Tag Archives: Beef Life Cycle–Calf #718

Building Bridges…

This is the north channel of the Platte River. The south channel is about 200 yards away and is wider and shallower...

Dawson County, Nebraska is divided in half by the Platte River.  Shortly after I moved to the Cozad area, I learned that there were those known as “north siders” and those known as “south siders”.  In 1997, it amazed me that a river could create such a concept of “dividedness”—after all, it took only about 15 seconds to drive across one of the many bridges that now span the river.

The tradition of “north siders” verses “south siders” took root in a time where the shallow, yet wide Platte River created a chasm between homesteaders on either side of the river banks.  The quick sand found along the bottom of the river made both crossing the river and building the structural supports needed for a bridge very challenging.

Today, what seems an easy trip from one side of the river to the other was virtually impossible when the town of Cozad was settled…

This little one was born on AL Ranch and grew to weigh approximately 850# before being moved to my feed yard.

With the exception of only a very few farms in the United States, the cattle industry is divided into segments.  Mama cows and bulls which provide the breeding herds of our nation’s beef supply are located on cow/calf ranches.  This is where baby calves are born and spend the first 8-18 months of their lives depending on the amount of pasture and feed that is available in any given year (Mother Nature plays a big role in determining this!).  Cattle that are to be grown for the production of beef (not to become part of the future breeding herd), are then moved to either an intermediate farm to be “grown” or into a finishing feed yard to be prepared for harvest.  The feed yard is the last stop for the animal before he is transported to a packing plant for harvest.

#718 and his herd mates line up for breakfast at the feed yard!

When I went to work at our feed yard at age 22, I was amazed at the independence of the cattle farmers that made up the different segments of the beef production cycle…At times it seemed as though one Platte River ran between the cow/calf rancher and the feed yard, and another ran between the feed yard and the packing plant…

I, along with many other cattle farmers, have spent the last 14 years building bridges.  Tradition, economics, and government regulations have kept my cattle production cycle from becoming completely vertically integrated.  However, it is now vertically collaborative.  It takes a concerted team effort to produce the best beef possible!

Collaborating with Al and other ranchers like him is very rewarding...

I work closely with my cow/calf ranchers (like Al and Sallie), and we pass information back and forth to ensure that we set our animals up for success.  A close communication system allows each calf to be traced from birth to harvest.  This also provides for optimal calf care and performance, as well as the most efficient use of natural resources to grow great tasting and healthy beef.   As we have traced Calf #718 over the past couple of months, you have *hopefully* seen the success story of good genetics, good communication, good care based on Beef Quality Assurance protocols, and an efficient use of natural resources to raise cattle and grow beef.

There is a solid bridge made of trust and respect that connects Al and Sallie and I as we work together to raise our cattle and make beef.

So, what happened when Calf #718 left my feed yard and went to harvest? Does the teamwork continue?

Calf #718 was harvested through U.S. Premium Beef, LLC.  Started in 1996, U.S. Premium Beef is a marketing company which provides U.S. beef farmers and ranchers an opportunity to retain ownership of the beef they raise from the ranch to retail. It is owned by beef farmers who produce high quality cattle that will go into value-added beef products designed specifically to meet consumers’ demands. U.S. Premium Beef owns National Beef Packing Company which has harvest facilities in Dodge City and Liberal, Kansas in addition to one in Brawley, California.  Calf #718 was harvested at the Dodge City, Kansas facility which is located approximately 4 hours south and east of my feed yard.

Because U.S. Premium Beef focuses on value-added beef products to meet consumer desires, they make a great partner for my high quality cattle.  They enable me to build a bridge to the consumer of my beef products through a pricing structure that rewards high quality Age and Source Verified beef as well as providing me (and Al and Sallie) with individual carcass performance data on the cattle that are harvested at their facility.  This means that Al and Sallie and I can complete the beef production cycle.  We can literally trace Calf #718 from birth to harvest.  U.S. Premium Beef provides the final “pieces to the puzzle” of our beef production.

