Tag Archives: animal welfare

What Makes a Good Animal Trainer?

Learning about cattle…

I remember the first time that I stepped into a pen filled with cattle at our feed yard. I was 21 years old and had never been within a quarter of a mile of a bovine before. The first thought that ran through my mind was “They’re huge”, followed simultaneously with an almost automatic feeling of fear.

I’ve always believed in the saying Mind over Matter and, in that instant, I made the decision to figure out how these very large creatures viewed the world (and me). My gut pushed me to learn their story so that I could become a part of it. It’s been an awesome journey. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with those big, hairy creatures. Their minds fascinate me, and I overcame my fear as I traded inexperience for knowledge.

Learning to work with cattle taught me more about myself than I would have ever imagined. Cattle’s ability to sense emotions and see the world in pictures challenged my natural linear thought process. I figured out relatively quickly that they were not able to think like me – that, in fact, it was not their job to think like me. Rather, it was my job as their caregiver to learn to think like them.

Empathy creates a powerful tool…

Today, I don’t handle cattle as often as I used to. I get my fill during the spring and summer months when we run cattle on grass pasture. But, once our grass is eaten up and I move them into the feed yard, I pass off the job of “primary caregiver” to the knowledgeable crew at Roberts Cattle Co.

Honestly, there are days when I miss that daily bovine-human interaction tremendously.

I’ve learned during my adult life that happiness is a self-fulfilling prophesy. I determine my own fate and my attitude defines my level of joy. When I sense a personal gap, I look to fill it in a meaningful way as that helps me to find daily fulfillment.

Enter Theodore…

Six months after closing down my own feed yard, I brought a 7 week old yellow lab puppy into my life. Labrador Retrievers have a special place in my heart. I shared a love for them with my Dad, and I have fond childhood memories of watching him train his hunting dogs. Theodore has helped me to fill the gap and I am broadening my animal training prowess. Just like cattle, learning to understand Theodore is a journey. We have a partnership with each of us having responsibilities to fill in order to find harmony together.

The following is a short list of qualities that I believe make a good animal trainer. While cattle are incredibly different creatures than dogs, I am finding that the qualities that make me effective in training them are remarkably similar.

  1. Patience: Animals have a way of trying to “outlast” their handlers. Being patient tips the scale in your favor as it allows you to control your own emotions and wait for the right moment as you teach.
  2. Consistency: Just as patience allows for success, consistent boundaries are critical for effective training. Animals learn what happens before what happens happens which means that good caregivers must be consistent with their feedback.
  3. Communication: Clear communication sets everyone up for success. Expectations and asks can only be effectively answered by the animal if he understands what you want. Be clear.
  4. Empathy: Animals are not smart enough to think like you, so to be an effective trainer you have to learn how to think like them. When you are able to put yourself in their shoes, then you can ask in a way that is meaningful to them which leads to your idea becoming their idea.
  5. Love: Someone once told me animals don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. A good leader always cares.

I am so very thankful for the lessons that my animals teach me. They enrich my life in countless ways as we make the journey together. Theodore’s a pretty awesome little partner 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, Family, General

Did you eat today? Thank a farmer!

Technology advances each and every day, providing more tools to help us create efficiency and prosperity. For example, larger equipment, GPS guidance systems, and improved computer software affect many different types of businesses today – and agriculture is no exception. We can move faster and with more precision, trace more things, and create reports that analyze our performance on a variety of levels. All of these things help farmers to be better today than we were yesterday.

Despite incredible advances in technology, I still firmly believe that it is people, not machines, that play the most pivotal roles in growing food. Behind that great tasting steak on the grill is a hard working group of men and women who offered care to the animal across its lifetime. By care I mean not just giving them nutritious feed, water, and a place to rest, but teaching the animal how to prosper in a variety of situations along the life journey.

I remember sitting in an animal welfare meeting several years ago and hearing someone remark, “We need to continue to make more things automated in agriculture because people are our greatest liability”.

