Category Archives: Environmental Stewardship

Gettin’ Our Poop in a Group…

The manure that my cattle make is a very important component of our farm.  My favorite farmer tends to 4300 acres of crop ground, and the health of that soil is critical to our farm’s sustainability.

The alfalfa field behind my house...

The alfalfa field behind my house in its’ full summer glory…

Both plants and animals need a number of macro nutrients in large quantities to operate their metabolisms and build their bodies.  The important ones are carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A farmer takes molecules which are organized in a low energy state and reorganizes them into forms that have energy and are ultimately available and usable to humans (food!).

Each year when a crop is harvested off of a field, it takes with it the important macro nutrients that nourished it during the growing season.  In order to maintain continuous soil health, these nutrients must be periodically reapplied to the soil.  The specific needs of the soil are determined by laboratory testing of the dirt through sampling.

Tractor and box scraper in a home pen getting the poop in a group...

Tractor and box scraper in a home pen getting the poop in a group

While the primary resource that my feed yard provides is beef and products made from cattle, my animals produce another resource during their tenure on our farm: manure.  This fertilizer is sampled and analyzed for nutrient values, transported to a nearby farm, and applied agronomically to refuel the soil.

A pile of manure waiting to be taken out of the pen.  The cattle enjoy playing "king of the mountain" until the pile is removed...

A pile of manure waiting to be taken out of the pen. The cattle enjoy playing “king of the mountain” until the pile is removed…

It is important that we get our poop in a group several times a year in order to maintain optimal animal comfort and the most judicious use of the manure that they produce. This process requires that Matt’s farming crew works with my feed yard crew —  teamwork is always best!

Loading the manure onto the truck to take it to the field that needs it...

Loading the manure onto the truck to take it to the field that needs it…

Spreading the manure on an old alfalfa field...

Spreading the manure on an old alfalfa field…

The field pictured above has grown the perennial plant alfalfa for seven years.  It is now time to fertilize the soil, and plant a rotational crop to help preserve soil health and protect future crops by breaking insect cycles and preventing weeds.  After growing corn for a year, it will be replanted to alfalfa.

I figure that it makes me pretty unique when one of the many reasons that my husband “needs” me is my cattle manure…

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Simple Beauty…

I think that perhaps anytime one loses a loved one that the ensuing process of grief involves a period of personal introspection.  I know that this has been the case for me.

Dad and I, taking a moment together while fly fishing in Crandall Creek...

Dad and I, taking a moment together while fly fishing in Crandall Creek…

It was a shock to learn in late August that my dad was terminally ill.  His time on earth was very limited and his ensuing quality of life for those few short months was poor.  I struggled amidst the stress of having to accept that his illness was something that I could not fix.

One afternoon this fall, as I sat in the Dallas airport waiting for a connecting flight to Florida, a bit of personal introspection reminded me that my dad had always looked for the simple beauty in nature.  Although our professional lives took very different paths, we shared this unique love of the outdoors.

Likely, this is the most precious gift that he ever gave to me and I know that it gave us a special bond.2013_09_27_mr_Will Feed for Drovers-67

There have been many times over the past 17 years when I have felt that my life on a cattle farm in Nebraska fulfilled a lifelong dream of my dad’s.  Although he was an acclaimed attorney, I think that there was always a part of his heart that yearned to be more closely tied to the land.  He fulfilled this need by spending all of his free time outdoors hunting and fly fishing.  I know that the fact that I chose a life working in agriculture was a source of tremendous joy and pride for him.

My dad not only loved to be outdoors, but he also loved to physically challenge himself while interacting with nature.  To him, there was a simple beauty in pushing himself amidst the wilds of Mother Nature.

I have vivid memories of him goading me into taking a run with him in the Florida heat…annedadrunning

Canoeing among the vast alligator population in Fish Eating Creek…familycanoe

10+ mile horseback rides in the mountains of Wyoming (in search of the ideal trout stream)…annedadhorse

Leading a forced march across the prairie looking for grouse, pheasants, and prairie chickens…dadgrouse

Last week I had a moment of oneness with my dad as I checked cattle health at the feed yard.  It was a cold January day in Nebraska — cold enough that cattle chores were just a bit challenging — and I looked up to see three bald eagles soaring and hunting in the corn field just north and west of my cattle pens.

Too bad my I phone does not have a good zoom--the eagles are just dots on the horizon...

Too bad my I phone does not have a good zoom–the eagles are just dots on the horizon in this picture…

Watching the eagles was a truly awesome sight — one that my dad would have appreciated for a myriad of reasons.  I spent a moment knowing that a piece of him was living on through me.

