Tag Archives: animal care

Blizzard Warning…

I was first introduced to a “blizzard warning” during the winter of 1996 when my favorite farmer and I traveled back to Nebraska for a visit. I remember standing by the window at Matt’s parents’ house fascinated with how the snow flakes whipped across the prairie in a frantic horizontal pattern.  As a three year resident of New Hampshire, I expected to see the nice gentle New England vertically falling snow that covered the country like a gentle white blanket.

When I became a Nebraskan a year later, I quickly learned that is not the kind of snow that typically visits Nebraska…

Before the storm...

Before the storm…

Almost twenty years later, I hear the term “blizzard warning” and my stomach automatically clenches.

Mother Nature brings along a blizzard every couple of years with varying intensities and snow fall amounts.  However, there is always one constant: a howling wind. It amazes me how much havoc can be wrought with a little bit of snow and a 30-70 mph wind. White out conditions desecrate visibility and create snow drifts as tall as my house, while brutally cold temperatures make it virtually impossible to stay warm while outside doing chores.

Ten years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, we received 6-8” of snow with 70-80 mph winds. The storm lasted over 36 hours and it took us weeks to repair the damage. To put it in perspective (or at least in Florida lingo), a category 5 hurricane carries winds in excess of 70 mph. These blizzard storms result in power-line and tree damage similar to a hurricane, but then you exchange rain for snow and add on bitterly cold temperatures.

Tonight, winter storm Kayla will lash out at Central Nebraska and Northern Kansas. The snow began to fall earlier in the day while we were working cattle about 11:00am this morning, but the bulk of the accumulation will occur over night. It is likely that we will receive up to a foot of snow. While 12” of snow provides some work with both a scoop shovel and a tractor, it is not the snow itself that will disrupt life on the farm.

beattiecalfsnow.jpg

The wind will be the debilitating factor.

At this point, we are expected to receive 35-45 mph winds beginning tonight and continuing for about 24 hours. Today, we did our best to prepare for the storm, in addition to performing our normal feed yard chores. Three years ago, prior to Winter Storm Q, I blogged about how we prepare for a storm. You can read that by clicking here.

So tonight, I sit by the window and worry. As I watch the snow come down, I pray that the wind will leave.

  • I think about all of the animals that live outdoors.
  • I think about all of the people who will travel out into the storm to care for them.

The worry will abate shortly before dawn when the work begins. The powerless feeling that comes during the dark hours of the night is replaced by the determination to act during the early morning hours.

We will offer care – doing the best that we can – dealing with whatever Mother Nature gives us. When you sign on to be a farmer, you make a commitment to always care.

They will have on many more layers of clothes but hopefully they will keep their smiles :)

They will have on many more layers of clothes tomorrow morning but hopefully they will keep these same smiles🙂

My daughters are celebrating the fact that school is canceled tomorrow but, by the time that the day is done, they will likely be dreaming of that nice warm classroom housed inside a building that blessedly blocks out the blizzard…

2 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, Foodie Work!, General

The Story of India…

My favorite blonde cowgirl and I found a surprise at the feed yard early Sunday morning.

indiamega.jpg

It is no secret that our family and our farm crew are known for being animal lovers. The need to care and nourish runs strong, and that provides for success on the farm.

When Megan and I discovered “India” Sunday morning, I did not realize the story that this little kitten could tell. As the day unfolded, my emotions ran from joy to sadness to anger and then back to joy.

Saturday afternoon someone threw India out the car window while traveling down one of Cozad’s main roads. Luckily she landed in a grass patch by the local softball fields and frantically climbed a tree. Even luckier, one of my favorite farmer’s crew witnessed the incident while driving past in a tractor and was able to turn around and rescue the scared kitten.

indiatreea.jpg

He brought the kitten to the feed yard to find it a home.

Whether she remains at the feed yard to be spoiled in the office, or takes the short trip down the road to the Feed Yard Foodie house, India will be part of a family that cares.

There is nothing like a baby animal to bring an instant smile and a moment of joy. The needy little face and the innocent desire to be loved pull at my heart always inspiring me to care. Our house is full of animals – most of whom have been rescued. I believe that providing for God’s creatures is the right thing to do.

indiaannea.jpg

It brings me tremendous sadness that not everyone shares my love of animals. It brings me great anger that there are some who also do not share my feeling of responsibility toward them.

