Category Archives: General

Dear Beautiful Woman…

Megan is my sunshine — a stubborn pragmatist steeped with compassionate empathy…

My favorite blonde cowgirl celebrates her 14th  birthday today.  In honor of her special day, I would like to share a letter that she wrote to a friend in need last fall.  All of us who are parents can recognize how important it is to teach a balance of confidence and compassion to our kids. This letter demonstrates the struggles of teenage girls while also highlighting the importance of loyal friends who share love and compassion to support each other on the journey.

 Dear Beautiful Woman,

You can be anything you want to be. Aspire to be your greatest form. Take the tools that you are given and make something of yourself. You are so amazing at being you. If the people who are around you actually care, they will stick around no matter how stupid you make yourself look.

Study hard and work for what you want. If I could give you any piece of advice it would be to work your hardest. Nothing has meaning unless it is earned. Good grades are earned through studying hard and learning. If you want that spot on the varsity team, work your butt off to get better. Go to every open gym or practice you can. That’s how you get better. Push yourself to be better than the “you” you were yesterday.

And to that jerk who dumped you last week; that’s his loss. If he doesn’t have the intelligence to see what a great person you are, then let him go. It’s okay to cry but don’t let him leaving change who you are. You are you; boyfriend or not! Your true friends will be there for you (sometimes a little more than you want!). Let them help. Help them. They know how it feels. But most of all: move on!

Stand up for yourself. Tell that brat at the lunch table off. Make your voice heard. Your opinions matter. So let others know that you think for yourself. Words are sometimes more effective than a punch. And tell that boy that starts strange rumors about you that you are not afraid of him. People will respect you for that. Just let your conscience lead you, and don’t go too far.

I believe in you. Believe in yourself. Have confidence in who you are. And please, please, please, do not EVER look to any one else for approval. If you are comfortable in your own skin, roll with it. Be you! Be intelligent, be strong, be humble, be kind.  Relative to the people who are “on your hate list” — What a stupid waste of time. Don’t focus on the negative in people, focus on the positive. You have negatives too. We are all human; we are ALL imperfect.

Put all of these things together and what do you get? A leader. Be one. These things make you an intelligent, compassionate, beautiful person. Encourage others to be one too.

Think about these things. They will make you a better you.

Love,

Megan

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A Lesson In Perspective…

Grandma made the trip from Florida to Nebraska to watch :)

Grandma made the trip from Florida to Nebraska to watch:)

My favorite 16 year old brunette traded her basketball shoes for high heels this winter when she became a member of the 2016 Haymaker Speech Team. Her long-time dream of attending an Ivy League college combined with the intellectual nature that she inherited from her mildly nerdy parents led her to the path of public speaking. She began the season as a novice participator and ended it as a varsity competitor at the Nebraska Class B State Meet on Wednesday.

Ashley Grace qualified for state in the Extemporaneous Speaking category. An incredibly unique event, Extemporaneous Speaking involves drawing a topic from a large pool of both global and domestic current events to create a 5-7 minute speech citing specific news resources to support the oratory content. Each competitor has 1 hour to write and prepare the speech before presenting it to a judge/judges. Every meet involves the entrants competing in 2-3 rounds (2 preliminary, 1 final) drawing different topics for each round.

I have to admit that I nudged my favorite brunette toward this topic because I recognized the invaluable life skills that it would help her to develop. Learning to intelligently convey your thoughts in an effective, organized, and interesting manner ranks at the top of Anne’s list of life skills. Being able to do it publically in front of a judge, under the pressure of time constraints, is nothing short of awesome. I watched my daughter evolve from a nervous and unconfident competitor to a poised, thought provoking, and eloquent speaker over the span of four months.

