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!

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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

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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…

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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.

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  • 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…

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Filed under Family, Farming, General

An Aggie’s Time in Cozad…

In the just three short weeks that I spent with the Foodie Family, I was able to learn more than I ever expected. Anne was such an amazing mentor to me and her family’s hospitality made it seem like home. I’d like to take this last blogging opportunity to thank them for hosting me and reflect on my time spent in Cozad and the experiences I had.

As I mentioned briefly in my first post, An Aggie in Nebraska… , the main goal of my visit was to take full advantage of a learning opportunity. Having spent the past 4 years at Texas A&M University earning a degree in Animal Science, I felt that I was well equipped with knowledge to enter into the cattle industry. I had a toolbox full of practical skills and knowledge acquired through a diverse array of classes and hands on learning opportunities but one key aspect was missing… real world experience.

Like any traditional student graduating from a 4-year university after high school, I didn’t exactly have a lot of down time to experience the ins and outs of the industry firsthand.

You never truly understand something until you are fully submerged in it, and that’s what I hoped this trip would bring about.

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While my three weeks doesn’t come close to Anne’s 20 years in the business, I think she did a great job including me in every aspect of the operation. We spent many mornings at the office, something she wouldn’t necessarily say she enjoys compared to working with the cattle, but it’s all part of the job.

While there she used everything as a teaching opportunity as she went about her daily tasks, sharing her own personal experiences and lessons she’s learned over the years. She always worked hard to directly apply it to my future career desires of running a cow-calf operation.

From budgeting and planning to understanding where the industry is headed as a whole, to government regulations, audits, and taxation — she certainly covered all the bases. She even offered advice on juggling work and family as well as the importance of playing a role in your community, and how she’s able to make it all work.

On the feedyard side of things, I had the opportunity to take part in reading bunks every morning, receiving, processing, and exercising new cattle, shipping fat cattle, moving calves to pasture, operating the feed truck and much more.

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Most importantly though, I was able to witness a well run business. In my mind, a successful business is not only measured by their bottom-line but also their integrity and the way they treat their employees. It was evident that every employee loved their job at Will Feed. Regardless of the situation, I repeatedly saw everyone work together as a team each day all while treating the cattle with the utmost respect.

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I cannot thank Anne and her Foodie Family (including those at the feedyard) enough for all that they have taught me while I was here. From farming to feedyard and everything in between, my time in Cozad was full of new experiences!

A few of the big take-home messages:

  1. “Two wrongs don’t make a right”
  2. Always stay humble
  3. Listen to your animals
  4. There are many ‘practical applications of math’ throughout the day
  5. Nothing smells quite as good as the alfalfa dehy plant on a long run

 

-Emily

*The photos throughout this post are a few of my favorites taken while receiving weaned calves earlier this week.

 

BarnQuilt

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Filed under CAFO, Foodie Work!, General

An Aggie, Aussies, and Sampling…

Howdy!

We’ve been busy at the yard the past week. All of this rain we’ve been having has made for some muddy conditions! Everyone is working as hard as they can to clean out pens before we receive new cattle this upcoming week.

In addition, we had a tour group of Australians join us Friday afternoon to learn more about the feedlot industry in the United States. They were especially baffled by how close we are to ground water here in Cozad, being that the feedyard is right over the Ogallala Aquifer makes it just a short distance, about 10’, to ground water as opposed to their 500’ deep wells in Australia. Overall I think they really enjoyed their experience at Will Feed, and we certainly enjoyed their company!

Alltech

Another very important task we accomplished this week was sampling feed stuffs for monthly nutritional analysis. Being that I am studying ruminant nutrition, it only seems fitting to share a bit about this critical aspect of the feedyard.

RationEVWe feed all of the cattle rations that are formulated with the help of the nutritionist. A ration can be thought of as a casserole. There are a variety of ingredients that all serve a different nutritional purpose whether it’s cracked corn for energy or roughage for fiber content, the ratio of ingredients within the “casseroles” are carefully calculated to meet the specific needs of the cattle at certain stages of growth.

