When you sign on to be a farmer, you make a commitment to always care.

They will have on many more layers of clothes but hopefully they will keep their smiles :)

They will have on many more layers of clothes tomorrow morning but hopefully they will keep these same smiles :)

My daughters are celebrating the fact that school is canceled tomorrow but, by the time that the day is done, they will likely be dreaming of that nice warm classroom housed inside a building that blessedly blocks out the blizzard…

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Refilling the Cup…

Katie Pinke of the Pinke Post made a comment on Facebook last week stating the difficulty of finding ways to “refill the cup” as an advocate for agriculture. Katie has many years of experience in social media and her intuitive thoughts often leave me pondering. As advocates for agriculture, our cups of energy are often depleted. Learning how to refill them is a journey of survival.

annecattlemiranda.jpgThis April will mark the 5th year anniversary of the Feed Yard Foodie blog. Four hundred and eighty nine blog posts and almost a million views (from a half a million visitors) separate the naïve cattle feeder of 2011 with the seasoned (and somewhat hardened) blogger of 2016. So much has changed since the birth of this blog, and yet, so much remains the same.

It takes an enormous amount of optimism and energy to brave the social media world that revolves around agriculture. On a good day, you pick up a follower who shares some common ground and wishes to further understand “where food comes from”. On a bad day, you are threatened and disparaged with an appalling lack of basic respect.

As I close in on five years, I find myself reflecting and attempting to rationalize the volunteer time and energy that I pour into Feed Yard Foodie. I try to look past the heartache that sometimes permeates my outreach to find the shining light that leads me to continue down the ag-vocacy trail. It takes a constant effort to figure out how to tap that unlimited source of energy which serves to fuel the blog amidst the regular list of chores that go along with being a mom and a feed yard boss lady.

I tell my girls that the most important life skill they will learn is perseverance. Perseverance is all about refilling the cup. My words take on a new depth of meaning as they watch me “cowgirl” up and continue the journey. They live with the stubbornly independent mom and boss lady, just as they watch the vulnerable woman struggle to find the courage to continue to share her story.

My girls work every day to refill my cup because they watch first hand as others deplete it. I do not shield them from my struggles, and it teaches them to not only persevere but also to empathize and offer compassion to those in need.

Life is hard. It is filled with demands that work to deplete the cup. I believe that the difference between those who persevere and those who do not lies in the ability to gather the love and optimism that is required to refill the cup. That is a very personal journey as everyone’s cup is unique.

Below are five things that I have learned to rely on for the past five years in order to persevere:

  1. Accept that everyone (including you) is human. Learn to forgive.
  2. Notice your blessings – learn to look for the good as it is what refills your cup.
  3. Draw a line between your real life and your cyber life – understand that the majority of what refills your cup comes from personal interactions outside of the internet.
  4. Take the time to be pensive – quiet thinking breeds both respect and learning.
  5. Understand that temporarily walking away is not failure – rather it is a necessary component to finding the courage to continue.

I do not know how to measure the success of my agricultural outreach, but I can recognize the personal growth that has occurred as a result of it. The road to excellence is rarely comfortable and I can attest to the fact that being an advocate for agriculture is not a comfortable journey. I am thankful to all of you loyal Feed Yard Foodie readers as you play a vital role pushing me to search for continuous improvement on my farm. You all help to refill my cup by reading, commenting, and sharing of yourselves.

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Meanwhile On the Farm…

It has been a bit surreal these past few weeks blogging about Ecuador and the Galapagos while working on the farm in Nebraska.  The view from the prairie is a bit different!

So, you might ask “What is January like on the Feed Yard Foodie farm?”.

The tree grove on the west side of the feed yard...

The tree grove on the west side of the feed yard…

Well, it’s cold!  The days seem short, the nights seem long, and any type of moisture (usually snow) just adds to the regular work load.  The truth is that the typical feed yard day stays the same 12 months out of the year.  So, the January work load is not any different  — It’s just darker and colder working outside doing daily chores :)

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My Sunday morning helpers sporting the new battery operated heated gloves that Megan gave me for Christmas: Girl power on the farm :)

Over the past few weeks, my crew and I have been busy feeding, performing our daily cattle health check, shipping cattle to Tyson, and getting new animals into the feed yard.  This time of year, the new animals come from ranches close by that wean their calves at home and “background” feed them for approximately 60 days before shipping them to us.

Background feeding is a term often used in the cattle world.  In the plains states, we must feed our animals during the winter months as Mother Nature does not provide much in the way of plant growth.  Many of my animals are weaned on the home ranch and placed into large pens (or pastures with feed bunks) on the ranch where the animals are fed a casserole of feed that is a blend of forage and corn products.  This allows for the animals to continue to grow on the home ranch and make a smooth transition to the feed yard in January and February.

Most ranchers with spring calving cows (cows that give birth February – April) wean their calves in October in order to give the mama cow the ability to focus on the calf in her belly during the last 5-6 months of gestation.  The mama cows are grazed for the winter on corn stalks with a supplemental feed of alfalfa or wet distillers grains, and the calves are fed separately from their mamas.

Over the past few weeks, more than 500 new animals now call our farm home having traveled less than 30 miles from the ranch where they were born and backgrounded.  Backgrounded calves have an seamless transition coming into the feed yard as the casserole fed on the home ranch is very similar to the receiving rations (casseroles) that we use at the feed yard.

