Category Archives: Animal Welfare


As the “boss lady” of a small feed yard, I often moonlight as a cowboy. Particularly during the fall months, I spend at least half of my time cowboying. While some may think of fast horses and whooping noises when the term cowboy comes to mind, I think of purposeful movements and nonverbal communication. To me a cowboy is a caregiver.


The cowboy plays one of the most critical roles on a cattle farm. He sets the culture for all cattle-human interactions, as well as acting as the primary caregiver. Although cowboying involves a lot of physical labor, I enjoy that part of my job.

When I was a little girl, I used to sit in my room and dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Depending on the day, I settled on different professions but one constant in my dreams was the desire to make a difference in the world. Animals have always tugged at my heart, and I am more at home around them than people. In many ways, cowboying fulfills those childhood dreams as there is nothing more rewarding than working hard to ensure that God’s creatures can thrive.

Denke3April.jpgSo, what does a cowboy do on the Feed Yard Foodie farm?

  • Acclimate newly arrived cattle – teaching them to feel comfortable in the home pen as well as gaining their trust as a caregiver.
  • Work on the processing crew – every animal on our farm receives routine vaccinations (like people getting the flu shot) to bolster their natural immunity to fight off illness. The cowboy gives those vaccinations according to instructions from the veterinarian.
  • Check daily cattle health – every animal on our farm is checked every day. The cowboy knows what the animal looks like when it is healthy, therefore detecting sickness means looking for the absence of health. The veterinarian trains the cowboy to diagnose and treat sick animals, and mentors him for this important chore.
  • Ensure nourishing feed and water are available to each animal.

A good cowboy has both a compassionate and practical nature. A good cowboy puts his animals ahead of himself. A good cowboy recognizes that effective care requires viewing the world through the eyes of the calf rather than the eyes of a human.

After almost twenty years, I remain fascinated by my animals and truly enjoy the daily interactions of working with them. There are days when my body hurts and deep fatigue sets in, but the knowledge that my efforts make a difference enable me to meet each new sunrise with a smile.


While I am not sure that the little girl ever dreamed of a cattle farm, the animals intrigue the woman and inspire her to be a good cowboy.


Filed under Animal Welfare

Following Up On Subway…

I am a cattle farmer who blogs. This combination leads to an interesting life, but yesterday’s blog experience surpasses anything that I could have imagined. There are times when I wonder if anyone reads what I write – I did not have to wonder yesterday as my email box filled with hundreds of messages as I did my normal “cowgirl” chores.


The huge outpouring of comments and the just short of 500,000 reads renews my faith that Americans are willing to engage with a farmer to learn about where food comes from.

This afternoon, Subway issued a revised statement which brings me hope that we can work together to form meaningful change. I have copied the relevant verbiage in the below paragraph which came directly from their website. The bold green portion is the additional language that appears in the revised statement as of today.  Subway states:

Our goal is to reduce and eliminate the use of antibiotics in the food we serve. Elimination of antibiotics use in our supply chain will take time, but we are working diligently with our suppliers to find quality solutions that also ensure our high quality and food safety standards are upheld and not compromised in any way. Our plan is to eliminate the use of antibiotics in phases with the initial focus on the poultry products that we serve in the U.S. We are in the process of transitioning to chicken products made from chicken raised without antibiotics and expect this transition to be completed by the end of 2016. In addition, turkey products made from turkey raised without antibiotics will be introduced in 2016. The transition is expected to take 2-3 years. Supply of pork and beef products from animals raised without antibiotics in the U.S. is extremely limited. We expect our transition to take place by 2025. That said, we recognize that antibiotics are critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly to preserve their effectiveness in veterinary and human medicine. Our policy is that antibiotics can be used to treat, control and prevent disease, but not for growth promotion of farm animals. Accordingly, we are asking our suppliers to do the following:

  • Adopt, implement and comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) guidance for industry 209 and 213, which requires that medically important antibiotics not be used for growth promotion. Visit the FDA site to learn more.
  • Assure that all antibiotics use is overseen, pre-approved and authorized by a licensed veterinarian before they are administered to any animal.
  • Keep accurate and complete records to track use of all antibiotics.
  • Adhere at all times to all legal requirements governing antibiotic withdrawal times. This assures that antibiotics have been eliminated from the animals’ systems at the time of slaughter.
  • Actively encourage, support and participate in research efforts focused on improving animal health while reducing antibiotics use.

I view Subway’s revised statement as a victory for all of us.  I am incredibly thankful to everyone who read my post and contributed to the discussion.

I went through the comments from yesterday’s post and grouped them into a few different categories that require further explanation:

