Category Archives: General

Busy Times…

Over the past two weeks, I have failed at blogging.  The days passed in a hurry and my tired voice found little strength to share.  Thus, I put Feed Yard Foodie aside, pausing to put my thoughts together and hopefully find inspiration.

I plan to spend the rest of the summer figuring out the future of Feed Yard Foodie — whether to continue as it has been, modify it going into the future, or retire from social media for a indefinite period of time.  After 4 and a half years, I think that it is time to reassess and figure out a vision for the future.  I am open to all of your thoughts, so please feel free to share your opinions regarding the blog site in the comment section below.

In the meantime, I figured that I would update you all on the happenings of the farm.  About ten days ago, the feed yard had its annual third party audit.  June and July are also filled with maintenance work, and my guys taking turns being on vacation.  When you have a “4 man crew”, it is always a bit hectic when you run short on help.  My blonde cowgirl has stepped up to help fill in the gaps, and I have been glad to have her smiling face around.

Here are a few family tidbits from the last few weeks:

Our family adopted a student from Spain for the summer.  Carlos arrived just over a week ago.  My mom lived with his grandmother’s family in Spain more than 50 years ago, and our families have gone back and forth across the ocean visiting periodically for more than half a century.  My favorite farmer is very excited to have a boy living in the house and we look forward to the next month that he will share with us!

In addition to working on improving his English, Carlos has already learned to water ski and also been introduced to various farm chores :)

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The end of June brings the harvesting of prairie hay to the Feed Yard Foodie farm.  Some of this hay is baled in large round bales to be fed to our cattle, and some is put up in small (60#) square bales to be fed to both our cattle and horses. The small square bales require some good old fashioned labor to transport them to the barn where they are stored.  I always view this as a great project for the kids to help with — They likely disagree, but I see it as a character building experience.  My favorite farmer still slings small squares like a teenager.  He commented after we finished the project that even though the girls are bigger than me, that I still unload and stack bales faster and better than they do.  I guess that means that I am not finished parenting them yet :)

Good life lessons are often taught amidst a robust session of manual labor...

Good life lessons are often taught amidst a robust session of manual labor…

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June also brings on the main season for the Haymaker Swim Team.  I am proud to report that our team finished the regular season with an undefeated record!  Over the next three weeks, we will head to the Qualifying Meet and ultimately the Championship Meet the third weekend in July.  I have a great group of swimmers this year and we are well positioned for some awesome performances in the latter part of the season.  In addition to coaching, this year I am competing in the 19 and Over age group to celebrate my 40th birthday — I suppose that this is my “mid-life crisis”.  Thankfully, my body still remembers how to compete in the pool :)

This picture was taken about a month ago -- since then, my favorite 10 year old has passed me by and I am now the shortest two-legged member of the household!

This picture was taken about a month ago — since then, my favorite 10 year old has passed me by and I am now the shortest two-legged member of the household!

I hope that this summer finds you all making great memories.  Happy 4th of July to each and everyone of you!

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Filed under Family, General

Seeing In Pictures…

If you have read one of Dr. Temple Grandin’s books or seen her movie, you will remember hearing that cattle see in pictures. What this means is that cattle view the world as a collection of images. They are not linear thinkers – rather, they live in the visual moment. Good cattle caregivers understand what it means to see in pictures because they spend their days doing just that in order to effectively communicate with their animals.

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session...

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session…

I believe that when asking cattle to move from one place to another, the handler not only needs to see in pictures, but also to envision angles within the images. Moving cattle calmly and correctly necessitates applying appropriate pressure from the appropriate angle to instigate orderly movement. Depending on the personalities of the animals as well as their past interactions with human handlers, this angled pressure can range from incredibly soft to strong in nature. Regardless of the level of life involved in the pressure, it is the release of that pressure when the animal or group of animals responds correctly that creates a healthy animal/handler learning moment.

There are two kinds of bovine movement: a frantic flight/fight response that is fueled by fear, and a deliberate thinking response that comes from an effective interaction. The goal is to accomplish the latter, and it always makes me smile when I am savvy enough to enable a calf to think. At that moment, harmony exists as the right thing becomes the easy thing.

While this short video is several years old, in it my favorite blonde cowgirl does a nice job of showing appropriate and angled pressure as she asks a group of yearling cattle to exit the home pen. In order to effectively communicate with this group of animals, Megan has to see the pen through the same lens as the cattle and then interact with them in a meaningful way. One of Megan’s greatest strengths as a cattle handler is her ability to see in pictures and accurately read and respond to cattle behavior. This sense allows her to respond with the appropriate level of urgency to each interaction.