While the season far surpassed any expectation that I had as a parent, it ended in a sea of frustration for my daughter. After winning the first round at the state meet, she delivered what I believed to be the best speech of her career in the 2nd round. Her seven minute oratory on necessary changes within the Republican Party leadership in order to rein in fringe candidates was clever, organized, and beautifully presented. Unfortunately, the judge did not agree with her interpretation of the topic question and, as a result, scored her so harshly that she fell short of qualifying for finals.

The experience provided an interesting lesson in perspective…

One could argue that a differing personal interpretation of an open ended question should not result in such a punitive score reduction. This action ultimately denied her an opportunity to compete in the finals, but I think that perhaps the lesson is much larger than placing at the Nebraska State Speech meet. The lesson did not appear in the lost medal; rather, it originated in the season long acquisition of a valuable public speaking skill and culminated in the realization that the same words on a paper can mean different things to different people.

It is hard for many of us to recognize that perspective colors interpretation; but that is a reality. Neither the judge nor my daughter were wrong on Wednesday, they simply interpreted words differently as a result of having unique perspectives. I cannot begin to count the times in my ag-vocating journey where this has occurred. Perhaps one of my most valuable acquired life skills came from the realization that the blending of eclectic perspectives leads to learning and personal growth. The first step in this process is accepting that words and views can be meaningfully interpreted from multiple angles.

I am incredibly proud of Ashley Grace – the poise that she displayed this week as well as the hard work that went into her public speaking transformation warms my heart. While it may take a few days for her to let go of the disappointment of the lost medal, I am confident that she will ultimately realize that that the true prize exists in a broadened perspective and the maturity that comes from being able to look at the world from a variety of angles.

My favorite farmer fervently wishes that the leaders of our National Republican Party could have listened to the words of her speech – perhaps then our country would be able to climb out of its current political quagmire😉

 

 

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Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., Family, General

It’s Just Money…

DSC03742A couple of really smart people told me at the beginning of my blogging journey to never write or talk about money when visiting with people outside of agriculture. The subject is difficult to navigate and often results in negative exchanges.  After following this advice for more than four years, last week I deviated and addressed the topic in the middle of a presentation at a local university.

The University of Nebraska @ Kearney offers classes for retired Nebraskans looking to expand their knowledge. For the past two years, I have presented in a class that teaches about agriculture. This group of “students” provides a truly unique audience as many of them are retired college professors who possess incredibly curious minds and no inhibitions relative to asking questions.

After a 45 minute exchange with the class, I prepared to close my talk when an older gentleman sitting in the third row caught my eye as he raised his hand with a question. He had read an article talking about the commodity markets, in particular the negative margins experienced recently in the cattle feeding business. He asked me how I protected my farm financially so that I could make a consistent profit.

My simple answer, “That is an impossible task”, led to an interesting array of facial expressions across the audience. Another hand immediately went up as the audience started to ask more questions about profit, loss, and farmers’ financial sustainability.   I thought briefly of the advice from my beef advocating mentors , but decided to go with my gut feeling and answer the flurry of questions.

We talked of the recent economic crisis plaguing beef farmers, the need for better risk management tools for farmers, and the importance of diversity in agriculture as a basic protection tool for long term sustainability. One of the hardest lessons that I have learned in my 19 years of caring for cattle is that regardless of the quality of both my animal care and the quality of the beef that my animals produce, I am ultimately at the mercy of the market relative to making a profit.

My favorite farmer’s grandfather learned many, many years ago to not put all of his eggs in one basket. For that reason, our farm grows a variety of products (corn, cattle, alfalfa, and soybeans) to sell into a variety of markets (traditionally grown as well as organic niche sales). This helps to protect us against experiencing paralyzing losses when market volatility strikes. We also follow the old fashioned adage: save when the years are good so that it is possible to sustain in the years that are bad.

The latest issue of Drover’s Magazine reports that feeding cattle in 2015 resulted in an economic crisis where United States farmers lost a total of $4.7 billion dollars over the 12 month period. The Feed Yard Foodie farm was not immune to this industry wide catastrophe, and the cattle portion of our farm has sustained significant losses since April of 2015. While this has been psychologically difficult for me, our farm business is solid enough that we are persevering in the long run.

