Category Archives: Sustainable Spring

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.


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.


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.


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 🙂




Filed under General, Rural Communities, Sustainable Spring

Food Waste, Sustainability, and the Journey of Continuous Improvement…

In my never ending search for knowledge, I look to scientists to help me understand complex topics.  While I recognize that as a “layman” I will never completely understand the details, visiting with experts helps me to gain a good general understanding.  This enables me to make educated decisions in my daily life.  One of the best perks of working as a volunteer consultant outside of my farm is the opportunity to meet scientists who work in a myriad of subjects involving beef production.

As a mother of three girls, it is especially fun for me when the scientist is a confident and articulate young woman who holds all of the traits of a great mentor.  Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson spent some time sharing with us last spring explaining the topic of sustainability as it relates to raising beef.  She is back this week visiting with us on the topic of food waste and its role in the journey of continuous improvement.


Anne: What have you done personally in your life to improve your “food waste footprint”?

Kim: Reducing food waste is important to me and my husband. Cooking for two is sometimes challenging due to portion sizes that are available in grocery stores so we get creative with “left-over” recipes, which are becoming more and more popular and are easy to find online. My favorite beef leftover recipe is beefy sweet potato hash for breakfast, on Another thing we do is raise backyard chickens. We have three Rhode Island Reds. We call them the “grandma chickens” because we named them after our grandmothers: Georgia, Carol, and Gaylean. They eat all of our food waste from preparing meals. Just this week I made tacos, so there was waste including stems from cilantro and avocado skins.

Anne: Can you please (as a scientist) speak to the topic of food waste relative to beef sustainability and the life cycle assessment? What role does it play in reducing the footprint of beef?

Kim: Food waste is an area where with small changes we, as society, can make a huge difference in sustainability. Approximately, 30-40% of our food is wasted in the U.S. resulting in a $161 billion dollar loss. The concern for me about food waste is not just monetary – it is environmental, and at a minimum we are wasting 2/3 of our natural resources on food that we waste. That is irresponsible. Beef is wasted much less than other foods, at 20%, but if we could reduce that waste by half we could improve the sustainability of beef production 10%.

Anne: What further research needs to be done relative to the topic of food waste?

Kim: The most pressing issues around food waste are communicating with consumers that it is a concern and teaching everyone ways they can help reduce waste – from backyard chickens that produce eggs, to more frequent trips to the grocery store, to left-over recipes – we all can help reduce food waste, help the planet and save money!

Anne: What further research needs to be done in order to accurately denote beef’s footprint relative to sustainability?

Kim: The science underpinning sustainability is quite new and while there has been tremendous progress made to better understand sustainability – like the beef industry’s comprehensive beef life cycle assessment – there are still a lot of unknowns, especially related to the unintended consequences of food production. For example, life cycle assessments aren’t comprehensive enough to capture the benefits of open space, improved water quality, wildlife habitat, land use change (from pasture to row crop), use of marginal lands for food production, or native grassland health – to name a few– all of which are dependent on the beef industry. In other words, we can’t yet quantify in a sustainability metric the whole food system as it relates to beef.

Kim pictured with

Kim, pictured with Georgia (one of her “grandma chickens”), at her home in Colorado…

I look forward to continuing to follow Kim’s progress as she develops ideas for reducing waste in the beef production system, as well as further determining beef’s environmental footprint…

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Filed under General, Sustainable Spring

A Student of Life…

I gained many great ideas at Dartmouth College, but an intrinsic love of learning provided the most precious lesson. Although I traded Hanover, NH for the plains of Nebraska almost 18 years ago, the desire to always build knowledge remains a steadfast component in my life journey. My favorite farmer smiles and rolls his eyes a bit when a new topic catapults me into research mode, but after 22 years with me he appreciates that it is one of the things that makes me “Anne”.

My journey studying food waste ultimately originated in volunteer work that I do relative to animal (bovine) welfare. Welfare provides an important component to sustainability both from a social perspective as well as an environmental perspective. I feel that one of my greatest environmental victories as a farmer comes from improving the feed conversion of my cattle – reducing the pounds of feed resources required to make a pound of beef. There are a myriad of factors that go into this improvement, but quality animal welfare (as determined by the unique needs of the bovine) rises quickly to the top.


The bridge from welfare to sustainability ultimately led me to begin studying the topic of food waste. Prior to this, I had no idea how much food ended up in landfills making it a critical component to sustainability.  Last Thursday I shared with all of you a list of things that I do both on farm and in my kitchen to work to limit waste, today I share a few of the headline statistics that inspired me to devote more energy to the topic.  Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council compiled these findings as well as providing initial suggestions for areas of improvement relative to food waste from farm to fork.

One of my favorites -- smoked beef brisket...