In some ways, I think that it is easier for a child to develop this sense. Their unbiased perspective and simplistic view of the world enables them to more easily shift from “human thinking” to “bovine thinking”. Once a young person develops the attentive focus needed to interact, her/his brain is unencumbered and more open to a natural interaction.

It's always a good thing when the cattle handler wears a smile!

It’s always a good thing when the cattle handler wears a smile!

I am not a natural visual thinker and my linear tendencies sometimes challenge my cattle handling skills; but I recognize the importance of thinking like a bovine. Over the years, I have consciously re-programed my brain to view cattle and their surroundings in pictures. Moving cattle out of the home pen and down the alley becomes a series of images and angles that flash through my mind amidst the rapid fire pictures of cattle expression and behavior that combines to determine my actions as the handler. It takes a clear mind and a keen focus, but provides an incredibly interesting journey…

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My favorite farmer read this post on Sunday afternoon and informed me that it was “marked by nerdiness” — I hope that someone other than Megan finds it interesting :)

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General

4 Wheel Drive…

When my favorite blonde cowgirl was about a year old, her Granddaddy nick-named her “4 Wheel Drive”. Her smiling antics combined with an incredible natural sense of balance and lack of fear put a distinct twinkle in his eye. In the years that followed, it warmed my heart to watch them together: wading through trout streams, rock climbing along the river and playing with his beloved dogs.July_2006_114[1]

Granddaddy made a valiant effort to keep up with his 4 wheel drive despite the fact that she always seemed to remain a few steps ahead of him, looking over her shoulder with an impish grin. That grin proved to be contagious, and their times together left my dad laughing more than his serious and quiet nature normally allowed.

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Cancer took Granddaddy out of our lives about 18 months ago. I remember a friend telling me shortly after he died that grief would come in stages, eventually settling into acute and distinct moments when his presence would be painfully missed. I had one of those moments on Saturday at the Nebraska State Junior High Championship Track meet.

My favorite blonde cowgirl aka 4 wheel drive decided last winter that she would compete in the Pole Vault her 7th grade track season. My favorite farmer Pole Vaulted during his high school tenure, so it seemed a pretty natural fit. In typical Meg fashion, she embraced the season with that big smile, fearless drive, and quiet determination that warmed her Granddaddy’s heart.

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Her season of 7 regular track meets became augmented with a trip to the state meet. Megan ended the season clearing 8’ — earning 9th place overall, with a love of vaulting and a tremendous acquisition of new skills due to a talented young coach.

Every time that I watch her sail over the bar, I think of my dad and his 4 wheel drive. My heart hurts just a little bit because I know that we will never get to share that moment together. Instead, I have to imagine the twinkle, the big smile, and the victorious celebration whistle. While I am sure that the bleachers in heaven offer a great view, it just isn’t the same.

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I grieve for myself, and for my blonde cowgirl who may never fully understand how proud her granddaddy would be. The focus, determination, and strength that are required for the Pole Vault epitomize the qualities that my dad held close to his heart. Combining those with Meg’s contagious smile creates a powerful package.

I am certain that each one of us has lost a loved one and finds moments of loss amidst times of great joy. The regret and disappointment that comes from not being able to share is strong. I think that part of the grieving process is learning to accept that a lost loved one’s role in making new memories is different. It requires an added component of faith – a peaceful acceptance that the love, pride, and presence can still be felt albeit in a less tangible way.

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I struggle with this, but I also know that this journey is inevitable — happening regardless of my desires to change the past rather than to look to the future. My pole vaulting blonde cowgirl carries a piece of her Granddaddy with her each and every day.

Perhaps that is part of the reason that she carries a perpetual twinkle in her eye?

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Filed under Family, General

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

Blue Jeans Without Any Bling…

I met my favorite farmer at a Dartmouth College fraternity party more than 22 years ago. No matter how many times they hear it, my daughters love listening to the story.threegirls.jpg

Halloween night the senior football player, wearing devils horns glued to his head, meets the underclassman swimmer. They visit for a few minutes and then the swimmer goes home.

Fast forward three weeks…

The senior football player again meets the underclassman swimmer, same location but without the devils horns. They visit for a few minutes and then the swimmer goes home (early morning swimming practice generally motivated good behavior).

The next week…

The senior football player walks around the underclassman’s dorm looking for her (having only her first name and the knowledge that she was on the swim team to go on). Fate was on his side, and her door was decorated with swimming spirit signs for the season opening meet against Brown. He had found her! But, his luck fell short, his swimmer wasn’t home.

The next week…

The senior football player figures out the underclassman swimmer’s phone number (a landline – in the dark period prior to the invention of a cell phone!), calls and asks her out on a date Thanksgiving weekend. Dinner (she orders chicken because it is the cheapest thing on the menu and she worries that a farmer from Nebraska would be short on money), a movie, ice cream —

and, they fell in love.

