Category Archives: Farming

My Story…

We all have a story.

A chronicle of our individual lives or even a moment in time that helped to determine what makes us “unique”.  Because each of us plays a vital role in the success of our families, our communities, and our country; each story carries a meaningful message in this journey we call life.

The above video is my story.  A seven minute glimpse of Anne — the mom, the farmer, the American.  In 2016, many of us spend a significant amount of time studying food: where it comes from and who grows it.  We make a valiant effort to try to understand why is it grown in so many different ways across the United States.

I hope that my story will provide meaningful insight and transparency relative to farming and food production.  It a story of love, pride, hard work, and technology — that is what allows our farm to be successful.  Matt and I began our work as farmers 19 years ago.  We spend each day committed to each other, and working side by side to continuously improve the way that we grow food.

Please take a few minutes to watch my story.  Please take another minute to share it so that others can get a glimpse of life at a feed yard — a segment of beef farming that is often misunderstood.

The next few blog posts will talk specifically about my partners in the beef production cycle: from the ranchers that provide care for our cattle during the first year of their lives all the way to my brand partners that bring our beef to your dinner table.

Together, we will get a better sense of where your beef comes from!

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Filed under General, CAFO, Animal Welfare, Family, Cattle Handling Videos starring Feed Yard Foodie!, Farming, Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail

Celebrating FFA…

The reality of our future rests in the hands of our youth.  The success of our country, our food supply, and our sustainability will be shaped by their contributions.  Last week was National FFA week, and I received a request from an Indiana FFA officer asking me to place her “guest blog” on Feed Yard Foodie in celebration of the next generation of farmers.  It is an honor for me to do that.  I hope that each of you enjoys Annalee’s thoughts and will share support for her in the comment section:)

The 2016 National FFA Officer Team: Annalee is the middle young woman...

The 2016 Indiana FFA Officer Team: Annalee is the middle young woman…

As Indiana FFA State Officers, my team and I have gone through many trainings. We learn about facilitating conferences, working with sponsors, and working together as a team. However, you might be surprised to know the most valuable training we have experienced this year was training on how to tell stories.

Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal.

For thousands of years, humans have been passing stories on to one another—stories of wisdom and failure, of heroes and villains. Why are stories so effective? Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have found that stories stimulate different parts of the brain at the same time. When a story is being told our brains track each aspect of that story. We literally immerse ourselves in the world created by the storyteller by creating the setting, characters, and sensations in our own minds.

I find this information very interesting, especially for people involved in the agriculture industry. Oftentimes, the agriculture industry is on the defensive. We have to defend our practices, motives, and ethics constantly. The main thing we like to share in this defense is factual information—statistics, studies, and surveys. We hurl fact after fact at the American consumer; hoping, eventually, they will catch the information and absorb it. In the mean-time, the opposition goes straight for the emotional jugular, sharing erroneous stories of abuse in slaughterhouses and poisonous chemicals being leaked into our water supply.

I don’t believe this battle can be fought with facts alone. Agriculturalists must utilize the power of the story.

  • Our stories show our values.
  • Our stories show we are human.

Oftentimes, we are told to take the conversation as far away from the emotional side as possible. Why can’t we mix the emotional with the factual? If they hear your story first, people will be more likely to accept your facts. In this Age of Information, anyone can access the facts in seconds. The sheer amount of data available is astounding, but it’s also incredibly overwhelming.

In this sea of information, the only thing floating is stories. So get out there, and share your story. It’s easier than ever. We have so many mediums to communicate through—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat. Type out your story and post it. Don’t have any of those things? Talking is great too. Talk to people everywhere you go—the grocery store, the mall, at work, at family reunions. You may think your story alone won’t make a difference, but it will.

We all love a good story. It’s in our DNA. We have an innate need to share our experiences with others. This is what makes us human. It’s not something we should run away from, but embrace. During National FFA Week and for the rest of our lives, my teammates and I will be telling the story of agriculture and FFA.

What story will you tell?

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Filed under Farming, Foodie Work!, General

When They Become Useful…

The day that your children shift from needy to useful provides a pivotal moment on the parenting journey. I remember the first time that my girls made dinner for the family. It not only brought me a sigh of relief after a long day, but also a tremendous amount of pride when I tasted how good it was!

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For several years now, my girls have played key roles in many household chores: washing both clothes and dishes, cooking, taking care of the cats, dog, horses, and chickens, and mowing the grass. Quite honestly, these days I wouldn’t get through the summer without their help.

While it takes a bit of time initially to help them learn how to do a task (and a bit of time after that to periodically remind them of their responsibilities), I think that playing an active role in the chore brigade teaches both important skills and a teamwork mentality.

