Category Archives: Farming

A Brief Recap…

The Burkholder residence has been it’s usual crazy self over the past couple of weeks.  Due to a variety of time constraints and an unplanned bout of influenza, this week’s Feed Yard Foodie post will simply be a brief recap of our wanderings…

Last week, my favorite brunette and her Oral Interpretation of Drama speech team garnered 4th place at the Nebraska State Speech Meet for their rendition of “The Bible in 30 Minutes or Less”.  I enjoyed watching these talented 5 high school students take their knowledge of the bible and turn it into an interesting and funny summation of the Old Testament. Outside of the normal speech season, the group performed for many different community audiences allowing for the great inter-generational engagement that often permeates small town America.

Last week also sparked the official start of track season in Nebraska. With two high school varsity competitors, there never appears to be a dull moment… Ashley Grace continues to compete in middle distance and distance events as Megan tackles the pole vault and both hurdle events. My favorite farmer and I are both track nerds so we are having a blast (despite the fact that Mother Nature creates vicious settings for Nebraska track meets in March). Last Friday, I became the favorite farmer fashion parent wandering around the track in her coveralls 😉

My youngest blonde athletic dynamo worked her way onto a traveling soccer team based out of Lexington, Nebraska this spring so she begins her journey of games across the state this coming weekend. We will travel to Lincoln to watch her play soccer on Saturday. The soccer team has been an awesome experience for Karyn, and I am so pleased with how the girls from the neighboring community have opened their hearts with kindness toward the tall blonde Haymaker.

My favorite farmer began the spring farm field work a couple of weeks ago. We received some very needed rain last week with a 2″ soaker permeating the ground. It is currently raining again and this seasonal moisture brings a tremendous blessing. Planting oats sits on the nearby radar screen, followed by alfalfa in the middle of April, and corn in early-mid May. Matt and his crew continue to prepare the alfalfa dehydration plant for its season start up the middle of May.

I am closing in on 60 days on my new job at the Beef Marketing Group and am enjoying both the people and the projects. I’ve made a couple of trips to Kansas as well as visiting all of the feed yards in Nebraska. It seems to be a good fit for me on this journey we call life 🙂 On the home front, we are preparing to take cattle to grass in about a week so bovines continue to play a large role in my daily activities.

Today we celebrate my favorite blonde cowgirl’s birthday.  I’m not sure where the years have gone, but I feel so blessed to be able to share my life with this awesome young woman!

 

Happy Birthday Megan!

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Chores…

I was lucky enough to grow up down the street from my grandparents. Although they have been gone for several years now, when I think of them the word that comes to mind is devoted.  More than 70 years of marriage, the sun rose and set for them in each other.  As a little girl, I dreamed of finding a soul-mate — someone to build a life with just like my beloved Grannie and Dedaw.

Feb March 2006 017When I brought my favorite farmer to Florida for the first time, my Grannie loved him at first sight.  I still don’t know if she innately sensed that he was my one, or if she simply loved me enough to believe in my heart.  Either way, she showed me with her life that love required work — a good marriage necessitated diligently doing chores — and that the blessing of sharing your life with someone always topped the priority list.

One of the things that I love about Matt is our ability to work together in harmony.  After twenty years on the farm, I still love to do things with him. Whether we are checking fields, working on projects around the house, or building fence, we make a good team.  Matt figures stuff out, and I follow directions well 🙂

When you work well together, chores are not just a necessary part of life — they are part of what makes life fun.marchfence7.jpg

Last weekend Matt and I took down my winter horse fence.  Intermittent warm days inspire the alfalfa to green up and start to grow, so it is time to corral the horses and take them off their winter pasture. Since it snowed on Saturday, we opted to wait until Sunday to take down the electric wire fence. We traded the Saturday snow for a 35 mile an hour wind on Sunday. In hindsight, I’m not sure that we picked the correct day, but we bundled up and laughed our way through the chore.

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We brought along our favorite blondes as we’ve always maintained that families that work together find greater love together.

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We survived the wind, and finished the chore. I think perhaps the only ones pouting are the horses as they prefer their large winter grazing pasture to the corral 😉

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I spent much of the day thinking about my Grannie and Dedaw.  How my life on the farm is so different than their’s was on the Florida coast, yet how our days are actually so much the same.   When your better half provides the center of your world, love becomes much less of a chore and much more of a blessing…

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Finding Her Voice…

My favorite brunette entered the world in the year AF3 (year 3 of working at the feed yard).  She arrived three weeks early after a complicated pregnancy that wreaked havoc on our normal fall cattle processing chores. She came out screaming, and her birth (albeit a loud one) created one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

christmastreeagdonkey1-jpgI have spent the last 17 years watching her find her voice. From the first melodious baby sounds, to words, to sentences, and finally the mature and engaging insight (laced with a tad of sarcasm) that she routinely shares today. Last week, my favorite speech loving Haymaker spent three days in Cheyenne, WY at the National Forensics League Regional Qualifier competition.

She emerged a victor earning herself the right to compete this summer in Birmingham, AL at the National Finals in the International Extemporaneous speaking event. This event involves drawing a topic, spending the next 60 minutes writing a speech addressing it, and then delivering a 7 minute oratory to judges. The really talented kids give a poised, on topic speech complete with quoted sources to back up their argument — all without a note card…

It’s nothing short of awesome!

One day it occurred to me that perhaps Ashley Grace and I found our voices together.  As she grasped the English language and developed a knack for writing an engaging and organized speech, I opened my life outside of our family and our farm to help agriculture find its voice.  The art of public speaking and sharing the story of bovine feed yard life does not normally appear together in a feed yard manager’s skill set…But I found my niche as I found my voice.

In 2017, the need for eloquent and honest farmer voices grows exponentially as social media tops the list of “sources” for the discussion of healthy and responsibly raised food. We need our farm kids to learn the art of finding their voices just as we need them to learn the science that will allow agriculture to prosper on into the future. This unique combination of skills could well determine the stability and sustainability of our country’s food supply in addition to opening or closing the gate on many farmers’ individual agricultural journeys.

Monday I will make my way to Lincoln to be a guest lecturer at the University of Nebraska.  The goal of my lecture is to engage and inspire the next generation of farmers to effectively find their voices while they responsibly grow food. I am the first non-PhD to lead this particular yearly guest lecture on UNL’s agricultural campus — A sign of the growing importance of mentoring outside of the classroom in order to offer a more complex and multifaceted approach to education.

Just as I believe in the power of the next generation, I also believe that it will require the joining of the boots on the ground with the more traditional science background to prepare our future agricultural leaders. I am very proud to be able to play a role in that.

Unlike my favorite brunette, I will head to Lincoln with a pre-organized plan and a power point presentation.  However, I share her love of extemporaneous speaking which provides me with an incredibly useful tool when leading an intellectual discussion with a lecture hall full of gifted students.

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My mom always taught me the importance of becoming adept at expressing my thoughts and ideas — I guess the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree 😉

 

 

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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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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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