Anne and Matt0003The part of the story that always brings the most drama from my daughters is the fact that I wore a flannel shirt and blue jeans (with no bling!) on the nights that we met and on our first date. The look of incredulity on my fifteen year old’s face upon learning this fact was truly priceless. This tidbit of information firmly places me on the bottom end of any teenage girl’s fashion scale. Add onto it the fact that I have never really worn any makeup and consider brushing my hair the extent of getting ready to go out – and you can begin to imagine the dramatic noises that might be uttered during the story telling session.

Today, whenever the occasion warrants blue jeans with bling, I simply go to my daughter’s closet and pull out a pair to borrow. Seeing as how I spend most of my days with large bovines that have no concern for fashion, my own work jeans lack the sparkly detail…

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It could be argued that my favorite farmer and I lack bling. We aren’t flashy and ostentatious. The kind of spark that we have comes from a deep love for each other, and a passion for caring for both our farm and our community. While we will likely never been considered sensational, we hope that our contribution is meaningful – that our story gives a glimpse into the lives of the family farmers that grow your food — that our toils produce nourishment for those in need.

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Perhaps, most importantly, amidst the dramatic eye rolling is the learned lesson that real bling doesn’t come from jewels on the back seat of your jeans!

Sustainable agriculture begins with the farmer…

And ends with a customer that trusts and empathizes — no bling included :)

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Filed under Family, General

Love Food Friday Tip #5: Purge the Pantry!

Love Food Friday

ChrisNCBAkitchen

Food Waste Elimination Tip #5: Purge the Pantry!

Chef Christopher Gigiel

Use it so that you don’t lose it!

While you’re getting into that habit of planning meals and menus and organizing your kitchen, be sure to plan one day a week that uses what you have on hand. No matter how well you plan there are always leftovers, and left over groceries that need to be used. I do this regularly in the Culinary Center at NCBA. I often have extra produce on hand and get creative with how I can use it instead of buying more. I look at my canned goods and dry storage and see what I have on hand already and plan something that utilizes those things with a minimum of additional purchases required. And, of course, if you have several kinds of leftovers in the fridge and haven’t frozen them it’s always great for the family to be able to “make what they want” for dinner, and if there’s still some left, freeze it.

Love Food Friday Recipe Share #5: Four-Way Slow Cooker Shredded Beef

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Filed under General, Love Food Friday

My Comment Letter To Secretary Burwell and Secretary Vilsack Regarding the 2015 Dietary Guideline Committee Recommendations…

Dear Secretary Burwell and Secretary Vilsack,

After researching the science of nutrition and the history of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, I write to you as a concerned American and a mother of three girls, as well as a cattle rancher. I have great misgivings with respect to the recommendations of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

While raising teenagers is inarguably a challenge, mentoring my own teenage girls through the “sea of dietary confusion” reminds me distinctly of an Iron Man Competition. The CDC reports that 9% of all girls age 12-19 are iron deficient. In particular, athletic girls require more animal protein which uniquely provides heme-iron to ensure good health. Yet, the recommended 2015 Dietary Guidelines reduce even further the recommended dietary intake of animal protein. The “one size fits all nature” of this approach to diet inaccurately provides for the American people, and the resulting dietary education as well as the lunch nutrition that my girls’ receive in the public school system thereby runs contrary to their needs.

The high carbohydrate/low fat diet that serves as the basis for the U.S. Dietary Guidelines stems from epidemiological work begun by Ancel Keys in the 1960’s. Repeatable clinical trial studies since Dr. Keys’ hypothesis was formed have not provided scientific validation to the proposed merits of the diet. A small number of clinical trials done on middle-aged men provide the only non-epidemiological scientific basis for this dietary recommendation. To date, there is virtually no scientific data supporting this hypothesis as healthy for women or children. Perhaps even more disturbing is the culture created in the nutritional community since the establishment of the first Dietary Goals in 1977. Actions include stymieing other diet hypotheses and scientific trial work that do not match the original Key hypothesis. For instance, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee refused to include the BOLD dietary research study in the reference section of their report thereby enabling them to “selectively choose their science” and further cut the recommendation for red meat.

Good science is both debatable and able to be replicated over time. Unfortunately, in addition to a biased approach to nutritional research, the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee Recommendations also include a further reach outside of documented science and into the realm of philosophy relative to the topic of sustainability. The science of sustainability is in its infancy. Much deeper analysis into topics like food waste and appropriate land use need to be completed before substantial information exists to promote one diet over another in the name of sustainability. Additionally, the topic of sustainability is clearly outside the scope of committee responsibilities.

