Category Archives: Animal Welfare

Pick Your Battles…

Last week while I was moving cattle, I had a calf try to crawl through the feed bunk into a neighboring pen.  I adjusted my angle to the calf and encouraged him back to the rest of his herd mates.  Part way through the interaction, my cowboy became aware of the situation and starting barking orders at me and “loving Pete”.  I chose to ignore him as I had the situation completely under control.

AnneMeg.jpgMy favorite blonde cowgirl happened to be along that day and later asked me why I just quietly continued to move the calf instead of responding to my cowboy’s criticism.  I summed it up in three words, “Pick your battles”.

She looked pretty perplexed with my response so I decided that it was a good time to share a well learned life lesson.  I asked her, “Megan, did the calf respond appropriately and do what I asked him to do?”  As she nodded her head affirmatively, I pointed out that the goal was accomplished so there was no point in creating drama with my crew.

There are many kinds of leadership – passive, active, verbal, and non-verbal.  In regards to cattle handling, I choose to lead by example.  Cattle move best in situations where the handler maintains mental composure.  As the lead handler in this situation, it was in the calf’s best interest for me to continue to interact calmly.  I know my cowboy well (we have worked closely together for 20 years), so I also recognized that ignoring him while completing the task correctly was the best choice.

Sometimes it isn’t about who is right –

It is about completing the job well and doing the best thing for the animal.    

Over the last two decades, the words pick your battles have circled through my head tens of thousands of times.  Whether it is interacting with my own crew or sitting in a meeting with other folks involved in raising beef, I think that one of the most important lessons is learning when to speak up and when to bite my tongue.    I discovered a long time ago that life isn’t about pride and personal affirmation; it’s about doing the right thing to create positive improvement.

  • I am anal about cattle care.
  • I am passionate about always trying to be better tomorrow than I am today.
  • I stubbornly stick to my values even when the right thing isn’t the easy thing.

But, I have come to understand that meaningful change occurs when my idea becomes someone else’s idea.  Sometimes the best way to make that happen is to let my actions speak and keep my words where they belong – inside of my mouth…

Megan got awfully quiet at the end of our conversation, and I could tell that she was looking at the situation with my cowboy from a different perspective.  Perhaps the next time someone “yanks her chain” and she starts to fight back, she will stop and remember the art of picking your battles🙂

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Efficient Living…

cornanneOur family returned via airplane to Omaha from our trip to New England on Monday night of last week.  I got up Tuesday morning and got on a different set of airplanes to head to Springdale, Arkansas for a Animal Well-Being meeting.  Always one to find ways to be efficient, I jumped on the chance to combine the two trips and cut out the 7 hour round trip car ride from our farm to the Omaha airport…

It made for a long time to be away from home — 11 days — but my foreman and his son, along with my cowboy took care of animal chores for me while I was gone.  The summer months are the slowest time in the calendar year at the feed yard because Mother Nature provides grass pastures for cattle in June, July and August which seasonally limits the role of a Nebraska feed yard.

I traveled to Arkansas as a member of Tyson’s 3rd Party Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel.  I serve on the panel as the cattle/beef farmer specialist for the group.  I knew very little about Tyson as a company before I became involved as an Advisory Panel member in May of 2013, but this role has provided me with a tremendous personal and professional growth opportunity.

I love both the ability to make a difference in “food” animal welfare as well as the interaction with Tyson team members as we work together to brain storm ways of improving how we grow food.  Our Advisory Panel meetings fuel the “intellectual Anne” as we tackle subjects that encompass animal welfare, sustainability, and food safety for poultry, pork and beef.  The Tyson leadership team and the animal welfare scientists that make up Tyson’s Sustainable Food Production team are first class.  I am continually impressed by their intellect and understanding of the highly complex issues that surround growing food; and value their ability to work as a team to move forward in a meaningful way.

I have served on many different beef industry committees in the last two decades, and I can honestly say that being a member of the Tyson Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel is the one that I value most.  It is refreshing to spend time with a bunch of smart people that just want to figure out how to be better tomorrow than we are today.

I arrived back at the farm late Thursday night glad to sleep in my own bed.  I am reminded every time that I travel that leaving the farm opens my eyes to a broader perspective and offers me incentive to think outside of the box as I continue to complete the important task of putting nutritious food on the table…

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General, Tyson Farm Check Program

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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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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My Story…

We all have a story.

