Category Archives: Animal Welfare

The Freedom To Thrive…

The popular sustainability discussion often holds references to animal care. From corporate statements made by McDonalds and Walmart to sensational allegations from news sources like Consumer Reports – the way that food animals are raised provides a veritable battle ground for today’s food debates.


  • What is the correct care?
  • Who defines it?
  • Is it based on science or philosophy – or a blend of both?

With each day that passes, dialogues regarding food production practices trend beyond the farm gate to include the thoughts and ideas of an incredibly diversified audience. In 2015, the general expectation of a safe food supply is constantly expanding to also include philosophical preferences for how it is raised. I am proud of the many different types of systems used to grow food. This diversity is a tribute to the innovation of America’s farmers. It is cause for celebration, not cause for persecution.

Rigorous debates inspire positive critical examination and can result in continuous improvement. However, I grow weary of the sensational drama currently permeating the conversations involving the topic of animal welfare. To me, good cattle welfare can be defined with one simple question.

Do the animals have the freedom to thrive?

Cattle are raised with the sole purpose of contributing to the food supply. Healthy animals make healthy beef – Cattle that are raised with the freedom to thrive are healthy. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not cause for battle. It also should not be sensationalized to instigate media coverage or personal gain. Animal welfare is not about the person who eats the beef, rather it is about the calf that is raised to provide it.

These 1300# steers at my feed yard exhibit exuberant play behavior demonstrating their freedom to thrive…

Many, many different environments exist in which cattle can thrive. The animal welfare debate should not be about the type of system, rather it should be based on whether the system is managed by the farmer to allow for the animals to have the freedom to thrive. Grass pasture or feed yard, organic or traditionally raised – the basis for quality cattle welfare lies in the ability of the farmer to create an environment in which the calf can prosper. A good farmer works tirelessly for this regardless of the label that he/she places on the package of beef.

Long term food sustainability as well as the integrity of the United States protein supply lies in the hands of America’s farmers. It is wrapped up in their ability to nurture – to blend science and practical daily care with the art of intuition. It is providing for the practical needs of the animal while also taking the time to be a compassionate good shepherd.

It’s not about the grass pasture or the feed yard pen, it’s about the culture of caring that exists regardless of the type of farm.

The current discussion of animal welfare has gone terribly awry because it is no longer about the animal. It is lost in a great pit of sensational and politically motivated confusion.

Isn’t it time that Americans once again focus on defining animal welfare from the point of view of the animal receiving the care?


It won’t be a sensational story, but it will result in food raised with integrity.


Filed under Animal Welfare, General

The Final Days of Summer…

Yesterday morning marked the official end of summer for the youth of Cozad.  Each year, the first day of school creates a natural transition from the summer to the fall.  Transitions always challenge me and this year was no exception to the rule.  I find comfort in routine (perhaps that is why I am a good cattle caregiver), and it tends to throw me off when change occurs.

My favorite blonde cowgirl shares this tendency with me, so this last week has been bittersweet for us.  Megan spent the summer working on her cattle handling skills helping me to exercise calves and also participating on the processing crew.  Last Wednesday we received a group of new cattle into the feed yard, and I gave Megan the responsibility of exercising them during the acclimation period.  While she often acts as an assistant during acclimation, these steers provided the inaugural group for her to acclimate on her own.

Trailing cattle down the alley during a dawn exercising session...

Trailing cattle down the alley during a dawn exercising session…

The previous owner did a great job teaching his calves to trust a human caregiver, so these animals provided an excellent group for Megan to guide through the process. The video below shows her moving the cattle out of the home pen at the beginning of the last acclimation/exercising session Sunday morning.

By the end of the acclimation period, the cattle have learned to attribute comfort to the home pen, and prefer to remain there rather than feeling a natural drive to go somewhere else.  Watching a group of cattle make this shift (from wanting to leave, to desiring to stay) is a fascinating process.  It takes several days (these cattle were on day 5) and requires cattle savvy to guide them to this change.  A few thoughts as you watch the video:

  1. When you have a lone handler and many animals, the first step is to herd the animals together in a group — this both makes them feel more comfortable and also makes leading them easier.
  2. The second step is to ask them to move in a designated direction through the use of alternate pressure.  They should continue moving in this direction until something stops them (like a fence or a closed gate).  An open gate allows for them to leave the pen when asked.
  3. Calm cattle under good leadership walk in straight lines with positive energy.
  4. Consistent and confident handler behavior makes learning easier for the cattle.

    Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session...

    Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session…

Good cattle handling instills important leadership qualities in the caregiver.  Cattle are very sensitive, yet they are willing to look for guidance and leadership when the handler can empathize and correctly gauge their “human interaction bubble”.  I believe that the most important skill to develop when working with animals is the ability to look outside of yourself, viewing the world through their perspective, while still retaining the confidence of a leader.  It has been fun for me, both as an animal welfare enthusiast and as a mom, to watch Megan develop these skills.