In closing, I request that both of you do what is best for the American public and take a moment to read the research demonstrating that perhaps the high carbohydrate diet is part of the cause of the dietary ailments of Americans rather than the solution. In the lifetime of the Dietary Guidelines the culture of the American diet has shifted dramatically. According to USDA, the consumption of grains (41%), vegetables (23%) and fruits (13%) rose significantly from 1970-2005 while red meat (-22%), milk (-33%) and eggs (-17%) fell dramatically. Overall carbohydrate intake for Americans rose with low fat starches, and vegetable oil took the place of animal protein and fat in the diet. Animal protein lovers shifted from beef to chicken, and many traded whole fat dairy for skim milk and margarine thereby forsaking nutrition density for lower saturated fat options. All of this occurred during a time in the United States when obesity rates more than doubled (15-32%), the prevalence of heart failure, cancer and stroke all increased, and the rate of diabetes increased from less than 1% to 11%. Clearly, the dietary changes caused by dietary guidelines resulted in an “unhealthier America” as Americans traded protein for sugar.

I ask you to help put the science back in nutrition by:
1.Recognizing that the nutrient requirements of Americans vary according to age and sex thereby rendering a one size fits all approach to diet both ineffective and potentially harmful to women and children.
2.Including diverse animal protein options (including beef and whole fat dairy) as part of a balanced and healthy diet.
3.Encouraging a robust and healthy dietary science community where hypotheses are proven before they are sold as truth, and studies on all hypotheses are universally included in the discussion.
4.Removing all verbiage relative to sustainability from the dietary guidelines as that topic is both outside the realm of the committee as well as lacking the necessary scientific basis to be meaningful.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Anne Burkholder

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Filed under General, Nutrition (cattle and human)

Fitness Foodies…

It is difficult to talk about diet, weight and health without including the topic of physical exercise.  During my dietary guidelines research, I unearthed a statistic that I have pondered over the past few weeks.

USDA data reports that more than 50% of adults in the United States are not physically active. 

While I likely define the words “healthy weight” more loosely than the Obama Administration, I do think that everyone benefits from physical activity.  When we discuss fitness at the Feed Yard Foodie residence, we do not discuss weight — rather — we talk about building muscle, cardiovascular strength, and the ability to be active.  My favorite farmer and I are life-long athletes.

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I devote time to coaching youth athletics because I believe that we need to create a culture of fitness in young Americans.  To build a culture, exposure must start early and it must be fun.  I hope that my volunteering plays a positive role in the lives of the kids that I mentor just as my dedication to fitness is a result of my parents and coaches teaching me to love exercise at a very young age.  Although almost 20 years have passed since I retired from collegiate athletics, I still love a workout.  Apart from making me feel good, being fit allows me to experience better health and a healthy weight.

I’ve heard that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”…

My favorite high school student recently chose to learn to be a Fitness Trainer for a semester project in math/science.  She selected family members as her first “clients”.  Basic kinesiology, benchmark testing, training, and fitness goals permeate family dinner discussions as our favorite trainer leads the current family fitness journey.

Sunday morning found us at the track doing an “Owen’s Circuit”.  I have to admit that when Ashley Grace began my parenthood journey 15+ years ago, no one at the hospital told me that this would be part of the challenge :)  For those of you that are unfamiliar with an Owen’s Circuit (which one could argue is a good thing), it is a series of upper body, core and leg strength exercises intermixed with running repeats on the track.

Crunches...

Crunches…

After 400 yard repeats -- note that the smile on the youngest member of the family's face :)

In between 400 yard repeats — How awesome is the smile on my youngest daughter’s face?!

Rocket jumps...

And, rocket jumps…

100 meter sprints...

Topped off with 100 meter sprints…

And a myriad of other fun things like push ups, burpees, lunges and dips that help you find muscles that you might have forgotten existed!

While the primary focus of this blog post is to provide a bit of “light humor” in the midst of a very serious discussion, I do want to point out the importance of fitness in life’s journey.  Everyone will likely define the word using different difficulty scales (I wouldn’t recommend an Owen Circuit workout to the general public), but the fact remains that being healthy almost always involves some sort of physical activity.  Take your dog for a walk, swim a few laps, play racket ball with your spouse, or have a rousing game of tag with your kids in the front yard.

If our country is going to effectively tackle the problem of obesity and its subsequent health challenges, I believe that it is equally important to learn to love exercise as it is to eat a balanced diet full of protein.  As many things are, the answer is complex and requires personal buy-in to be effective.calendar race

Both diet and fitness are personal choices –As a country, we will make positive change by empowering life choices that can be both fun and healthy. 

This isn’t something that occurs through Dietary Guidelines and regulation, it happens when the American people are motivated to become Fitness Foodies…

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Filed under General, Nutrition (cattle and human)