Agriculture Needs To “Pack”…

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As I watched these young ladies dominate the team competition at the Broken Bow Invitational Cross Country meet on Saturday morning, I thought of farmers.  A very wise coach has taught these athletes how to “pack run” — setting both group and individual goals, and mentally supporting each other through the long 5K high school races.

I think that many distance runners would tell you that the middle of the race is the most challenging.  The adrenaline from the start has worn off, but the promise of the finish line is still miles away.  The culture of the “pack” lends strength to both the individual and to the team as well as building tenacity for the long run.

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The journey of the American farmer is much like a distance running race.  Growing food is an expedition full of challenges.  From Mother Nature, to the availability of natural resources, to food safety, to animal welfare priorities, to ever increasing government regulations, to sharing the story of food production.  Every day is it’s own race, and the days clump together into something similar to a marathon.

I believe in the power of teamwork.  The lonely individual marathon of farming can be overwhelming, especially while embarking on the trek of transparency and sharing the realistic story of modern day food production.  It is hard to motivate at the end of the day to post blogs and pictures — even when you believe in the necessity of reaching out and explaining your farm story.  Some of the challenge comes from simple physical fatigue, and some comes from the fear of ridicule and harassment from those that do not believe in raising animals for food production or using modern food production systems to raise them.

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While each individual farm has it’s own uniqueness, farmers share many things in common.  Embracing the “pack run” philosophy could be a very powerful tool for American agriculture.

There is certainly some of this already occurring, but it is a concept that could be used on a much more powerful scale.

  • The first step is for farmers to adopt a universal set of basic standards for responsible food production. The Beef Quality Assurance program is a great place to start for this relative to beef production. A pack offers support but, in turn, requires its members to contribute in a meaningful way. Quality animal care is imperative and needs to be unanimously adopted across food animal production.
  • The second step is acceptance of all farming practices that meet the basic standards, and respect for all farmers that care enough to join the pack of responsible food production.
  • The third is an important element of teamwork – recognizing that no matter how strong we are as individuals — together we are stronger. Mutual respect and support of each other makes for a powerful combination and a unified voice telling the true story of food production.

When I peruse the internet and see farmers fighting amongst each other or making their own way by belittling others, I am saddened. I think of the success that my daughter and her cross country team have on the running course, and I wish that farmers could be as unselfish and supporting as these teenage girls.

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I think that agriculture needs its own wise coach to lead a unified effort to share the true story of American farmers.

I think that agriculture needs to learn to pack…

*Author’s note #1: In Nebraska, Varsity High School Cross Country runs 6 and scores 4.  The four girls pictured at the top ran an impressive race as a pack finishing strong with Ashley Grace and one of her teammates running the last mile at 6:20 pace and finishing the 5K under 21 minutes. The second two runners were very close behind and the girls individually earned 10, 11, 12, and 13 places to win the title.  This young team gets stronger and more confident with every day that passes — it is a true pleasure for this Mama to watch.

*Author’s note #2: I have always had a strong passion for animal welfare and have worked to improve this in beef cattle for more than 15 years.  I found my pack on this journey with the Beef Marketing Group and it’s Progressive Beef QSA program.  I began the lonely blogging journey to share the story of how feed yards prepare cattle to become beef in the spring of 2011.  I am still waiting patiently for other cattle feed yards to take this step in order to offer appropriate transparency to the beef production cycle.  The list of other cattle feeders that have packed with me on this journey is very short.  Unfortunately, the list of people who ridicule and label me as a factory farmer is much longer…

 

18 Comments

Filed under Farming, General

18 responses to “Agriculture Needs To “Pack”…

  1. cowdoc

    Anne – the problem I have with the”pack run” concept is the same problem that I have with the notion that we in ag “must all stand together to support each other” – there are things that we (generic) do that I find unacceptable from an animal welfare and a moral/ethical standpoint. There are also things that we (again generic – we in ag) do that I think we can and should do better from an animal well being standpoint. There are things that we should do because it is the “right thing to do” but we don’t do them and have excuses for that behavior. For example why do we wait months to dehorn dairy calves when they are immediately (in most cases) removed from their dam and placed in individual hutches – why don’t we disbud them within the first 24 to 48 hours assuming they don’t have other issues? Why do we continue to wean calves by loading them on a trailer and trucking them some number of hours to a feedlot when we know there are lower stress ways to wean calves and we know that stressed calves are more likely to get sick? Why do we insist on sending compromised, sick and barely walking dairy cows to the sale barn or slaughter plant when they should be humanely euthanized on the farm? Why do we accept (as Temple says) “bad becoming normal?” – just saying….

    • Hi Doc,

      I meant in no way for my post to read that we should stand together to support unacceptable animal care practices. I have little tolerance for food animal care givers that make poor management decisions. I believe that bringing more into the “pack of doing things right” applies appropriate peer pressure to motivate improvements in care.

      We all need to be held accountable for our actions. Being transparent about our farming practices is a great way to get this done. My post was meant to drive more farmers into the pack of consistent improvement and transparency. It is sometimes a lonely journey.

      Best,
      Anne

  2. Katheryn

    Wonderful article Anne. I enjoy seeing our young people learning teamwork and pack support — all through life whether it be work, family, or friends — we NEED others positive attitude to inspire our journey.
    P.S. Way to go Ashley Grace…Congratulations.

    • Thank you, Katheryn! I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts. It is a true joy watching my kids learn these skills.

      Once again, thank you for your support!
      Anne

  3. Jack

    part of being a pack is calling out those not doing right by the pack. Making excuses for or overlooking those farming that violate their manure management plans and soil loss limits, and sodbust , and spray drift neighbors, et cetera we do farming no favors. We are way too polite in the countryside. We need to get frank and honest with farmers who are not staying in the pack.