When the class finally broke for the day, a woman from the audience came over and put her arm around me. I was truly humbled when she said, “I had no idea that farmers ever lost money. I will pray for you and your family because what you do is important and now I understand just how hard it is.”

I learned an important lesson that afternoon – sometimes compassion and vulnerability trump pride, and the truth is often the very best answer.  I do not even know that very special lady’s name, but I will remember her face and her kind words for the rest of my life.  Her compassion serves as a reminder that it is okay to be human, and that at the end of the day it’s just money

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Filed under Foodie Work!, General

Metrics and Antibiotics…

My favorite blonde cowgirl writes an inspirational quote each week on the white board on the office wall. This white board primarily serves as an organizational tool for us at the feed yard listing the upcoming cattle schedule, but over the years my crew has also learned to look to it for Megan’s Weekly Inspirational Message. I love to watch what she comes up with for her weekly mantra – it is an awesome way for me to see my parenting lessons come back through the eyes of my teenage daughter.MetricsMeg.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, Megan shared a quote from Galileo Galilei that voices one of the most important lessons that I have learned running a farm: Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. I cannot improve what I cannot measure, so metrics provide the basis as I strive to get better each and every day.

Almost five months have passed since I wrote the Subway post that garnered half a million reads in a matter of days. In light of the continuing conversation regarding antibiotic use in food animals, I want to take a moment to share how I continually work to reduce the antibiotic footprint of my farm.

Metrics (a system of measuring) provide the key…

When I first began trying to reduce antibiotic use at the feed yard more than a decade ago, I realized that I needed to understand — the what, the when, the why and the how much – I needed to establish a benchmark set of metrics to determine our current use, and then use those numbers to brainstorm and search for ways to reduce them.

The metrics enabled me to see patterns of use and work to develop new management practices in my search for reduction.  Some of these include:

  • I implemented a holistic system of low stress cattle care.
  • I began tracing my animals from birth to harvest – working directly with the ranchers that provided me with cattle in a system of vertical collaboration. This increased teamwork enabled us to more effectively consult with our veterinarians. Together, we did additional research on vaccine health history in order to make changes that better protect our animals against disease.
  • I consulted with my ruminant nutritionist looking for the best feed combinations to create a nutrient rich and appropriate diet for my animals while also efficiently making use of the feed resources that my favorite farmer grows.
  • My crew and I tenaciously worked toward a daily animal care system that consistently and optimally provides for our animals’ needs.

Metriccalf2.jpgThese sound like simple and easy steps, but the beef chain is so complex that it has taken me most of a decade to create a cross-production system that meaningfully reduces the amount of antibiotics used on my farm. Today, the number of animals that get sick on our farm and have to be treated with an antibiotic is less than half of what it was a decade ago. I reported in the Subway post that my yearly treatment rate for August 2014-July 2015 was 7.8%.

Metrics for the seven months since then show another downward trend from 7.8% to 5.54%. I am especially proud of that trend given the recent environmental stress of winter storm Kayla. We tend to have the highest rate of sickness in the late fall and winter, so I am looking forward to seeing the 12 month number next summer. In addition to lowering the number of sick animals on my farm, our death loss currently sits at only 0.54%.

Looking critically at my farm — the way we source our animals as well as the type and quality of care that we give them — I can continually put the pieces of the puzzle together in modified ways in order to accomplish my ultimate goal.