It is shameful to neglect and abuse animals – they rely on us for survival and it is our responsibility to care. India’s story has a happy ending because people took the time to care – to right a terrible wrong—and provide a needed home.

Please take the time to care and be a responsible pet owner.

3 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Trust but Verify…

I did an interview last week with a reporter who asked,Why does your farm participate in 3rd party animal welfare audits?”

My answer: I ask that my customers trust me to be a good farmer, but I open my farm to auditing so that they can verify that I practice what I preach.

No matter how good a job you do on your farm, an audit is a stressful time.

  • Hundreds of pages of documents are checked to make sure that records accurately demonstrate daily animal care practices.
  • Hours are spent checking the farm’s facilities (feed and feed mixing areas, cattle pens, water tanks, and corrals) to ensure that animals have good living conditions.
  • Cattle handling is observed to ensure that good welfare exists while animals are interacting with their human caregivers.
  • Caregivers are asked questions about farm protocols on many different issues relative to animal care to ensure that those folks who provide daily care for the animals are well trained and educated.
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 around me because they are comfortable, confident, and curious. They choose to come close to me despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home…

I wear several “hats” at my feed yard. I am the owner and boss lady in addition to being one of the laborers who provide daily cattle care. I tend to greet audit day with mixed feelings. The boss lady realizes how important the audit is, but the farm hand struggles to accept outsiders interfering in the daily workings of life on the farm.

It is hard to have someone from the outside critique everything that you do – there is also no way to have an audit without disrupting the daily schedule of the farm. The combination of these things makes audit day on the farm long and stressful. Additionally, because I love my farm so much, opening it up to the judgement of an auditor creates a feeling of personal vulnerability. I feel it in my heart, and I know that my crew does as well.

Their care is important to me.

Their care is important to me.

Two weeks ago the feed yard had its first 2015 audit. I came home that night with a myriad of emotions fluttering through my head, the greatest being anger. Not anger toward the audit itself, but anger toward an ever growing vocal subset of the population who distrusts and dislikes American farmers like me. Tired from the long day, all I could think about was Why do I bother to go to the extra work of an audit to verify my farm care when nobody trusts me anyway”.

As an active advocate for agriculture, I am painfully aware of the distrust that exists toward modern farmers. An ever growing group of elitist philosophers breed this cynicism by employing an effective blend of zealotry and scare tactics. No matter how much I care or how hard I work to responsibly grow beef – these people ensure that I carry the label of the evil factory farmer. I open the newspaper or bring up the internet and find dozens of derogatory statements about how farms like mine abuse our animals, the environment and ultimately the people that we feed.

I honestly don't understand how this is evil and abusive...

I honestly don’t understand how this is evil and abusive…

Put yourself in my boots for a moment.

  • I work long hours on the farm.
  • I come home at night to write blog posts and share pictures of how I grow beef.
  • I patiently answer questions from reporters and customers.
  • I open my farm to both audits and tours.

And, at the end of the day, I am still belittled by the people that I have dedicated my life to feed.

So, I ask the important question:

What is it going to take for Americans to trust farmers and the practices that they use to grow food?

I believe in Trust but Verify, but verification is simply a burdensome chore if trust is unattainable.

18 Comments

Filed under CAFO

Reliability…

Thoughtful Thursday

During the summer months, my feed yard crew works on maintenance projects that the weather precludes us from doing during the winter.  One of our main projects this summer is building new fence in our receiving/shipping/cattle working corral.  This week, we began painting the fence to help “weatherize” it.

paintinggirls.jpg

My daughters, in addition to my graduate student intern from the University of Nebraska, all added onto the regular crew to work on this popular task.  It is amazing what comes up when a diverse group of smart minds spend hours performing manual labor tasks…

 At one point, my favorite blonde cowgirl announced Mom, you should write a blog post about reliability because it is the most important quality in an animal caregiver.”  As I thought about her statement and the explanation that followed, I realized how truly perceptive she is.

