Category Archives: Farming

Accountability…

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about the concept of accountability.  Many of the tasks that we do at the feed yard have to be completed regardless of weather or other extenuating circumstances.  Our animals and our farm hold us accountable on a daily basis.

I also live in a house full of teenagers.  My parenting style remains stubbornly loyal to a high level of accountability.  Over the years, I have found that children rise to meet expectations, and that learning accountability at a young age plays a huge role in creating a young adult who strives to be a positive contributor.

Last week, we shipped cattle on a bitterly cold -20 degree morning.  Yesterday, we traded below zero temperatures for a blustery 30 mile an hour north wind.  A weather front passed through as we were loading trucks dropping the temperature from 30 degrees to 13 degrees in a matter of twenty minutes.

horseswinterThe cold north wind is a real bugger when you are working outside.  It tends to make your eyes tear up and cry which wreaks havoc on visibility.  If you are really lucky, the tears freeze on your face before they have a chance to run off 😉  On days like this, I take the advice of my horses and (as much as possible) put my butt to the wind in order to shield my face.

Regardless of the challenges, we complete the task. The cattle must be loaded and shipped at the correct time so that the packing plant can remain on schedule.  Many things hinge on us doing our job in an appropriate and timely manner.  Most importantly, being organized and competent allows for better animal welfare due to less time in transit and waiting at the packing plant.

wintercattle3Our animals are very cold tolerant.  Bred to winter in Nebraska, they remain much more comfortable out in the cold than I do.  This time of year, they grow very thick hair coats and their unique prey animal eyes allow them to function well despite the cold north wind.  The short 20 mile trip from my farm to the packing plant allows for a relatively seamless last life experience.

I know that my animals make the ultimate sacrifice when they go to the packing plant.  Their gift drives me to an extremely high level of accountability.  There is honor in that gift, and I owe it to them to try and make the process as easy as possible.  This is why we ship cattle in the early morning – It allows for the least amount of disruption for them as they move through the final part of the beef life cycle.

My cattle taught me many things over the past two decades.  The importance of accountability and dependability rise quickly to the top of the list.  Cattle have very basic needs – they are simple creatures.  The key to providing good animal welfare lies in the caregiver’s ability to provide for those needs on a reliable basis.

annewintercattle1I remember as a child my mom describing me as a dependable and hard working kid. Over my adult life, I have taken those traits and put them to work in a positive way.  I would describe all three of my own girls as dependable and hard working.

Part of that is a genetic gift from God, and part of it is growing up on a farm and seeing first hand the high level of accountability that is required to humanely care for food animals.

Accountability, dependability, compassion, and grit…

These are the traits that I am most proud of – These are the traits that make me a good farmer.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, Farming, General

The World Seems Different at -20 Degrees…

cold1We shipped cattle early this morning.  The thermometer read -20 degrees as I drove to the feed yard about 5:30am. My mind held an awareness of the cold because I knew it was there.  I bundled up with layers of clothing and carefully covered my face with a mask.

But really, the phenomenon of temperatures like that provides an experience much bigger than layers of clothing.

The world seems different at -20 degrees.

Silent, unrelentingly harsh and yet beautiful at the same time.

Perhaps you have experienced this before?

  • The air takes the description of raw and crisp to a new level.
  • Sounds of the gates, the cattle moving, and the normal night noises are more distinct.
  • The hardness of the ground pounds at your feet as you herd the animals to the corral.

I, at least, seem to have a higher level of acute awareness at -20 degrees.

  • My cowboy laughed at me when I pointed out the small frost formations hanging from our steel pipe corral fence.  They took me back to science class as they were similar in shape to the molecular models in my high school text books.
  • I had to stop myself from reacting nervously each time the Union Pacific trains passed by on the tracks about ½ mile south of our corrals.  Normally, I am desensitized to the sound of the trains; but they sound unnervingly strange at -20 degrees.
  • Each step on the hard and unforgiving ground felt different and I noticed a clarity of movement in my own muscles that I often overlook.

Today I found a new level of perception.  A bitter cold morning with blessedly no wind opened up a new prairie experience for me.

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With 8 pens still to ship, I am left wondering what I will notice next?

 

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, Farming, General

A Deer In the Headlights…

Cattle outnumber people in the state of Nebraska by a ratio of just under 4:1.  We share our great Cornhusker State with a healthy population of deer who reside amidst the 1800 miles of river ground within our boarders.

