Category Archives: Farming

Answering Questions: Responding to a recent comment…

I received the below comment on Friday afternoon from a blog site visitor. Over the lifetime of Feed Yard Foodie, many people have issued advice/comments similar to this so I decided that perhaps it provided a good blog post topic. When I receive notes like this, all that I have to go on are the words written because most people do not chose to introduce themselves or give me much, if any, personal information in addition to their advice.

“i understand this is your way of farming, and that’s your prerogative. but consider this:
if you have 3000 acres, why not put the cattle out on grass instead? you could even do rotational grazing (which makes the forage super nutritious in a very short time) with half or 1/10th of labor costs compared to labor in a feedlot operation, no feed farming labor and seed costs, fertilizer automatically goes back into the ground while grazing, no medicines, or very little medicine necessary in a pasture operation; no overwhelming manure smell either! it just seems healthier, simpler, better for the environment, cows do and eat more what they would naturally do and eat outside: graze on grass and forbs; and healthier meat is produced which equals healthier humans. win-win all around.”
– JG, DVM

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Dear JG,

I believe that part of a farmer’s job is to consider all angles relative to natural resource availability. My favorite farmer and I have routine “brainstorming sessions” as we plan for the long term sustainability of our farm. While we have never chosen to go down the road that you suggest, it is not because of lack of consideration.

There are two main reasons that our farm remains diversified (with the production/growth of a variety of products instead of one grass/cattle product):

1. Farm use of natural resources is maximized under a diversified system, thereby allowing us to lower our total environmental footprint.

2. The long term economic sustainability of our farm is better protected under a marketing program that has a blend of products to be sold “off farm”.

The unique blend of traditional and organic alfalfa and corn production combined with a cattle feed yard allows a sustainable cycle of growth across the farm. The Platte River Valley provides us with a fertile silty loam soil that allows the growth of high quality feedstuffs that can be either used “on farm” or exported off the farm to feed a variety of animals.  The animals in our feed yard produce both beef/beef products to be exported, and also manure which can be agronomically applied to our farm ground to ensure healthy soil maintenance. The bottom line is that we can grow more animal feed and human-use products in this manner than simply growing grass.

The sustainability of rural America is rooted in both social and economic factors. Matt and I are proud to employ local members of our town, and do our part to stimulate the economy of rural Nebraska.  We also work hard to sustain the heart of our town by working as volunteers in the community. I encourage you to get to know us better by reading additional blog posts that detail our role as community members and mentors.

The diversity of our farm plays a key role in economic sustainability as it allows us to both use and produce more products that stimulate our local economy. As farmers and business owners, our primary job is to ensure that our farm can continue on into the future. When our farm sustains, then our community sustains — they are intrinsically blended.

Let’s look at a little bit of “cowboy” math to delve further into this…

Following your suggested model: Our farm currently consists of approximately 4000 acres. If our land was all planted to grass pastures, it would provide for approximately 800 head of cattle (in a year of average rainfall) in a 12 month cycle. Mother Nature only “provides” in Nebraska for about 5 months out of the year, so grazing nutrient dense grass pastures year round is impossible even using a rotational grazing plan. The winter in Nebraska requires feeding animals – whether they are fed a forage diet or a combination of forage/starch diet – they must receive supplemental feed in order to remain healthy.

Our diversified model produces 15,000 Tons of dehydrated alfalfa feed pellets, 600 tons of baled alfalfa, 120,000 bushels of corn, 400 tons of baled corn stalks, and grows 5500 animals for harvest each 12 month cycle. While we do purchase a portion of our cattle feedstuffs “off farm” from neighbors, and perhaps our method requires more labor, the output numbers still paint a very clear picture. Matt’s and my additional devotion to environmental protection allows us to produce this much animal feed and human protein while also being good stewards to the land.

Many thanks to Miranda Reiman for taking this picture...

Many thanks to Miranda Reiman for taking this picture…

Relative to animal welfare/ wellbeing: Our feed yard allows for the 5 Freedoms of Cattle just like a pasture operation. We offer large outdoor pens and consistent feed, water, and daily care. The established 5 Freedoms of Cattle are as follows:

  • Freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
  • Freedom from discomfort – by providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • Freedom to express normal bovine behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind (herd mates)
  • Freedom from fear and distress — by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering

Additionally, I believe that my healthy farm produces high quality healthy meat, all while being a positive contributor to a healthy rural economy for my community. A win/win deal for all!