If we do not know the right nutritional contents of our ingredients, our rations will be off and the cattle may not be able to reach their full potential and it could even cause health problems such as bloating. By sampling each individual ingredient, we can check the composition and ensure we are keeping the cattle happy and healthy with properly formulated rations.

All of the ingredients for a ration are loaded into the feed truck and the back of the truck acts like a giant mixing bowl. There is a combination of paddles and augers that mix the ration after all ingredients have been added. In theory this should create a perfectly homogeneous mixture.

To ensure this is the case, we also must sample the rations once they are mixed and delivered to the bunk. This ensures the feed truck is working properly, thoroughly combining all of the ingredients, and there is consistency amongst what is being fed.

DeliveringFeedEV
One load of feed in the truck may be dispersed throughout multiple pens, it is key that what is delivered to the first bunk is the exact same as what is delivered to the last. Therefore, we collect samples along the bunk line from the first and last bunk the load was delivered to.

RationSamplingEVOnce all the samples are collected, both individual ingredients and mixed rations, they are brought to Ward Laboratories in Kearney, NE for testing. The feed results are reported back a few days later and analyzed by the nutritionist, that way rations/mixing procedures can be adjusted accordingly if necessary.

The nutritionist especially uses the calcium content as an indicator of how well the ration was mixed. It is important the mix is homogenous for a variety of reasons but especially so the supplement pellet is distributed to all of the cattle at the right amount being that it includes a variety of ingredients vital to food safety.

When we dropped off the samples, Dr. Ward was nice enough to show us around the lab. They do a variety of testing there including, soil, water, and feedstuffs.

Did you know people will send in homemade craft beers to be tested for mineral content to best be able to match/adjust their unique flavor profiles?

It was definitely a week full of learning experiences! I look forward to my last few days here in Cozad. We have a busy schedule ahead with lots of incoming cattle to receive, process, and acclimate!

-Emily

Corn

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Filed under Nutrition (cattle and human)

An Aggie In Nebraska…

Howdy!

My name is Emily and I have the privilege to be a guest on the Feedyard Foodie’s blog this week! I am originally from rural Connecticut but am currently residing in Texas. Both my Fiancé, Garrett, and I are recent graduates of Texas A&M University (just two weeks ago, actually!) with our Bachelor’s in Animal Science and are both currently pursuing a Master’s in Ruminant Nutrition.

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A ruminant refers to an animal with a four compartment stomach (ie. cattle, sheep, or goats), however, both of us are specifically studying the beef cattle sector. Our ultimate goal in the future is to start our own cow-calf operation in Texas. A cow-calf operation essentially raises the animals that will later go to the feedlot.

So how did I end up in Cozad, Nebraska?

As Anne mentioned in her previous post, I had the privilege of hosting her and Megan at Texas A&M in the fall after inviting her for a speaking engagement through the Animal Science Department. Every feed yard utilizes a ruminant nutritionist to make sure the cattle are being fed properly and nutritional requirements are being met. Knowing that I was going to be studying in this field, it seemed fitting to come visit the feed yard for a few weeks over the summer to get an inside view on how the operation is run, even if it isn’t the exact path I plan to take.

The thought behind my visit was that it’s always worth taking advantage of an opportunity to learn.

There is a good chance that my future career will somehow relate back to the feed yard, especially if it includes a cow-calf operation responsible for filling empty pens.

The Feedyard Foodie Family graciously accepted me into their home for three weeks and I have been learning everything from the business side of the operation to running various equipment at the feedyard. As far as the cattle go, we’ve processed, transported, and shipped cattle and will be receiving new calves into the yard next week.

Every day has been something new to do and another skill-set to learn. I’ve even had the opportunity to learn about the various farming sectors in Cozad from planting to harvest and of course the town, and family’s love of sports has led me to a new insight into both the track and swimming season! Anne has been a great mentor sharing her experiences in the industry, as a manager, and making time for what’s important as small business-owning parents. It has been quite the adventure and I look forward to sharing more about my journey as I move into my final week with the family!

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Filed under Family, General, Nutrition (cattle and human)