Tag Archives: agriculture

The Rainbow Ends At the Pot Of Gold…

megfeedyardcollageAfter 14 years living, working, and growing up under the magnificent Nebraska sky I learned a lot from the people who were kind enough to share it with me. Now I want to share it with you. My experiences in our little town are not ones that many people get to have. There are lessons hidden in each memory and each story — lessons that most people in our country may miss or look over. These are my 15 favorite lessons that I have learned growing up on a farm — Megan🙂

  1. Home is where the heart is… When I first went to kindergarten I cried every day because I did not understand why I had to sit in a classroom and count whatever was on my piece of paper instead of counting cattle at the feedyard. I did not want to leave my comfort zone where I loved to be.
  2. Two wrongs don’t make a right… I first learned this when perched on the arm of the chair in the inner cubical of the office, staring blankly at the computer screen full of numbers – never leave a mistake without correcting it. Always fix what went wrong even if it means admitting that you are human and you made a mistake. If you do not correct a mistake, the problem just grows.
  3. For the love of Pete… Whenever our cowboy is agitated but not quite angry enough to start cussing, he starts loving Pete. Usually he says this under his breath, but after a while you can understand the mumbling language. We have never figured out who Pete is but wherever he is, he is much loved.
  4. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life… People come to stay with us every once and a while and right before they leave Doug, our beloved foreman, always tells them that he has never worked a day in his life. They get very confused because they have just watched him working hard. He explains to them that he loves the job that he has; consequently, he has never worked a day in his life.
  5. Work smarter, not harder… My mom always says that you should work smarter so therefore your work is easier. Do not get me wrong, hard work is essential to any job, especially those on a farm, but if you work hard and smart then you will be more efficient and do a better job.
  6. Sarcasm… It is not just the words that come out of your mouth; it is a lifestyle. Sarcasm can lighten any day if put in the correct context. Doug is especially good at adding a little to our day, and I have learned from the best. He always told me when I was little that he never called the bunk a C when the cattle did not clean up all of their feed. The bunk was always a D because he skipped C. He told me that was because he could actually spell the words that started with D – I think perhaps it is because his name starts with a “D” but I humor him🙂
  7. Count in your head… When the cattle come off the truck and into the feedyard we always count them to make sure we have the correct number. When my sisters and I were little, this was one of our first jobs. We would climb up so that we were tall enough to see into the unloading chute and then “count” the cattle that came off the truck. My mom had to start counting using her hands because we would say the wrong numbers aloud. To this day she still counts cattle with her fingers. Doug used to try to teach us to count ears instead of tails. Or sometimes he tried to have us count feet…
  8. Leave it how you found it… When cooperating with members of a “team” you should always: leave things how you found them, replace tools to their proper “home”, and, when in doubt, shut the gate. When working with farmers, mechanics, or welders always put their tools back where they belong. They get very angry very quickly if they cannot find the tool they are looking for. Always shut the gate behind you. A feedyard manager’s worst nightmare is leaving a gate open. My mom has nightmares about accidentally letting loose a pen of cattle on the county road.
  9. Think like a calf… It is important for any cattle handler to step into the calf’s hooves. Looking through a calf’s eyes can be tricky. In order to do that you have to have empathy and think like a prey animal. I learned this when I was little so it comes like second nature to me but some people struggle changing their perspective.
  10. Give it to God… Some things you cannot control. Mother Nature likes to throw everything she can at us farmers. We cannot hope to control it; we can only try to manage what comes our way. Rain is a good thing for dad but not for mom. When it rains no one in our house sleeps very well. Snow is even worse. Before I was actually put to work, I thought snow was the best part of winter. I was wrong, snow means work.
  11. Gnats are extra protein… In the summers there are a lot of bugs. There are an especially large number of them this year because we had a wet spring. When you walk through the feedyard you cannot help but get a gnat somewhere you really probably did not want a gnat to be. That is not at a total loss because gnats are extra protein (not that a beef farmer needs that)…
  12. Cowgirls don’t cry… When you are working with animals, they depend on you. They need fed on Easter and Christmas and Sundays. This does not give you time to sit down and feel sorry for yourself. If you fall, you get back up again because there is always more work to be done. When your finger gets caught in a gate you do not have time to watch it turn purple and swell, there are still cattle that need tending to.
  13. Help will always come to those who ask for it… No one can give you a helping hand if they do not know you need it. It is not a bad thing to request help. Needing help does not make you weak or incompetent.
  14. Build character… There are many ways on a farm to build character. Scooping bunks is one of the most common ways. Another good one is throwing small square hay bales. I can also tell you that touching the hot electric fence does not build as much character as you would think…
  15. A little dirt never hurt anyone… Sometimes it is okay to get a little dirt on your hands. The work that results in that dirt is worth something to someone.ResizedImage951374766405614

The pot of gold in Nebraska that sits under all the morning rainbows is the hay carefully stacked by loving hands that feeds the animals which give us food.


