Tag Archives: beef production

Fast Food Nation…

Eric Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation in 2001, four years after Matt and I moved to Nebraska to go to work on the family farm.  I had heard of Mr. Schlosser because of his participation in the filming of the movie Food, Inc. but I had never read his book until a couple of weeks ago.

Sometimes the only way you can take a really good look at yourself is through somebody else’s eyes.

I read Fast Food Nation because a group of high school students from Omaha asked me to.  They read the book as part of a class requirement and were looking for another point of view.  The book focuses on food production practices and cultural eating changes relative to the growth of fast food restaurant chains.  Beef production, in particular packing plants and feed yards, appear as a center stage topic.sept. 2012 weaning calves 055

I felt a myriad of emotions as I read Schlosser’s words.  While I agreed with his desire to promote good health through a balanced diet and physical fitness, the beef industry that he described in the book was not the one that I participate in.

When I look out my window, I see something very different from what the author describes.  I see my feed yard as a place of integrity, where cattle are well cared for and enabled to make safe and healthy beef.  My husband and I also work hard to be environmental stewards using a combination of crop farm and cattle farm to create a sustainable and productive cycle.

There is a quiet beauty on our farm that is priceless...

There is a quiet beauty on our farm that is priceless…

While touring the major beef packing plants intermittently during my 16 years as a cattle farmer, I also saw something very different from what the author describes.  I toured Swift (JBS) in 1998, Cargill in 2001, National Beef in 2012, and Tyson just two weeks ago.  I believe that these packing plants are well run.

In fact, they are all audited on animal welfare, sanitation and food safety practices to ensure quality and professionalism. Most of them have Temple Grandin’s proposed camera surveillance system to ensure constant compliance in addition to third party auditing on animal welfare standards.  Additionally, all of them have USDA and FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) inspectors in the plants anytime that they are operational to protect for food safety assurance.

Safe and healthy beef is always my goal--it is what is on my dinner table...

Safe and healthy beef is always my goal–it is what is on my dinner table…

As I think about the book, this quote from James Thurber keeps circulating through my head:

There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures.

It is my hope that my Feed Yard Foodie blog is the light that illuminates—showing each of you how I raise cattle and grow the beef that you purchase to feed your families.

It is my opinion that Fast Food Nation is a glare created by a predisposed elitist— obscuring the U.S. beef production system in order to fit a desired hypothesis.  No where in the book can I find a cattle farm like mine or a balanced description of a packing plant.  For a more extensive book commentary and links to additional literature, please click fast-food-nation-thoughts-for-the-blog-with-links1

I would like to thank the three classes of students (along with their teacher) from Omaha for reaching out to me and inspiring me to read another point of view relative to the industry that I have grown to love.  Looking through someone else’s eyes is a great intellectual exercise and allows me continual personal growth and improvement.March 26, 2012 070

Interestingly enough, the students from Omaha decided that Mr. Schlosser would like my feed yard.  They likened it to the In and Out Burger restaurants that the author endorsed at the end of the book.

What do you all think?

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

Assessing Care and Performance…

My baby, going off to first grade last week...

My youngest daughter came four weeks early—she was obviously tired of weaning calves (we do wean some cattle at the feed yard when the rancher is unable to wean at home), and being a smart kid, figured out that the only way to get my full attention was to arrive.  Although she was early, she grew fast and has never looked back.  I remember taking her to the doctor for her two year old “well baby” checkup.  The doctor casually remarked that she must be a good eater because she was in the 95th percentile for height…I just laughed and said, “No, she simply has excellent feed conversion.”

So, what is feed conversion?

For those of you that are following on Facebook, you might have noticed that one of the readers asked last week what the “ADG, DM Feed Conversion, COG, Quality Grade, Yield Grade, and Profit” were for Calf #718.   Let’s take a minute and talk about Calf #718’s performance at the feed yard…

ADG = Average Daily Gain.  This is the number of pounds that Calf #718 gained each day at the feed yard while being finished for harvest.  If you remember, #718 weighed 925# when he traveled from AL Ranch to my feed yard.  At harvest time, Calf #718 weighed 1394#.  That means that he gained 469# during his time at the feedyard, which translates to 4.10 pounds per day.

DM Feed Conversion = Dry Matter Feed Conversion.  This is the number of pounds of dry feed needed for every pound of weight gained by the animal.  Calf #718’s Dry Matter Feed Conversion was 5.82#.

COG = Cost of Gain.  This is how much it cost (the monetary value of the feed stuffs and care during the feeding period) for each pound of weight gained.  The cost of gain for #718 was $0.8710.

Quality Grade, Yield Grade, Profit and other harvest performance data will be discussed and defined next week, so stay tuned!