Thanks for reaching out to me.

Best,

Anne

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Filed under CAFO, Farming, General

Freezing in the New Year…

Central Nebraska is ringing in the New Year with frigid temperatures.  Yesterday, the thermometer reported -18 degrees when I read bunks at just after 6:00am.  This time of year, I tend to reflect back to my high school days — sitting in a warm Florida classroom and reading Jack London’s To Build a Fire.  Since learning how to winter on our farm in Nebraska, the words of the story take on a much fuller meaning…

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When it turns this cold, we rely on technology — common sense — instinct — and basic care standards to protect both ourselves and our animals.  In times of harsh winter weather, survival becomes intrinsically tied to the above things, as depicted eloquently by London’s story.

  • Any vital equipment (feed trucks, tractors, pay loaders) is parked inside the heated shop or next to a building where we can plug in an engine heater to better ensure its likelihood of working when it is needed.
  • Special fuel is used to run the equipment that makes it less likely to “gel up” and quit working.
  • Crew priorities focus on the basics: feeding the cattle a special storm ration during both daily feedings that helps them to generate heat from within, frequently checking all water tanks to make sure that a constant supply of water is not disrupted by a tank freezing over, checking cattle health, and preparation for the next day to ensure that morning feed delivery (breakfast) occurs on schedule.
  • Any extra time is spent working on inside paperwork/chores.

Crew members working outdoors are fully covered with multiple layers of clothing, and take frequent breaks either in the shop or in a warm pick up truck to protect against frost bite.  My guys all tend to grow beards for the winter, I get out my ski mask and do my best bank robber impersonation.

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London’s protagonist perishes in To Build A Fire due to his lack of common sense and employment of poor survival skills.  Conversely, his dog companion depends on instinct and survives.

I think that it is fair to say that good farmers use a combination of modern technology and instinct to ensure survival and productivity during times of winter challenge.  After all, it is our job to care for the animal, not be bested by him!

 

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Agriculture Needs To “Pack”…

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As I watched these young ladies dominate the team competition at the Broken Bow Invitational Cross Country meet on Saturday morning, I thought of farmers.  A very wise coach has taught these athletes how to “pack run” — setting both group and individual goals, and mentally supporting each other through the long 5K high school races.

I think that many distance runners would tell you that the middle of the race is the most challenging.  The adrenaline from the start has worn off, but the promise of the finish line is still miles away.  The culture of the “pack” lends strength to both the individual and to the team as well as building tenacity for the long run.

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The journey of the American farmer is much like a distance running race.  Growing food is an expedition full of challenges.  From Mother Nature, to the availability of natural resources, to food safety, to animal welfare priorities, to ever increasing government regulations, to sharing the story of food production.  Every day is it’s own race, and the days clump together into something similar to a marathon.

I believe in the power of teamwork.  The lonely individual marathon of farming can be overwhelming, especially while embarking on the trek of transparency and sharing the realistic story of modern day food production.  It is hard to motivate at the end of the day to post blogs and pictures — even when you believe in the necessity of reaching out and explaining your farm story.  Some of the challenge comes from simple physical fatigue, and some comes from the fear of ridicule and harassment from those that do not believe in raising animals for food production or using modern food production systems to raise them.

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While each individual farm has it’s own uniqueness, farmers share many things in common.  Embracing the “pack run” philosophy could be a very powerful tool for American agriculture.

There is certainly some of this already occurring, but it is a concept that could be used on a much more powerful scale.

  • The first step is for farmers to adopt a universal set of basic standards for responsible food production. The Beef Quality Assurance program is a great place to start for this relative to beef production. A pack offers support but, in turn, requires its members to contribute in a meaningful way. Quality animal care is imperative and needs to be unanimously adopted across food animal production.
  • The second step is acceptance of all farming practices that meet the basic standards, and respect for all farmers that care enough to join the pack of responsible food production.
  • The third is an important element of teamwork – recognizing that no matter how strong we are as individuals — together we are stronger. Mutual respect and support of each other makes for a powerful combination and a unified voice telling the true story of food production.

When I peruse the internet and see farmers fighting amongst each other or making their own way by belittling others, I am saddened. I think of the success that my daughter and her cross country team have on the running course, and I wish that farmers could be as unselfish and supporting as these teenage girls.