When farming is your profession, the lines between family and work are blurred. All three of my girls spent large amounts of time tagging along after both Matt and I before they started school. Weekends and summers led the way to continued involvement after they got older. Many dinner time discussions at the Feed Yard Foodie residence revolve around the farm, and my favorite farmer and I have made a concerted effort to keep the girls involved.

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This summer my favorite sarcastic teenager and my favorite blonde cowgirl will both play key roles on the farm – Ashley Grace in the office and Megan out at the feed yard. Their personalities allow them to share their strengths by helping the farm in difference capacities. Their tired Mama loves this new transition from needy to useful!

While there are many risks as well as unrelenting responsibilities involved with owning your own farm, being able to share it with your children is one of the redeeming perks. While time will tell if any of our girls decides to build their own professional careers on the farm, at least they will spend their formative years developing useful skills:)

I am certainly looking forward to sharing my summer as well as some of my responsibilities with them!

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Filed under Family, Farming

Monkey In the Middle…

As a kid, I played Monkey In the Middle with my older brother and his friends. They delighted in throwing the ball far above my head making the likelihood of me catching it microscopic in nature. Every once in a while, I outsmarted them and snagged the ball which earned me temporary bragging rights — but mostly it left me frustrated and unequipped for success.

The buzz word sustainability often takes me metaphorically back to that childhood game.  The word itself encompasses such a broad range of ideas and topics that it becomes difficult to tie it down into meaningful bullet points for action.  The politics surrounding the word also exacerbate the inherent complexities as large corporate businesses, NGO’s, and politicians bat the word back and forth in an effort to prove to Americans that they are engaged in the conversation.

Without a doubt — the sustainability of our country, our culture and our planet is vital to both our present and our future.  Effectively learning from the past, changing our actions in the present, and teaching our children how to protect for the future helps to ensure our livelihood.  There is no easy or simple answer to the challenge of creating something meaningful and sustainable.  It takes both a grass roots understanding of the challenges as well as dedication on the part of each individual to work toward positive action.

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Sustainability is not a headline — it is not a marketing label — it is not piece of legislation — it does not appear magically at the end of a rainbow… 

Sustainability is a team effort — One that effects each and every one of us in multiple ways. 

I spent a large amount of time this winter covering the topics that I believe are vital to the sustainability of our future:

  • Identifying and reducing food waste
  • Getting balanced and meaningful science back into both the education and the research on nutrition
  • Realizing that good personal health comes from a diversely balanced diet teamed with appropriate levels of exercise
  • Understanding that responsibly growing food animals is a complex challenge that includes a dedication to environmental stewardship and quality animal welfare.

    They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious.  They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home...

    They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious. They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home because they trust me as a caregiver.

There is one component of sustainability that is often not voiced. 

It is trust. 

I am deeply saddened at the lack of trust and faith that Americans have in farmers.  From the individual American — to the large corporate grocery store– to the philosophical intellectual foodie — to the NGO — to the government — In the last twenty years, our country has collectively abandoned support for the people that grow food.  Instead of building appreciation and goodwill; a plentiful, diverse and safe food supply has rendered the American people unsatisfied, distrustful, and accusatory.

Sustainability is not possible without nourishment. 

Widespread nourishment disappears when the American Farmer decides to only feed his/her own family and leave the profession of agriculture behind.  There will come a point when those of us who work to feed the world will decide that it really just isn’t worth the pain when the only thing that you get in return is the ability to wear the monkey hat.

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Do you value the farmer who feeds you? Please take the time to request that farmers be included in the sustainability discussion.

*If you missed the winter blog posts on this subject, some of them are chronicled according to topic below.

Food Waste:

A Student Of Life

Food Waste We All Play a Role 

Food Waste, Sustainability and the Journey of Continuous Improvement

The Love Food Friday spring series offering food waste elimination tips from Chef Chris Giegel.

Nutrition:

Raising Teenage Daughters Amidst a Sea Of Dietary Confusion

Perhaps It’s Time To Stop Apologizing For Fat

Policy Does Not Equal Science

My Comment Letter To Secretary Burwell and Secretary Vilsack Regarding the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

Fitness Foodies

Environmental and Animal Welfare:

When Your Husband Needs You For Your Manure

Good Timing

Answering Questions: Responding To a Recent Comment

Trust But Verify

How Do You Know When a Group Of Calves Are Acclimated?

Reviewing the Topic Of Antibiotics

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., 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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Filed under CAFO, Farming, General

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.

annemattbeef1

I don’t eat at Chipotle…

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Filed under CAFO, Farming