I’d like to think that perhaps it was the best piece of him—the one that held his true passion for the simple beauty of living in direct congruence with the land.

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The Route Less Traveled…

There is a stretch of road in between Arnold and Dunning Nebraska that is a little slice of heaven.  It is 29 miles of rolling hills, canyons, and grazing animals.  I think of it as truly The Route Less Traveled, but I have to admit that it is a place that brings me great peace.

A special place...

A special place…

The drive is a solitary trip, and rarely do I encounter another human being while traveling along this route.  I have the pleasure of taking this road a half a dozen times a year when I trek north to the Nebraska Sandhills to move cattle off of home ranches and into my feed yard.

A marriage of man-made technology and beautiful prairie land...

A marriage of man-made technology and beautiful prairie land…

Perhaps it is because I love the wide open spaces—Perhaps it is because my cell phone doesn’t work so I have the choice of opening the window and listening to the silence or cranking up the radio and singing to my favorite songs.

The blend of open grassland and canyons makes this a truly unique place...

The blend of open grassland and canyons makes this a truly unique place…

Regardless, I know that I look forward to the drive that seems to soothe my soul.

In addition to cattle and horses, I have seen many deer, ducks, turkeys, pheasant, and grouse along the way.  It is beautiful the way that livestock live in harmony with the wild animals of the prairie.

Mallard ducks enjoying the open water that has not yet frozen with the promise of winter...

Mallard ducks enjoying the open water that has not yet frozen under winter’s spell…

I am often reminded as I head north on this road the importance of environmental stewardship and what a pivotal role ranchers play in maintaining the balance of life in the rural areas of our country.

They play several important roles...

The great converters…

These cattle thrive amongst the natural wildlife of Nebraska while also converting forage into an iron rich protein source that fuels both my family and yours.

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The healthy balance of mankind and nature speaks to me even in the winter months when the grasses turn brown…

The Nebraska Sandhills’ grasslands are a perfect blend of Mother Nature’s gifts and the tender loving care of the cattlemen and women who tend to them amongst the routes less traveled…

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Meanwhile Back In Nebraska…

Fall is in the air and the trees are turning colors. 

This is my favorite time of year, and I treasure the breathtaking views that surround me.  The following pictures were taken by Kristian Rennert of Elm Creek, Nebraska.  He has a tremendous gift for photography, and has gracefully allowed me to share the beauty.

The beautiful Platte River...

The Platte River dressed in its fall glory…

An irrigation pivot just north of the river...

An irrigation pivot just north of the river…

Kristian's dog, Tater, posing for a picture during their hike along the river...

Kristian’s dog, Tater, posing for a picture during their river hike…

This one is my favorite.  God's paintbrush leaves me in awe...

This one is my favorite. God’s paintbrush leaves me in awe…

The river brings life to our farm and the Nebraska prairie with the gift of water...

The river brings life to our farm and the Nebraska prairie with the gift of water…

As the green shifts to yellow and orange we are thankful for the passing of the seasons, and take a moment to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us...

As the green shifts to yellow and orange I am thankful for the passing of the seasons, and try to take a moment to enjoy the surrounding beauty…

What brings peace to your life?

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Attending Meetings in Denver While Dreaming of Wildflowers…

This week I am in Denver, Colorado attending meetings related to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Summer Conference.  My favorite cowgirl/chef and I arrived Monday night and we will be “city bound” for the rest of the week.

Despite all of those formative years spent growing up in urban Florida, I do not make the best “city girl”.  After approximately twenty four hours in a highly populated area, I start dreaming of the wide open spaces in rural America that I have grown to love.

As I spent quality time in my hotel room last night after close to 10 hours of meetings, I found myself looking at my wildflower pictures from our trip to Wyoming.  I suppose that a small part of my brain was searching for the peace of the wilderness!

Several of you asked to see my pictures, so I share them with you in an effort to spread just a little bit of that peace…

Pink Indian Paintbrush is my favorite...

Pink Indian Paintbrush is my favorite…

Nature's Bouquet!

How beautiful is this?

This one warms my heart…

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It is a fragile beauty

To preserve the colorful paintbrush...

That reminds me to appreciate the little things

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And protect the land year after year.

That warms my heart...

A sight that warms your heart is always worth preserving!

While the mountains of Wyoming and the prairies of Nebraska are far away from downtown Denver, a group of dedicated cattlemen gathers  there to share ideas of sustainability and stewardship. 