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As notated by the wise words of Galileo Galilei, measuring provides the key to improvement. I love it that Megan has learned the need to quantify in order to improve.   Good cattle care requires both brains and brawn:)

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Antibiotics, General

Bringing the Story of Agriculture to 3rd Grade Students In Omaha…

Our family volunteers with the Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom program. This is an ongoing effort to pair farm families with inner city elementary students so that the kids can learn a little bit about “where their food comes from”. I love this concept and have participated in the program for many years.   This year, my favorite 16 year old brunette took over the pen pal letter writing responsibilities of our family’s involvement in the program.AGCattlePasture.jpg

Ashley Grace has spent the school year writing personal letters back and forth with each of the students in our assigned class. I think that she likely looks forward to receiving the letters from our 3rd graders just as much as they enjoy her replies. It is amazing what the kids ask, and the ongoing interaction is incredibly rewarding for all those involved. Quite simply, it is a win-win scenario.

We traveled to Omaha yesterday to visit our pen pal class. My public speaking, speech loving, letter writing teenager put together a power point presentation full of pictures and led the class in a discussion about our farm and how we grow food. We also brought a sample of my favorite farmer’s alfalfa dehy pellets and one of the casseroles that we feed our cattle.

The majority of these kids have never been west of Omaha, and only one boy in our class remembered ever seeing a corn field. Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that kids in Nebraska (The Cornhusker State) have such little interaction with farming. But, the excitement and positive energy of the kids toward learning about our farm is truly awesome.

Here are a handful of questions that the kids asked:

  1. “Do you name your cattle? Does it hurt when you put the ear tag in their ear?” Earlier in the year, we had given each of the kids an ear tag and explained the number system that we use to trace our animals from birth to harvest, so this was a great time to talk about it again. Ashley Grace also talked about the fact that cattle do not have a large number of nerves in their ears so it really does not hurt very much when the ear tag is put in. She likened it to the kids getting their ears pierced which seemed to resonate well.
  2. “Have you ever fallen off of your horse?” Ashley Grace and Karyn were able to tell the story of when they both were riding my horse Dandy bareback (they were age 5 and 10) when he sidestepped and spooked and they fell off into the grass.
  3. We had a long discussion on how much cattle weigh: when they are born, when they leave the ranch where they were born and come to our farm, and when they go to make beef. Karyn weighs about 100# so we were able to use her as a measuring stick:)
  4. At the end one little girl asked,”Isn’t it sad that they have to die so that we can eat their meat?” I told her that our animals give us a great gift when they die. We had a really neat discussion after this about respecting that gift by cleaning our plates and not wasting our food. I was excited to see that many of the kids had obviously talked about food waste at home and had thoughts to share about it.AGClassroom20162.jpg

We were all a little bit sad when it was time for us to leave. The kids pleaded to be able to travel out to our farm, but unfortunately the 3 and ½ hour drive makes this logistically difficult. We promised to send more letters and pictures, and left them to their celebration of Dr. Seuss. I was very proud of Ashley Grace and Karyn – they did a wonderful job teaching and interacting with the kids. It is fun for me to see them learn how to “tell their story”.

If you are a farm family and are interested in participating in the program, you can find more information on this website. The urban classroom demand for “farm families” in Nebraska outnumbers the number of families willing to participate so please think about taking part in the program. It is a phenomenal way to give kids personal contact with their food. Agriculture in the Classroom is a national program so you can likely participate even if you live outside of the Cornhusker State.

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Filed under Family, General

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

Heading For the Hills…

My favorite blondes did not have school last Monday so I had company as I headed north to get feeder cattle near Halsey, Nebraska.  My girls spent many years traversing across Nebraska visiting ranches and getting cattle before they were old enough to be in school.  With my “baby” being a 5th grader, I have made many treks alone since those days.

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The drive from Cozad up to Halsey is a beautiful one full of wildlife and picturesque scenery.  I know that wherever their lives take them, my girls will take those memories of quiet beauty with them.  This vast land where cattle and wildlife greatly outnumber people brings a sense of peace that refills my cup.

As I drive around my farm and then head north to the Sandhills, I always wonder why our urban countrymen worry so much about sustainability.  The healthy ecosystem balance found in out-state Nebraska is readily visible to any passerby, and the farmers and ranchers that tend to the land do so with a blend of natural passion and stubborn pride.

