Category Archives: Animal Welfare

Through the Eyes Of a Mom…

I became a farmer two and half years before I officially became a mom. June 15th I will celebrate my 19th wedding anniversary and (two days later) my 18th anniversary at the feed yard. Learning to be a farmer, then a mom, then a combination of the two has been an awesome journey.

familypicture.jpg

Sunday we all celebrate Mother’s Day — While thoughts of motherhood and animal care often float through my mind, this week they seem to be on the forefront.

There are five core principles that I hold onto with tremendous tenacity as I navigate the road of motherhood and cattle caregiver. Today, I share them with each of you as food for thought as we approach the celebration of life epitomized by Mother’s Day.

  • Dependability: Consistency and quiet fortitude create a culture of healthy learning. Whether I am building the self-confidence of my daughters or my cattle, steadfast and reliable behavior allows for positive growth and effective leadership.
  • Accountability: At the end of the day, I am ultimately responsible. While my girls are now old enough to make decisions independently, it is my subtle guidance and the lessons that I teach them through my own actions that are reflected in their choices. It warms my heart when they make a good decision as that is a direct reflection of my success as a parent. Watching my animals thrive under my care and tutelage provides that same feeling of pride and accomplishment.
  • Compassion: In all of my 40 years, I have never found anything more powerful than the expression of compassion. Both people and animals respond positively to caring – they sense it, they hunger for it, and they blossom when they come into contact with it. A sentiment being does not appreciate how much you know until they realize how much you care. Good leadership is always based on compassion.
  • Perseverance: Both children and animals will test their caregivers. Human nature is never content without pushing the borders of acceptable behavior. One of the greatest gifts that I give to both my children and my animals is a guidance based on steadfast strength and unbending perseverance. My strength becomes contagious, good habits become the norm.
  • Excellence: While a rewarding life is marked by joy, it also is not always comfortable. To achieve success, to feel that warmth of accomplishment – the pride of good work, you must engage in the quest for excellence. While settling may be easy, not taking the chance to make a true difference prevents positive progress. The sustainability of our country relies on a constant commitment to excellence. I cannot look my girls in the eye and promise them that I will never fail, but I can show them with my actions that I will give everything that I have, every day that I live, constantly striving for excellence.

Together we make a difference – for ourselves, for our neighbors, and for the animals that will ultimately provide nourishment for each of us.

BCItshirt.jpg

Mother’s Day is not only a celebration of life – it is an inspiration for a life of meaningful action.

Leave a comment

Filed under Animal Welfare, Family

They Can’t Take It Off…

As part of my NPDES permit issued through the Environmental Protection Agency, I keep daily weather records at the feed yard. I record precipitation, daily high and low temperatures, wind speed and wind direction. In addition to fulfilling my government regulation responsibilities, my favorite farmer uses the weather data during the crop growing season to help him manage irrigation on the farm.

As I reviewed the weather data entered for the last three weeks, I gave thanks that cattle are very resilient creatures. The highest temperature during the 21 day period was 70 degrees and the lowest 4 below zero (-4). In fact, our farm saw seven days from January 23-February 13 marked by more than a 40 degree temperature swing. The record for the period was a low of -4 followed by a high of 61 degrees the next day. We also had two significant winter storms during those three weeks.

While humans view the respite from winter on a beautiful sunny February afternoon a blessing, my cattle suffer from it. Quite simply, we all take our coats off when the weather warms – Cattle don’t have that luxury.

schneiderfeb2014.jpg

They can’t take it off…

“Shirt sleeve” weather for a bovine is 55 degrees. In Nebraska during the winter, cattle put on heavy coats to protect them from the cold. Instead of shirt sleeves, they spend the winter in a down jacket. As seasons change, cattle acclimate to the resulting changing weather at the rate of approximately 1 degree per day. Using that model, it would take approximately 65 days to acclimate from -4 to 61 degrees. February 5th, Mother Nature asked my animals to do that in 12 hours.

They can handle the cold — They can handle the heat — But the extremes in temperature swings bring significant challenges for them.

denkefeb2014.jpg

When cattle struggle with weather stress, they are more fragile. We place them on a special ration (bovine food casserole) that is easier to digest, make sure that an ample supply of fresh (not frozen!) drinking water is available, and work extra hard to make home pen conditions comfortable for them.

Good care requires an attention to detail, and times of weather challenge make me especially proud of my crew as we work diligently always placing the cattle’s welfare as our top priority.

11 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

How Can You Tell If a Group of Calves Are Acclimated?