The Flat Iron steak was "discovered " in the University of Nebraska meat laboratory. It is part of the Chuck muscle and makes a very tender steak. Thanks to the Nebraska Beef Council for the great picture!

While independence and tradition are important, evolving to meet the needs of our beef consumers is more important.  For that reason, we have become innovative “bridge builders” in a vertically collaborative system which sets us all up for success.  After all, “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner”!

Next week we will look at the different components of “carcass performance data”, and further explore what makes a truly great steak!


Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General


Coach Andersen (to the left of me), me, and Coach Kirk Peppas at the Junior National Championships my senior year in high school. I placed 4th and 6th in the backstroke events.

I was first introduced to the concept of “focus” by my USA Swimming coach when I was in 8th grade.  Coach Andersen believed in holistic fitness for his athletes, and was determined to teach us all mental toughness and focus in addition to making our bodies strong.  Coach was my earliest mentor, and had a tremendous lasting influence on the person that I have become.  He made me tough, gave me a tremendous work ethic, and challenged me to always strive for greatness.

That being said, my teammates and I thought that he had lost his mind when he had us all lie down on the floor to practice relaxation and focus techniques….Amidst a room of quiet snickers, I found a tremendous life skill.

I called on this life skill ten years later as I began to study cattle and horses and learned to interact with them.

Focus means attention to detail: receiving feedback from my animals and responding accordingly...

I remember vividly the first time that I shipped cattle to harvest.

The feeling that I have today when I ship cattle to harvest is much different…

Moving amidst a large number of animals that are 13X bigger than you are can be intimidating.  That first day, I was shaking with fright as Archie and I counted off cattle to be moved up to the waiting semi-trucks.  In spite of my fear, (thanks to Coach Andersen) I was able regain my focus and concentrate on the task at hand.  I lacked confidence that first day, but I realized that it was imperative that I stay in control.

So what exactly is focus?

Webster defines focus as a point of concentration.  When you are handling prey animals, this focus has an added element that Natural Horseman Bill Dorrance describes as “feel”.  In this instance, the concentration requires a detailed element of perception necessary to enable an effective two way communication system.  When you are handling animals that weigh 1350#, there is little room for error.  Effective communication is the difference between skillful cattle handling and safety, and chaotic and dangerous mayhem.

A group of 16 animals going up the alleyway to load on the semi-truck to be shipped to harvest...My cowboy and I are the "shipping crew".

When I first began at the feed yard, shipping cattle required four crew members and a lot of tension and pressure.  Today, my cowboy and I sort and ship cattle by ourselves and there is an element of effective communication that reduces the tension and makes it a more organized effort.

The difference?

A focus on feel, training and prey animal psychology that begins when cattle are received at the feed yard and continues throughout the feeding period.  When I acclimate cattle into the feed yard, I teach them to walk calmly past the handler and sort easily.  I also consistently rely on the “Ask, Tell, Promise” communication system that I described in an earlier post as I train my animals.  This not only allows them to feel more comfortable in their surroundings, but it also makes “shipment day” much easier.

Does “shipment day” always go as smoothly as I want it to?  No.  Animals (cattle) are unpredictable, and no two days are the same.  When we handle and ship cattle, we focus on Dr. Dee Griffin’s 4 S’s of Safety:

Safety of the animal handler

Safety of the animal

Safety of the food supply

Safety of everyone that comes in contact with the animal

In the fifteen years that I have been learning how cattle think and act, I have discovered that the single most important skill to have is perception of the surrounding environment and focus on the animal and the task at hand.  Communication is a two way street—even with an animal.  If you are not focused, then you will miss half the conversation.  If the conversation is with a 1350# animal, then missing half of the conversation may mean the difference between effectively loading the animal and literally being trampled to death.

Calf #718 and his herd mates are strong and powerful animals...

Calf #718 weighed 1394# when I loaded him on the truck and shipped him to harvest.  My measly 105# of body weight looks pretty scrawny next to a powerful animal of that size.  I must rely on my focus, feel, and communication to safely and effectively load him (and his herd mates) on the semi-truck destined for harvest…

A cattle semi-truck waiting to receive cattle to transport them to harvest...