We work for improvement— striving to be good caretakers of the land, while also proudly raising beef to share with each of you.

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Protecting Our Livelihood…

When I fell in love with my favorite farmer at the age of 18, I began to research his home state of Nebraska.  This interest in “where he came from” transferred over to my studies, and I wrote a research paper on the Ogallala Aquifer for one of my Environmental Studies classes at Dartmouth College.Ogallala_Saturated_Thickness_1997

At the time I did not realize it, but the Ogallala Aquifer is perhaps the single most important natural resource for our farm.  It is a subsurface body of water that underlies approximately 80% of the Hi Plains region of the country.  Nebraska is located above one of the deepest parts of the aquifer.

My favorite farmer teaching the next generation why water quality is so important!

Approximately 2/3′s of our crop ground is irrigated directly from the aquifer, and it is also our source for drinking water (although usually our family drinks it out of a facet)…

In addition to ground water irrigation, Central and Western Nebraska are known for surface irrigation.  Our surface irrigation system is comprised of a series of ditches and reservoirs that work with the Platte River to bring rain water and snow melt from North Central Colorado and Eastern Wyoming to our region.

The irrigation pivot north of the feed yard that uses recycled water in addition to surface irrigation water to help this corn grow.

The irrigation pivot north of the feed yard that uses recycled water in addition to surface irrigation water to help this corn grow.

The surface irrigation system described above, in addition to irrigating our crops, also works to replenish the aquifer.  Together with water conservation practices and more efficient irrigation methods, this surface irrigation system has actually increased the water levels of the aquifer underneath Central Nebraska during the last 25 years.

One of my favorite parts of summer is looking at the lush green of Matt's alfalfa fields.

One of my favorite parts of summer is looking at the lush green of Matt’s alfalfa fields.

Water, quite literally, brings life to our farm.  Our family, our animals, and our crops cannot survive without it.  It is paramount for Matt and I to take care of our water supply—our farm is not sustainable without it.

The promise of life...

The promise of life…

The use of soil water probes, center pivots, and water recycling practices all play a role in the conservation of our precious water sources.  However, we must not only conserve the surface and ground water but also to protect the quality of the life-giving aquifer.

In partnership with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, I began Ground Water Monitoring testing at the feed yard in 2003.  I test the ground water (its depth and its quality) two times per year in five different strategically placed wells surrounding the feed yard.

Taking a water sample out of one of the five testing wells that surround the feed yard.

Taking a water sample out of one of the five testing wells that surround the feed yard.

This allows me (and the NDEQ) to monitor the depth of ground water surrounding our farm, track the directional flow of the water, and ensure that ground water quality is not negatively impacted by my feed yard.  In its simplest form, Ground Water Monitoring is my report card of the job that I do to responsibly manage the nutrients on my farm.DSC03742

Twenty years ago, when I met my favorite farmer, I had no idea that I would become a key contributor to our farm and the protection of its natural resources.  Today, I wear many hats:  American, Wife, Mom, Cattle Feed Yard Boss Lady, Caregiver of Natural Resources.  I wear them all with pride, never forgetting that my responsible diligence determines the environmental sustainability of my livelihood.

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Environmental Sustainability: How do I care?

Sustainable = The ability to endureDSC04814

While I believe with all my heart that our farm’s ability to sustain is intrinsically tied to its capacity to endure, I also recognize that good planning and an attention to detail is critical to our success.

Sustaining is not just something that happens if you get lucky—it is the result of careful planning and diligent implementation.  It is the art of taking what Mother Nature gives to you and turning it into a usable and beneficial resource.

Recent Sustainability research conducted by the Beef Check Off demonstrates that there are three components of sustainable beef production (raising cattle to grow beef): environmental responsibility, economic viability, and social diligence.DSC04451

Because I care, I have the responsibility to minimize the environmental footprint of my farm.

While every decision that Matt and I make on the farm affects its environmental footprint, the following list denotes the key concepts of how we practically care for the farm’s environmental sustainability.

