Tag Archives: agriculture

The Culture of Meat…

In addition to discussing food/meat in the written word, National Geographic is also doing a television series entitled “Eat: The Story of Food”. The second episode of the series centered on meat — most especially the culture of meat, the role that it played in evolution, and what the future of meat might hold.

I took several biological anthropology classes at Dartmouth College. Professor Korey and his lectures on the subject of biological evolution fascinated me. The how, the when, and the why all peaked my curiosity – and I poured over the material with avid interest. My specific draw toward anthropology centered on biological change, however, the element of culture seemed to always be intrinsically tied to the discussion.

A Samburu Elder with his child...The Samburu continue to be a semi-nomadic people based on a hunter-gatherer culture.

A Samburu Elder with his child…The Samburu continue to be a semi-nomadic people in 2014.  Their “agriculture” is different from mine…

Perhaps it is because I am a nerd at heart, perhaps it is because meat (growing it, cooking it, and eating it) plays a central role in my life, perhaps it is because the philosophical foodie discussion hits close to home — Whatever the reason, I found the first 2/3’s of the  National Geographic production incredibly interesting.

  • I became intrigued when the tool of cooking was linked to biological changes to the human body.
  • I followed interestedly as the discussion turned to the domestication of food animals more than 15,000 years ago as many peoples transitioned away from hunter-gather tribes to agrarian societies, and then eventually even away from farms to city life in the second half of the 1900’s.
  • I smiled when food was linked to community, family, and one’s cultural roots.
  • I nodded when cooking meat was labeled a “sacred ritual”.
  • I chuckled when someone stated that meat was an expression of manliness – thereby, a possible explanation for modern day man’s fascination with grilling. mattsteaks

All of these things resonated with me and I enjoyed the way that the information was disseminated to the viewer.  Unfortunately, at this point in the show, a shift occurred away from the historical and anthropological and toward the one-sided political abyss where modern food production is demonized. The historical balanced became the politically unbalanced, and I was sadly disappointed with the end of the program.

In the final 12 minutes Michael Pollan gave his usual rhetoric, “Feedlots are the biggest point sources of pollution in the United States…Meat agriculture will have to change. The way we are doing it now is unsustainable.” Upon hearing this, I immediately wondered how Mr. Pollan could accurately draw this conclusion about my farm since he has never once visited it? He offered no basis for his conclusions – apparently the American people are just supposed to believe his omniscient pontifications.


Cattle on my farm which I call a feed yard and Mr. Pollan calls a feedlot…

The segment ended with suggestions for the change called for by Mr. Pollan.  The various contributors to the show offered two ideas as the future of meat was subsequently discussed.  They left me a bit perplexed…

  1. Eat more insects.
  2. Grow hamburgers (at the current cost of $325,000.00 per burger) in a petri dish.


I am the first to admit that continuous improvement is imperative for sustainability, and I believe that there are ways that I can continue to do a better job producing beef on my farm. I work hard every day to attain constant improvement remaining committed to growing high quality beef with the smallest environmental footprint.

I am most certainly not the same as my hunter-gatherer ancestors.  My farm runs differently now than it did 20 years ago and it will continue to evolve and change on into the future.  I choose to serve my family the pasture raised, grain finished beef that I grow with pride.

Pasture raised cattle that are now at my feed yard in preparation for slaughter...

Pasture raised cattle that are now wintering at my feed yard in preparation for becoming beef…

I don’t know about you, but I prefer that to a diet of insects or petri dish meat…


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

Agriculture Needs To “Pack”…


As I watched these young ladies dominate the team competition at the Broken Bow Invitational Cross Country meet on Saturday morning, I thought of farmers.  A very wise coach has taught these athletes how to “pack run” — setting both group and individual goals, and mentally supporting each other through the long 5K high school races.

I think that many distance runners would tell you that the middle of the race is the most challenging.  The adrenaline from the start has worn off, but the promise of the finish line is still miles away.  The culture of the “pack” lends strength to both the individual and to the team as well as building tenacity for the long run.


The journey of the American farmer is much like a distance running race.  Growing food is an expedition full of challenges.  From Mother Nature, to the availability of natural resources, to food safety, to animal welfare priorities, to ever increasing government regulations, to sharing the story of food production.  Every day is it’s own race, and the days clump together into something similar to a marathon.

I believe in the power of teamwork.  The lonely individual marathon of farming can be overwhelming, especially while embarking on the trek of transparency and sharing the realistic story of modern day food production.  It is hard to motivate at the end of the day to post blogs and pictures — even when you believe in the necessity of reaching out and explaining your farm story.  Some of the challenge comes from simple physical fatigue, and some comes from the fear of ridicule and harassment from those that do not believe in raising animals for food production or using modern food production systems to raise them.