Filed under CAFO, Family, Foodie Work!, 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?


Filed under Farming, Foodie Work!, General

The Cozad Haymakers Embark On a Journey With FFA…

As a city raised “east coaster”, my first experience with FFA (Future Farmers of America) occurred as an adult several years after I went to work at the feed yard. As I became involved as a volunteer in agricultural advocacy work and the promotion of the Beef Quality Assurance program, my path began to cross with FFA instructors. Some of my favorite public speaking gigs have been with FFA students – sharing my story and answering questions from the best and the brightest that will soon be the future of agriculture.

I am excited to report that my home town of Cozad recently committed to building an FFA program in our school system. It is an honor for me to be involved in the process as a member of the community advisory group. While I truly believe that “it takes a community to raise a child”, I also believe that it takes a diverse blend of educators and community members to create situations where our young adults can increase their knowledge and skills in order to provide for the future.



Where does my food come from? — appears to be the million dollar question in 2015. Food unites us: from the Nebraska farmer to the urban executive to the small town electrician. It unites us because, quite frankly, we all need to eat. The ability to create a program where students in my home town can both learn where their food comes from as well as how to grow it – today, and on into the future – is an incredible privilege.

Agriculture provides the heart of our town. The majority of our community members are involved in farming in a variety of venues. What excites the team builder in me the most is the ability to pair these savvy folks with the awesome set of teenagers that make up the Haymaker school community.  The journey involves a passionate FFA educator bridging together these experienced and skilled entrepreneurial tradesmen with the next generation of farmers.


We believe in our designated journey. We have a calm and supportive ocean. We have a seaworthy ship. We just need a captain. The Cozad High School began taking applications for the FFA educator position last week. Please help to spread the word as we search for a passionate leader to navigate the journey. Contact Dustin Favinger at Cozad High School for more information.

308-784-2744 or dustin.favinger@cozadcityschools.net

Go Haymakers!


Filed under General, Rural Communities

Megan and Her Mom In Aggieland…

When I received an invitation to travel to Texas A & M University to speak to faculty and students, I knew that I wanted to share this experience with my favorite blonde cowgirl.  While the thought of my girls leaving home for college lodges my heart in the back of my throat, I want them to be aware of the world outside of our farm.  My favorite farmer and I also want them to be thinking of their life journey after high school so that their formative years hold a sense of long term purpose.


Part of my job as a “mom” is exposing my daughters to environments where they will have the ability to remain true to themselves and thrive.  My gut told me that Megan should experience Aggieland.  The tradition, the dedication to core values, and the engaged Animal Science department fit both her compassionate personality as well as her love of animals.

As our two days in College Station passed by, I could see my blonde cowgirl gain confidence and bloom under the compassion and positive energy that permeates the campus.  She was very nervous going into the trip. However, as each person that we met treated her as someone with something valuable to share — her smile got bigger and her eyes filled with excited wonder toward the “Aggie family”.

Learning about the diversity of cattle genetics and realizing that all cattle do not look like the ones that we care for in Nebraska!

Learning about the diversity of cattle genetics and realizing that all cattle do not look like the ones that we care for in Nebraska!

As a mom, it was a beautiful transformation to watch.  Megan loves “home” and the “farm”, and is hesitant to travel outside of that life.  It was truly a gift for her to be surrounded by positive mentors of various ages that simply were interested in sharing with her.

From the moment that Emily (a senior Ruminant Nutrition major and President of the Saddle and Sirloin Club) picked us up at the airport, we felt welcome and were surrounded by people who took the time to care. I could not have asked for a better experience for her first “college visit”, and am indebted to all of those loyal Aggies with whom we interacted.

Emily teaching Megan the tradition and meaning of the "Aggie Ring"...

Emily teaching Megan the tradition and meaning of the “Aggie Ring”…

A couple of days after we got home, I asked my blonde cowgirl what her favorite memories were.  The people, as well as the research center and “hands on” learning, hit the top of her list.  Mine was the spirit of giving that I witnessed on the campus.  My journey in the cattle industry as taken me all across the country and, until this trip, I do not think that I have ever seen a place where What can I do to help you? consistently superseded What can you do for me?

The inherent Aggie desire to serve others left a warmth in my heart and a ray of hope for the future.


As Megan’s mom, I was inspired by the universal compassion found both with students and faculty.  At our house, we call Megan our “sunshine”. Her kind personality and empathetic nature make her a blessing to all those she meets. I saw an environment at A & M where I could not help but think that my blonde cowgirl would thrive.