That takes me back to the early days when Coach Andersen taught me that brawn was victorious only when it was combined with brains!

Feed Yard Foodie as a Senior in high school...Brains and Brawn were a great combination back then too!


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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General, Natural Horsemanship

Technology…Familiarity Breeds Trust…

Electrical engineer, Matt, turned farmer!

My husband is an electrical engineer by training and used to build computer chips before we made the life choice to move back to Nebraska to farm.  He is absolutely fascinated with electrical “gadgets”, and is celebrating his 40th birthday this week with a new “entertainment system”.  The new system has at least five remote controls, and I am pretty sure that I will never bother to learn how to use any of them.  As you might guess, I do not share my husband’s love of electronics.  I use them on a necessity basis, and generally have a negative attitude toward them (which, of course, signals them to lock up and fail to work when I need them most…).  Is the TV, computer, or blackberry phone purposely “out to get me”?  Of course not! But I might, during an irrational moment of frustration, tell you otherwise…

Am I afraid and distrustful of all technology?  No, I only fear and doubt the technology that I am not familiar with and have no experience using.

This is a natural human tendency…

I use a scale indicator "chute side" to weigh cattle and trace calf gain during the feeding period. This helped Al and I trace the performance of Calf #718 and leads to producing a better animal each and every year...Yeah for technology!

We "catch" our animals in a squeeze chute which allows us to safely administer vaccines, ear tags, and growth hormone implants. Here, I am administering a vaccine...The continual technical advancements of squeeze chutes improves both my physical safety when handling cattle, and also the safety of the animal and his beef because he is properly restrained during these procedures. Yeah for technology!

Growth hormones are a technology that I am completely comfortable with because I work with them every day, and I am very well educated in both the science and the practical implementation of their use.  I am familiar with them, and familiarity leads to trust and confidence.  Many of you may think that I am silly to harbor anxiety toward a computer or a blackberry phone while I have complete confidence with the technologies that I use at the feed yard.

Everything is relative…

Cassie Payne learned of the technology of prey animal psychology and the role that low stress handling plays in improving both the welfare and the efficiency of cattle at my feed yard when she visited last week. Here, she is learning to exercise and acclimate newly arrived cattle. Yeah for technology!

Cassie, who just finished her master’s degree in Ruminant Nutrition (cattle are ruminant animals) shared some statistics with us last week in a comment on my first hormone post.  Let’s look at those numbers a little bit closer…

Testosterone in beef:                                                                        

Differences in testosterone levels in the muscle of cattle (that’s the part that we eat) between hormone implanted and non-implanted steers are not statistically significant.  Bull meat, however, (which comes from male cattle that have not been castrated and turned into steers) has 30 times higher levels of testosterone than either hormone implanted or non-implanted steers.

Estrogen in beef and the levels relative to some other foods:

1.   Non-implanted beef: 0.16 parts per billion (nanograms/gram)

2.      Implanted beef: 0.22 parts per billion

3.      Milk: 0.12 parts per billion

4.      Eggs: 35 parts per billion

5.      Soy flour: 1,510,000 parts per billion !!

6.      Female daily production: 5,000,000 nanograms

7.      Male daily production: 100,000 nanograms

In a nutshell, it would require a woman to eat more than FIFTY THOUSAND POUNDS of beef from an implant treated steer PER DAY to get the same level of estrogen as natural female daily production.

The original question left to be answered by this post is, “Why do I feel good about using growth hormones?”

The first half of the answer is because I know that the beef from a hormone treated steer is safe to feed to my family.

The second half of the answer is that it reduces my environmental footprint and allows me to grow more pounds of healthy beef while using fewer natural resources.  Let’s go back to Calf #718 to look at this further…

A lot of technology went into "setting #718 up for success" and making great tasting, safe, and efficiently produced beef!