While each individual farm has it’s own uniqueness, farmers share many things in common.  Embracing the “pack run” philosophy could be a very powerful tool for American agriculture.

There is certainly some of this already occurring, but it is a concept that could be used on a much more powerful scale.

  • The first step is for farmers to adopt a universal set of basic standards for responsible food production. The Beef Quality Assurance program is a great place to start for this relative to beef production. A pack offers support but, in turn, requires its members to contribute in a meaningful way. Quality animal care is imperative and needs to be unanimously adopted across food animal production.
  • The second step is acceptance of all farming practices that meet the basic standards, and respect for all farmers that care enough to join the pack of responsible food production.
  • The third is an important element of teamwork – recognizing that no matter how strong we are as individuals — together we are stronger. Mutual respect and support of each other makes for a powerful combination and a unified voice telling the true story of food production.

When I peruse the internet and see farmers fighting amongst each other or making their own way by belittling others, I am saddened. I think of the success that my daughter and her cross country team have on the running course, and I wish that farmers could be as unselfish and supporting as these teenage girls.


I think that agriculture needs its own wise coach to lead a unified effort to share the true story of American farmers.

I think that agriculture needs to learn to pack…

*Author’s note #1: In Nebraska, Varsity High School Cross Country runs 6 and scores 4.  The four girls pictured at the top ran an impressive race as a pack finishing strong with Ashley Grace and one of her teammates running the last mile at 6:20 pace and finishing the 5K under 21 minutes. The second two runners were very close behind and the girls individually earned 10, 11, 12, and 13 places to win the title.  This young team gets stronger and more confident with every day that passes — it is a true pleasure for this Mama to watch.

*Author’s note #2: I have always had a strong passion for animal welfare and have worked to improve this in beef cattle for more than 15 years.  I found my pack on this journey with the Beef Marketing Group and it’s Progressive Beef QSA program.  I began the lonely blogging journey to share the story of how feed yards prepare cattle to become beef in the spring of 2011.  I am still waiting patiently for other cattle feed yards to take this step in order to offer appropriate transparency to the beef production cycle.  The list of other cattle feeders that have packed with me on this journey is very short.  Unfortunately, the list of people who ridicule and label me as a factory farmer is much longer…



Filed under Farming, General

Cozad’s Ag Exposure Day…

Thoughtful Thursday

ag exposureday.jpg

On this Thoughtful Thursday, I am thinking back to yesterday when I participated in the Ag Exposure Day for the 4th and 5th graders in our town of Cozad.  Every two years, a group of 30+ volunteers put together a “farm day” at Platte Valley Farms for our upper elementary students.  Sisters Ann Smith and Judy Eggleston organize 150 students who spend four hours going to 9 different stations to learn about different facets of agriculture in Nebraska.

ag exposurekids.jpg

With the help of a Cozad high school student (the daughter of one of the ranchers that I purchase cattle from), I am in charge of the “Cattle Learning” station which consists of giving a 15 minute presentation about cattle and beef to nine different groups of 15 students.

As I take the students through the life of a calf, why it is raised, why we eat beef, and how to offer basic care to a food animal; I field a variety of questions.  While I find each one of the students’ questions interesting, there was one yesterday that gave me pause.


A 5th grade boy asked:

How can you get the meat off of the calf without killing it?

 I answered,

You can’t.  The animal gives it’s life in order to provide us with nutritious food.

My answer was met with a new level of understanding and a quiet nod.  I do not think that this young man will ever look at a hamburger the same way again.

My favorite 4th grader at AG Exposure Day...

My favorite 4th grader at AG Exposure Day…

As the students completed the last station and filed off to the nearby field to enjoy a hamburger lunch, I continued to think about this question — baffled that a 10 year old boy would think that meat would be harvested off of a calf without the calf dying.

How has our society become so far removed from food production? 

and perhaps more importantly…

How are we going to fix this?

Today, I charge each of you with the task of helping to educate others about where their beef comes from — whether it is your own child, or the person next to you in the grocery store line — take the personal responsibility to ensure that beef production is properly understood.

He has dedicated his life to caring for cattle and raising beef --- He cared enough to mentor me.  We proudly grow your food.

Farming is his life — He cared enough to mentor me. We proudly grow your food.