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Life on a farm leads to many miles traveled on gravel roads. Learning to drive where the pavement ends initially provided a bit of a learning curve for me, and I remember my favorite farmer giving me driving advice as I adjusted to life on the prairie. After two decades and hundreds of thousands of miles, I recently got to put his what to do when a deer jumps out on the road in front of your vehicle advice to good use…

  • Slow down as much as possible without losing control of the vehicle. 
  • Stay in the middle of the gravel road where the traction is the most consistent.
  • Hold the steering wheel with two hands and drive STRAIGHT.  Do NOT SWERVE.

 Natural human intuition often leads to swerving to avoid the collision.  Swerving results in losing tire traction on the uneven gravel and crashing the vehicle into the ditch.  It is preferable to take the deer head on which allows you to better remain in control with a solid driving surface.

It was pitch black dark the morning that a doe mule deer decided to cross the road in front of my vehicle.  The look she gave me reflected her lack of foresight and thought, but I am glad to report that I had enough to cover both of us.  I followed my favorite farmer’s advice to a T, and all ended well.

anne-ag-meg-treeAs I recounted the experience of saving both myself and the deer to my girls, I took the opportunity to turn it into a teaching moment.

  • PAY ATTENTION to the world around you.
  • TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for both your actions and the situation at large.
  • DON’T BE AFRAID to face things head on.

 Of course, the girls expressed great excitement toward their spontaneous life lesson opportunity with Mama. Now, if I can just get them to consistently wear socks and coats during the winter weather; they might be ready to go off to college in a year or two 😉

Like many of you, we reconnected with family and friends over the holiday season.  In my case, many of these awesome people lead unique lives in places vastly different than my farm on the prairie.  While I deal with deer before dawn on gravel roads dressed in blue jeans and boots, they deal with rush hour traffic while dressed in business suits.

Taking the time to appreciate the diversity in others allows our own lives to take on a new depth of meaning. In doing this, we are able to shed that deer in the headlights look and actively embrace the similarities that exist in our hearts.

**P.S. I am open to any and all advice as to how to convince my teenage daughters that physical care and comfort should come ahead of fashion.  Please leave thoughts in the comment section 🙂 —Thank you, Anne

 

 

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Tis the Season: For a Beard and a Basketball…

Each fall, when the temperatures hoover around O degrees for the first time, I mutter to myself that I need to figure out how to grow a beard. Last week our temperatures hit the zero degree level on the morning that we shipped cattle to Tyson.

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My foreman and I put on a bunch of layers of clothes, and I got out my fake beard for the first time since February.

Winter in Nebraska takes some getting used to.  While figuring out the role of a hood on a sweatshirt came instantaneously to me, learning how to layer correctly to work safely outside in the cold took a little bit longer. I have a few toes with frostbite damage to remind me of the learning curve…

To this day, I vastly prefer the summer and fall months to December and January, but farm chores continue in the winter-time despite the drop in temperature.  This time of year, Mother Nature offers challenges instead of resources so we have to provide care when the cattle need us — every single day.

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 My favorite blonde cowgirl wisely trades her boots for basketball shoes for the winter.  She made the transition this year to high school basketball and brings the same winning attitude to her team as she brings to the feed yard crew.

Her hard work and focus earn her success and she proudly represents the Lady Haymakers this season on three levels:  9th and 10th grade, Junior Varsity, and the Varsity.  She’s playing in games four nights a week and packing her FAITH along the journey.

  • F ortitude
  • A ttitude
  • I ntegrity
  • T rust
  • H umility

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I love to watch her love basketball almost as much as I love to see her awesome work ethic make a positive difference.

When I think of all of the great things that being a farmer has brought to my life, raising my kids on the farm tops the list.  Megan runs a scoop shovel with the best of them.  She became a member of the farm crew at an early age, and learned the art of teamwork working cattle and dealing with weather challenges at the feed yard.

She understands that no necessary action is unimportant — no matter how physically demanding or mentally menial.

The girl has grit.

Last summer, I watched Megan practice basketball in our farm shop — Shooting more than 10,000 baskets during the hours outside of working at the feed yard and training for swim team. Inspired by the awesome set of Lady Haymaker basketball coaches, she combined her farm work ethic with a fledgling love for the game and began building the necessary set of ball handling skills.

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I look at my favorite blonde cowgirl and I see my work-a-hol-ic nature combined with a unique zest for life. This combination packs a powerful punch that we fondly refer to as the art of Meganizing.

I recognize that personal need to make a difference that she wears on her face.  It gleams in her eyes both on the basketball court and on the farm — even when the rest of her face is covered with a matching cold weather mask while she scoops snow out of feed bunks in a blizzard 😉

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An Appropriate Sense of Urgency…

A few years ago, I heard another feed yard manager talk about the importance of the feed yard crew employing an appropriate sense of urgency to individual situations on the farm.  I’ve held onto that phrase in my head because I think that it holds the crux of successful animal care.  Personal reactions to farm events determine the effectiveness of their control — whether you are the boss/ foreman or the water tank cleaning crew.