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I have partnered with these ranchers for many years as we work together to raise cattle, and am very proud of the teamwork that goes into the healthy and delicious beef that we grow together.

Newly arrived cattle trailing from the corral to the home pen for the first time...

Newly arrived cattle trailing from the receiving corral to the home pen for the first time…

In the home pen, fresh feed and water await along with ample space to rest and play...

In the home pen, fresh feed and water await along with ample space to rest and play…

Not surprisingly, the new cattle chose to head directly to the feed bunk where they enjoy prairie hay grass and a "casserole" blend of nutritious feed...

Not surprisingly, the new cattle choose to head directly to the feed bunk where they enjoy prairie hay grass and a “casserole” blend of nutritious feed that is very similar to what they have been eating on the ranch before traveling to the feed yard…

These steers (pictured above) are almost a year old and weigh 860#. They will spend the next four months on my farm where they will gain an average of 4 pounds per day.  When they leave my farm and make the 20 mile trip to Tyson Fresh Meats, they will weigh close to 1400#.

That’s a lot of great tasting beef!

wintersunset.jpgOne of the things that I love most about our farm is it’s combination of quiet beauty and practical usefulness.

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Finding Our Inner Iguana…

My favorite 16 year old and I decided while interacting with the local wildlife population that, during times of stress, we needed to find our inner iguana.  We both found the large lizards fascinating.  Our favorite was watching them pensively contemplate the ocean waves while maintaining the yoga position of “cobra”.

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Their nonchalant attitude toward life intrigued me and I found their herd dynamics (interactions between one another) thoroughly entertaining.

The only other animals that I enjoyed more were the sea lions.  The swimmer in me loved the harmonious way that they moved through the water.  I spend the summer trying to get my athletes to find that same sense of natural harmony!

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Researchers use EID tags similar to what we use to track cattle health and performance to better understand their habits...

Researchers use EID tags (orange circular button) similar to what we use to track cattle health and performance to better understand the sea lions…

When they were not gracefully frolicking in the water, the sea lions reminded me of our house cats — Lazy with a capital L combined with just a touch of drama :)

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It seems that everywhere I go, I find fascinating creatures to study.

 

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The Daphne Islands and Bahia Ballena Bay…

I over heard my favorite 16 year old tell a friend, “We are the Burkholder family.  We do not go on vacation to relax, we go to learn.”  The utter truth to this statement made me laugh. 

One of my father-in-law’s missions on the trip was to see the Daphne Islands.  Viewing where Darwin had his “lightbulb” moment has long been on his bucket list.

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My Father-In-Law studying the Daphne Islands…

In later years, biological researchers Peter and Rosemary Grant spent decades studying finches looking for keys to the science of evolution.  These isolated islands provided a perfectly pristine place for research, and we circled them in boats looking at the beautiful bird inhabitants.

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Later, we traveled by boat to the Enchanted Beach in Bahia Ballena Bay.  Here we saw a pair of sea turtles mating as well as the tracks of other female turtles on the beach where they traveled to lay their eggs.

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The mating sea turtles can be seen in the middle right of the picture…

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This afternoon proved to be the favorite time of the trip for all three of my girls demonstrating that the Burkholder learning gene runs true :) 

You can't change "ornery"...

You can’t change “ornery”…

While the girls obviously enjoyed playing in the water by the Enchanted Beach, the science and history held a fascination for them as well.  As for me, it was a wonderful time for me to play with my camera capturing the beauty as well as the memories.

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The Galapagos Islands…

I grew up by the ocean.  Playing in the sand, fishing on the water, and (during my teenage years) competing in ocean mile races to train for swimming.

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I love the vastness of the ocean horizon.  I love the sound of the waves.  I love the feel of the warm sand on my feet.  The ocean brings a comforting sense of peace to this introverted Florida girl turned Nebraska farmer.  Although I have happily made my adult life on the plains of Nebraska, there are times when I miss the ocean with a deep seated yearling.

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The Pacific Ocean near the Galapagos Islands combined exquisite beauty with melodious power.  We spent hours on the water traversing from island to island by boat — time walking the beaches and lava rocks looking for wildlife — and wonderful days snorkeling the reef areas.  Although I traded the Atlantic for the Pacific in our Ecuador trip, it did seem a bit like “coming home”.

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As we snorkeled the reefs, my mind went into the slow motion patient mode that I use when I handle cattle — recognizing that the more that I quietly watched, the more I would experience.  I took pictures with my mind as I explored underneath the ocean surface finding multiple types of rays, feeding sea turtles, a sea horse, a beautiful purple star fish, a group of sharks hiding underneath a ledge of rocks, and a vast array of colorful fish. 

With nothing more than a mask and snorkel, I floated above the ocean city taking periodic shallow dives down to further explore the life of the reef.  My favorite farmer and I generally were the last of the bunch to climb back aboard the boat as we both found contentment observing the ocean’s treasurers.  The girls also enjoyed the mysteries of the underwater world, although it took a bit of time for them to pick up the art of snorkeling :)

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Perhaps my favorite day of the trip was the afternoon visiting the Daphne Islands followed by a morning of exploring and snorkeling at Bahia Ballena.  I will share those photos in the next post.  Needless to say, the waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands created quite a splash for the feed yard foodie family…

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