 

A couple of years ago I took this video of my favorite blonde cowgirl at the beginning of an acclimation session.  Megan then edited the video by adding music (Fly Over States) by Jason Aldean.  The video remained up on YouTube for a couple of years but was taken down recently due to copyright infringement violation.  Apparently, Megan needed Jason’s permission to use the song :)

I noticed that the video had been taken down last week when I tried to use it during a presentation to the Kansas State Masters of Agri-Business students.  I fielded several questions from the group relative to low stress handling and cattle acclimating at the end of my talk.  Above is the video in non-edited form which I re-uploaded to YouTube over the weekend.

As a companion piece, below find the ways that I can tell if a group of calves are acclimated during their transition into the feed yard.

  • When asked, the calves will group in the home pen and move in straight lines around the pen.
  • When asked, the calves will exit the home pen in an orderly fashion, understanding where the gate is located.
  • Once down at the corral, when asked, the calves will calmly walk past the handler.
  • When asked, the calves will move back down the alley from the corral to the home pen with exuberance.  At the end of the acclimation period, cattle exhibit more excitement traveling back to the home pen than leaving the home pen.

The goal of acclimation is for the calf (group of calves) to become comfortable with both the home pen and a human caregiver, while learning where to eat and drink, and how to move off of alternate pressure and herd with confidence. 

An acclimated calf is comfortable in its environment, naturally curious, and accepting of a human caregiver.

BCItshirt.jpg

*On an unrelated note, for those of you Serious XM subscribers in the group, I will be featured on the Angus Journal Show — Rural Radio Channel 80 Saturday morning (January 17th) at 10:00am CST.  Check it out!

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

They’re Big…

My favorite blonde cowgirl spent a significant amount of time with me at the feed yard over Thanksgiving vacation. One morning, as we were asking a group of calves to build confidence walking past a handler in the corral area, a few of the animals spooked suddenly. Megan was not expecting it and “spooked” almost as much as the calves. After the cattle settled down, she looked at me and said:

“Mama, does your heart skip a beat when the cattle do that? Or, do you eventually get used to it enough that it doesn’t scare you?”

My answer to her:

“Yes.” (To both questions)

Cattle are big animals. There is not a bovine on my farm that is less than 5X my size and, just prior to slaughter, my animals can weigh close to 14X as much as I do. In the event of a physical battle, I would lose every time… We do almost all of our cattle handling on foot, so as handlers we must be smart in order to remain safe.

They're Big...

They’re Big…

The aspect of human safety is often forgotten when cattle care is discussed in audiences outside of the farm. As a feed yard manager, it is always foremost in my mind as I care about my crew and want them to always be safe. I also serve as one of our primary cattle handlers so I have an additional personal investment in handler safety.

I believe that one of the most dangerous chores at the feed yard is shipping cattle to the packing plant. This is the time when my  heart is most likely to skip a beat, and this task is reserved for only the most experienced handlers.  It is an aspect of my farm where I feel that I need to always search for ways to consistently improve. There is the obvious aspect of cattle welfare to consider, but just as important is the human safety issue.

There are several rules of thumb that I believe apply to shipping cattle:

  • The larger the bovine — the more likely that the animal’s previous bad habits/behavior will resurface and challenge the handler…This is why good cattle handling throughout the entire lifespan is so important. The rancher begins this process the day that the calf is born and it is so important that he/she gives the calf a good start.
  • The more agitated the handler — the more agitated the animal…When things turn bad, they go downhill quickly as animals feed off of the handlers’ emotions.
  • Maintaining constant herd movement up the alleyway and into the truck is critical. Newton’s Law of motion applies! The key to good movement is to get the animal thinking of moving forward and limiting distractions which would disrupt that thought…

There will be challenges when shipping cattle – the weather, shipping in the darkness (at night or before the sun comes up), forming a synchronized team with the off-farm truck driver hired to transport the cattle, the disposition of the animals, as well as a variety of other unforeseen factors. These combine to make ensuring a safe shipment one of the hardest responsibilities that I have at the feed yard.

I know that I have a lot of room for improvement in my process of shipping cattle to the packing plant. I also know that we have made great strides in this chore during my tenure at the feed yard. I am committed to continuing to search for better ways to make each and every ship-out safe for both my crew and my cattle.  It is one of my greatest challenges.

Two big steers just before I "put them on the bus"...