One of my favorites — smoked beef brisket…

Getting food from farm to fork uses:

10% of the total U.S. energy budget

50% of U.S. land

80% of all freshwater consumed in the United States

Despite this valuable use of resources, 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten costing Americans over $160 billion dollars each year.

The majority of the uneaten food ends up in landfills and provides the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste — Thereby becoming a significant source (EPA estimate of 23% in 2010) of methane emissions.

Reducing food losses by 15% would provide enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans per year.


Perhaps it is because I see everyday on my farm how many resources go into growing food, or perhaps it is simply because I want to preserve the natural beauty that surrounds me; but as I look at the above statements I am motivated to work for positive change.

I hope that you will stick with me on this journey and continue to offer your own suggestions for improvement.




Filed under General, Sustainable Spring

The Report Card…

Every time that I take a “personality” or “strength’s finder” test, I come back labeled as an achiever.  Although I have a tremendous interest in psychology and how the brain works, I am also very analytical with a natural tendency to measure progress.  Add into the equation a bit of competitiveness, and you have a pretty good description of Anne.IMG_3274

I graduated Salutatorian from Cardinal Newman High School and Cum Laude from Dartmouth College not because I was the smartest kid in the class, but because I was likely the most focused and dedicated.  My girls laugh that “Mama has a gold star on her college diploma because she studied a lot.  Daddy doesn’t because he drank too much beer…”

Sixteen years into my professional life, my achiever personality is stronger than ever.  One of my favorite tasks as a feed yard manager is to fine tune both our animal care/management practices and also the quality of the beef that our animals produce.  The Progressive Beef program provides me with a great tool to measure and assess our daily animal care practices, and using a Grid to market my cattle at harvest time provides an excellent report card for beef quality.  The sustainability of my farm is intrinsically linked to my success on these two report cards!

health and the quality of your beef depends on it.

The care that I offer to my animals plays an important role in the quality of the beef that they make…

Those of you who have followed Feed Yard Foodie for a long time will remember the long series of Calf #718 posts where I traced an animal all throughout its lifetime.  (These posts are archived together in a category on the right hand side of the home page if you missed them and would like to read them all!)  At the end of the series, Calf #718 was shipped to the packing plant, and I received a report card in the form of Grid carcass data on the animal.  Today, I send my animals to a different packing plant than Calf #718 went to, but I still harvest them on a grid basis like the one explained in the post linked above.


Delicious and nutritious beef is the ultimate goal…

I not only receive carcass data on every animal that I ship, but I also get paid relative to the quality of the beef that comes from that animal.  In other words: the higher the quality of beef, the better the report card, and ultimately the more money that I receive from the packing plant.  Because I trace the vast majority of my animals from birth to harvest year after year, I am able to challenge myself to constantly improve the beef that is raised on my farm.

It is my job to set my animals up for success so that they can reach their God-given potential to make deliciously tender and healthy beef.  If I put all of the pieces of the puzzle together correctly: high quality animal genetics, outstanding care/welfare, and judicious use of technological tools; then my cattle thrive and produce the kind of mouth-watering beef that I love to serve to my family.

My favorite Cowgirl-Chef loves to cook and eat her Mama's beef!

My favorite Cowgirl-Chef loves to cook and eat her Mama’s beef!

I am a firm believer that you must measure in order make improvements.  Report Cards are tremendous management tools because they provide vital benchmarking information.  Every time that I ship a pen of cattle to the packing plant, I eagerly await the report card that comes a few days later.  With this information, I can assess the quality of the job that I did preparing my animals to become beef.  Then, I can use that data to strive for future improvements relative to animal care and performance.2011_08_01_mr_Will Feed-9-1

It is a like a dream come true for an natural achiever like me!


Filed under General, Progressive Beef QSA Program, Sustainable Spring

Life’s Greatest Blessing…

Tomorrow, Matt and I will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary.  While the day will be our normal organized chaos that between the two of us involves exercising calves, coaching a swim meet, and leading an alfalfa harvesting crew; it will also be special.Anne and Matt0003

I am not sure if I can clearly remember the 21 year old with stars in her eyes who walked down the aisle of Bethesda-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach, Florida; but I certainly remember the look on Matt’s face when I stepped inside the church.  I am blessed to still get to see that same look today.

I have loved Matt for more than half of my life, and our marriage is based not only on love but also on commitment.  The journey from Hanover, New Hampshire to rural Nebraska has been marked by both challenges and opportunities.  We face them together: holding onto each other for support and remaining committed to living the dream.

Our recipe for sustainability lies in an unwavering desire to endure with joy.DSC05079

Almost two decades later, we are thriving farmers and the parents to three beautiful and talented girls. Matt is not just my husband, he is my biggest fan.  He believes in me when I doubt myself, encourages me when I am challenged, and celebrates my successes with enthusiasm.  His loving support not only guides me, but also teaches our daughters about the respect and devotion that provides the foundation to a successful family.