We run a “short crew” on Sundays at the feed yard.  My three guys take turns feeding on Sundays having to work every third weekend.  It is a nice way to ensure that the crew gets some family time despite the long hours of work on the farm.  We really can’t get the work load finished on Sunday mornings with just one person, so I am a permanent Sunday morning crew member.  I read bunks, check water tanks, observe cattle health, and generally do whatever needs done while my other crew member drives the feed truck delivering breakfast.

Most Sundays, it works like a charm.

dsc_0580-1This week, I arrived at the feed yard just before 6:00 to start chores.  My cowboy met me at the front gate with the unfortunate news that our main well had gone down and all of our water tanks were empty.

 

This is significant for two reasons:

  1. Water is critical — our animals have to have it —  having a well problem on a Sunday morning is a BIG DEAL.
  2. This Sunday was not my “cowboy’s weekend” — it was his day off.  However, he had stopped by the feed yard on his way to town for breakfast just to make sure that everything was okay.

The feed yard has a back up well, so we fiddled around in the dark and got it started.  The problem with the back up well is that it is not as powerful — it’s primary job is to supply extra water to cattle in the summer, not to provide the total water supply.  We’ve never had this problem before (showing up on Sunday morning to find water tanks dry), so Rich and I debated how long we thought it would take for the back up well to refill the water tanks.

Megsunrise2.jpgI really hate to bother my foreman on the Sunday morning that is supposed to be his day off.  However, it seemed an appropriate sense of urgency to call him as I was unsure if the secondary well would provide enough water.  I am sure that he was really excited to hear my friendly voice on his cell phone at 6:30am on his “off” Sunday; but he’s a dedicated animal caregiver and was out at the feed yard within 20 minutes.

The story ends well…

The secondary well did an awesome job and had water tanks refilled in about an hour and a half.  Our local well repair company came out Monday to install a new pressure switch on the main well — and the 1700 bovines on the farm remained well cared for throughout the entire episode.

Times like this remind me of the importance of the loyalty, integrity, and compassion of my crew.  My cowboy and my foreman are a rare breed of men — always putting responsibility to the animals ahead of personal agendas.  I have been blessed to have them on the feed yard crew for my entire tenure on the farm and I am very proud of our high level of teammanship.

As we transition the farm, they will both begin to play a new role but Matt and I are very thankful that they will remain members of our farm team.

 

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, Farming, General

Listen To Your Gut…

My favorite farmer and I share a love of water skiing.  There is a lake about 10 miles south of Cozad, and our chosen summertime Sunday afternoon activity is to go out on the boat.  We have a variety of “water apparatuses” to ride including a double slalom ski that Matt built a few years ago.

mattski.jpgAs the end of September approaches, our night temperatures dip down in the 40’s making skiing in the lake a bit chilly.  With our girls in the midst of their fall sports seasons, skiing time bumps down on the priority scale, and we grudgingly take the boat out of the water marking the end of the summer. Cold Nebraska temperatures necessitate “winterizing” the boat, and we take it about 50 miles down the road to Buzz’s Marine every fall.

My Florida raised competitive swimmer skin necessitates a bi-annual trip to the dermatologist.  Her office is located near the boat dealer, so yesterday I drew the “short straw” to drive the boat trailer to Kearney.  The driver’s side tire on the trailer had been bugging me since I pulled the boat out of the water Sunday.  I couldn’t pin point what is was, but my gut told me we had a problem brewing.

My favorite farmer did not share my worry, so I bit my tonguepicked my battles — and packed my faith.

I pulled onto Interstate 80 and made it about 10 miles before the above mentioned trailer tire blew out.  Fortunately, I have experience pulling trailers and was watching the tire closely as my gut refused to give up the warning.  Consequently, I was able to calmly put on my hazards, pull slowly to the shoulder of the road, and assess the damage.

My favorite farmer was in the midst of a Certified Organic Inspection on the farm, so he *wisely* screened my post damage assessment call.   As Megan pointed out a few weeks ago, my feed yard foreman is awesome and was quick to answer the phone when I called him for advice.