Cattle Feed Yard performance information (ADG and DM Feed conversion) is an important way for me to assess the efficiency of my cattle and the quality of the care that I offer to them.  Al and I work together every year to improve the genetic make-up of our cattle so that they efficiently produce high quality beef.  We need for our cattle to use the fewest number of natural resources to make the most pounds of high quality beef.  I am cognizant of the fact that we have a limited number of natural resources on which to survive, and I feel that it is my duty to use those resources in a responsible way.

We are committed to excellence...

Good animal care and comfort lead to better feed yard performance.  When cattle are comfortable, they thrive in their surroundings and that is reflected in their performance.  My “report card” for the care that I offer to my animals, is their performance at the feed yard.  An ADG of 4.10 with a dry basis feed conversion of 5.82 is very good.  When you combine good genetics with good care, you get good feed yard performance. 

Calf #718’s performance indicates that Al and I do our jobs well.

So, what about my daughter who at age six stands 52” tall?  Well, since my husband frequently comments that she is the reason that we have padded chairs at the dinner table (apparently playing with her fork is more interesting than actually eating the food that I cook for her…), I think that it is safe to say that good genetics have blessed her with an outstanding ability to efficiently convert her food!

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

Tracing a calf from birth to harvest…

Anne of "Feed Yard Foodie"

I think that a large part of my job as a Feedyard Foodie is to illustrate where your beef comes from.   In order to do that, I need to show you the life cycle of a calf.  Over the next several posts, we are going to trace the life of a calf from birth to harvest so that you can understand exactly what happens prior to your beef showing up at the grocery store.

As we journey together tracing a calf , I will be looking to you all to ask questions and let me know what components of a calf’s life I should spend the most time describing.  Please take a few minutes and send me your thoughts and questions (either comment at the end of this post) or post them in the “ask me” section.

We will be tracing a calf born on the AL Ranch near Halsey, Nebraska; finished on

A young calf at AL Ranch near Halsey, Nebraska

my cattle farm near Cozad, Nebraska; and harvested at a packing plant in Central Kansas.

Some example thoughts and questions that I have thought of to address are:

When, where was the calf born? How much did the calf weigh at birth?

What was the calf’s life like on the ranch?

How old was the calf when he was weaned?

Where was he weaned?

How much did he weigh when he was weaned?

What did the calf eat while on the ranch of origin?

When and how was the calf shipped from the ranch of origin to my cattle farm?

How much did the calf weigh and what was his age when he was shipped to my cattle farm?

What did the calf eat at my cattle farm?

Did the calf receive any beef enhancement technologies?  For example, growth hormones and if he did, why?

Did the calf receive any antibiotics and if he did, why?

What was the age and weight of the calf at harvest?

How did the calf travel to the packing plant?

What kind / quality of beef did the animal produce?

Where did this animal’s beef go following harvest and fabrication?

How many pounds of beef did this animal produce?

Other thoughts and questions???

An AL Ranch steer just prior to harvest...Notice this steer's curious herd mates who are crowding in to see what is going on...

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Filed under Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718

Every flower is different…

My cowboy brought me a quote the other morning at the feedyard because it reminded him of one of my daughters.  It is a quote by

One of my special flowers.

Marcelene Cox and states, “Children in a family are like flowers in a bouquet: there’s always one determined to face in an opposite direction from the way the arranger desires.”  I spent the weekend thinking about this quote and the fact that each individual thinks and views the world differently.  I see it in my children, I see it in my community, and I see it when I travel outside of rural America.  We not only think differently, but we also all have different gifts and talents.  Separately we are like random pieces of cloth of many different colors, together we make a beautiful patchwork quilt like the one my daughter Ashley Grace describes in her poem.  So, how do we make the pieces of fabric fit together into that quilt?

Empathy and Understanding…

Empathy provides the foundation of all relationships.  It is the ability to “listen to understand” instead of “listening to respond”.  It is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and truly understand their point of view.  It is a tremendously important human skill and I use it in all of my relationships whether they are human to human or human to animal.

Less than 2% of the American population has any ties to agriculture or the growing of food.  Therefore, more than 98% of the American population does not have any first-hand knowledge of how food is grown. This statistic clearly demonstrates the gap that exists between farmers (the people that make the food) and consumers (the people that eat the food).   With lives so intrinsically different, how are we then going to come together in such a way to make that beautiful patchwork quilt that symbolizes unity and cooperation, and ensures the sustainability and prosperity of both our country and our chosen way of life?

After all, we have to eat to survive…

I believe the key to this is to inspire empathy in every person.  This allows us to begin to come together and understand each other’s needs and desires.  It also encourages each of us to use our individual gifts to their fullest potential for the benefit of our neighbors (both near and far).  Every person has a right to know and understand where their food comes from.  Every person has a responsibility to “listen to understand” when that conversation occurs so that we can develop a relationship based on trust, empathy, and truth.  In doing this, we will create that beautiful patchwork quilt of prosperity and understanding.

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Filed under General