Husker and Swimming June 17 2012 049Today, I reflect on the fact that a devoted spouse is life’s greatest blessing.

  • Their faith is unwavering.
  • Their support is priceless.
  • Their love is a gift to always be treasured.

While many people look at my path from urban athlete to rural cowgirl as both an unusual journey and an interesting success story, the truth is that most of the credit should go to the quiet man who stands beside me and  has dedicated his life to our partnership.  I can only hope that our daughters will one day also be blessed with someone who both completes them and inspires them to greatness.

Today I salute my favorite farmer.  I look to the past with thankfulness, I look to the present with joy, and I look to the future with excitement knowing that we will greet each day with the knowledge that love and opportunity await us.DSC05507

What is your greatest blessing?


Filed under Family, General, Sustainable Spring

Farm Check: Ensuring Responsible Animal Care On the Farm…

A life-long animal lover, I have been interested in Animal Welfare relative to cattle since the first day that I visited our family’s feed yard.  The naive 19 year old East Coast girlfriend had no idea that the majority of cattle in the United States spent time in a pen eating out of a bunk prior to becoming beef.

Cattle eating out of a "feed bunk" at the yard...

Cattle eating out of a “feed bunk” at the yard…

While I felt many different emotions during my first visit to the feed yard, the most pervasive of those was genuine interest.  In typical Anne style, I asked Archie (the feed yard manager) a multitude of questions as I tried to gain an understanding of both the animals and the way that the farm worked.  The more I learned, the more that I wanted to know .

After almost 20 years, I love Archie like a grandfather...

After almost 20 years, I love Archie like a grandfather…

In particular, I found the care of the cattle fascinating.  The psychologist in me wanted to understand the animal—to figure out how he thought so that I could fully understand his needs.  This initial fascination led to my desire to go to work at the feed yard after college graduation.  Three days after leaving Dartmouth College with a cum laude star on my diploma, I went to work in a whole new world: the world of food animal production.

One of the "home pens" where cattle live at my feed yard...

One of the “home pens” where cattle live at my feed yard…

Over the next 16 years, I learned the practical skills that I needed to care for those intriguing animals and I worked hard to earn the respect of my fellow feed yard team members.  Today, I make decisions that affect the welfare of thousands of animals who make millions of pounds of beef and other products that we all enjoy.  I have learned so much since that first day when my naïve eyes glimpsed the feed yard, but perhaps the best part of all is the fact that the learning never ends.


Animals teach us many things if we take the time to look and are able to understand how they *think*!

The care of beef cattle is highly complex and I view the interaction between bovine and caregiver to be incredibly fascinating.  Enabling my animals to feel comfortable on my farm and watching them to subsequently thrive is one of my greatest pleasures.  Being able to share that with my daughters is nothing short of priceless.


Although I strive to continually learn, I have come to a point in my life where I think that I know enough that I can also share something meaningful regarding animal care.  It is very rewarding to me that others in the beef family share that same feeling.  Animal welfare is a team effort, and I am very proud to be a part of the team.

Late this winter, I was asked to serve on Tyson Fresh Meats 3rd party Animal Welfare Advisory Committee as a part of their new Farm Check program.  The Farm Check program is an education, audit, and research program to help ensure that animals are cared for responsibly on the farm.

As a customer, each one of you deserves to know that the meat that you purchase came from an animal that was cared for appropriately and conscientiously. 

I believe that the meat industry is only sustainable if it operates with integrity.   I also believe that the Farm Check program will contribute to this sustainability.FarmChecklogoI am tremendously honored to be a member of this inaugural group of animal welfare professionals.  I am also truly humbled to be thought of as an expert in the field of farm animal behavior, health and production.  My goal has always been to continuously work for improvements in the care of farm animals.  This is best accomplished through the creation of practical and applicable animal welfare practices that dictate responsible daily care.

Healthy and well cared for animals make healthy food, and this is always the goal…

Throughout the next few posts, I would like to share my experiences last week at the first Farm Check Animal Welfare Advisory Committee as well as more information regarding the people, the goal, and the plan.

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Filed under General, Sustainable Spring, Tyson Farm Check Program

The Myths of Sustainability Relative to Beef Production…

cabstripsteakI really love to eat beef!

I really love to eat beef, and it is important to me that I feel good about my food choices.  Because I care about the environment and the sustainability of our earth, I strive to raise beef responsibly.  At the end of the day, I want to feel good about both how I spent my day raising cattle and also about the beef that I place on the dinner table for my family to eat.

This is a good way to end the day...