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I think that perhaps many urban folks would feel better about where their beef comes from if they spent a day driving around rural Nebraska.  It might be hard to find the farmer/rancher in all the vastness of the countryside, but his/her hard work and dedication is apparent from the car window view.  If you happen to come across the human caregiver, his/her quiet manner and aloofness will give testimony to the fact that caring for the land is a solitary job.

The trip from Cozad to Halsey takes about 2 hours, and is full of deer, turkey, grouse, ducks, hawks and an occasional eagle in addition to the bovine population.  They all live in harmony with a bit of human help under the influence of Mother Nature.  Just as cattle are known as the great recyclers turning inedible plant products into vitamin rich (and tasty) edible protein, the people that inhabit my beloved adopted countryside share the same dedication to stewardship — wasting little and carefully managing the natural resources found on the land.

A ranch sign just north of Halsey, NE.

A ranch sign just north of Halsey, NE.

Those of us that make rural America home are a small and unique group. Our pride in country is evident.  Our dedication to community shines brightly.  Our responsibility to stewardship drives a life filled with both challenge and fullfillment.

With each day that passes, I am coming to realize that now (more than ever) we need our urban counterparts to take the time to learn about our lives prior to judging the validity and sustainability of both our daily work and our legacy. Beef production is much more than the steak that creates a great tasting eating experience.  It takes care of the land and fuels rural economies, while its farmers bring a steadfast patriotism and a dedicated work ethic that provides a necessary pillar for our country.

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Perhaps it is time to head for the hills to learn about “Where your beef comes from”!  You might be surprised at what you find:)

 

 

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Filed under General, Rural Communities, Sustainable Spring

It All Started With a Beer…

Frankie Ballard has a new song out on the country music charts entitled, “It all started with a beer”.  There is something innately human about the song that really speaks to me.  The truth in the words of the melody pull at my heart and serve as a good reminder of what real life is all about.

There’s been highs and lows,

Fast lane freeways and bumpy roads
Cursed the devil and prayed to heaven,

Lost it all and we rolled some sevens
Been some smiles then there’s been tears,

Been more good than bad years
Ain’t it crazy baby how we got here,

Oh, it all started with a beer

annemattjeans.jpgMatt and I met at Dartmouth College at a party in the fall of 1993.  The life we started together in New Hampshire and then continued on the farm in Nebraska is wrapped up somewhere in the midst of those words coined by Frankie Ballard.  We celebrate 20 years of marriage this June and 19 years on the farm having experienced the joys of love, the trials of farming, and the journey of finding strength in togetherness.

When I look in the mirror today, my eyes do not hold the innocence and optimism of youth.  Instead, they carry the knowledge of life — the highs and lows, fast lane freeways and bumpy roads — the recognition that tackling challenges is just part of living.  Understanding that, perhaps, the tears and frustrations that come during the lows actually lead to a broader perspective allowing for a fuller life experience.

There is no doubt that the optimistic Ivy League graduate with stars in her eyes that landed in the heart of the Nebraska plains really had no idea of the journey ahead.  Sometimes it is hard to remember the girl who showed up at the feed yard that first day shaking with nerves, but determined to learn.  The years blur together, but adaptation is a curious process and I have (from time to time) both cursed the devil and prayed to heaven. 

The experiences of creating a family combined with the trials of learning to understand cattle and running a business have instilled me with patience and resilience.  The uphill battle of bringing positive change to an agricultural industry steeped in both testosterone and tradition taught me that small periods of failure often precede a roll of sevens.annemattjeanskiss.jpg

Through the decades, my favorite farmer has shared both my smiles and my tears quietly supporting me so that I would have more good than bad years.  His faith in me never waivers and the love that we have nurtured on the journey humbles me.  On this Valentine’s Day, it seems quite hard to believe that

It all started with a beer

 

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Filed under Family, General