The use of growth hormones in Calf #718 allowed him to gain approximately 100# more weight at the feed yard. Consequently, I was able to prepare the calf for harvest in twenty five fewer days during the finishing phase compared to a non-hormone treated steer.  If you convert this to pounds of feed necessary to prepare the animal for harvest, growth hormones allowed me to finish Calf #718 with approximately 600 dry matter pounds less of feed! This significantly reduces the environmental foot print of Calf #718 which, as someone who strives for sustainable food production, is very important to me.

Sometimes learning about and using technology opens to door to great things! Did you ever think about how a feed yard could be environmentally friendly?

So, while I may never learn to use all five remote controls on my husband’s new entertainment system, I embrace the technologies that allow me to do a better job of caring for my animals and efficiently producing safe and healthy beef!  Growth hormone use is one of those technologies.  I invite you to check out the sources that Cassie listed for us in her comment from last week.  The following is a link to Cassie’s blog site post regarding hormone use: http://foodthinkforum.blogspot.com/2011/05/going-hormonal-over-beef.html


Filed under Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General


The first day of school for my girls…

Our house has continually rising levels of Estrogen.  I like to tease my husband that he “always wanted to be surrounded by women, and now he is”.  As the only male in a house of four women (four opinionated women…), he does at times feel a little bit overwhelmed…We have three male (neutered) cats, and two male (gelded) horses but that falls significantly short of balancing the circulating estrogen (and resulting drama) produced by the two legged girls in his house!

All jokes aside, I would like to take a couple of posts to try and demystify the topic of growth hormone use in my beef cattle.  What are they? How do I use them? At what level do I use them? Why do I feel confident that using them is a good decision?

I feed the beef that I produce to my family every day, so I want to be confident that what I am feeding to them is healthy…

As a college graduate with a major in physiological psychology, I have a basic understanding of the role that hormones play in the lives of both humans and animals.

As a cattle caregiver, I have a vested interest in understanding the role that growth promoting hormones play in the welfare of my cattle and the efficient use of natural resources to produce beef.

As a mother of three developing girls, I have a vested interest in understanding how the use of hormones in beef cattle affects the beef that I feed to my children every day.

  1. What are they?  Hormone implants are small doses of hormones that act on the pituitary gland (in cattle) and cause it to produce more somatotropin which is the animal’s own natural growth promoting agent.  This allows the calf to gain more weight with an improved dry matter feed conversion (which means that it takes fewer pounds of feed to create more pounds of beef).
  2. How do I use them?  Calf #718 received a “calf” implant at branding time (the same time that he was castrated).  He then received another low dose implant when he arrived at the feed yard eight months later.  He received his final implant approximately 80 days prior to harvest.  These hormone “implants” are administered according to FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and Beef Quality Assurance guidelines, and are placed in the calf’s ear.

    The implant is administered the middle third section of the back of the animal’s ear. This administration site is discarded at harvest time and never enters the food production chain.

    I work with both my nutritionist and veterinarians (you “met” them all in the last couple of weeks), to select appropriate hormone implants and the timing in which they are administered.

  3. At what level do I use them?  The first implant that Calf #718 received immediately following castration contained 10mg (milligrams) of Estradiol and 100mg of Progesterone.  The hormone implant given to Calf #718 eight months later, upon arrival at the feed yard, was 36mg of zeranol.  The final hormone implant that the calf received contained 24mg of Estradiol and 120mg of Trenbolone Acetate approximately 80 days prior to harvest.

He received these implants in order to replace some of the circulating hormones that were lost due to castration.  You might ask, “Why did you castrate the animal and then give him a hormone implant?  Why didn’t you just leave the animal “sexually intact” and use the hormones that his body produced?”

 The short answer is that I can do a better job managing the hormone levels and their effect on both the animal and his meat by castrating the animal at a young age, and then putting a portion of the hormones lost due to castration back into the animal at timely intervals.

Allowing my animals to efficiently convert their feed into beef reduces my environmental footprint…

A more moderate level of circulating hormone (which occurs with the correctly timed and administered hormone implant) allows the animal to gain weight efficiently (using fewer natural resources), and produce what I believe is a more tender beef product.  It also makes the animal less aggressive than his “intact” herd mate which is a “handling safety” benefit.