One last moment of rambunctious joy before loading in cars to head to the first day of school...

One last moment of rambunctious joy before loading in cars to head to the first day of school…

Yesterday, Megan traded the feed yard for 8th grade.  There, she will learn different things using different learning tools than those developed on the farm.  I do believe that her summer lessons will grant her a broader educational perspective.  I have to admit that we were both very sad to have the summer come to an end.  I will miss my cattle handling assistant and she will miss being a valued member of our feed yard crew.


 With each summer that draws to an end, I realize how quickly my girls are growing up and find myself wanting to hit the “pause” button. 

Some days it seems that parenting is a bittersweet journey.



Filed under Animal Welfare, General

The Story of India…

My favorite blonde cowgirl and I found a surprise at the feed yard early Sunday morning.


It is no secret that our family and our farm crew are known for being animal lovers. The need to care and nourish runs strong, and that provides for success on the farm.

When Megan and I discovered “India” Sunday morning, I did not realize the story that this little kitten could tell. As the day unfolded, my emotions ran from joy to sadness to anger and then back to joy.

Saturday afternoon someone threw India out the car window while traveling down one of Cozad’s main roads. Luckily she landed in a grass patch by the local softball fields and frantically climbed a tree. Even luckier, one of my favorite farmer’s crew witnessed the incident while driving past in a tractor and was able to turn around and rescue the scared kitten.


He brought the kitten to the feed yard to find it a home.

Whether she remains at the feed yard to be spoiled in the office, or takes the short trip down the road to the Feed Yard Foodie house, India will be part of a family that cares.

There is nothing like a baby animal to bring an instant smile and a moment of joy. The needy little face and the innocent desire to be loved pull at my heart always inspiring me to care. Our house is full of animals – most of whom have been rescued. I believe that providing for God’s creatures is the right thing to do.


It brings me tremendous sadness that not everyone shares my love of animals. It brings me great anger that there are some who also do not share my feeling of responsibility toward them.

It is shameful to neglect and abuse animals – they rely on us for survival and it is our responsibility to care. India’s story has a happy ending because people took the time to care – to right a terrible wrong—and provide a needed home.

Please take the time to care and be a responsible pet owner.


Filed under Animal Welfare, General

S.E.F.A — A Cowgirl’s HACCP Plan…

My 13 year old blonde cowgirl grew up at a cattle feed yard. She learned about cattle, Beef Quality Assurance and HACCP practices as she learned how to walk and talk — internalizing them during her formative years.  Megan lives life with an interesting blend of faith, quiet confidence, determination, and a never ending smile.  Her adventurous spirit blended with the practical skills learned on the farm create a unique package.

Although this picture is several years old, the look on her face as she lopes her beloved horse says it all...

Although this picture is several years old, the look on her face as she lopes her beloved horse says it all…

Some might say that Megan is a bit of a “wild woman”, but the truth is that underneath her outwardly exuberant personality is a calm problem solver.  She holds steadfast under pressure and always has a plan.  I attribute a lot of that ability to the hours that we spend together at the feed yard.  During those times, I expect her to focus, be tough, and make good decisions — constantly adjusting to the situation in order to ensure the best possible outcome.  This skill carries over into other facets of her life.


Sometime in the middle of track season this spring, I heard Megan refer to her S.E.F.A. kit.  I was focused on something else at the time so I did not ask her about it.  A few weeks later, I found a black cosmetic bag with bright pink duck tape on the front.  It was filled with first aid tools: neosporin, band aids, vasoline, q-tips, anti-itch cream, chap stick, and ibuporfen.

Printed on the pink duct tape was the acronym:

S: Super

E: Extreme

F: Freak

A: Accident Kit…


I have to admit that I laughed when I first saw the S.E.F.A kit.  It was just so Megan: Confident enough to always engage, but smart enough to be prepared for any outcome.  Megan knows that there are no guarantees in life.  She lives on a farm where life is sometimes very harsh and even the best plan can go awry.

I have taught her to accept that behind every adversity is the opportunity for improvement. To face life head on: confident enough to expect the best, but realistic enough to be prepared for the worst.

When I finally asked my favorite blonde cowgirl about her S.E.F.A kit, she smiled and said:

“Mom, it’s my HACCP plan”.


Filed under Animal Welfare, Family, General

Mind the Fence, Shut the Gate, and Respect the Animals That Bring You Food…

While I grew up in urban West Palm Beach, my dad leased the hunting rights to some rural ranch land west of Clewiston, Florida. During my childhood, we spent weekends at the “hunting camp”. Although I knew little about cattle, I learned at a young age something called gate etiquette.

Gate etiquette is really a very simple concept – If you find a gate open, you can leave it open – If you find a gate closed, then you must re-shut it after you pass through it. Gate etiquette ensures that cattle remain in the pastures that they are meant to be in and do not stray somewhere that they do not belong. In addition to taking care with gates, we also made sure that we did not disturb or harm the fences in between pastures.