Reliability provides the basis to being a good animal caregiver — from showing up to work on time every day, to working diligently and carefully to provide good feed and animal care, to consistently demonstrating calm leadership to the animals — my cattle rely on us every day of the year.  They don’t tolerate excuses, instead they inspire responsible diligence.

The Feed Yard Foodie

10 Comments

Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

Farm Check: The Plan

Quality Assurance programs have been in place for food animal farmers for more than a decade.  The breadth of these programs varies depending on the animal species, but the core facets are based on farmer education and best management practices to ensure good animal care and safe meat.

Healthy and well cared for animals make healthy meat...

Healthy and well cared for animals make healthy meat…

For beef farmers, the Beef Quality Assurance program is a voluntary educational effort that focuses on daily farming practices which impact both animal care and food safety.  Cattle ranchers and farmers are encouraged to both participate in the program and interact regularly with their veterinarian to facilitate this goal.BQA Logo

The Farm Check program is intended to be a natural extension of the Beef Quality Assurance Feed Yard Assessment.  With its key elements comprised of core BQA components, Farm Check extends the current BQA program for feed yards to include an independent 3rd party auditing component.  Auditing serves two purposes:

  1.  It creates accountability and verification of animal care practices on the farm.
  2. It offers additional assurance for customers that live off-farm that the meat that they purchase at the grocery store comes from animals that were raised responsibly.FarmChecklogo

The Farm Check Beef Animal Handling Feed Yard Training Manual is still in draft form, and will be trialed in a few “pilot” feed yards this summer before a final draft is formed this fall.  Implementation of the beef portion of the Farm Check Program will begin in 2014.  The swine version is currently in the process of being implemented, and the poultry program is slated to follow the same time line as the beef.  Tyson is the nation’s leading producer of meat and poultry, and is the first packing plant to take this step toward validating on-farm animal care.

The second component of the Farm Check program is an animal welfare research program.  Tyson has designated dollars to be used to fund and promote additional research that will lead to continued improvement in the methods used to raise farm animals.  CEO Donnie Smith states, “We want to identify and study the critical points—from breeding to harvesting—where the quality of life for livestock and poultry can be improved, and use the results to make a difference.”DSC04451

The Farm Animal Wellbeing Advisory Panel that I sit on will aid Tyson both in the Farm Check on-farm education and audit program and also provide input on necessary research areas for further study.  The panel members will work with Tyson’s internal team to create and implement the program.

a

The Farm Check program is inaugural in nature and a work in progress.  I returned home after the first two day meeting with my head swimming with information and ideas.  I am looking forward to continuing to share and learn as I fulfill my duties on the Advisory Panel!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Tyson Farm Check Program

Winter Chores…

“Mama always prays for a nice, pretty, brown Christmas”.  These were the words of my middle daughter when she was about 4 years old.  She was solemnly telling a friend that her Mama did not like it to snow on Christmas.

Now she is 10 and I can't believe how fast the years have flown by...

It is hard to believe that she used to be this little!

In Nebraska during the winter, there is a choice of two colors outdoors: brown and white.  While the white can be very aesthetically pleasing, snow brings extra work.  While the brown color is not as pretty, it makes chores a lot easier to do!

Six years later, she spends many sunrises with me helping to exercise calves at the feed yard...

Six years later, she spends many sunrises with me helping to exercise calves at the feed yard…

During my years in New Hampshire at Dartmouth College, I loved the snow.  As a native Floridian, it fascinated me.  When I moved to Nebraska, my perception changed. Snow no longer represented simple beauty, it’s presence brought added work!

My winter "outfit"...

My winter “outfit”…

Being the boss lady, it is my responsibility to ensure that our cattle receive good care every single day.  In particular, the feed yard is busy during the fall and winter months when animals are moved off of grass pastures as the natural growing season comes to an end.  As the days get shorter and the temperatures get colder, good animal care takes more work.  Providing fresh feed and water, along with good living conditions for the cattle, is a priority for me.

Our goal is exceptional care---every single day...

Our goal is exceptional care—every single day…

Last week I was asked by a reader to talk about “winter chores”.  Here is a quick run-down on what my crew and I do each day during the winter as we don our coveralls and layers of clothes in order to care for our cattle.

Cattle waiting for breakfast on a cold winter morning...