Perhaps the most important question of all is: Why do I feel confident that using them is the right thing to do?  Click here to see a follow up post answering this questions in addition to providing you will some statistics about the different levels of hormones in beef and other foods that we eat.  https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/unfamiliarity-with-technology-breeds-distrust-and-misunderstanding%E2%80%A6/

My beef needs to be healthy and come from animals that are efficient in their use of natural resources…It nourishes my children and ensures their future.

I hope that you will join me in feeling good about sharing a great tasting and healthy beef meal with your family!

Thanks to the Nebraska Beef Council for a picture that makes my mouth water!


Filed under Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General


At age 36, I am not quite as strong nor do I eat quite as much, but I can still swim backstroke!

Despite the  fact that my “flesh condition” (another cattle term) has always tended to be “green”, I am a really good eater.  Not long after I first met my husband, I invited him to dinner with the Dartmouth Women’s Swim Team.  I still laugh when I remember the look on his face when the food was served and my teammates and I began to eat.  He describes it, quite literally, as a “feeding frenzy”.  To this day, he proudly declares that the women’s swim team could out-eat the football team any day!

Matt's high school senior football picture...ready to go and play at Dartmouth!

Shortly after we moved back to Nebraska, one of my friends called to check in.  When she asked what I had done that day, I told her that I had spent the day with my nutritionist.  Following my statement, there was a fairly long period of silence.  My friend finally said, “Anne, are you ok?”  At first, I had no idea what she was talking about but it finally occurred to me that she thought that I was going to human nutritional counseling…

I have a consulting nutritionist at the feed yard, and he is an important part of our feeding/nutrition team.  He has his PhD in ruminant nutrition.  Cattle are herbivore animals with unique digestive systems.  As herbivores, their diet consists of various plants.  In order to more efficiently digest their plant diet, cattle have flat teeth which help to grind the food up, and a very complex digestive tract consisting of four stomachs.  They are known as “ruminant animals”.  Grazing cattle on land that is not suitable for raising crops for a large portion of their lives (like calf #718) more than doubles the land area that can be used to grow food.  This converts grass that humans are not able to digest into nutrient rich beef that we can.  Finishing cattle in a feed yard, under the tutelage of a trained nutritionist, enables the mature calf to be prepared for harvest using fewer natural resources while also giving it the “grain finished” taste that I love so much!

DJ Jordan, a PhD graduate of the University of Nebraska in Ruminant Nutrition, my "consulting nutritionist"...

From a nutritional standpoint, calf #718 transitions from eating his mama’s milk; to grazing grass; to a weaning diet of wet distillers grains, mineral supplement and hay; to finally a feed yard diet of wet distillers grains, rolled corn, mineral supplement, ground corn stalks, and ground alfalfa hay.  The acclimation time for calf #718 as he enters the feed yard is very important and I rely heavily on my consulting ruminant nutritionist to ensure that it is a smooth transition nutritionally.

Let’s take a look at the cattle’s feed:

The "Finishing Ration" at the feed yard: Wet Distillers Grains, Rolled Corn, Ground Alfalfa, Ground Corn Stalks, Mineral Supplement...

When #718 first entered the feed yard, he was placed on a “receiving ration” that is relatively high in forage (alfalfa hay and corn stalks), and relatively low in grain.  During the first month at the feed yard, his diet is slowly changed as he becomes accustomed to the feed.  The amount of grain is slowly increased and the amount of forage is slowly decreased.  Once he is placed on the “finishing ration” (approximately 30 days after arrival), he will remain on that ration until harvest (approximately 110 days).

In addition to relying on DJ to formulate comprehensive and nutritionally balanced rations for our cattle, we also take frequent samples of our feed to insure that the nutritional content of calf #718’s breakfast is accurate and wholesome!  These feed samples are analyzed in a laboratory.  In other words, we have a quality control system (Based on Beef Quality Assurances Protocols) to ensure that the feed that is fed to the animals matches the nutritional formation that DJ puts together for the cattle.  DJ also visits the feed yard once per month to assess both cattle health, and our crew’s job of delivering fresh and appropriately mixed cattle feed.