Farmers dedicate their lives to raising safe and nutritious beef

– animals give their lives so that we can nourish our families –

Shouldn’t each one of us take the time to properly appreciate the sacrifices that occur so that we do not go hungry?


Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

National Ag Day…

If you had asked me 20 years ago what the letters Ag stood for, I would not have been able to tell you.  Those initials represented a community of people that I seldom ran across in the swimming pools of South Florida.

This week our country celebrated National Ag Day and many social media posts thanking farmers permeated the cyber sphere.  I have no memory as a child of being any more aware of National Ag Day than the term Ag.  Today, I wonder how many people outside of farmers celebrated this special day?

Sometimes you just have to take the plunge...

Sometimes you just have to take the plunge…

As I think about our farm and what Matt and I have worked for over the past 16 years, I feel a myriad of emotions.  Most of all, I marvel at the maturity and the insight that I have gained.  I find myself struggling to remember the 22 year old young woman that moved to Nebraska and set out to learn how to be the Boss Lady at the cattle feed yard.

He teaches me compassion and compels me to understand his needs...

He teaches me compassion and compels me to understand his needs…

While I am sure that parts of me (namely the stubbornness and determination) are still relatively prominent, I look at the world very differently today than I did when I moved to Nebraska in 1997.  As I remember the girl with unusual dreams and stars in her eyes, I marvel at her confidence.

I have loved him more than half my life...

I have loved him more than half my life…

Youthful optimism is a powerful mental tool—Just as I never doubted that Matt and I were meant to build a life together, I also never doubted that I could learn to be a good cattle caregiver.  As I became successful at the feed yard, I began to broaden my spectrum and to work in a volunteer status to improve cattle care practices through the Beef Quality Assurance program.

My belief was so strong that I never looked back...

My belief was so strong that I never looked back…

Quite honestly, it never occurred to me that I would fail.  That is the beauty of youthful passion and faith.   Through the years, it seems as though maturity has replaced that youthful confidence. Today, as I look at agriculture from the eyes of a 38 year old mother of three, there are days that I can no longer find the stars that used to inhabit my eyes.  A myriad of challenges threaten to replace those stars with doubts.

  • Mother Nature
  • Volatile commodity markets
  • Pressures from both increased government regulations and activist groups
  • Lack of unity within the agricultural community
  • Lack of trust between farmers and urbanites

In particular, the last three weigh heavily on my “not so youthful” optimism. Quite frankly, I worry about this at night when I should be sleeping.  I find myself imploring both farmers and non-farmers to open up the needed conversation regarding food animal production practices.

Caring for our animals is much easier for us than sharing how we care to you--it is the nature of the cowboy to be introverted...

Caring for our animals is much easier for us than sharing how we care with you–it is the nature of the cowboy to be introverted…

I feel the tremendous need for this conversation at the same time that my heart is concerned that it may be too late, or that we will not be able to see through the emotion clearly enough to respect each other and have a meaningful conversation.

When I look at her, I see the optimism and confidence of youth...

When I look at her, I see the optimism and confidence of youth…

As I celebrate National Ag Day in 2013, I look to my faith and to my children to give me the needed strength to keep moving forward.  I look into my girls’ eyes and draw on that optimism that so closely resembles what I used to see when I looked in the mirror.  I recharge my soul with the knowledge that this challenge is too important for us to not be successful.  I pray that we can come together as a country to find a sustainable and appropriate blend of food production systems in order to ensure the security of our future.

We must always look for the beauty in one another...

We must always look for the beauty in one another…

Today, in honor of National Ag Day, don’t just thank the farmer—ask questions and help start the conversation.


Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Profit, or Not?

My favorite 12 year old likes to buy blue jeans at The Buckle. I always have to take a deep breath before we go shopping because the price tag blows me away.  When I look at her size 24 blue jeans and the amount of cotton material used to make them, I wonder where the $100.00’s goes that I pay for them?

The special jeans…

Does it go to the cotton farmer?  Does it go to the designer or the person that sews the jeans?  Does it go to the retailer that I purchase them from?  While I am unsure of the breakdown of where the proceeds go, I am pretty confident that each one of the people that I named gets a part of my $100.00 bill.  Did all of them make a profit from the sale—most likely that depends on the cost that they accrued at each level of the jean making process…

Last week a Business Week reader asked me, “Is it true that cattle make only $20 per animal? That just doesn’t sound right to me. When I buy a New York steak from the market I typically paid around $6 – $7. That is one piece of steak. Where did the money go?”

Where does the money that you pay for this steak go?

