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.
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.
These 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.
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 🙂