Beef Quality Assurance ensures good nutritional care...

As a mom, human nutrition is important to me—I try to offer my girls well balanced meals that ensure that they receive the energy and vitamins/minerals that they need to stay strong and healthy.

My Girls...

As a cattle caregiver, ruminant nutrition is important to me—DJ creates well balanced rations (meals) for the cattle, and my crew and I ensure that the feed is fresh, formulated accurately, and delivered regularly to the cattle.

Eagerly eating a well balanced breakfast--formulated by DJ...

Mixed and Delivered by Doug...

This is another one of the ways that we “take the time it takes to do it right” at the feed yard…


Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General, Nutrition (cattle and human)

I’m not a factory…

We look like sweet angels, don't we?

Big brothers make you tough.  Mine teased me unmercifully… he landed several good solid punches…he made me do pushups for at least what seemed like hours when he was supposed to be “baby-sitting”…

Perhaps by this point in our lives we were not always angels...

I think that I truly understood the full glory of the art of problem solving the day that he took a good solid shot at my stomach forgetting that I now wore a back brace.  Hearing his knuckles crack against the hard plastic of the brace still brings a smile to my face…When I remember the look of shock on his face, the smile turns to a large grin…I won’t mention the fact that I might have enticed him just a little bit to take that punch knowing full well what the outcome would be…After that day, we found a new respect for one another…

Big brothers not only make you tough…they also make you SMART!

As an adult, I face many practical and “hands on” challenges caring for animals and interacting with Mother Nature.  However, I find that the one challenge which takes me back to those days as a child when I grappled with the concept of “fairness for the underdog” is the public misinformation that surrounds Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) like mine.  When less than 2% of the American population has any direct ties to a farm, it is very easy for misinformation to circulate.

An arial view of my cattle farm...

Calf #718 is about the change his address as he moves from AL Ranch to my feed yard (CAFO).  How much will his life change?

*He will ride in a truck for the first time for a couple of hours as he makes the journey.

A Cattle Semi-Truck...

*His caregivers will change from Al and Sallie and their crew to Anne and her crew.

Anne and Archie...Archie has worked for and with our family for more than 60 years. Two of his sons work at the feed yard as well. Archie was my first mentor...Archie is a surrogate "grandfather" as well...

*He will live in a different pen than the “background pen” that he has been in since weaning time, although he will still have plenty of room to express natural bovine play behavior in the new pen.

The "Home Pen"

*He will be in closer proximity to animals from other herds than he was at the ranch.

Cattle at the Feed Yard "share fencelines" with animals from different herds...

*His diet will shift to a little more grain and a little less hay as he is prepared for harvest.

Cattle eating a blend of forage (grasses) and grain (wet distillers grain and rolled corn).

Does he exit the truck at my feed yard and enter a giant and evil domain sometimes known as a factory farm?

I remember clearly the first time that someone called me a “Factory Farmer”.

What exactly is a factory farm anyway?

The honest truth is that I really am not sure what exactly a “factory farm” is other than a product of someone’s imagination.  Many of the descriptions that I have read in the media depict a place similar to Azkaban in Harry Potter World where the wizards are kept in prison and the jail keepers are creatures that suck the souls out of them (my favorite middle schooler is a big Harry Potter fan).  As I work each day at the feed yard, I see a very different picture.

Checking the health of my cattle at dawn...

My CAFO houses cattle who are cared for by people.   There is no mechanized “factory” that accomplishes this…

I began working at the feed yard as a 22 year old Ivy League graduate because I thought that raising and caring for food animals was an admirable vocation.  I began blogging because I wanted to share the true story of my animal care.   As “tough skinned” as my brother made me during childhood, it still bothers me terribly to be described in the same terms as the Dementors in Harry Potter.

