When Virginia and Rachel’s cattle leave the home ranch, they travel approximately thirty miles to my farm. The cattle make the trip in large stock trailers pulled by pick up trucks driven by the family. Shipment day is a busy one, and the cattle arrive at the feed yard about noon. The goal is to minimize the total stress on the calves so we all work together to make the logistics flow seamlessly.
The calves are unloaded as soon as they arrive and the process of acclimation begins. I am the team member at the feed yard who is in charge of the acclimation process, and I lead the calves through a 4-7 day transition to help them become familiar to their new surroundings. This includes:
- Learning to become comfortable with a new set of human caregivers.
- Learning to exit the home pen in an organized fashion and move confidently down to the corral.
- Learning to attribute comfort to the home pen — understanding that fresh feed, water, and a comfortable place to both play and rest can be found there.
I believe that this process is a critical component to reducing stress on newly arrived cattle and allows them to settle in quickly and seamlessly to their new home. We run the feed yard to set our animals up for success — recognizing that it is our job as caregivers to strive to attain the 5 Freedoms of Cattle Care while also working to be sustainable environmental stewards to the resources on our farm.
As a member of the Beef Marketing Group Cooperative, my feed yard is certified under the QSA of Progressive Beef. As such, we have Cattle Care Guidelines and Standard Operating Producers that dictate the daily care practices for our animals. We work with our veterinarian and bovine nutritionist to ensure that our care is appropriate and effective. We are audited twice a year to ensure that we follow through on the details relative to this care.
One of our two Progressive Beef audits in 2016 is an “unscheduled” audit — this means that we do not know what day the auditor will arrive to check both the physical aspects of our feed yard care and our supporting paperwork. Tuesday morning, I left the feed yard and headed to the dentist at 8:00am. I was on the road headed back to town when I got a text message saying that the Progressive Beef auditor was 45 minutes away from the feed yard.
Although an audit disrupts the daily routine at the feed yard, I view it as both a learning process and a way that I can assure the folks who purchase my beef that it was raised responsibly. An audit is very much like a report card, and the metrics involved play a key role in our path of continuous improvement.
In an effort to ensure that the Progressive Beef standards for animal welfare, food safety and sustainability are met daily on the farm, the auditor assesses:
- Cattle handling and daily care
- Cattle home pen living conditions
- Cattle water tank cleanliness
- Cattle feed nutrition, handling and delivery which follows developed HACCP principles for safety
- Antibiotic use on the farm (volume of use as well as animal withdrawal records to ensure that meat is residue free)
- Food safety practices used on the farm to ensure that the meat that our animals provide meets high safety standards
- Feed yard employee safety guidelines
- Farm sustainability practices which ensure responsible resource utilization
At the end of the video that I put up last week, I asked for trust from you for me as a farmer. I recognize that this is a big ask on my part, and as a result I open my farm to auditing so that I can verify my actions and reward your trust.
Stay tuned for next’s week post that takes us from the feed yard to the packing plant — among other things, we will learn the importance of the small white button in the above calf’s ear!