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I think that agriculture needs its own wise coach to lead a unified effort to share the true story of American farmers.

I think that agriculture needs to learn to pack…

*Author’s note #1: In Nebraska, Varsity High School Cross Country runs 6 and scores 4.  The four girls pictured at the top ran an impressive race as a pack finishing strong with Ashley Grace and one of her teammates running the last mile at 6:20 pace and finishing the 5K under 21 minutes. The second two runners were very close behind and the girls individually earned 10, 11, 12, and 13 places to win the title.  This young team gets stronger and more confident with every day that passes — it is a true pleasure for this Mama to watch.

*Author’s note #2: I have always had a strong passion for animal welfare and have worked to improve this in beef cattle for more than 15 years.  I found my pack on this journey with the Beef Marketing Group and it’s Progressive Beef QSA program.  I began the lonely blogging journey to share the story of how feed yards prepare cattle to become beef in the spring of 2011.  I am still waiting patiently for other cattle feed yards to take this step in order to offer appropriate transparency to the beef production cycle.  The list of other cattle feeders that have packed with me on this journey is very short.  Unfortunately, the list of people who ridicule and label me as a factory farmer is much longer…

 

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Filed under Farming, General

Chipotle Isn’t Any Fun To Write About…

Almost a month ago, a reader asked me to blog about Chipotle. While I have thought about what to write often during that time — the words have not easily transitioned onto paper. I have very definite feelings toward the restaurant chain and its CEO, Steve Ells. These feelings have precluded me from ever being a customer at any of the restaurants. I like to vote with my dollar.

I have a personal rule that before I write about a person or a topic, I must “walk a mile in their shoes” — searching for a level of understanding before I render a judgment. In this instance, the process has been terribly uncomfortable for me because the inherent negativity of Chipotle’s advertising campaign turns my stomach…

Chipotle isn’t any fun to write about because there is nothing positive to share in the story. The restaurant chain creates drama by distorting the story of food production, turning hypocrisy into dollars. It capitalizes on fear and distrust, making one disturbing and inaccurate statement after another simply to keep its brand name in the limelight.

I find that disgusting…

Rather than harp on a negative topic that depresses me, I would like to instead share a few thoughts on the topic of responsibly raised food.

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When I look through my glass at the United States food production system, I see diversity in methods but a common thread of responsibility. I see hundreds of thousands of farmers who honor their land and care for their animals regardless of whether they choose to market their products as organic, grass fed or conventionally grown.

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I raise my children on a diverse farm where financial markets and long term goals of sustainability dictate the types of products that are grown.   The dedication to responsible food production is steadfast even as the ebb and flow of markets and natural resources dictate changes in farming methods.

My commitment to quality and responsibility at the feed yard where we raise conventional beef mirrors that same promise of quality that my favorite farmer makes to his crop farm where he grows both organic and conventionally raised animal feed. We are the same two people, yet we grow a diversity of food products in order to ensure that our farm is sustainable and prosperous over the long run.

Every product that leaves our farm is responsibly raised regardless of the label that it holds.

I believe in transparency in food production. That is the reason that I blog. I also believe that every American has a responsibility to look to farmers for the truth regarding where their food comes from. This conversation needs to be based on trust and respect, leaving out special interest groups that stand to gain by putting others down.

Finally, I believe that all farmers need to respect diversity in food production systems, recognizing that food can be responsibly raised using a vast array of management systems. Organic, grass fed, and conventionally raised food can all exist in harmony in order to give consumers the right to food choices.

 I choose to have faith in the United State’s food supply.

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I don’t eat at Chipotle…

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Filed under CAFO, Farming

The EPA, WOTUS, and the Myth of Environmental Protection…

My favorite teenager arrived home last week after spending three weeks at Trinity University taking a course entitled “Myths and Legends”. As she walked out of the airport, she was quick to tell me that a myth “didn’t have to be based on the truth or science to be real, it simply had to be accepted as such by a subset of people.”

Her words have filtered through my thoughts many times over the past few days as I pondered the recent actions of the Environmental Protection Agency. On March 25th, the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers jointly proposed a regulation redefining what waters will come under Federal jurisdiction through a new definition of “Waters of the United States (WOTUS)” under the federal Clean Water Act.