While my head acknowledges that sometimes people make poor choices that negatively impact others (including animals), my heart still holds faith that integrity prevails.

I believe that the soul of agriculture is its farmers.

The occasional hurtful caregiver may make the evening news and go viral on social media; but at home on the farm are hundreds of thousands of others who are good caregivers and work with integrity to grow the steak that graces your grill.

I recently wrote about Finding Honor In Our Lives, and how work is part of God’s plan for humanity. Each of us brings honor to our faith when we honestly and fully engage in our jobs. Raising cattle for beef production requires a special type of person. Our animals are sentient beings – they don’t just need, they feel – and they are able to communicate with us. Good caregivers learn to understand animal feedback and use that information to individualize care.

Technology helps us to do that job, but even the best machine cannot provide the caring leadership needed to enable cattle to prosper.

If the soul of agriculture is its farmers, then the future of agriculture manifests itself in the young people who aspire to be the next generation of animal caregivers. I am often asked if any of my three daughters plan to return home to the farm after college. The honest answer to that question is, “I don’t know”. I know that our future necessitates farm kids like mine coming home to continue the tradition or at least remaining involved in agriculture; however, wishes and reality do not always find harmony.

Farming is a tough life. It is filled with long hours and many worries. In addition, over the past couple of decades, the connotation of a farmer has shifted away from something positive and trustworthy. That weighs on me as I have conversations with my kids about what life path they should take.

I believe that our country has a necessary call to action.

  • Humanity cannot exist without life.
  • Life cannot exist without food.

It is time for all of us to unite in the knowledge that there is honor in the profession of farming. Placing value on the people who tend the land, care for animals, and help to put food on the table creates a culture of honor that helps us to sustain on into the future. That might very well provide the key to inspiring kids like mine to choose a life path that involves agriculture.

Technology aids in the production of food, but it can never replace the men and women who pack their FAITH each and every day to put food on our tables.

How long has it been since you thanked a farmer?

4 Comments

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

Keeping Our Cool…

I had an unwritten protocol at the feed yard for myself and the rest of my crew in the event that someone lost their temper:

  1. Make sure that all animals are safe in an appropriate pen.
  2. Walk away until you are once again calm.

The flip side of losing your temper is keeping your cool. Spending 20 years caring for cattle taught me the importance of rationally assessing a situation while simultaneously controlling my temper. For years, my girls claimed that I had twice as much patience with my cattle as I did with them. In all fairness, this was likely true as my steadfast mantra as feed yard boss lady was:

The cattle come first. They do not understand your brain but can sense and cue off of your emotions. Calm cattle caregivers lead to calm and well comfortable cattle.

ALWAYS KEEP YOUR COOL!

Over the years, I periodically lost my temper with myself, my crew, and the occasional truck driver that serviced us at the feed yard; but I tried to recover quickly to ensure that my cattle did not feel my frustration. I think this was one of the keys to my success as a cowgirl. Sometimes, you just have to take a moment to collect yourself before continuing the journey. That is what I call being a responsible caregiver.

A month ago, my favorite brunette bet me that I could not go a week without losing my temper. She spent a good part of her childhood comparing me to Old Faithful, laughingly explaining to anyone who would listen that her mom displayed frequent and predictable displays of emotion 😉  It is 100% true that for years I placed a higher priority on keeping my cool with my animals than I did with the people in my life. The moment that she wagered the bet, I made the decision to strengthen this personal weakness.

I am proud to say that Old Faithful remains calm and has not erupted in more than 30 days. I’ve learned a few important things along the way.

  • Conveying your passion in a respectful way provides an effective way to inspire others to do the same.
  • The key (for me) to warding off anger is to take on a perspective of thankfulness. I’ve found that it is difficult to become angry when I focus thankfully on my blessings.
  • Patience and encouragement combined with a steadfast persistence helps to bring about positive change – both in yourself and in others.