A chronicle of our individual lives or even a moment in time that helped to determine what makes us “unique”.  Because each of us plays a vital role in the success of our families, our communities, and our country; each story carries a meaningful message in this journey we call life.

The above video is my story.  A seven minute glimpse of Anne — the mom, the farmer, the American.  In 2016, many of us spend a significant amount of time studying food: where it comes from and who grows it.  We make a valiant effort to try to understand why is it grown in so many different ways across the United States.

I hope that my story will provide meaningful insight and transparency relative to farming and food production.  It a story of love, pride, hard work, and technology — that is what allows our farm to be successful.  Matt and I began our work as farmers 19 years ago.  We spend each day committed to each other, and working side by side to continuously improve the way that we grow food.

Please take a few minutes to watch my story.  Please take another minute to share it so that others can get a glimpse of life at a feed yard — a segment of beef farming that is often misunderstood.

The next few blog posts will talk specifically about my partners in the beef production cycle: from the ranchers that provide care for our cattle during the first year of their lives all the way to my brand partners that bring our beef to your dinner table.

Together, we will get a better sense of where your beef comes from!

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, CAFO, Cattle Handling Videos starring Feed Yard Foodie!, Family, Farming, General

Metrics and Antibiotics…

My favorite blonde cowgirl writes an inspirational quote each week on the white board on the office wall. This white board primarily serves as an organizational tool for us at the feed yard listing the upcoming cattle schedule, but over the years my crew has also learned to look to it for Megan’s Weekly Inspirational Message. I love to watch what she comes up with for her weekly mantra – it is an awesome way for me to see my parenting lessons come back through the eyes of my teenage daughter.MetricsMeg.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, Megan shared a quote from Galileo Galilei that voices one of the most important lessons that I have learned running a farm: Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. I cannot improve what I cannot measure, so metrics provide the basis as I strive to get better each and every day.

Almost five months have passed since I wrote the Subway post that garnered half a million reads in a matter of days. In light of the continuing conversation regarding antibiotic use in food animals, I want to take a moment to share how I continually work to reduce the antibiotic footprint of my farm.

Metrics (a system of measuring) provide the key…

When I first began trying to reduce antibiotic use at the feed yard more than a decade ago, I realized that I needed to understand — the what, the when, the why and the how much – I needed to establish a benchmark set of metrics to determine our current use, and then use those numbers to brainstorm and search for ways to reduce them.

The metrics enabled me to see patterns of use and work to develop new management practices in my search for reduction.  Some of these include:

  • I implemented a holistic system of low stress cattle care.
  • I began tracing my animals from birth to harvest – working directly with the ranchers that provided me with cattle in a system of vertical collaboration. This increased teamwork enabled us to more effectively consult with our veterinarians. Together, we did additional research on vaccine health history in order to make changes that better protect our animals against disease.
  • I consulted with my ruminant nutritionist looking for the best feed combinations to create a nutrient rich and appropriate diet for my animals while also efficiently making use of the feed resources that my favorite farmer grows.
  • My crew and I tenaciously worked toward a daily animal care system that consistently and optimally provides for our animals’ needs.

Metriccalf2.jpgThese sound like simple and easy steps, but the beef chain is so complex that it has taken me most of a decade to create a cross-production system that meaningfully reduces the amount of antibiotics used on my farm. Today, the number of animals that get sick on our farm and have to be treated with an antibiotic is less than half of what it was a decade ago. I reported in the Subway post that my yearly treatment rate for August 2014-July 2015 was 7.8%.

Metrics for the seven months since then show another downward trend from 7.8% to 5.54%. I am especially proud of that trend given the recent environmental stress of winter storm Kayla. We tend to have the highest rate of sickness in the late fall and winter, so I am looking forward to seeing the 12 month number next summer. In addition to lowering the number of sick animals on my farm, our death loss currently sits at only 0.54%.

Looking critically at my farm — the way we source our animals as well as the type and quality of care that we give them — I can continually put the pieces of the puzzle together in modified ways in order to accomplish my ultimate goal.

2014_10_06_mr_Will Feed-3

As notated by the wise words of Galileo Galilei, measuring provides the key to improvement. I love it that Megan has learned the need to quantify in order to improve.   Good cattle care requires both brains and brawn🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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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🙂

blizzard2016driftpen17.jpg

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…

blizzard2016road2.jpg

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.

beattiecalfsnow.jpg

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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