Category Archives: Farming

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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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, Farming, General

The Super Bowl Farm Family…

For those of you Super Bowl fans that live in Denver and the greater Kansas City area, you were lucky enough to see a wonderful commercial about “moms” during last night’s game.  My friend from Kansas, Debbie Lyons-Blythe played the “farm mom” in a 30 second commercial that aired in 20 cities across the mid-west.

Debbie is the “boss lady” on an Angus cattle ranch in Central Kansas as well as being the mom to five teenagers and young adults.  Debbie participates in a different segment of the beef family than I do as she is a purebred Angus breeder with a cow/calf ranch.  She blogs at Life On a Kansas Cattle Ranch if any of you are interested in getting to know Debbie better!

Please take a minute to watch Debbie’s commercial.  It’s a good one!

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Roots…

I have lost track of the number of times that I have heard the statement, “The average American is two generations removed from the farm.”  Although I have never personally verified this information, it seems believable to me as it lines up pretty well with my own family.

My family, August 2013...

My family, August 2013…

My grandfather’s parents and grandparents were corn farmers in Indiana until the mid-1910′s when they moved to South Florida.  They brought the name of the original farm (Eltrose Farms) with them, and purchased some farm ground near Belle Glade, Florida.  Both my grandfather and his brother started a law firm in West Palm Beach after completing law school, but they continued to actively manage Eltrose Farms until the 1960′s.  They practiced law during the week, and then farmed on the weekends.

My dad during his childhood spending weekends at the farm...

My dad, during his childhood, spending weekends at the farm…

In addition to growing vegetables, they also ran a small herd of registered Santa Gertruse cattle.  Some of my dad’s fondest childhood memories were of weekends out at the farm.  The family continued to actively manage the land until the mid-1960′s when my Great Uncle Terry was killed by a train at a railroad crossing when he was traveling back home to West Palm Beach after a weekend at the farm.

The sign along the outskirts of Belle Glade Florida...

The sign along the outskirts of Belle Glade Florida…”Her soil is her fortune.”

About that time, sugarcane was becoming the dominant crop grown in the area as the rich muck soil was well suited for it.  With my Great Uncle’s death and my dad finishing high school and going off to college, my grandfather made the decision to concentrate on the law firm and lease out the farm ground.  Despite the decision to no longer actively farm, my dad continued to be drawn to the Glades and spent weekends hunting and fishing near the farm once he completed law school and moved back home.

Rows of sugarcane growing in the rich muck soil on Eltrose Farms...

Rows of sugarcane growing in the rich muck soil on Eltrose Farms…

My parents laugh that I learned to crawl in the woods at the “hunting camp”.  I was a city kid by birth, but my dad stayed true to his roots and made sure that I knew how to get my hands dirty…Just like my dad, some of my favorite childhood memories are from weekends out at the farm.  Hunting, fishing, chasing my mom around with worms that we dug out of the soil—my brother and I both loved those childhood times outside of the city limits.

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the "hunting camp"...

My brother and I as children out at the “hunting camp”…

When I look back at my roots, I can see that my life has come full circle.  While the family farm ground known as Eltrose Farms continues to be leased out to others outside of our family, Matt and I actively own and manage our own crop farm named Eltrose Alfalfa in the heart of the Platte River Valley in Nebraska.  In the corner of my office sits the branding iron that my great uncle and grandfather used to mark ownership on their cow herd.

It serves as a reminder that agriculture played a significant role in my ancestral history.

He brought me to agriculture, and it has become a part of my soul...

While Eltrose Farms serves as my dad’s legacy–one that I will now play a more active role in because of his death.  1800 miles north and west, Eltrose Alfalfa is a part of Matt’s and my dream–born of hard work, and the determination to bury our roots even deeper into the heart of agriculture.