Two big steers just before being loaded onto the truck to go to the packing plant…

All of you loyal Feed Yard Foodie readers will recognize that I very rarely have pictures of the ship-out process on the blog. This is not because I do not want to share this experience with each of you, it is simply because I cannot put the big boys on the bus safely if I am distracted by taking pictures…

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Continuous Improvement…

I met Dr. Tom Noffsinger more than a decade ago.  A veterinarian in Southwestern, Nebraska, Dr. Tom teaches the concept of low stress cattle handling and holistic bovine care.  He is a master at understanding the bovine mind, and is truly a devoted advocate for our animals.

Tom Noffsinger

Dr. Tom Noffsinger…

I love to watch Dr. Tom engage and handle cattle.  His gift of patience and dedication to caring mentors me as I travel my own personal journey of continuously improving cattle care.  I laugh to my girls that “when I grow up, I want to be like Dr. Tom”, and it is a lifelong goal of mine to be as savvy a cattle caregiver as he is.

I am very excited to report that Dr Tom has teamed up with a Brazilian veterinarian (Dr. Paulo Loureiro) to star in a variety of cattle handling videos that are available online for the public to view.

On this Thoughtful Thursday, I encourage each of you to visit the website and spend some time watching and learning from Dr. Tom.  Whether you are a cattle farmer or simply an interested animal lover, these videos show a fascinating side to creating high quality animal care in a feed yard setting.

Denkecalf.jpg

Why continuous improvement? Because it matters to him…

 Many thanks to Dr. Tom and Dr. Paulo for bringing good cattle care and handling to the spotlight; as well as to Merck Animal Health for funding the effort. 

5 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General, Thoughtful Thursday

The Gift…

Animals play important roles in most of our lives. I have never lived in a house without a pet; and we currently have a dog and three cats enjoying the comfort of our home. When I moved to the farm in 1997, I learned about a new type of animal: a food animal. This animal exists for the sole purpose of providing food and other resources for all of us. It serves a very different purpose than a pet.

ALTippy1

As much as my pets enrich my life, at the end of the day, I believe that the gift that my bovine food animals give to me is more precious. When my cattle leave the feed yard, they travel to a packing plant in order to give the gift of nutrition. Their gift nourishes my family as well as yours.

  • I believe that my cattle play a critical role in providing needed nourishment.
  • I believe that it is ethical to kill animals for the benefit of humans.
  • I believe that it is possible to end a food animal’s life humanely.

Dr. Temple Grandin has revolutionized cattle handling and humane care at the level of the packing plant over the past twenty years. From changes in equipment – to employee training – to auditing – to camera placement to further verify compliance, Dr. Grandin’s work plays a critical role in bovine care at the time of slaughter.

CAB Anne feedyard

The quality of my bovines’ end of life experience is important to me. As a result, I make it a priority to take periodic trips to the packing plant. I have witnessed every aspect of the slaughter process, and I believe that my packing plant partner does an excellent job of remaining committed to a painless and humane death experience for my cattle.

I cannot imagine my life without cattle and the resources that they provide. I consider myself blessed that I can spend my days caring for animals that give the gift of nutrition. 

AGXC.jpgBeef’s Big Ten pack a powerful health punch:

  • Zinc: helps maintain a healthy immune system
  • Iron: helps the body use oxygen
  • Protein: preserves and builds muscles
  • Vitamins B6 and B 12: help maintain brain function
  • Phosphorus: helps builds bones and teeth
  • Niacin: supports energy production and metabolism
  • Riboflavin: helps convert food into fuel
  • Choline: supports nervous system development
  • Selenium: helps protect cells from damage

Each time that I load my cattle on the truck to ship to the packing plant, I am thankful for their gift. I respect that gift as I appreciate the beef meals that I feed to my family as well as the other beef products that come from cattle.

I recognize the sacrifice that my animals make to improve the quality of my own life, and I honor them by offering quality care while they are on my farm.

 

 

 

12 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Cattle Psychology – Where the Romantic Meets the Pragmatist…

A couple of weeks ago at the International Symposium of Beef Cattle Welfare, I heard Dr. David Fraser speak about the conflicting ideas of “romantic” vs “industrial” thoughts toward animal welfare. Listening to his presentation cemented my belief that I was a conflicted romantic and pragmatic animal welfare supporter.

feedyardsunrise.jpg

Saturday morning while exercising calves during a beautiful sunrise, it occurred to me that perhaps I am so drawn to cattle psychology because it is where the romantic meets the pragmatist.