I am an American.

 I am a wife.

  I am a mother.

  I am a cattle caregiver.

  I work at a CAFO.

I laugh, I cry, I love, I live, I care with every fiber of my being…

This is who we are...

I hope that you think of me when you go the grocery store and look at the beef in the meat-case because it is people like me that care for cattle and raise beef.

I am not a factory…


Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, CAFO, General

“Mama, why did you just say that calf was ‘green’?”…

This question came from my oldest daughter when she was learning her colors as a young child.  I was talking to someone on the phone about a group of cattle that had just arrived at the feed yard, and commenting that the cattle were “pretty green”.

This newly arrived steer at the feed yard can be classified as "green"...

Steer #718 is ready for harvest and no longer classified as "green"...

We all know that cattle are not the color green—so what was I talking about?  A “green” steer or heifer is one that is not carrying a lot of flesh.  “Green” is a term used by cattlemen to describe an animal that is relatively thin.  If I were a bovine, I could be described as “green”…

I've always been 'thin' or 'green'--my husband states that it is directly related to my inability to ever sit still!

When I think back to my daughter’s comment, I think of all of the terms that I now use without thinking but would not have had any idea what they meant before I moved to Nebraska.  As we trace calf #718, I am likely to use some of these terms, so I thought it best that I take a few moments and define a few of them for you…

  1. Calf– any bovine animal that is less than 1 year old.
  2. Yearling-any bovine animal that is 1-2 years old.
  3. Branding– the time that a young calf is “worked”  for the first time.  The calf is vaccinated and branded with a hot iron brand for identification purposes (hence the name “branding”).  I live in a “brand area” in Nebraska which means that cattle are branded for identification purposes and the brands on the cattle must be “inspected” by a State Brand Inspector prior to being shipped from one farm to another to verify ownership.  This prevents “cattle theft” or “cattle rustling”.
  4. Working cattle- the act of handling cattle (at the feed yard we use  a constraint system called a “working chute” which holds the calf still while he is vaccinated, wormed and ear tagged).  When the calf is little (at the ranch level at branding time) the calf is usually roped and constrained by a cowboy or group of cowboys instead of a “working chute”.  It is important that the calf stay reasonably still while being “worked” for both safety reasons and the efficacy of the vaccine.
  5. Preconditioning-the process of revaccinating the calf and preparing him for “weaning” time.  Preconditioning can mean many different things, but most often it refers to vaccination which stimulates the immune system and allows the calf to stay healthy and fight off disease.  To be most effective, preconditioning vaccinations should occur approximately 3 weeks prior to weaning.
  6. Bunk Broke- an animal that is “bunk broke” knows how to eat out of a feed bunk, and realizes that his feed is there.  (This is as opposed to eating grass or some other feed directly off of the ground—Yes, cattle truly need to be ‘taught’ to eat out of a feedbunk and to drink out of a water tank).
  7. Weaning– the time when the animal is no longer allowed to nurse his mama’s milk.  This time typically occurs at approximately 8-10 months of age.
  8. Steer– a castrated male bovine.
  9. Worming– administering an FDA approved product that will kill the internal and external worms that a bovine might have in his system.  When cattle are grazing grass, they naturally pick up internal parasites from the grass.  These parasites compromise the health of the digestive tract, so we administer “de-worming” products to kill the parasites.
  10. PCT- Program Compliant Tag-this is an ear tag that tracks the identity of the calf from birth to harvest.  It is “iso-compliant” which means that the number is unique to that animal and complies with global standards of identification.
  11. Age and Source Verified– A calf that is Age and Source Verified can be traced across it’s entire life (from the ranch of origin to harvest) and also back to a birthdate.
  12. Organic- Organic beef must come from an animal that has only be fed organically grown feed, and can not have received  “de-worming” products, antibiotics, or growth promotants.
  13. NaturalThe USDA defines “all natural” as any beef product that has been “minimally processed”.  This means that any bovine/calf  is “natural”.