She has several more years before she makes a college choice, but I think that it’s safe to say that we both “drank the Aggie kool aid” in College Station, Texas🙂


Filed under Family, Foodie Work!, General

A Feed Yard Foodie in Aggieland…

Anyone working in agriculture recognizes the name of Texas A & M University. Over the past 18 years, I have crossed paths with many Aggie alumni and each encounter left me intrigued by the deep seated love and faithfulness to this place called “Aggieland”. Perhaps most endearing is the fact that although Aggies are fiercely loyal, they are also openly friendly and engage respectfully with others outside of their alma mater. This special ability to be proud of their heritage while also focusing on broad spectrum leadership and devotion to selfless acts of sharing is a beautiful combination.


Responding to an invitation to speak on campus, I traveled down to College Station, Texas with an intellectual curiosity and a desire to understand the culture of this unique land grant institution. I traveled back to my farm in Nebraska with an incredible respect for the faculty, students, and the core values that make Aggieland so exceptional. Honestly, I have rarely felt more welcome on a college campus, and the open friendliness that permeated the university grounds was inspirational.

It is no secret that agriculture in 2015 and beyond has many challenges. Outside of the regular need for continuous improvement that goes hand in hand with growing food, there exists a great chasm between farmers and their urban customers which is unfortunately separated by a rarely traveled bridge. As I look into the future, I recognize that our sustainability is intrinsically tied with our ability to interact respectfully.

texasa&mdignity and respect.jpg

The journey is marked by:

  • The innate pride and loyalty to our chosen field combined with an intrinsic interest in the “outside world”.
  • The realization that it is in sharing that we learn how to solve our most difficult challenges — relying on a diverse population of participators to find the best answers.
  • The knowledge that the success of our outreach is closely tied to our ability to create an organized team to cross that lonely bridge in order to share “where food comes from”.

As I walked the streets of campus and visited with students and faculty, it became apparent to me that the culture at Texas A & M could provide the template for agriculture’s public outreach and educational effort to increase the transparency of food production. The university pillars of: Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty, Respect, and Selfless Service provide the foundation, the inherent positive attitude sets the stage for the engagement, and the “team mentality” and the Corps of Cadets coordination creates the movement that once again builds trust in the realm of food production.


  • Perhaps what agriculture really needs is a 12th man to selflessly give to the common good,
  • A good “Yell leader” to teach us a universal cheer that both celebrates our uniqueness as well as reinforces our common ground,
  • And a friendly “Howdy” to start the conversation…

At the end of the day it isn’t about any one group or individual, rather the meaningful answer lies in our ability create loyalty and trust—both on and off the farm.

*Many thanks to Emily Von Edwins, Dr. Russell Cross, Dr. Tryon Wickersham and all of the Aggies that welcomed Megan and I last week. I hope that we enriched your lives as much as you enriched ours.

**Stay tuned for the next post, “Megan’s Mom in Aggieland”, which takes a look at Texas A & M from a different point of view…


Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., Foodie Work!


Last fall, Tyson CEO Donnie Smith gave the commencement address at the National FFA (Future Farmers of America) convention. The positive energy radiating from both Smith and the thousands of high school students in attendance is nothing short of awesome. The 18 minute speech can be found here.

As a member of Tyson’s 3rd party Animal Wellbeing Farm Check committee, I am fortunate to interact with Donnie as we work to consistently improve food animal care. His dynamic personality and positive enthusiasm reminds me of a football coach pumping up his team for the big game. The coach in me loves to listen to him, and the farmer in me is thankful to call his team a partner in food production.Annegate.jpg

Smith’s theme, #myAGstory, provides an emotional reminder of one of the steepest challenges that farmers face today. The story of food production in 2015 often is not told by the farmers that grow it. Rather, we have allowed our food story to be hijacked by others outside of the farm gate. Smith repeatedly challenged the students to protect the future of agriculture by “Taking back the story of food production”.

There exists a critical bridge between “food” and “agriculture” and it is made up by communication. Smith asks the students,

“Are we going to drive the conversation or sit back and let someone else do it for us? — It is only in taking back the story that we can honestly share the truth of how food is grown in the United States.”

The leaders in this movement to reclaim the voice of farming will undeniably be our young farmers. They have the unique ability to share their talents by simultaneously growing food while also tweeting about it!

Two enthusiastic young ranchers brought the first "selfie stick" to my feed yard last spring.  It was great fun to watch them *share*!

Two enthusiastic young ranchers brought the first “selfie stick” to my feed yard last spring!

