Tag Archives: Beef Marketing Group

What is the Integrity Beef Sustainability Pilot Project?

The month of November always leaves me thinking about the concept of community. I think about it in terms of the athletic teams that I coach — the volunteer efforts that sustain my rural town — and the way that farmers all across the “food chain” must find both continuity and effective communication in order to work for continuous improvement. How do teams of people effectively come together for the benefit of a meaningful cause? And, perhaps more importantly:

Why is it so important?

It is no secret that the beef life cycle is complex and often involves many partners across the production chain. From the rancher who owns and manages the breeding herd — to the feed yard that cares for the cattle for the final few months — to the packing plant and then finally the retail distributor that brings the beef to your dinner table; all of these groups of people must find a way to come together to make a beef product that is marked by integrity.

The US Roundtable For Sustainable Beef (USRSB) provides a foundation on the topic of sustainability to inspire teamwork and community as we travel the journey of continuous improvement in the beef industry. Pulling together the entire vertical supply chain and developing scientific metrics on the important topics of:

  1. Animal Health & Well Being
  2. Efficiency and Yield
  3. Land Resources
  4. Air and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  5. Water Resources
  6. Employee Safety & Well Being

The Integrity Beef Sustainability Pilot Project provides the first collective effort to trace the footprint of beef across the supply chain. It will, in essence, trial the work of the USRSB in a real-time business scenerio so that we can all keep getting smarter relative to beef sustainability. Click on the below video to see the framework for the project.

Sustainability is a tough topic to wrap your arms around; but the work of the USRSB and the Integrity Beef Sustainability Pilot Project brings the beef industry together as a community in order to search for positive improvement.

  • You can’t open your mind if you don’t look for new ideas.
  • You can’t figure out how to get better without always searching for ways to improve.
  • You can’t find an answers to important questions if you don’t volunteer to be a part of projects that seek new knowledge.

It’s a really awesome project to get to play a role in, and I am very excited to see what we learn as we move forward in the next few months!

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Filed under Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, Environmental Stewardship, General

Filling the Gap…


Managing a feed yard for 20 years inspired me to learn to identify and fill meaningful gaps. With thousands of animals relying on me each and every day, recognizing if an important gap existed between the care that I offered and what the animal needed was absolutely critical for good welfare. As an adult, I find myself continuously looking for gaps in all aspects of my life. I have found that when you look for them with the intent to fill them in a positive way, that it gives your life purpose.

Over the past several months, many people have asked about my new job and what I do for the Beef Marketing Group. The short answer is that I work to fill the gaps. An extra set of eyes can be a critical tool for evaluating if and where a meaningful gap exists; and I work with my teams to figure out the best way to fill them. While I enjoy the time that I spend outside at the cattle feed yards the best, helping to create the plans/protocols that ensure good care as well as the communication tools to share our story also refills my cup.

Our swim team mantra for this summer is “A goal without a plan is just a wish”, and I think that is true for any facet of life. Making goals is critical for improvement; but perhaps even more important than creating the goal is building a plan which holds you accountable to see it to fruition. I tell my athletes that no matter how good you are, you can always get better and I carry that same philosophy everyday with me as I go to work for the Beef Marketing Group. It makes for a good fit.

Started by a small group of cattlemen in the late 1980’s, the Beef Marketing Group fulfilled a longstanding dream to create a team and develop cooperation with the end goal of improving beef quality in the meat case. This multi-decade effort eventually led BMG team member Heather Donley to create the Progressive Beef program. Progressive Beef’s three tiered focus concentrates on beef safety, animal welfare and sustainability. It provides the necessary plan to accomplish the goal.

In the more than two decades that I have worked in the beef industry, I have never known a program better suited to finding and filling the gap in cattle care and resulting beef quality. Daily chore protocols come together with onsite visits from animal welfare consultants like me to ensure that we are doing our best every day; and that good cattle care is always the #1 priority. Yearly 3rd party audits ensure integrity of execution and provide verification of our efforts.