The agencies have chosen to use the powers of the Executive Branch of government to redefine an already existing law, despite the fact that Congress refused to authorize a legislative change and the proposed rule goes against the definition of WOTUS upheld in the Federal Court system. A basic understanding of United States history would pull into question this action as it is a clear violation of the Checks and Balances System upon which our government was formed.

The proposed rule is a clear overreach of power by the Executive Branch of the United States government, cleverly disguised as environmental protection.

Our farm is diversified:  in addition to the cattle feed yard, we also have grass pasture land and crop ground.  This new definition would expand EPA's jurisdiction to include our pasture and farm ground...

Our farm is diversified: in addition to the cattle feed yard, we also have grass pasture land and crop ground. This new broad definition would expand EPA’s jurisdiction to include pasture and farm ground like ours (pictured above) because during times of heavy rains/flooding parts of this land are under water…

The 88 page document that likely requires legal counsel to fully understand makes many significant changes to expand the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency. Examples of them are as follows:

  • The rule effectively allows for federal jurisdiction over any and all water as the word “navigable” will be eliminated from the Clean Water Act. This means that ditches, ephemeral streams, rain water puddles or low areas of pasture or farm ground, as well as storm water conveyances in urban/municipal areas are now able to be regulated by the EPA. As such, federal permits may be required for “normal” practices both on farms and in the cities.
  • The rule usurps the jurisdiction of ground water protection from state agencies because the EPA and Army Corps fail to distinguish “shallow subsurface flow” from “groundwater” thereby opening it up for federal regulation.

    As part of my Nebraska State Operating Permit from the NE Dept. Of Environmental Quality, I test the ground water under my feed yard twice a year to ensure that there is no contamination.  Ground water protection has historically been regulated by state agencies...

    As part of my Nebraska State Operating Permit from the NE Dept. Of Environmental Quality, I test the ground water under my feed yard twice a year to ensure that there is no contamination. Ground water protection has historically been regulated by state regulatory agencies…

Additionally, an “interpretive rule” that was published alongside the proposed definition by the same federal agencies devastates the collaborative relationship that farmers and ranchers have built with the Natural Resources Conversation Services (NRCS) by turning the NRCS into an arm of the EPA and converting the NRCS scientists from professional consultants/resources into EPA regulators.

Together, these rules make the EPA the land-use planning agency for the entire country.

As a CAFO, my cattle farm is already under the jurisdiction of the EPA as the farm has held an NPDES permit through the agency for more than 20 years.

As a CAFO, my cattle feed yard has held an EPA–NPDES permit for more than 20 years.  Therefore, the feed yard part of our farm was already regulated by both the EPA and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality prior to this rule change…

I have had one direct exposure to the Environmental Protection Agency in my 17 year tenure on the farm, and it was clearly the worst single episode of my professional career. With no notice, two EPA agents arrived to perform a “routine inspection” despite the fact that my state regulatory agency normally performed this task.  They entered my office flashing badges and instructing me that I would go to jail if I did not cooperate with them.  Quite frankly, they treated me like I was guilty of a crime despite the fact that I was both innocent and fully cooperative.

As we toured the feed yard, there was a complete lack of civility in their demeanor augmented by an apparent ignorance of how my farm operated.  One of the agents stated “I’ve never been this close to a cow before” and mistook the dirt mounds of my cattle pens for manure.  They were clearly well versed in the words that appeared on my NPDES permit, but failed to have the basic knowledge of a feed yard in order to understand how those words were practically implemented to protect the environment.

Years later, as I have analyzed this experience as well as the continual political power-play in Washington DC, I have come to realize that sometimes the goal isn’t necessarily effective environmental protection, but rather a myth based power play perpetuated by a vocal minority to increase federal government control over the American people.

familypictureblkwhite.jpgI worry that it isn’t about the environment. Rather, it is about continually expanding federal government control into the grassroots areas of our country.

Preserving our Natural Resources is such an important task — Each one of us yearns to enjoy in our beautiful legacy.  Let’s work together responsibly to protect the Earth.  It is too much of a treasure to be used in political games.  The EPA and the Army Corps need to Ditch this Rule as it belittles the cornerstones of our country to egregiously expand federal government powers under the myth of environmental protection.

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, Farming, General

A Heavy Mind Filled with Heavy Issues…

While Mother Nature likely provides my biggest challenges at the feed yard, there exist a handful of other heavy issues that bring me frustration and pause as I manage my farm.  The past week or so, my mind has been filled with two of these issues as I debated the best way to write about them.