Raising cattle and growing beef is a complex business.  Like my daughter’s blue jeans, there are many different people involved in the creation of the steak before it ends up at your market or grocery store.  The following is a blue print of the beef that comes from my farm…

Stage 1: The cow-calf rancher (like Al and Sallie Atkins in my Calf #718 blog series) is the first phase of the beef production cycle.  This rancher has a cattle breeding herd and cares for the calf from birth to approximately 8-12 months of age.

A young calf, standing near his mama on the AL Ranch. Al and Sallie Atkins work hard in stage 1 to offer good care to this animal who will grow up to make safe and healthy beef…

Stage 2: The feed yard farmer (like me) is the second phase.   I feed the animal until he is ready for harvest (another 4-6 months).

Just like Al and Sallie, I am dedicated to offering good care to my animals and enabling them to make safe and healthy beef…

Stage 3: The packing plant (like US Premium Beef / National Beef) is the third phase.  It is at this phase that the animal is harvested and becomes beef.

All of Al’s and my hard work comes to fruition when the animals that we raise become high quality beef for you to purchase…

Stage 4: The retailer / food service company is the final phase.  This company brings the product to your dinner table either via the grocery store or the restaurant.

From our ranches and farms to your dinner plate…

At each one of these stages, there are revenues and costs that determine the profit or loss.  Each one of us (the rancher, the feed yard, the packing plant, and the retailer) hope to be profitable with every animal at every stage.  The quote of $20.00 per head that appeared in the article was an average profit number for my stage (the feed yard) of the beef production cycle.  If each partner at each of the 4 stages were to make $20.00 per animal, that would be a total profit of $80.00.

Considering that it takes approximately 18-21 months and thousands of dollars for one of my animals to move through the 4 stages and become beef, that is a relatively small profit margin.  Additionally, during that time frame, enormous volatility exists in the cost of my feed ingredients and the market values for my animals. From a business perspective, this volatility is one of my top three challenges as I grow beef.  Sometimes I make $120.00 per animal, sometimes I lose $100.00— I hope to see an average profit of $20.00 per head over the long run…

When we made the life decision to leave the city and move back to the farm, we did it knowing the inherent financial challenges that we would face. It takes both hard work and creative thinking to remain financially viable amidst the growing volatility in agricultural markets…

Long term financial sustainability in farming is intrinsically tied to saving during the good years in order to survive the bad ones…Hopefully, in the long run, there are more good years than bad.  My daughter’s cool blue jeans and her future college education are depending on it!


Filed under Feed Yard Foodie "In The News", General

The Best Letter That I Never Had To Mail…

There has been extensive talk in the Feed Yard Foodie house over the past six months regarding the proposed changes to the Department Of Labor regulations concerning individuals under the age of 18 working on farms.  As many of you might guess, these changes would have affected our family tremendously.  In fact, one of the proposed changes would have made it illegal for my daughters to be at my cattle feed yard even if they were under my supervision.

I became a little bit excited early this week when I received word that the Department of Labor was thinking of moving forward on these changes even though thousands of farmers had written letters asking them to discard them.  Actually, I think that my girls would tell you that my hair turned a unique red color that shines through only when I get angry…

As a result of some intense family discussions regarding the proposed labor changes, Megan decided to sit down Wednesday evening and write a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Solis.  Last night, the Department of Labor issued a statement that they were planning to discard the proposed labor changes.  When I received word that Sec. Solis was not moving forward with the changes, Megan’s carefully crafted words became, quite possibly, the best letter that I never had to mail…

A special thank you to Katie Ardnt for taking this wonderful picture of my little cowgirl and her beloved horse...

Dear Department of Labor Secretary Solis:

 My name is Megan Anne Burkholder and I am 10 years old. I live in a little town called Cozad which is in Nebraska.  It is a little bit west of being smack dab in the middle of the United States of America. My family has about 3000 acres of land. My daddy farms and grows alfalfa and makes it into dehydrated animal feed pellets.  

My mom has a cattle feed yard a few miles from our house.  Almost every day I go to my mommy’s feed yard and sometimes I help her exercise cattle (if I do not have school). I have so much fun and she teaches me a lot!  I learn how to understand and care for cattle.  Cattle are prey animals and they think very differently from the way that I do.  Because my mom teaches me how to understand cattle, I stay safe when I help her to handle them.  She shows me how to communicate with the animals so that I learn how to take good care of them.  This is important because well cared for cattle make AWESOME beef!  That’s what I love to eat!