It’s pretty awesome to develop the ability to find the gap, but it is even more rewarding when you work within a system that allows for you to help fill the gap in a meaningful way. It gives my life purpose and inspires me to greet every sunrise with the natural enthusiasm that results from knowing that what I do every day makes a difference – not just in the lives of the hundreds of thousands of animals that are cared for by my team, but also for the millions of people that benefit from the high quality beef that we all help to ensure is grown with integrity.

How do you fill the gap to provide a sense of purpose to your life?

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Filed under General, ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group

The Story of the Lazy YN Ranch Yearling Steers…

When I made the difficult decision to close down my feed yard, I knew that I did not want to completely leave the beef industry. A couple of things have allowed me to continue to find my way, and it brings me a lot of pride to be able to blend them together to tell a true story of beef production.

Cal, Tim and Jeff Miller live near Maxwell, Nebraska and we have worked together to grow cattle and make beef for about a decade. I was able to continue purchasing some of their animals to graze my grass pastures this spring and summer thus remaining an “active beef farmer”. This not only fuels my love for cattle, but it also provides great family times as my girls and I work together to take care of the animals.

My job at the Beef Marketing Group opened the door to creating a new partnership this year with Roberts Cattle Company in Lexington, Nebraska. The Roberts Crew does a great job as cattle caregivers, and I know that they share my commitment to high quality animal welfare. Recently, the Lazy YN yearling steers moved off of my grass pastures and into the feed yard.

The following two videos tell the story of the cattle and their caretakers.

  • It is a story of integrity and dedication.
  • It is an example of the real beef story.

I have shared both of these videos already on Facebook and Twitter, but I know that some of you rely only on this WordPress site for a connection to our farm. For that reason, I am sharing the videos here as well. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for sticking with me during my life transition. I am learning new things and trying to build meaningful skills; and I very much appreciate all of the support and feedback that I received as I started this new adventure.

Thank you 🙂

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Filed under ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group, Video Fun on the Farm

A Feed Yard is Like a Home…

My favorite farmer and I moved into our house early summer of 1997 when we made the trek back to Nebraska from New Hampshire. The building sits on the corner of one of our family’s farms about a mile north of town.  We added onto it when my favorite blonde cowgirl was born, and built a large shop to complement the farmstead several years ago. As is the case for many people, our home has become more than just a building framework.  It is a reflection of Matt and I and the family that we have been blessed with over the past 20 years.

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In my new role at the Beef Marketing Group, I spend time in a variety of feed yards working on the Progressive Beef quality management system. While most of my efforts concentrate on the five feed yards located in Nebraska, I do sometimes travel to Kansas. As I was driving home from a feed yard in Kansas Tuesday night, it occurred to me that a feed yard is like a home. Similar to my house, it has structure from both a physical and management standpoint, but the sum of its total parts is much greater than that framework alone.

Each feed yard is a home — It carries a unique personality created by the families who work there.

All of our feed yards operate under the Progressive Beef program.  Just like the framework of my house, the required 42 Standard Operating Procedures build a healthy foundation. The accountability provided by the auditing process strengthens that foundation and verifies good daily animal care.  It is an incredibly successful system and makes for a solid “house”. I truly believe that it’s people, in combination with systems, that create culture and atmosphere.  What makes the Beef Marketing Group so successful is the combination of the Progressive Beef framework with the personal touch of the families that work in our feed yards.

The blend of our program and our people turns the structurally strong house into a comfortable home.

I prefer to live not just in a house, but in a home: a place that reflects my personality and core values. My girls would likely report that (at times) their mother acts similarly to a loving Drill Sargent. But, I think that they also would say that order is preferable to chaos, and that when everyone in the family plays an important role in maintaining the home that it is a pretty awesome place to live!

I have been a believer in the system of Progressive Beef for years.  It prioritizes the crew’s focus on the animal’s needs, and holds everyone accountable for their role on the feed yard team. The unique blend of both internal and 3rd party audits allows for a dual layer of accountability that leads to both teaching moments and continuous improvement as well as verification to our customers that feed yard team members provide the high quality animal care that is our trademark.

Verified. Trusted. Sustainable.