  • A detailed manure management plan that includes both soil and manure sampling, and makes use of a computer program to help figure the healthy balance of nutrients on crop ground.  The plan also ensures the proper handling of the manure as it is transported from the feed yard to a neighboring crop field.
  • A lined holding pond allows us to use the water that drains off of the feed yard during a rain storm for both irrigation and fertilization on our crop ground.  The heavy plastic liner of the pond prevents the leaching of nutrients while the water is being stored.  This helps us to both recycle the liquid for later use, and to protect the ground water (Ogallala Aquifer) that is under our farm.
  • A careful rotation plan for our crop acres reduces erosion and helps to build and sustain soil health.
  • A careful pen cleaning schedule allows for timely and effective solid manure collection.  This helps to ensure good cattle pen conditions, and the effective use of the natural fertilizer that our animals produce.
  • The procurement of genetically high quality cattle which destines them to produce tender and flavorful beef while using fewer natural resources (feed) to make that beef.
  • The dedication to high quality holistic care practices which reduces stress and improves the comfort of our cattle.  Comfortable cattle make healthy and flavorful beef using fewer natural resources!
  • The use of technology to increase the efficiency of our animals.  For instance, I use both growth hormone implants and a beta agonist feed supplement at the end of the feeding period to help my animals maintain efficient feed conversion until the time of harvest.
  • The use of crop farming technology to increase the efficiency of our crop ground.  For instance, Matt’s tractors are equipped with GPS systems to ensure that seed is placed accurately into the ground at planting.  He also uses soil probes and other mechanisms to ensure that he is using irrigation water efficiently.DSC05079

Matt and I have many “tools in our environmental sustainability tool box”.  We believe that it is our obligation to both our farm and to you to use them responsibly and with diligence.  Our farm has sustained for more than 60 years.

It is our goal that our grandchildren will one day care for it with the same reverence that we do today.

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The Farmer: The Eternal Optimist…

I celebrate Earth Day each April with mixed feelings.  I am very thankful for our farm and its natural resources; but that thanks is blended with the knowledge that Mother Nature is consistently in control of my life.  Although I have learned to accept that fact over the years, it still brings a sense of helplessness at times when I realize just how much of my family’s livelihood is intrinsically tied this unpredictable force.

The girls by one of our tractors waiting for their daddy to load the alfalfa seed into the planter so that he can plant the field...

We pray for rain when it is dry…We pray for sunshine and heat to grow our crops during the summer months…We pray that violent storms which bring hail, damaging winds and tornadoes will not destroy what we have built and grown with our own blood, sweat and tears.

They look to me for care. The feed that I nourish them with is grown on our farm or other farms in Central Nebraska. We are all dependent on Mother Nature...

While I grew up in the “hurricane belt” and was no stranger to strong storms, I was not used to those storms putting my entire livelihood at risk.  I can bring my family down into our basement when a tornado has been spotted, but I cannot bring my cattle, horses and all of our crops to the relative safety of a basement. Likewise, a brutal hail storm (in a matter of minutes) can damage both my animals and Matt’s crops while we can only helplessly watch.

Recently, a hail storm came through and left the road and fields by our house covered in a couple of inches of white ice...

As I headed home from Washington DC, a large weather system brought violent storms to the Midwest region of the country.  We were lucky—we received rains, wind, and some hail.  There were a several tornadoes spotted within a 50 mile radius of our farm.  While the hail set back a couple of our alfalfa fields and my perennial flowers, there was only limited damage.  I saw pictures of families that were not so lucky.

These are alfalfa plants from the field behind our house. If you look closely, you can see that there is some damage to some of the top leaves from the hail. The alfalfa is recovering and will be fine to harvest in May.

April brings a shift in our weather challenges from Mother Nature.  Usually by then we no longer have a threat of ravaging blizzards (although in April of 1996—a couple of months before Matt and I were married—a blizzard hit central Nebraska and the ice and heavy snow took down many power lines.  Matt and his family were out of power for 10 days.)

The farmer always seems to persevere---many times relying heavily on the youthful optimism of the next generation. Karyn gives her daddy moral support and a big smile as he gets ready to plant a new alfalfa field.

Strong thunderstorms tend to take the place of blizzards as March blends into April.  I will never forget the spring that brought a blend of winter and spring forces of nature. We had heavy rains and thunderstorms for several hours.  As the temperature dropped, the rain turned to ice and finally to snow.  What began as a thunderstorm ended as a blizzard, and brought flash flooding to our farm.  The girls laughed that our yard looked like the Amazon River—sometimes laughter is the best medicine of all…

Helping to bring life to the land...The farmer is the eternal optimist!

I have written about my relationship with Mother Nature many times over the past eleven months.  Earth Day always inspires me to reexamine that relationship.  Today, I count my blessings that the grass is green, the cattle are well fed and cared for, Matt is planting new alfalfa, and there are signs of life all around me.  Like every other farmer, I hope and pray that Mother Nature helps us in this quest for life.

Matt and his crew will *hopefully* finish planting alfalfa any day now--as long as Mother Nature cooperates!

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