Each one of us has a vital and unique story to tell. It is in combining these stories in a respectful conversation that we all will find sustainability. As farmers and scientists, today we have the technique and the technology to feed 10 billion people. The question is, will we be successful enough telling our story in order to gain the consumer confidence needed to use that technology to feed the world?

Today, there are 1 billion people across the globe that are hungry — tomorrow that number will grow. It is not just people across the ocean – many, many Americans are food insecure. I would like to think that we all can be granted the Freedom To Thrive, fueled by the energy of quality nutrition. The start of that journey lies in farmers taking back the story of agriculture and sharing how they grow food.AnneMeg.jpg

Today, my favorite blonde cowgirl and I head to College Station, Texas to bring our story of beef production to Aggieland. We will visit with college professors, graduate students, and undergraduates in a whirlwind two day journey discussing how beef is grown. I will share #myAGstory with hundreds of Animal Science students as we discuss both the future of agriculture as well as the increasing role that women play in growing food.

I take Donnie’s message with me in my heart as I hope to make an equally positive impact on this next generation of farmers. We all need to eat in order to thrive, so growing food is everyone’s business.

Have you shared your story today?


Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts...

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.


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.


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.


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


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

All Before a Cup Of Coffee…

It’s a family joke that I don’t drink coffee because it exacerbates my inability to sit still. The “rest of the story” is that I don’t drink a morning cup of coffee because my alarm goes off at 5:35 am and I am out the door 10 minutes later. My morning “home” routine is short and for the vast majority of the year it is performed in the predawn darkness. Matt has always taken care of the girls in the morning hours before school because the feed yard day starts by 6:00 am.

Actually, my oldest daughter would claim that she is in charge in the morning rather than her dad --- I figure teamwork is what it is all about!

Actually, my oldest daughter would claim that she is in charge in the morning rather than her dad — I figure teamwork is what it is all about!

With a feed yard to manage and three active daughters, my days tend to waffle between busy and just short of frantic. This week has tended toward the latter. Just to share a glimpse, I figured that I would run through my day Tuesday.

You’ll have to let me know if I have labeled it correctly by calling it just short of frantic…


5:35 Leave home to go to the office to print out animal withdrawal reports for the two pens of steers that we were scheduled to ship to Tyson – We have a multi-tier system set up at the feed yard to ensure that every animal is healthy and antibiotic free heading to the packing plant. I am in charge of that system and printing withdrawal reports is one of the tiers.

6:00 Arrive at the feed yard and read bunks: this is where I look at all of the feed bunks at the feed yard (there are 24 of them—one for each pen) to see how much feed from yesterday is left over to help make a good choice of what the animals in each pen should be fed today.

6:20 Enter bunk reading calls into the computer and slate the appropriate amount of feed for the day for each pen.

6:35 Start weighing semi-trucks to ship cattle to Tyson.

6:45 Pick up my cowboy and go out into the first pen that was slated to ship – ask the cattle to leave the pen and travel down to the corral area, then load them on the three designated trucks.

7:10 Go back out and gather the second pen of cattle to ship – trailing them down to the corral area and load them on the other three designated trucks.

7:50 Weigh the trucks “full” for a sale weight on the cattle and give all paperwork and instructions to the truck drivers as they leave the feed yard to travel 20 miles to the Tyson packing plant.

8:00 Complete the rest of the paperwork on the cattle that shipped.

9:00 Take part in a Tyson Farm Check Conference Call.

9:45 Field a phone call from my primary wet distillers grain supplier (Cornhusker Energy) to learn that the plant was broken down and I would not receive my daily loads of cattle feed this week.

9:50 Scramble on the phone to procure wet distillers feed from a different ethanol plant so that my cattle could continue to receive their normal, healthy ration (casserole).

10:00 Meet the field agent for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for my yearly CAFO inspection.

11:30 Travel from the feed yard to our main office to complete daily office / computer tasks which included purchasing and setting up logistics for ranch cattle that will travel to the feed yard today.

I went home briefly to eat lunch, but I can’t remember what leftovers I found in the refrigerator to heat up.

1:00 Traveled back to the office to work on more paperwork including preparing carcass and feed yard performance data to share with the rancher whose cattle I shipped to Tyson the week prior.

3:20 Pick up my favorite blonde 4th grader from school. Go home briefly to do chores (chickens, horses, dog, and cats).

4:00 Cheer for my favorite blonde cowgirl in her Junior High Track Meet (she took first place in the Pole Vault, first place in the long hurdles, and second place in the short hurdles)!

7:45 Travel home to make dinner (beef tacos).

9:30 Fall into bed so that I can do it all over again tomorrow!


Go Meg!

Do you ever have days like this?!

It’s amazing what we can get done all before a cup of coffee when our responsibilities are vast…


Filed under CAFO