With each day that passes, I become even more of a believer in our people. When I was the boss lady at my own feed yard, I could testify to the awesomeness of my crew @ Will Feed.  In my new job, I am getting to know many more feed yard crews.  I can report that our people make me smile and give me hope for the future. It is truly a pleasure to help these great folks work for excellence in cattle care.  As I head home at the end of the day, it certainly inspires me to eat a great tasting steak 🙂

 

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Filed under General, ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group

Finding a New ‘Normal’…

Monday afternoon I spent time in a BMG feed yard before heading to Lincoln to the University of Nebraska.  That evening and Tuesday morning found me hanging out with graduate students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.   Tuesday afternoon I lectured on campus before driving back home in the evening.  It was a fun couple of days on the road, and I always find that I learn something every time that I leave my farm.

The topic of my lecture was “Sustainability, Responsibility, and the Art of Balance”.

  • Sustainability provides one of the biggest buzz words of 2017.
  • Responsibility often finds it’s way into current conversations about food production.
  • The Art of Balance applies to both the discussion of agriculture’s needed commitment to people, animals, and planet; as well as my own personal agricultural journey.

I really enjoy college public speaking gigs.  Our students are our future and if I can find a way to inspire them and aid them on their journey, then I am playing a positive role which refills my cup. While on campus, I fielded many questions about closing the feed yard and my new life and job with the Beef Marketing Group. My answer generally started with the words “I am finding a new normal…”  When you make a life change after twenty years, things look different on a daily basis.

I am happy to report that I am thriving amidst the chaos of change.  You’d have to ask my new boss about my performance on the job, but I can say that I am learning and finding my place as a new member of an awesome team.  I am spending some quality time in the five feed yards that I consult with relative to the Progressive Beef program.  This helps to fulfill the feed yard junkie part of Anne.  While I do miss the daily chore interaction with bovines, I am a short month away from moving cattle from a neighboring ranch to our grass pasture and sharing some of those chores with my foreman and my favorite pair of blonde cowgirls 🙂

Likely the best thing that I can report is that I have regained the natural optimism that makes me Anne.  This reclamation comes from attaining a better sense of balance in my life.

  • Time spent with family.
  • Meaningful volunteer hours spent with high school students who need support as they learn accountability and the art of making good choices… 
  • A healthy commitment to exercise that improves both my mental and physical fitness.
  • A work environment that leaves me feeling as though what I do is meaningful, while also allowing me the freedom from worry at the end of the day.

I believe that life is full of purposeful paths. Sometimes it takes some soul searching to figure out which fork in the road to take, but I believe that God has a plan. There is a sense of freedom that comes from packing your FAITH and following that plan.  Over the past few months, I have found a sense of peace that eluded me for several years. Two years ago, I wrote a post entitled “I Saw God Today”. I think that I am finally to a place where I can live George Straight’s famous song. I know that it is up to me to hold myself accountable to maintaining that balance on into the future; but I can report that finding it has provided a sweet spot 🙂

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Filed under General, ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group

Auditing…

annebunkpb2I will never forget my first experience with a Progressive Beef audit. While our feed yard had participated in the Beef Quality Assurance Feed Yard Assessment for several years, my veterinarian filled the role of auditor under that voluntary educational program.  The Progressive Beef Quality Management System took auditing to an entirely new level for my crew and I.  While it ultimately provided a tremendous tool for improvement, opening my farm to an “outside auditor” made me uncomfortable.

My feed yard was my pride and joy, and my crew like family.  I am a perfectionist and hold myself to a very high level of accountability. A comprehensive audit often finds imperfection as it is designed to measure performance to a high level of detail.  It is my nature to take things personally and I viewed every infraction (no matter how small) as a slight on my own leadership.

The rational part of my brain recognized that growth and continuous improvement involved measuring performance at a detailed level. The metrics of the audit forced me to face imperfection.  The intellectual Anne knew that the road to excellence was never comfortable, and that perfect practice made perfect performance. The emotional Anne dreaded audit day.