My dad always taught me to think before I spoke.  As a child, I remember him carefully choosing his words before he shared them.  As an adult, I now think of him and draw upon that example as I prepare to share with each of you.  My daughters will attest to the fact that “Mama always has an opinion”, but I am constantly assessing those opinions to further define my stance when I struggle with contentious issues.

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I had a plan to dedicate the next couple of weeks to two topics that both challenge and upset me in my journey as a farmer:

1. Combative and intrusive federal government regulation (as demonstrated recently by the Environmental Protection Agency).

2. Fear based marketing strategies (carried out by companies such as Chipotle).

I have dedicated time to researching the topics and rolled ideas around in my head periodically for days.  But today, I have to ask each of you to be patient with me as I am not yet at a place to share many written words on the topics.  Despite not being ready to publish a detailed blog on each of the above topics, I do want to share a couple initial thoughts as well as issue a promise that I will address them in further detail as soon as my brain finishes processing them…

  • America works when everyone works — preferably in a collaborative nature blending our goals and perspectives to make our country a better place.  A federal government who gains strength through bullying tactics both defies the Constitution and inhibits its’ citizens ability to prosper.
  • There is nothing more powerful to share than the truth — There is nothing more valuable than looking at the facts in order to make an educated decision.  Companies that market and increase value for their own products by creating unmerited fear and guilt in their customers take away from each American’s personal freedom of choice.

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This Friday, we celebrate Independence Day.  As we gather amongst friends and family to celebrate our past and provide hope for the future, let us all remember what makes our country strong —

Each individual American freely working with pride and integrity…

 

 

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Random Thoughts From the Farm…

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind at the Feed Yard Foodie Farm.  Nebraska enjoys 17 hours of daylight each day during the month of June, but the days still do not seem long enough to get everything finished…

In light of the organized chaos that has permeated our routine recently, I thought that I would share some random thoughts from the farm:

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1. I took two different groups of fall born calves to our grass pasture to graze for the summer months.  They are belly deep in grass and are likely pretty close to being in bovine heaven.

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2. The Feed Yard had a Progressive Beef internal audit conducted by the Quality Assurance Director of the Beef Marketing Group.  Heather does a great job of keeping all of us on our toes.  The feed yard scored very well on the audit solidly qualifying for the Excellent Category getting 230.5 out of 232.5 points.

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3. My favorite teenager went south to Texas for a three week nerd camp through the Duke University TIP program.  She will spend her time taking a concentrated class on Myths and Legends (Greek, Roman, and Norse Mythology as well as Native American Legends) and the role that they play in the development of culture.

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My quarter horse, Dandy, came over to visit his new neighbors…

4. The rest of the family has picked up her chicken chores complete with finishing the chicken run so that the quickly growing birds could move into their new home.

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5. The Cozad Swim Team, which I help to coach and the family all competes for, won the first two swim meets of the season with a strong showing of physical and mental fitness!

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6. Finally, my favorite farmer and I celebrated our 18 wedding anniversary on Sunday.  We stole away for a few hours to water ski that afternoon.  I think that I likely found the only Nebraska farm boy with an incredible talent for water skiing that has ever attended Dartmouth College :)  Needless to say, skiing at the lake on a summer afternoon is one of the many things that we love to do together.

I hope to get into a more regular writing pattern over the next few weeks, but you all will have to bear with me during the swimming season as I spend 10-15 hours a week on the pool deck coaching which wrecks havoc with my blogging schedule!

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In the meantime, we are wishing you and your families fun summer times!

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A Cabbage Named “Moo”…

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Moo is a cabbage that I got for a contest.  I named him “Moo” because I spend a lot of time at my mom’s feed yard.  Sometimes, all I hear at the feed yard is MOO!  The contest is to see who can grow the biggest cabbage.

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At first I put him in a pot because it was too cold to put him in the ground — there was still some snow outside!  This weekend we put Moo in the garden because it was warm enough, and he had grown too big for the pot!

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My friends and I had fun naming our cabbages, and playing pretend with them.  I also learned how to take care of him by watering him often and making sure that he had sun light and good soil — fertilized by Moo Poo :) !

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My mom is looking forward to making homemade Runzas when Moo is mature.  My sisters are not because they don’t think that they like cabbage.  I hope that Moo grows really really big so that they have to eat a lot of it!

Blog Post and Moo brought to you by: Karyn :)

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