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Filed under Family, Farming, General

The Hybrid Organic Farmers…

While I do not grow any certified organic beef at the feed yard, my favorite farmer does grow some certified organic animal feed.  Matt began growing some organic alfalfa and corn in 2004 in an effort to diversify our farm.  It has proven to be an effective risk management and marketing tool, but those advantages do not come without a unique set of challenges.

The certified organic alfalfa field that is located around my house and horse pastures...

A certified organic alfalfa field adjacent to my house…

For animal feed to be certified organic, it has to be grown on land that has been free from all prohibited products (synthetic fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides) for a minimum of three years.  In addition, the farmer must use approved seed and also maintain a management plan which protects the soil and water quality of the farm.

In the nine years that Matt has grown certified organic animal feed, the single largest challenge has been weed control.  The inability to use herbicides to spray for weeds creates an enormous task when creating a viable long term farm management plan.  Despite the fact that the crop rotation plan which Matt employs goes a long way to helping control weeds, in the long term we still have a never ending weed problem.

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My favorite cowgirl/chef pulling sticker weeds in the north horse pasture…

One of Matt’s certified organic fields boarders my house and horse pastures.  Several years ago, it was time to tear up the alfalfa field and rotate it into corn.  Along with the corn, the sticker weeds moved in…They then spread from the edge of the field into my horse pastures and yard.

I don’t like weeds.  In addition, it is my opinion that among the weed population, sticker weeds are some of the worst.  They spread like wildfire and develop nasty stickers that are very painful to the touch.  Because I am unable to spray the weeds on the edge of the field, the girls and I try to control the weeds the old fashioned way.

We filled many wheel barrows full of them this summer...

Harnessing the power of my free labor force…

As you might guess, this chore has created some negative thoughts relative to their daddy’s organic farming.  My favorite young women do not relish the character building hours that they spend hand pulling the sticker plants out of the pasture.

Ahh, the fun times are unlimited when doing "sticker weed chores"...

Ahh, the fun times are unlimited when doing “sticker weed chores”…

While the parent in me thinks that this process is a good learning experience for the girls, the farmer in me feels a certain level of frustration with our current inability to effectively control weeds in the long term on the organic fields and boarders of our farms.  Matt is constantly searching for ways to deal with this weed challenge, and the girls and I are certainly hopeful that he will soon be successful :)

I think that Shellie, the dog, is the only one that enjoys the chore...

I think that Shellie, the dog, is the only one that enjoys the chore…

Over the years, I have learned that no food production system is perfect—each type comes with its own unique set of pros and cons. 

There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, rather there are hard management decisions that lead to less than perfect results.  The bottom line is that we do the best that we can with our ultimate goal being a long term sustainable farm.

A field of traditionally raised animal corn that will be harvested to feed to my cattle...

A field of traditionally raised animal corn that will be harvested to feed to my cattle…

Because different people desire different types of food products, both production systems have a place in our society.  Matt and I have chosen a diverse blend on our farm in order to attain a broad spectrum of financial, environmental and social sustainability.  My favorite farmer and I have many passionate discussions as we routinely evaluate what is the best course for our farm.

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Small Squares…

I have always loved horses.  As I little girl, I had a typical infatuation with the big beautiful animals.  I dreamed of one day having my own.

Matt and I moved to Nebraska more than 15 years after my first horse ride as a vacationer in the mountains of Montana.  As an adult, I put the dreams of having my own horse on hold for another nine years after changing my address to the Cornhusker State.  I had set my sights on learning how to manage a cattle feed yard, and that was no small task for the East Coast urbanite.

"The Boys" and I...

“The Boys” and I…

My favorite farmer grumbled quite a little bit when I brought “my boys” home the summer of 2006.  He worried that caring for them would add too much to my work load.  In addition, he lamented the amount of feed that was required to keep the boys in good shape.

Over the years, Matt has mellowed toward the horses.  He now affectionately calls them my “knot heads”, and does a great job growing the feed that they need.  I graze them on grass in the summer, and an alfalfa field in the winter.  When the winter weather gets especially cold, I supplement the boys with alfalfa dehy pellets and baled prairie hay.