Cattle huddled up and waiting for the feed truck on a cold winter morning…

Reading bunks and feeding cattle:  My foreman (Doug) and I both read bunks about 6:00am every morning in order to determine how many pounds of feed each animal will receive on our farm that day.  Feed trucks are running by 6:30 and breakfast is delivered by 9:00am.  My daughters call our afternoon feeding linner (a cross between lunch and dinner), and it is delivered between 2:00pm and 4:00pm.

The Breakfast Wagon!

The Breakfast Wagon!

Exercising calves:  I exercise and acclimate newly arrived cattle at the feed yard for the first 4-7 days in order to help them become accustomed to living in a new setting.  I do this in the morning before the cattle receive breakfast—during the winter it is usually dark outside! The following video shows the beginning of an exercising session where I ask the cattle to leave the home pen and enter the alleyway.

Processing/vaccinating newly arrived cattle:  Newly arrived cattle are vaccinated, ear tagged, and sometimes given a growth promoting implant within the first few days of arrival at the feed yard.  My crew and I do this in the middle of the day to try and take advantage of the “warmest hours”.

Jared, cleaning a pen using the tractor and box scraper...

Jared, cleaning a pen using the tractor and box scraper…

Scraping pens: At our feed yard, Jared is in charge of cleaning or scraping pens in order to keep the home pens clean and provide good living conditions for the cattle.  The manure that is scraped off of the surfaced is used for fertilizer on our farm ground.  During the winter months, each pen is scraped 1X per month or more frequently depending on weather conditions.  With 24 pens, that means that he is scraping a pen almost every day.

When it's reasonably warm outside with use the horse to "ride pens"--when it is cold many times we walk through the cattle checking health instead...

When it’s reasonably warm outside we use the horse to “ride pens”–when it is cold many times we walk through the cattle checking health instead…

Riding pens or checking cattle: My cowboy or I check the health of all of our animals every day.  Depending on how cold it is, we either ride a horse or walk through the cattle on foot to check individual cattle health.  If an animal is sick, it will be pulled out of the home pen for further evaluation and most likely treated with an antibiotic.  Somewhere between 2- 5% of our cattle require antibiotic treatment for an illness.  We have a consulting veterinarian who helps us to ensure good cattle health and responsible antibiotic use.

These red angus steers are a few days from shipping to the packing plant. I look pretty small next to them!

These red angus steers are a few days from shipping to the packing plant. I look pretty small next to them!

Shipping cattle: We ship cattle to the packing plant approximately once every two weeks.  My crew and I load the cattle onto semi-trucks to travel to the packing plant.

A semi-truck used to transport cattle...

A semi-truck used to transport cattle…

Receiving cattle: We get new cattle into the feed yard periodically as other cattle are shipped to the packing plant.  The new cattle come from neighboring ranches in Nebraska where they were born and spent the first 8-18 months of their lives.  I am my own cattle buyer so I travel to the home ranch to help load the cattle onto stock trailers or semi-trucks to bring them to the feed yard.

Sometimes the calves ship from the home ranch in stock trailers like these, and sometimes they come on a semi-truck...

Newly arrived cattle on “stock trailers”…

My crew and I (there are four of us total) each spend an average of 50-60 hours a week during the winter providing care to our animals.  We all love what we do and strive for excellence every day.

Winter

Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.

Karen Ravn

11 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, CAFO, General

Proving That We Care…

Just a couple of weeks ago, a social media friend forwarded me an email that she had received from a reader.  The email was a cry for help from a fellow mom.  It seems that her daughter, after repeatedly watching horrific videos of animal abuse on the internet, had refused to eat any animal products.

I do not have that added challenge with my daughters because they help to raise the beef that we eat.

I do not have that added parenting challenge with my daughters because they help to raise the beef that we eat.

Concerned about both her daughter’s nutritional needs and the abusive videos, the mom was reaching out to online farmer bloggers in an attempt to find out the truth.  When I sent a link to several videos of my farm to the mom, she responded “Why can’t I find these when I search on YouTube?  These are the types of videos that we need to see!”

The short answer to that question is that search results on YouTube are ranked according to number of views.  This means that the more views a video has, the more likely that it will show up when you search a topic.  I have uploaded four “home-made” videos to YouTube over the last year—they have a total of only 1500 views.