Doug and I had a chuckle that I should have ignored my husband and listened to my gut…and then decided that it would be best to creep slowly on the shoulder until I could exit the interstate.  Once off the interstate, I found a nice quiet spot on the gravel to take the tire off.  Doug met me and ran the bad tire back to town, and had a new one put on the rim. I continued (minus the boat and trailer) to my doctor’s appointment and got there with a couple of minutes to spare…

annematt2.jpgI pride myself on being a capable person.  Although I was raised a “city kid”, I have forced myself to learn the hands on problem solving/crisis prevention lessons that are ingrained in every farmer.  It is important to me that my girls learn these same skills and we often talk about them at the family dinner table.  There are a number of lessons to be learned with this story, and I am quite certain that this experience will lead to an incredibly interesting dinner hour conversation…

  • Listen to your gut
  • Pack your faith
  • Keep your head in the midst of a challenge
  • Accept the help of others
  • Sometimes your gut is smarter than your husband 😉

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Return on Investment…

annemattbale1.jpgLess than a week after graduating from Dartmouth College, I put on my jeans and went to work at the cattle feed yard.  I knew almost nothing about taking care of cattle, but I packed my integrity and my work ethic in order to learn the job.  Looking back over the past two decades, I would like to think that I have transitioned into a savvy cattle caregiver — learning from my animals and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

Last Sunday morning, as I watched the sun rise while cleaning feed bunks with a scoop shovel, I thought about that young girl and how she evolved into the woman that I am today.  I pondered how things change, and I acknowledged that – despite my romantic nature – there are times when reality demands to be considered.

I went to work at the feed yard to continue the family legacy in cattle feeding.  There was a need and I worked hard to fill it.  It was to be my forever job as Matt and I worked together to grow what his dad and granddad started.  My favorite farmer has done an exceptional job of ensuring that the crop farm prospered — evolving the farm to meet the changing markets and using his entrepreneurial talents to remain relevant in the world of agriculture.

I have struggled to do the same with the feed yard.  While I truly believe in my business model and what I have worked to build, the daily struggle to remain viable in the ever-changing and often volatile markets has left me drained.  Today when I look in the mirror, I fail to find the optimistic spark that plays a large role in making me Anne.  My cup is closer to empty than full, and I am not able to effectively refill it.

My balance sheet tells me that I am not garnering a decent monetary return on investment, and my heart tells me that I need to rediscover my passion by taking an altered professional route.  Recently, I made the decision to begin the process of closing down the feed yard.  While I will remain a “feed yard boss lady” until Mid-February, I do not intend to refill the pens as they empty this fall and winter.

Matt and I plan to return the feed yard pen area to farm ground, and use the shop and feedmill buildings to further enhance our crop farming operation.  My two long time employees will transfer over to the farming business continuing to work for our family.  This has been a long and difficult decision to make, but I am confident that it is the correct one.  I truly believe that fear of change should not dictate the future — rather looking for new ideas to improve your legacy should drive the long term decision making process.

Easterfamily2.jpgThis transition will be a long one — spanning many months to possibly a year — as I am determined to close my feed yard with the same integrity that has marked my twenty years of management.  Our dedication to animal welfare, environmental responsibility, and quality beef production will continue to drive the daily care on our farm.  I plan to share our transition story with each of you — continuing to blog and cataloging our shifting lives on the farm.

There are still many details to be worked out and much work to be done; but my commitment to transparency necessitates me sharing the news.  I hope that each one of you will stand by me as I travel down this new fork in the road.  Your support is important to me.

 

 

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A Bovine Anniversary…

annefeedyard2.jpgMy favorite farmer and I achieved 20 years of marriage yesterday.  It was an interesting day with lots of work and very little time for celebration.  Such is the life of a farmer…

I started the day at 5:45 shipping 9 loads of cattle to Tyson.  We don’t often ship that many animals at a time, but June is our busiest month to ship animals ready for slaughter because of the natural weather cycle in Nebraska.  The last truck left the feed yard about 8:00am.  I am excited to see the beef quality data. We are closely tracking performance this summer after switching to a new all natural feed additive known as Natursafe to both reduce the antibiotic footprint of the feed yard and also to provide a pre-harvest food safety mechanism to further reduce ecoli and salmonella on the farm.

  • After shipping cattle, I had two pens of newly arrived fall calves to exercise and acclimate.
  • I landed at the pool to coach swim team by 11:15 and spent a couple of hours sweating while mentoring about 40 of Cozad’s talented youth.
  • The afternoon brought paperwork at the office in preparation for our annual 3rd party feed yard audit that starts at 7:00 this morning.
  • At 5:30 I headed back out to the feed yard to unload another set of newly arrived fall calves.

We sat down to a meatloaf dinner about 7:15 and greatly enjoyed the delicious chocolate cake that my favorite blonde cowgirl made.  I think that I sweated several buckets over the course of the 90+ degree day, but all ended well.  It was a great day to be reminded that marriage is a journey, not a single event to decorate a calendar.

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Cheers to my favorite farmer for 20 years of awesomeness — We certainly have built something special 🙂

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