We put the prairie hay up in small square bales that weigh 50-60 pounds.  Gathering the bales and bringing them home is always an interesting chore!

One of the places that we grow prairie hay grass is on pivot corners where we must grow a dry-land (non-irrigated) crop...

One of the places that we grow prairie hay grass is on pivot corners where we must grow a dry-land (non-irrigated) crop…

8 small square bales of prairie hay waiting to be picked up and placed on a trailer...

8 small square bales of prairie hay waiting to be picked up and placed on a trailer…

The tractor and hay implement picks up the sets of 8 bales and places them on the trailer...

The tractor and hay implement picks up the sets of 8 bales and places them on the trailer…

Megan and Matt helping to place the bales...

Megan and Matt helping to place the bales…

The pile got pretty high!

The pile got pretty high!

The horses will be well fed this winter, and some of this hay will also go to the feed yard...

The horses will be well fed this winter, and some of this hay will also go to the feed yard…

Baling prairie hay (grass hay) that we are unable to graze allows us to make good use of our resources.  Prairie hay is great feed for both horses and cattle.  It also provides a way for our farm to make a sustainable cycle.

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Did You Know?

  • Did you know that every animal is inspected by a USDA employee before it is cleared for harvest?
  • Did you know that FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) inspects all carcasses during the harvest process to ensure that your beef is safe?
  • Did you know that federal law states that meat can not be shipped or sold without the USDA inspection seal that is given once the above two things have happened?
  • Did you know that this week the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, threatened to furlough USDA and FSIS employees for at least two weeks beginning March 1st which would effectively shut down meat production in the United States?
  • I can tell you that knowing the answer to all of these questions has led me to several sleepless nights this week.  Yesterday afternoon, I decided to write the Secretary a letter which is listed below.  If you are compelled to contact the Secretary, you can send him an email at: Tom.Vilsack@usda.govDSC03744

 

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

 I write to you today with a heavy heart.  I am saddened, I am ashamed, and I am angry.  I feel all of these emotions because of your threatening words regarding a forthcoming furlough of FSIS employees.  As you know, that furlough would shut down the 6290 packing plants and processing facilities across the United States because it is illegal to slaughter and ship meat without the USDA inspection seal.

 Not only would this furlough directly affect the thousands of employees of those packing and processing facilities, but it would also affect every farmer in the nation and the millions of consumers that purchase the products that we work so hard to grow.

 My husband and I own and operate a diversified farm in Dawson   County, Nebraska.  We raise both crops and cattle using a combination of traditional and organic farming practices.  Our livelihood revolves around food animal production, and we have spent the last two decades tirelessly working to build a viable farming business.  This business becomes non-viable if animals cannot be slaughtered for meat production purposes.  Even the 2 week shutdown that you threaten will cause great hardship to us.

 Whether your threatening words are signs of a new reality or simply an attempt to play politically motivated games with Congress, they negatively affect our family farming business.  Scare tactics that involve the production of food are simply irresponsible and I am gravely disappointed in your behavior.  I believe that it is your job as the Secretary of Agriculture to calmly lead our nation’s food growers and aid them in their vital task of feeding their fellow countrymen. 

 Forgive me, sir, but it certainly appears to me that you are being severely derelict in your duties.  As I watch from Nebraska, the livelihood of my farming business is being jeopardized in the name of politics.  You, President Obama, and the rest of the administration are threatening the food and fiber of our country with your actions.  I would like to take a minute to remind you that you are tampering with both my livelihood and our country’s food security.

 In the coming weeks, I sincerely hope that you will designate FSIS inspectors as “essential personnel” and exempt them from the furlough.  Additionally, I pray that you will discontinue engaging in scare tactics that negatively affect farmers like me who work so diligently to raise safe and healthy food.