This one is my favorite–it is my 10 year old cowgirl/chef exercising cattle at the feed yard to the tune of her favorite song “Fly Over States”.

  • I love this video because I am proud of my daughter and what a great cattle caregiver she is becoming.
  • I love this video because it shows the simplicity of good cattle handling.
  • I love this video because of the calf with the white spot on his head that kept asking Megan “do I have to” when she asked him to move.  Megan frequently looks at me asking the same question…

    Where did the trust go?

    Where did the trust go?

Twenty years ago, trust existed throughout the food production system.  Farmers were viewed positively, and those outside of the farm believed that farmers had integrity.  Today, that trust is gone.  I believe that this loss of trust is one of the biggest travesties currently affecting our great country.  Quite simply, it hurts my heart to know that many people do not trust that I care.

ProgressiveBeefLogoGreen

My brain recognizes that it is my duty to not only care, but also to document that care in an attempt to rebuild that trust.  The daily care that I offer to my animals is now accompanied by record keeping and documentation that will verify that I not only care, but that I am competent in that care.

My other job---paper work!

My other job—paper work!

Animal Care is the second pillar of the Progressive Beef program.  It is one that I believe in with every fiber of my being.  Outstanding animal care is a trademark of my feed yard.  Progressive Beef has provided me with both a documentation trail, and also a third party independent audit to bring additional integrity to my promise of high quality animal care.

Rest assured that you can feel good about feeding my beef to your family—it came from healthy and humanely raised animals.  You don’t have to just take my word for it!

I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.

Pablo Casals

8 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, CAFO, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Good Care, Content Cattle, Great Beef…

One of my favorite classic country western songs is by Aaron Tippin.  It is called “You’ve Got To Stand For Something”, and the refrain goes something like this:

You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.  You’ve got to be your own man, not a puppet on a string.  Never compromise what’s right and uphold your family name. You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything…

I have lost track of the number of times that I have burst out into enthusiastic song with this refrain when my girls ask me why a decision that I have made is important.  Perhaps the most entertaining part is the classic “eye roll” that I get from my favorite 12 year old following my serenade—although truthfully the best part is that she knows the refrain by heart and is learning to live it in her own life.

Out just after dawn, determinedly chasing a dream with her loyal sidekick…100 miles in 4 weeks!

When I started raising cattle 15 years ago, I brought some ideas regarding animal welfare with me that were deeply entrenched in my heart.  As much as I believe that it is morally acceptable to raise animals for the production of food, I also believe that offering good care to those animals during their lifetime is my moral duty.  I rely on professional scientists (like my veterinarian) to provide the basis for my animal care decisions, but I also lead with my heart.

Just like my favorite 12 year old, I am also out at dawn–pursuing a different dream– one of raising cattle  and making high quality beef…

There are times when my standards for care are unique amongst my peers.  I am OK with that because I know that I must always stay true to my beliefs.  I know that while physical fitness is imperative for good health and welfare, understanding the mental and emotional needs of my animals is equally important.  I believe that limiting the stress that my animals experience is intrinsically tied to the physiological balance and health of them.

These animals are curious…In both Megan and the mineral tub.

To do a good job caring for cattle, I must understand their needs and be able to offer appropriate care on their level.  Healthy and content cattle are innately curious in addition to being more efficient convertors of natural resources (feed) as they make beef.

He is bigger and almost ready to be shipped to harvest, but he is curious and content too…

The science and the numbers support what my heart tells me about good animal care.  Recently, I shipped a group of steers to harvest.  I weaned these animals at the feed yard and cared for them through the winter and into the spring.  The animals gained 4.33 pounds of weight per day at the feed yard, and required 5.16 pounds of feed for each pound of animal gain.  This is outstanding performance and is the direct result of high quality care. The animals also performed incredibly well at the packing plant and made high quality, well-marbled and tender beef.

This is what highly marbled and tender beef looks like before you cook it…

As I watched these animals load up onto the truck destined for harvest, I knew in my heart that by standing firm in my beliefs that I had enabled them to be both comfortable during their stay at the feed yard and also successful in their quest to make great tasting beef…

Hard work and good care is the American way!

6 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General