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the “hunting camp”…

Our family was both thankful for the ability to hunt on the ranch land, and also for the cattle that grazed there. In addition to growing beef, the presence of the bovines played an important role in ecosystem which improved the health of the land and the quality of the hunting. My dad was a stickler for rules, and I know that the rancher appreciated our diligence.

When I moved to Nebraska in 1997 and went to work on the farm, I learned to truly appreciate gate etiquette. It, along with good fence maintenance, ensures the safety of both our cattle and the community members that drive the roads near our farm. I cannot stress how truly important this is. I also cannot stress how truly frustrating it is when people from outside of the farm do not respect fence and gate etiquette.

The fence prevents accidents and ensures safety -- please don't tamper with it!

The fence prevents accidents and ensures safety — please don’t tamper with it!

Unfortunately, in the last 18 years, I have seen all of the following things occur on our farm. As a result, we have lost cattle (a few that were never recovered) who became a liability for everyone as they wandered and strayed across roads where they might cause accidents.

  • Poachers cutting down fence in order to illegally trespass and hunt on our property.
  • Careless off farm repairman who are hired to come to the farm to fix a problem but open gates and forget to close them.
  • Irresponsible electrical company workers who take down fence along property lines without asking in order to do maintenance on power lines, and then not rebuilding the fence properly when their work is complete.

A properly closed gate protects both the animals and the people that travel the roads near farms…

One of the worst feelings in the world is a phone call from the sheriff’s office in the middle of the night informing you that cattle are on the highway. Regardless of whether they are your cattle or the neighbor’s, it leads to a sleepless night.

The truly sad part of this story is that all of this can be prevented if everyone took the time to care.

Minding the fence, shutting the gate, and respecting the animals that bring food to your table is everyone’s business. It keeps our animals on the farm where they are safe, and off of the roads where they endanger not only themselves but also innocent road travelers. Please take the time to do your part.

Together we are responsible providers: to our animals, our land, and to each other.


Filed under Animal Welfare

Seeing In Pictures…

If you have read one of Dr. Temple Grandin’s books or seen her movie, you will remember hearing that cattle see in pictures. What this means is that cattle view the world as a collection of images. They are not linear thinkers – rather, they live in the visual moment. Good cattle caregivers understand what it means to see in pictures because they spend their days doing just that in order to effectively communicate with their animals.

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session...

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session…

I believe that when asking cattle to move from one place to another, the handler not only needs to see in pictures, but also to envision angles within the images. Moving cattle calmly and correctly necessitates applying appropriate pressure from the appropriate angle to instigate orderly movement. Depending on the personalities of the animals as well as their past interactions with human handlers, this angled pressure can range from incredibly soft to strong in nature. Regardless of the level of life involved in the pressure, it is the release of that pressure when the animal or group of animals responds correctly that creates a healthy animal/handler learning moment.

There are two kinds of bovine movement: a frantic flight/fight response that is fueled by fear, and a deliberate thinking response that comes from an effective interaction. The goal is to accomplish the latter, and it always makes me smile when I am savvy enough to enable a calf to think. At that moment, harmony exists as the right thing becomes the easy thing.

While this short video is several years old, in it my favorite blonde cowgirl does a nice job of showing appropriate and angled pressure as she asks a group of yearling cattle to exit the home pen. In order to effectively communicate with this group of animals, Megan has to see the pen through the same lens as the cattle and then interact with them in a meaningful way. One of Megan’s greatest strengths as a cattle handler is her ability to see in pictures and accurately read and respond to cattle behavior. This sense allows her to respond with the appropriate level of urgency to each interaction.

In some ways, I think that it is easier for a child to develop this sense. Their unbiased perspective and simplistic view of the world enables them to more easily shift from “human thinking” to “bovine thinking”. Once a young person develops the attentive focus needed to interact, her/his brain is unencumbered and more open to a natural interaction.

It's always a good thing when the cattle handler wears a smile!

It’s always a good thing when the cattle handler wears a smile!

I am not a natural visual thinker and my linear tendencies sometimes challenge my cattle handling skills; but I recognize the importance of thinking like a bovine. Over the years, I have consciously re-programed my brain to view cattle and their surroundings in pictures. Moving cattle out of the home pen and down the alley becomes a series of images and angles that flash through my mind amidst the rapid fire pictures of cattle expression and behavior that combines to determine my actions as the handler. It takes a clear mind and a keen focus, but provides an incredibly interesting journey…


My favorite farmer read this post on Sunday afternoon and informed me that it was “marked by nerdiness” — I hope that someone other than Megan finds it interesting :)


Filed under Animal Welfare, General

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.


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.


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

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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.


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.


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.


Filed under Animal Welfare, General