At the bottom of the Feed Yard Foodie home page is a quote by quarterback Drew Brees from his book Coming Back Stronger. The book is a favorite of mine and it makes an important observation:

“Believing—there are several layers to it. There’s the surface-level type of believing, where you acknowledge that something is true. Then there is a deeper kind of belief–the type that gets inside of you and actually changes you. It’s the kind of belief that changes your behavior, your attitude, and your outlook on life, and the people around you can’t help but notice.”

I need to give credit to my favorite brunette for inspiring me to enable my beliefs to permeate to a deeper level in order to create an important behavioral change. I may occasionally revert back to bad habits; but I am confident that Old Faithful has been put to rest. I have become a believer in keeping my cool 🙂

5 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General

Eclipse Totality Video…

Learning to make and do “videos” provided a significant challenge for me over the summer months. While I still have much to learn and improve upon, I am confident enough that I am starting to actually enjoy doing them 🙂

Monday, after the Facebook Live broadcast via Innovative Livestock Services, I remained in the pen with my cattle to experience the Eclipse Totality. The following video footage comes from that time — hopefully woven together in an orderly story to give you all a glimpse into what we experienced on cattle farms all across Nebraska.

I hope that you and your families were able to enjoy the awesomeness of Mother Nature last Monday!

What is your favorite eclipse story?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Video Fun on the Farm

Eclipse Fun…

I hope that everyone had as awesome a day watching the eclipse as I did! The Facebook Live stream that I did with Brandon Sorensen at Roberts Cattle Company with our fall calves was a lot of fun. I am really enjoying building this new skill 🙂  You can see the livestream broadcast here:

We did the live broadcast during the partial eclipse leading up to the period of totality (when the plains of Nebraska briefly said goodbye to the sun). Watching the beginning partial stages of the eclipse reminded me of Cookie Monster taking bites out of his favorite cookie — it was fascinating to watch the “bites” get bigger and bigger until the sun was completely covered.

The live broadcast ended about 12:20pm which was 36 minutes prior to eclipse totality. I allowed my “cattle nerdiness” take over at the time and spent those next 45 minutes hanging out with the cattle. I loved being able to take the time to just stand in the middle of the herd — watching and interacting with them during this awesome event. It made me smile when “Freckles” the calf ambled over to stand next to me just prior to the decent of darkness and during the totality.

I was pleased to see my animals remain calm during the eclipse. By understanding the cattle and intuitively providing for all of their needs, the crew at Roberts set them up for success. It was a stress-free experience for the cattle which kept them comfortable and enabled them to thrive on a day filled with uncertainty. Cattle are creatures of habit so the occurrence of darkness in the middle of the day certainly provided a strange event for them. A big “thank you” to Greg, Brandon and all of the guys at Roberts who play such an important role taking care of my animals. You all are awesome!

I took some video and a few still pictures during the minutes leading up to the totality and during the short time of darkness. I am planning to put together a video of it for all of you that were not able to spend the eclipse surrounded by farm animals. Look for that later this week 🙂

Happy Eclipse Day!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Video Fun on the Farm

It makes me human…

My daughters laugh and ask, “So Mom, when are you going to build your hermitage out in the hills?” The question resurfaces as a family joke with each award that I receive for my blogging and “outreach” efforts.

Since they live with me, my girls are very much aware that I am an introvert. That tendency seems to grow stronger as I get older. Being social is difficult for me because I lack the innate confidence that many people naturally enjoy. At this point, I have not allowed myself the liberty of being a recluse but at times I find myself yearning for it.

I think that it amazes my kids that I can rally and open myself up on a daily basis — honestly, sometimes it amazes me. I am a bit of an enigma, but the short answer to the “how” question is that the war between Anne the introvert and Anne the teammate is currently being won by the latter. I keep trucking along because I recognize that in order to do my part to help make the world a better place, I have to dig deep and take one for the team.