I had spent the week working with some 550 weight fall born calves which arrived at the feed yard anxious and unsettled.  The first morning they waited grouped together in the back corner of the pen too unconfident to actively seek the feed bunk. Using great care, I entered the home pen and asked them to move in straight lines seeking to engage the “thinking” part of their brains. I then gently asked them to exit the pen gate and travel down the alleyway. Sensitive to their large flight zone, I used very mild alternate pressure to guide their movement.

After working with them in the main corral for a few minutes, I asked them to again travel back to the home pen where fresh breakfast had just been placed in the feed bunk. The long stem prairie hay and calf ration in the bunk caught the attention of several of the heifers as they traveled back into the pen, and before long many of the calves were lined up at the bunk finding breakfast.

fallcalvesbunk.jpg

As part of my regular cattle acclimation protocol, I followed this same routine every morning for five days. Each day the animals gained a greater level of confidence and a better understanding of life in their new home. When I entered the pen on Saturday (day 5), I knew that the cattle were acclimated.

They looked at me with curiosity and hesitated before agreeing to leave the home pen as if to ask “are you sure that I really have to leave?”

fallcalves.jpg

A good cattle caregiver can sense when a group of animals is settled and comfortable.

The natural energy to leave the home pen is less than the energy seen when the animals return to the home pen. In addition, the cattle travel down the alleyway and past a handler with confidence. Sometimes it is hard to attain this, but when it happens it is a thing of beautiful harmony.

calfquestion.jpg

I love it when a calf asks me a question. I love it even more when he accepts my response and offers an appropriate reaction.

The romantic in me smiles because I know that I have made a positive difference in the welfare of the calf. The pragmatic in me also smiles because my “job” as a cattle caregiver just got a lot simpler. That calf will now handle more easily, is less likely to get sick, and converts his feed more efficiently thereby reducing the environmental footprint of my beef.

7 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Shades…

While 80 degrees is “short sleeve” weather for my favorite blonde cowgirl, 55 degrees is “short sleeve” weather for my cattle.  Cattle (at least those of northern origin) are much more cold tolerant than heat tolerant.  The weather in Nebraska is often one of extremes, and spring and summer are marked by temperature fluxes of upward of forty degrees in any given day.

MegShade3.jpg

While Megan and I can take off our favorite hooded sweatshirts as the temperature swings, cattle are left with the same hair coat on any given day.  Beginning in early April, my animals begin to shed their heavy winter coats but it is a gradual process for them.  Cattle can acclimate to warmer temperatures approximately one degree per day and, once acclimated to summer, have an upper critical temperature threshold in the low to mid 80’s.

When temperatures soar above the critical threshold, my job as cattle caregiver becomes even more important.  In particular, providing a constant source of fresh cool water is vital as higher temperatures result in a double in a bovine’s water requirement (from 10% of body weight to 20% of body weight).  Next to water, air flow / wind is a bovine’s best friend.  Wind will decrease the heat index temperatures equal to the MPH strength of the air flow, and also tends to decrease humidity which makes temperatures more comfortable.

ALSteer.jpg

We have a list of heat management protocols that we follow at the feed yard to aid our animals in the heat of the summer months:

  • Process/Handle/Ship cattle in the early morning hours (after they have had the chance to cool off with the nighttime lows and before the heat of the next day begins).
  • Make sure that there is good air flow in all of the home pens.
  • Make sure that the fresh water reserve is adequate to refill cattle water tanks quickly as animals have higher volume water needs.  We have an additional water well that we use in the summer months to ensure adequate water availability.
  • Decrease the number of animals held in each home pen to increase accessibility to both water and air flow.
  • Diligent control of weeds and insect pests as those increase the susceptibility of animals to heat stress.
  • Careful management of cattle feed rations to maximize cattle comfort.

This year, I am adding an extra tool for heat stress management in an effort to increase the comfort of my animals.  I purchased several “cattle shades” to place in pens where larger (closer to market) animals reside.  I am excited to see if this increases cattle comfort as we enter into the months of summer.

MegShade1.jpg

At this point, we are still patiently waiting for some warmer temperatures, but I can report that my animals appear to enjoy both rubbing/scratching on the bases of the shades as well as napping in the shade underneath them.  This pen of steers pictured was incredibly fascinated by my favorite blonde as she posed for a photo shoot on one of the cattle shades.  They gathered up behind her curiously until she decided to jump up on the bars and go for a swing!

MegShadeHang1.jpg

They must have sensed her desire to play because as she got down from the shade arm several of them came running back up to her.  In typical Megan fashion, she laughed as she turned toward them and asked them to move out of her space.

MegShadeWalk2

Megan’s kind of sunshine doesn’t need any shade…

6 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General