I am sure that there are more terms out there that I use without even noticing!  Hopefully, you all will remind me when I need to do a better job defining the words that I use!

In the mean-time, I will share with you that my daughter’s favorite color is purple.  As a three year old, she wanted to know why I called cattle ‘green’ but never ‘purple’…To this day, she still does not think it is right to call a calf ‘green’—she is a rule follower at heart and sees no logic in the term—perhaps I can persuade her to write a poem about it…

My favorite "poet", wearing green, and ready to "bring down the house" in a community drama production last week...


Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, Family

Shut the gate!!

Anne by the main gate of the feedyard...

When you raise cattle, a gate can be both your best friend and your greatest foe.  Fence lines and gates enable cattle caretakers to ensure that their animals “stay where they are supposed to”—on pastures and in the cattle feed yard.  They keep the animals out of dangerous places such as roads and railroad tracks, as well as neighboring crop ground where the cattle can do significant damage to growing corn and soybean fields.

So, as a cattle caregiver, gates and fences are my best friend and my greatest foe…They are my best friend when they are in good repair and closed.  They are my greatest foe when they are damaged or left open due to negligence.  It is the “golden rule” on our farm that if you open a gate you ALWAYS close it.

Karyn (my six year old) standing by a CLOSED gate!

My six year old will even give you a lecture on it because she knows how important it is.

Calf #718 was able to grow and thrive on both AL Ranch and at my farm because our systems of gates and fences worked.  Al and Sallie maintain miles and miles and miles of fence line and many, many gates.  For the system to work, all must be in good repair and cattle caregivers must be diligent in ensuring that gates are closed.

I am going to deviate from Calf #718 for a bit to share a “gate” story from the weekend…

I spent all night Friday night unloading new calves at the feed yard.  These calves were shipped north to Nebraska because of the terrible drought that is occurring in northern Texas.  The drought has devastated the pastures in that area and calves are being shipped to feed yards like mine because there is no grass left to eat.

One of the new calves...

We vaccinated and de-wormed the new cattle early Saturday morning, and then set out to move the calves into the “home pens” where fresh feed and water awaited them.  Something spooked the calves that were placed into Pen 23 and about 45 head broke through the back fence and were loose within the feed yard facility.

Some of the new calves in Pen 23...

We have systems set up at the feed yard to deal with this—we have a perimeter fence that keeps the cattle inside the cattle feed yard even if they get out of their pen, and all four of us caregivers at the feed yard follow a “protocol” when this happens to minimize the amount of cattle that are loose and contain the ones that get out.

A pivot is a big "sprinkler" that travels in a circle irrigating crops.

My system failed on Saturday.  My system failed because the custom crew that built my new LWCF (Livestock Waste Control Facility) were out working on my pivot (the big sprinkler that irrigates the corn field north of the feed yard) Friday and  did not shut the two perimeter gates along the east side of the feed yard when they went home Friday night.  My system failed because my crew and I failed to double check that the perimeter gates were closed after the crew of workmen left.

The result…

We ended up with about 45 head of cattle getting out of the feed yard and running loose on neighboring farm ground.  We (along with several wonderful neighbors) have worked tirelessly all weekend trying to find the “missing cattle”, and I am sorry to report that there are still 13 head running loose.

The corn is taller than I am right now, so it is very difficult to see cattle if they are out in the middle of the field.

Rules like “closing gates” are so simple, yet so important to follow.  It may be harvest time before we find all of the missing cattle.  We may never find them all.

Today, I am exhausted and feeling terribly “beaten” down.   I thought that I had a system in place to prevent things like this from happening—in the fourteen years that I have been at the feed yard, we had never had a calf get loose until Saturday morning.

I will move forward and tomorrow will be another day, but this weekend will forever stick in my mind.  I failed my animals, and that is a very difficult thing for me to accept.

A closed gate is a good gate...

We will keep looking…We will keep caring…We will keep praying that we will find the lost cattle.  We will ALWAYS double check the perimeter gates before we move cattle.  We will learn from our mistakes and hope that tomorrow is a better day.


Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, CAFO