 I invite you to take some time to visit my blog site so that you can learn more about two of the many farmers that rely on you for leadership and support.  You can access my blog site at http://www.feedyardfoodie.com/.

 

Sincerely,

 Anne Burkholder

Cozad, Nebraska

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Feeding The Body and the Soul: A look at how we grow food and spiritualism in Central Nebraska…

I am what some would call a cradle Episcopalian.  I was raised a member of Bethesda By The Sea Episcopal church in Palm Beach, Florida; and have spent my adult life a part of the family of St. Christopher’s in Cozad, Nebraska.

We are the little A-frame church that sits on the corner of 16th and B streets…

While I am a regular church goer, the heart of my spiritualism lies outside of the doors of the church building.  It is deeply rooted in nature and is an integral part of my adult life.

  • It is present on my cattle farm.
  • It is present in the volunteer work that I do to improve animal (cattle) welfare.
  • It is present on the youth athletic fields where I mentor and coach.

    God’s paintbrush is evident as fall prevails on the prairie…

Friday afternoon I will be sharing my thoughts on the topic Feeding the Body and the Soul: A look at how we grow food and spiritualism in Central Nebraska at the 145th Annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska.

While I am very open and transparent about how I raise cattle and grow beef on my farm, I tend to hold my faith in a more private place.  Despite that introverted tendency, I “take God with me” on my life journey.

What a beautiful journey it has been in the heartland of Nebraska.

There is something about wide open spaces and farming the land that lends itself to being closely tied to faith.  Perhaps it is the beauty of a sunset over the plains…Perhaps it is the feeling of intense pride and contentment that comes from growing things with your own two hands…Perhaps it is the feeling of helplessness that comes from witnessing the brutality of Mother Nature…Most likely, it is all of these things that lends a farmer toward a strong personal spiritualism.

The beautiful promise of new opportunity…

I have a sign in one of my flower gardens that reads:  The kiss of the sun for pardon; The song of the birds for mirth.  One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than any place else on the earth.

There are times when I am exercising calves in the early morning light when I feel a comforting presence about me.  I feel peace, and with it a strong sensation that I am where I was meant to be.  When I think of what I desire most in the world as a parent, it is that my children will grow up to discover a vocation that brings them this same sense of “rightness”.

My greatest wish is for each of them to find a true vocation in life…

It is true that Nebraska is an enormous contributor to our country’s food supply.  Agriculture is the heart of our communities, our lives, and our economy.  If our rural “Fly Over State” is known for anything, it is for corn, crops and cattle.  What folks outside of our small communities might not realize is the strong sense of faith that prevails amongst the farms and ranches that permeate our state.

A simple beauty…

Just as Nebraska grows food, that growth of food seems intrinsically tied to faith.  That spiritual belief moves us forward in good times and in times of challenges. It unites us into a diverse family and creates a sense of “neighborliness” that is truly unique.

The next time that you think of Nebraska, you’ll have to add faith to the list of things that we grow—it blossoms amidst the bounty that our land produces…

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Corn Harvest…

In the spring we plant the seed with the hope of moisture, sun light and growth…

With a bit of grace from God, combined with a bit of help to control the weeds…

It grows through the summer months…

We water it with sprinklers when the rains do not come…

Or on some fields we use gravity flow irrigation through pipes instead…

All while protecting our natural resources so that they can provide for our family and for you…

It grows to be taller than my “Ivy League Farmer”, and makes seeds and fiber which will nourish both us and our animals…

In the fall, the plant dies and we harvest its spoils…

The Golden Jewel of the Midwest…

A combine harvests the Jewel…

Tall, Strong, Golden

They sway,

in the wind.

Farmer’s pride

Combine time

harvest season is here.

The corn is picked

leaving bare, desolate fields.

Until next summer,

I bid you well, O Corn

the Midwest’s Jewel.

Poem by Ashley Grace

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