    • I would agree with your sentiments, Jack — I just look at things from the positive perspective so the words used are different. You will notice in my post that #1 is defining acceptable practices and requiring those in the pack to follow them.

      Thanks for contributing.
      Anne

  4. Pingback: My Favorite Volleyball Playing “Cowgirl/Chef”… | Feed Yard Foodie

  5. Thank you Anne! Your words always make me pause and think and I thank you for that. I believe I understand what it is that you are saying in that we do need to work together and that we need to make that work be seen and heard. There will always be those who do not agree or who see it differently, but having a solid “pack” with you will ensure that you continue to make strides and that you don’t give up.
    All the best to you and this great group of female athletics!
    Laurie – Country Link

    • Thank you, Laurie! Yes, those are my thoughts. The pack enables us strength and tenacity in the long run — I know that I have “blogging fatigue” at times, but don’t allow myself to take much of a break because there are very very few feed yards that take part in the blogging world. It would be nice if I had some others to “pack” with — to give support and make it more of a team effort of outreach. I also like the “pack” philosophy because there can be positive peer pressure in a pack which leads to a consistent drive to improve. One of my goals as a cattle caregiver and beef farmer is to work for constant improvement — positive change across the industry could come so much quicker in the culture of a “pack”.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts — glad that I make you “think”.

      We are headed to Lincoln today to watch these ladies compete again this afternoon. It is an exciting time!

      Best,
      Anne

      • Beautiful weather right now for cross country meets! Best of luck to the ladies!

        We all face the fatigue of blogging. Some more than others I am sure, but know that you do have a pack. Even though it may not come from feed lot bloggers, you are still supported and thanked for all that you do Anne.

  6. cowdoc

    There will always be those of us who strive daily to do better – “continual improvement” as the farm audits call it – what do you think are your 3 major areas to improve in the industry at large? While I like the way you handle/treat/acclimate your previously unweaned calves, I am unhappy that you have to do it because many cattlemen/women do not pre wean/precondition their calves prior to moving them – this (IMHO) sets the calves up for respiratory infections which (according to most everything I read) remains a huge problem in feed yards and results more antibiotic use (either as metaphylaxis to prevent pneumonia or as treatment) – just like making sure calves get good quality colostrum in sufficient amounts sets them up to be successful so does pre weaning and preconditioning – not sure why people don’t do it/get it. Your thoughts? Is this an area that needs increased focus/

    • First, I want to clarify that I acclimate all newly arrived animals at the feed yard. This is not a unique practice that I only do with unweaned calves. I think that all of my animals benefit from this process — regardless of age and prior management. It is truly a win/win deal and I would love to see universal adoption of that practice.

      Second, I agree that there is generally less stress on a calf if he is weaned on the home ranch. That being said, I will share with you that I believe that my feed yard crew actually does a better job weaning calves than some ranchers. I say that because we are sometimes challenged with more health issues on “weaned calves” than those that we get in as “bawling calves”. I think that the important thing is consistent good care throughout the calf’s life. I have ranchers that do not have enough resources to wean correctly on the ranch — on those calves (ranches–generally within 30 miles of my feed yard) I think that the calves actually can do better being weaned at the feed yard where nutrition and daily care is superb. Transportation stress is minimal (usually are hauled to the feed yard on ranch horse trailers or a truck owned by the rancher), and our protocol for weaning sets those animals up for success. Preconditioning with quality vaccination programs across the calf’s life is a very important part of this and I have definite requirements of those before I agree to purchase a calf. I also try to work with my ranchers on good mineral and nutrition at the home ranch — which I also think is critical. My goal is to work with quality ranchers who focus on good care and want to trace their animals throughout the production chain. While weaning at home is ideal, I have found that we can also wean well at the feed yard if we do everything else right.

      My three issues that I would like to see the industry do a better job on:
      1.Transportation–limiting truck time and improving logistics
      2.Change management practices across the industry so that “high risk” animals no longer become high risk. Weaning practices play a role in this, but are only one of the factors.
      3.Change the business model of the beef industry such that bovine owners/caregivers are held accountable for their actions and their care across the calf life cycle. I believe that communication and vertical collaboration are imperative for quality animal care. Transparency for our customers fits in here at the end of the life cycle as well.

      Hope that this helps.
      Anne

      • cowdoc

        Thanks for the thoughtful comments – I think I have a better sense of the points you were trying to make. Also agree with your 3 main issues – any ideas on how to make people accountable across the life cycle of the animal?

  7. I think people should take note of how you handle your cattle. You show them what you want and teach them to move quietly and orderly. You see people run waving there arms ,yelling and the cattle have no idea what you expect of them. I hate seeing people chasing cattle with four wheelers or running them with horses, if they move them with a nice quite speed they will not be so hard to handle. That’s just my opinion, I just like the way you do things.

    • Thank you, Ellie. I agree with your thoughts. It is amazing how easy it is to communicate with a calf when he understands what you want and is calm enough to respond appropriately. I wish that all of my ranchers would practice the same cattle handling practices that I do at the feed yard. It is amazing the difference between groups of animals that can be tied back to cattle handling on the home ranch. I love the animals that have been handled with the “low stress” philosophy their entire lives — it is amazing how nicely they handle and also how much better they are able to convert feed resources into high quality beef.

      Good to hear from you!
      Best,
      Anne

  8. Lynn

    Anne- This a great blog. I have run into issues recently with a few of my farmer friends not having a positive say on agriculture, but instead being negative and not transparent. It is certainly frustrating to other farmers especially when certain farmers won’t work together. The agriculture community is so tight knit around the world and on the internet too, but like you say we have to work as a pack. I didn’t run cross country in high school, but I totally get the meaning of what you are going for because it is extremely beneficial to not just our industry, but also ourselves.

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