My mom has special safety rules at her feed yard so that I stay safe.  I am her daughter and my safety is important to her.  I have learned how important it is to follow directions and also how to work hard.  I love being at the feed yard! It is like a second home! Everyone at the feed yard is like family–even though they are not blood related to my sisters and I—Mama’s crew of guys is wonderful.  They teach me important things too.

I hope that for the rest of my life I will get to go to her feed yard to help.  But, my mom tells me that you are changing labor regulations so that I will not be allowed to go to the feed yard with her anymore.  Why are you doing that?  It does not make any sense to me.  Our farm is our life, and I want to be a part of it.  The time that I spend with my mom is special and I do not want to give it up.  Please do not make it illegal for me to help my mom care for her cattle.  You can go to our family’s website and see pictures of me helping my mom.  The link is http://feedyardfoodie.com.


Megan Anne Burkholder





Filed under Family, General

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes…

Whenever I speak to a group of students, I always ask them what the two most important skills are that they need to master.  I get some interesting answers, although I rarely get both of the ones that I am looking for…

So, what do I feel are the two most important skills that our young people need to learn?

  1. To coherently express their thoughts verbally in an organized manner—Public Speaking Skills!
  2. To coherently express their thoughts in written form in an organized manner—Writing Skills!

I am a firm believer that these skills are imperative, no matter what path your life takes.  I spend the majority of my time non-verbally communicating with animals; however, I still use these two skills regularly.

Walking down the aisle at graduation a few moments before giving the Salutatorian Address...

My love for public speaking started early in my life, and continues to this day.  I speak to groups of cattlemen, I speak to groups of veterinarians, I speak to politicians and their staff members, I speak to student groups.  This list could go on and on, and I love every minute of it.  My Feed Yard Foodie site is a testament to how important I feel decent writing skills are.

My three daughters claim that I pontificate at home about the need for them to develop these two skills.  My middle daughter has recently realized an interest in writing, and my husband and I are trying our best to foster that interest.  One afternoon before Christmas she came home from school and wrote the essay that appears below.  She is very excited to be a guest blogger at the young age of 9!

I would like to title the essay: “Out Of The Mouths Of Babes”, and I think that you will understand why when you read it

The cowgirl turned writer...

The Reasons Agriculture is Important To This World

By Megan Anne Burkholder

I think Agriculture is important because it provides this WORLD with a large supply of food! A lot of the world depends on Nebraska and neighboring states for their meat! I live in Cozad, and where is Cozad you might ask? Well, it is in the middle of Nebraska! In other words right in the middle of the world’s meat supply!!

            Agriculture is also important with crops like alfalfa, hay, corn, and wheat. Farmers help supply us with corn on the cob, corn and alfalfa pellets to feed to livestock, hay for livestock, wheat for flour and flour for bread! That’s a big job for the 2,204,792 farmers in the United States of America–plus, a few farmers from other countries too!

            There are a LOT of people in the U.S.A! Still, farmers only make up 2 present of all Americans! That’s not a lot if you ask me. They work hard, trying to survive in the world because President Obama keeps increasing our taxes and regulations.

            Farms are struggling because they don’t have enough money; there are too many taxes; and too many regulations from OSHA, the Labor Department, and EPA.  For a farm business there are a lot of rules to follow! For example I mentioned OSHA; well OSHA is having EVERY employee in the U.S.A wear a harness if they are 4ft off the ground! That is NOT a very high point!! (If OSHA found Cozad Elementary they would make kids were harnesses on the PLAYGROUND!!! That would be terrible!)

            Did you know that the Department of Labor is trying to make it illegal for me to go with my mom to her cattle feed yard to help her work? That’s terrible because my mom says that I make her work more lively, go quicker and more fun to do! That is a compliment! I like to help her do her job and she likes to teach me to do her job correctly! Together we are a perfect match to get the work done quicker and have a little fun doing it the right way!

            I don’t get to help my dad much at his dehydration plant. Most of equipment is too dangerous for me to be around. So when he is at the plant and my sisters or I are with him, we have to stay in the office with the kitty cat. But when he is out in the fields working with NO dangerous equipment, we are allowed to help him.  This fall I got to help him take soil samples on his farm—it was hard work getting the samples out of the ground!

            Well, that is my life and why I think Agriculture is SO important to the world. I am sad that not everyone understands why agriculture is so important.

Quality time shared together helps her to understand the world that she lives in, as well as to develop those important life skills...

It is both my right and my duty as a parent to teach my children.  I must not only share my life with them, but also teach them the skills that they need to be productive participators…The world is run by those who show up with skills and a desire to participate!



Filed under Family, Foodie Work!, General