  1. The Title: I gave a lot of thought to what to call my blog post, and the chosen title demonstrated how I felt (as a cattle farmer) when I read Subway’s first announcement. The title was a reflection of my feelings – something that I think is appropriate on a personal blog site. I view the scenario painted by the title as a very real possibility in the future of food production if farmers are not included in the discussion of “how food animals are raised”.
  2. Today, there exists a diverse food production system in the United States that includes both conventionally raised animals, and “niche market” animals such as organic and cattle that have never received an antibiotic. I think that this is a valuable system. Within this current system, organic and never treated animals can be moved out of niche market production and into the regular markets when they become sick and require treatment. While there are logistics involved to ensure that withdrawal times are adhered to before these animals are marketed, the system is relatively seamless. I think that Subway’s initial statements threatened rather than enhanced the current diverse system. The company was quoted as saying that the time line for beef and pork was elongated in order to allow the meat industry to change its practices while keeping the cost of their meat supply stable. This tells me that the premium for niche market animals would fall by the wayside with the creation of a new system where niche market beef sells for regular prices, and meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics would sell at a discount (with the eventual possibility of being deemed worthless).
  3. Someone asked what makes animals get sick: Animals get sick when they come in contact with either a bacteria or a virus that penetrates their immune system. Stressful events caused by weather, movement, or coming in contact with other animals outside of the home herd are common contributors. I have worked hard over the past 15+ years to find ways to lower stress on my animals, and I have been successful in reducing the number of animals that require treatment. I mentioned in my post that last year I treated 7.8% of the animals in my feedyard. I would like to get that figure under 5% and am working with both my veterinarian and my rancher partners to accomplish this.
  4. Sub Therapeutic use: I serve on multiple national committees made up of scientists (including veterinarians) and farmers that are currently working to eliminate sub therapeutic antibiotic use in food animal production. Antibiotics necessary in human medicine are no longer used for growth promotion, and veterinarians play a key role in preventing and diagnosing illnesses so that they can be effective when necessary. I believe that we are moving the right direction.
  5. I think that further research on antibiotic resistance is critical as we all search for continuous improvement (both on the human and the animal side). Each and every one of us has a “footprint”, and it will take a team effort to make meaningful improvement. I am committed to this. I also think that we all need to be committed to being good stewards: to each other, to our animals, and to our planet. As someone pointed out, there are “bad actors” that exist in every industry – we need to turn those people into stewards so that positive improvement can be attained.

This is getting long, so I will wrap it up. It has always been my intent to be a positive instigator for continuous improvement in this journey we call food production. I put in long hours on my farm offering care to my animals, and additional hours reaching out to each of you to share how I grow beef. While I will never achieve perfection, I try to make up for it with hard work and sincerity.Annealley.jpg

Thank you for traveling along with me.


Filed under Animal Welfare, Antibiotics

Subway Announces That a Bullet Is Their Treatment Of Choice For Sick Animals…

**AUTHORS NOTE: Due to the huge response to this blog post and my responsibilities on the farm, I am unable to respond to each comment made by readers.  I am reading the comments, and I plan to post a new blog responding to questions brought up in the comment section within the next few days.  Thank you for reading, and thank you for caring. It renews my faith in our country that 400,000 of you all care enough about your food to read a farmer’s thoughts.

Tuesday, Subway restaurants made the announcement that beginning in March 2016 it will serve chicken raised without antibiotics. Further, the company will source turkey, pork and beef in the same manner within a 10 year period. A spokesman for Subway stated that company’s goal is “eliminating antibiotics from all of its meat supplies within 10 years”.

There are two different things going on in the above statement that are being blended into a mass of dramatic confusion. I want to take a moment to clarify so that everyone can be educated food purchasers.

  1. Eliminating harmful levels of antibiotics from meat has already been accomplished.  It is illegal in the United States to market food animals that carry unsafe antibiotic residues. This is a non-negotiable fact of food production. The meat that you purchase from Subway today is safe. That is the law. Subway’s announcement makes no change to that fact.
  2. Sourcing meat from animals that have never been treated with an antibiotic affects how the farmer raises the animal. It does not change the meat, it changes the way that the animal is raised.

annecattlecab.jpgIn my mind, Subway’s announcement states that a bullet is their treatment of choice for sick food animals. They wish to only purchase meat that comes from animals that have never been treated with an antibiotic. Food animals (like cattle) are grown for the sole purchase of providing a high quality dietary protein. If Subway does not want the meat from an animal that required antibiotic treatment for illness at any time during its lifetime, then I have two choices: leave the sick animal to suffer until it likely dies, or shoot it with a bullet and end its life immediately.

Quite frankly, neither choice is acceptable to me. I hope that neither choice is acceptable to you.

As a cattle farmer, it is my job to raise my animals humanely in order to produce safe and healthy beef. It is unreasonable for my customers to demand the impossible. I cannot raise 100% of my animals over a lifespan of almost two years without ever using an antibiotic. Things happen – Animals can get sick.  It is my job to help them when they do.

I want healthy animals that make healthy beef because that creates responsible and sustainable food production. It is the right thing to do to treat a sick animal that needs special care. I should be able to expect my customers to understand that the meat product that comes from that small percentage of animals is still fit for human consumption.

Let’s do a little bit of cowboy math to look at the reality of Subway’s statement…

In the twelve month period of August 1, 2014 to July 31, 2015, I treated 7.8% of the cattle on my farm with an antibiotic for an individually diagnosed illness. These animals were treated under the direction of my veterinarian according to Beef Quality Assurance practices. Additionally, in compliance with federal law, those animals were held on the farm until the required withdrawal time passed to ensure that no antibiotics were present in their meat when they went to slaughter.

I marketed approximately 5500 animals during that 12 month period which means that somewhere in the neighborhood of 430 of those animals were treated on my farm for an individually diagnosed illness. Each of those animals produced approximately 820# of meat and other products. Either shooting these animals with a bullet at diagnosis or letting them suffer until they died would result in an estimated 352,600# of wasted product.

That scenario is both irresponsible and unacceptable. I am a dedicated animal caregiver, and I am proud of the beef that comes from my animals. It is safe – I feed it to my family. However, some of it comes from animals that required additional care in the form of an antibiotic to regain health at some point in their two year life time.


As a mother, a farmer, and an American: I recognize the importance of the antibiotic resistance issue. I have blogged about it many times. However, we need to respond intelligently in our quest for a remedy. There is nothing intelligent about a corporate statement that dictates wasting millions of pounds of food each year.

It saddens me that food production has slumped to this level, and I refuse to comply.

**Subway issued a revised statement this afternoon.  You can find this statement along with my responses to questions asked in the comment section of this blog post in a new post by clicking here.


Filed under 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