This is a good way to end the day…

There are many myths regarding the topic of sustainability and beef production.  I asked Dr. Stackhouse-Lawson to address a few of these in the hopes that it will enable us all to have a clearer picture of the “sustainability of our beef”.

Anne: What are the top 3 myths that you hear about related to sustainability and the beef production chain?

Kim: 1) Grass fed or organic is more sustainable than conventionally-raised beef. This is simply not true. When it comes to measuring sustainability, more efficient utilization of resources like land and water is the most important thing. I am not advocating that consumers should not eat grass fed or organic beef or that they should choose conventional beef. The great thing about food is that in America, we have a choice – but if you are choosing one production method because you believe one production practice is more sustainable than another, you are misinformed.

2) Eating less beef improves your individual sustainability. Beef producers have reduced their environmental burden by 9 percent in five years. Cattlemen and cattlewomen are already working toward a more sustainable future and beef is necessary to provide protein to a growing global population. In fact, every agriculture product will be necessary as we work to provide food for more than 9 billion people with a balanced diet without depleting our natural resources. Furthermore, many cattle ranchers are located on land that cannot be utilized for crop production and cattle do a great job converting forage that is otherwise unusable by humans to a nutrient dense protein.

3) All of the environmental impact of food occurs on the farm – Actually, in many of the sustainability impact categories we measured, such as energy use, the consumer and retailer use more energy than the farmers. This illustrates why it is so important to evaluate sustainability across the entire supply chain – so that improvements can be made where they actually make a difference.

Feel good about what you cook.  Megan does :)

Understanding where your food comes from helps you to feel good about what you cook. Just ask Megan  🙂


Filed under General, Sustainable Spring

Sustainability Q and A with Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson

It is my job to care for him in the best way, and also using the fewest natural resources...

It is my job to provide him with good care, and also to use the fewest natural resources to grow nutritious beef…

Matt and I care about the sustainability of our farm.  We not only want it to endure, but to thrive.  Our goal is to produce high quality products through the judicious use of natural resources.  In our journey to continuously improve, we look to scientists like Dr. Stackhouse-Lawson for guidance.

Below is a Q and A with Dr. Kim where she answers my biggest questions relative to the topic of sustainability.

Anne: Why do you think that it is important for beef farmers and ranchers to understand issues related to sustainability in beef production?

Kim: The largest challenge that agriculture is faced with today is preparing to feed a growing population which is expected to surpass 9 billion people by 2050. This population will require at least 70% more food using fewer resources than we have today.   Beef producers have a rich heritage of passing ranches and feed yards from generation to generation, however, sustainability is more than that.  With the increasing pressure of producing more food with limited resources, it is more important than ever before to utilize research and science to help meet this challenge.

For this reason, the beef checkoff has funded the largest sustainability assessment ever conducted along a food supply chain.  This study will ensure that U.S. beef producers will have the knowledge to continue to produce high quality beef while increasing our stewardship of land and resources.

Anne: Why is it important to have scientific documentation of the environmental footprint of beef?

Kim: It is important to have scientific documentation about our industry’s sustainability so that farmers can better utilize new innovations.  It is also imperative that the beef industry be able to measure improvements. One of the real challenges with sustainability is that 100 people will have a hundred different definitions.

The beef industry’s definition is much larger than the traditional definition of just carbon footprint or measuring greenhouse gas emissions. To the beef industry, sustainability is about balancing environmental responsibility, economic opportunity, and social diligence.

Anne: Explain the scope of the beef sustainability study, as well as the initial findings.  What are we doing well, and what do we need to work on?

Kim:  We used a life cycle assessment to predict environmental, economic, and social impacts to benchmark the sustainability of U.S. beef in the past and present. Millions of data points were utilized to accurately capture all inputs and outputs along the beef value chain. Comparing sustainability over time allows us to understand how improvements in cattle management and changes in technology affect industry sustainability.

Since 2005 the sustainability of beef has improved significantly.  Some examples of why U.S. beef industry sustainability has improved include: Improvements in crop yields, animal performance, and the increased utilization of bio-gas recovery.

This life cycle assessment method also allows us to identify areas where opportunities for improvement exist; some examples include: improving cattle utilization of protein in their diets, reducing packaging material, and reducing food waste.

Anne: What is the next step after the results are validated?

Kim: We are expanding the work to regionalize the data, so farmers can utilize the results to analyze their operation, regardless of where they raise cattle. This is a very important aspect of our sustainability project because a one-size-fits-all approach is not sustainable.

Different areas of the country have different resources available, and every producer faces a variety of challenges based on where they live and the climate they face. We are also working to develop a tool that will allow producers to assess individual approaches to improving sustainability on their farm.

beef sustainability image


Filed under General, Sustainable Spring