Over the years that Will Feed participated in the Progressive Beef QMS, I learned that the positives of the audit outweighed the negatives.  The effectiveness of the tool as a means for continuous improvement significantly outweighed my personal stress. I’d like to report that I learned to relax, but I preach to my kids that integrity trumps all so I am simply going to say that I learned to accept the reality of audit day 😉

 Somewhere along the way, I recognized that audit meant: 

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  • Human nature insists that we perform better when we are held accountable for our actions.
  • True understanding comes when you realize that the little things count.  Dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s really does raise the level of care that you offer to your animals. Animals matter so details had better matter.
  • Daily dedication to a goal of excellence builds a positive culture. When you are dedicated to caring, awesome things happen.
  • Integrity is the voice that sits on your shoulder when you make decisions. You are more likely to listen to it when you live amidst a culture of excellence. Caregivers with integrity bring honor to the farm and lead to responsibly raised food.
  • Trust in our food supply plays a critical role in the stability of our country.  Verification of care inspires trust.  If it matters to you, it had better matter to me. We’re in this together.

One of the responsibilities for my new job is becoming a Progressive Beef auditor.  I am in the process of changing my position relative to who holds the clipboard.  I am hopeful that my past experience as feed yard boss lady will enable me to empower the feed yard crews that I audit to believe in the heart and spirit of an audit.

Getting better matters.  It involves accountability, understanding, dedication, integrity and trust; and results in a level of animal care that brings pride to the vocation of raising food.

 

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Pursuing Excellence…

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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.

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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.

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Building a Dream…

At age 70, my mom devotedly continues her teaching ministry at Cardinal Newman High School.  Mrs. Gibson’s high school English classroom exhibits a magical culture of passion as my mom inspires her students to analyze literature, learn to write, and develop personal accountability.  Her vision of inspiring teenagers to greatness continually refills her cup and gives her life a special purpose.

anne-dandyMuch to my mom’s chagrin, I never developed a kinship with Shakespeare.  However, despite the fact that I chose animals over literature, I took a part of her with me as I internalized the belief that a healthy life vision revolves around fueling your passion to make a difference.  When I graduated from Dartmouth College and started my new life on the Nebraska prairie, a feed yard became my personal version of her classroom and I went to work looking for ways to understand the bovine brain in order to improve animal welfare and beef quality.

My cattle taught me patience and perspective.  They instilled in me a new level of maturity as I discovered a fascination with seeing the world through the eyes of a bovine.  Along the way, I developed long term dreams of helping to bring the concept of total fitness (mental, emotional, and physical) to the art of daily cattle care in order to improve both welfare and animal performance.

What started on my farm grew to hold a larger audience as I shared my ideas with other cattlemen in my volunteer efforts on Beef Quality Assurance, as well as hosting interested high school and college students at the feed yard.

When you believe in something, it is natural human tendency to want to share it.

The above video was filmed four years ago.  I had a potent moment this week when I clicked on it and heard myself talking about my passion for cattle, sharing the story of beef production, and realizing that the future would bring change.  In the fall of 2012, I had no idea that I would make the decision to close down my feed yard.  However, as I listened to myself on the video, I heard wisdom and foresight in my attitude toward the future and my role in it.

After this winter, I will no longer be the boss lady at Will Feed, Inc.  Despite that, I plan to continue to build my dream of improving bovine animal welfare and beef quality.  Beginning in February, I start a new phase with a new team as I join the crew of the Beef Marketing Group.

  • I have new goals for expanding the reach of my cattle care philosophy.
  • I have new goals for figuring out better ways to share how cattle are raised and where beef comes from.
  • I have new goals for refilling my cup of passion so that I can continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

I am really excited to be able to tunnel my energy and passion into my two favorite components of being a beef farmer: animal care and sharing the story.  I will work directly with five feed yards in Nebraska on the Progressive Beef QSA program focusing on high quality animal care.  Additionally, I have the privilege of expanding my social media reach beyond Feed Yard Foodie to write blog content and work on communications efforts for my new team.

I will get to do all of this while maintaining a more human friendly schedule that allows for time with family and for volunteer coaching efforts in my rural community.

While I will never have my mom’s talent for making poetry come alive to teenagers, I am confident that this new journey in my quest to build a dream will allow me the ability to make a difference in the lives of others — both two legged and four legged 🙂

 

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program