During my adult life, I have learned to pull strength from my relationships with animals. As an introvert, I find it relatively easy to use perception and focus to understand my non-verbal four legged friends. When they teach me what they need, it helps to refuel my desire to get out of my comfort zone in order to make their lives better. On a very basic level, I am inspired by their need.

It was hard for me to close down my feed yard. It was harder still to consider walking away from my steadfast and determined effort to improve bovine animal welfare. It was this motivation that led me to start a new venture in February with the Beef Marketing Group. On a personal level, I struggled to find the confidence to take on a new role with a new team; but I found myself forging forward because I wasn’t ready to give up on the dream of getting better for them.

It’s interesting that I seem to receive the majority of my awards for social media outreach; yet what really drives me forward is the ability to improve the lives of the animals that depend on me.

I believe in raising cattle as food animals.

But this belief is strongly coupled with another one that consistently tips the winning scale for Anne the teammate. I believe that it is my duty to honor the sacrifice that my animals make by offering them the best life possible as they work to turn our resources into products that will nourish our bodies and enrich our lives.

Perhaps one day, I will feel as if my mission is complete. Until then, I am finding my way on the continual journey of improvement which enables the animals under my care to reach their God-given potential. I know that they enrich my life; so it is my duty to work to enrich their’s. Interestingly enough, my new job requires much more “people time” than my old one as I now work to inspire others to drink the kool-aid and join the crusade.

I guess that it’s going to be a while before I give in to that yearning to build a hermitage in the hills and take up the life of a recluse…While that yearning makes me human, the ability to move past it and engage despite my insecurities makes me Anne.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Cowboy In a Bag…

Sometimes Plan A doesn’t work, so smart people have a Plan B. 

Saturday morning we headed down to our pasture to move the Lazy YN steers to new grass. I decided that this was a perfect opportunity for video #3.

I *think* I’m getting better — Please let me know your thoughts!

 

5 Comments

Filed under General, Video Fun on the Farm

Pursuing Excellence…

SCAN0002

Our Dartmouth College swim team shirts boasted the saying Pursuing Excellence across the back.  It provided a good fit for me as I have always felt the need to raise the bar.

My favorite farmer laughs and tells me that my standards are too high –To which I remind him that I am hardest on myself so everyone else should be in good shape 😉

Managing a feed yard for twenty years taught me the critical importance of a good team.  When you care for thousands of animals, it is impossible to do the job without the help of others.  Because the welfare of those animals is dependent on you, anything less than excellence in care is unacceptable.

A willingness to unselfishly give your all while simultaneously inspiring others to do the same allows for success.

Last week we shipped the final pen of cattle from our feed yard, and I officially started a new journey. I joined the team of Innovative Livestock Services and the Beef Marketing Group. BMG is a cooperative of feed yards in Kansas and Nebraska that operate under the Progressive Beef QMS.  My feed yard spent the last four years as a member of this coop and, during that time, I discovered a group of kindred spirits.

The mission statement of my new team states:

Combining innovation with the passion of our people to empower our rural communities and grow great tasting and sustainable beef.

Anyone who knows me can read that statement and see what a perfect fit this opportunity  is for me. I will play a dual role working on quality assurance and communications projects.  The quality assurance role enables me to continue to work to improve cattle welfare, and the communications projects allow me to empower my voice as an advocate for agriculture.

anne-dandy

While change is hard and transitions are not naturally comfortable for me, I am truly excited to begin this next leg of the journey. For those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter, I invite you to like and follow my new team’s work on Facebook at Innovative Livestock Services or Twitter @ILSBeef.  I am striving to do a more dependable job posting multiple social media messages a week on these new outlets 🙂

As for Feed Yard Foodie, look for the usual weekly ramblings on our family, our farm, and my new adventures as the Burkholder clan continues on the pursuit of excellence.

2 Comments

Filed under General, ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group