Tag Archives: Beef Quality Assurance

S.E.F.A — A Cowgirl’s HACCP Plan…

My 13 year old blonde cowgirl grew up at a cattle feed yard. She learned about cattle, Beef Quality Assurance and HACCP practices as she learned how to walk and talk — internalizing them during her formative years.  Megan lives life with an interesting blend of faith, quiet confidence, determination, and a never ending smile.  Her adventurous spirit blended with the practical skills learned on the farm create a unique package.

Although this picture is several years old, the look on her face as she lopes her beloved horse says it all...

Although this picture is several years old, the look on her face as she lopes her beloved horse says it all…

Some might say that Megan is a bit of a “wild woman”, but the truth is that underneath her outwardly exuberant personality is a calm problem solver.  She holds steadfast under pressure and always has a plan.  I attribute a lot of that ability to the hours that we spend together at the feed yard.  During those times, I expect her to focus, be tough, and make good decisions — constantly adjusting to the situation in order to ensure the best possible outcome.  This skill carries over into other facets of her life.

MegPVGB.jpg

Sometime in the middle of track season this spring, I heard Megan refer to her S.E.F.A. kit.  I was focused on something else at the time so I did not ask her about it.  A few weeks later, I found a black cosmetic bag with bright pink duck tape on the front.  It was filled with first aid tools: neosporin, band aids, vasoline, q-tips, anti-itch cream, chap stick, and ibuporfen.

Printed on the pink duct tape was the acronym:

S: Super

E: Extreme

F: Freak

A: Accident Kit…

SEFAmeg

I have to admit that I laughed when I first saw the S.E.F.A kit.  It was just so Megan: Confident enough to always engage, but smart enough to be prepared for any outcome.  Megan knows that there are no guarantees in life.  She lives on a farm where life is sometimes very harsh and even the best plan can go awry.

I have taught her to accept that behind every adversity is the opportunity for improvement. To face life head on: confident enough to expect the best, but realistic enough to be prepared for the worst.

When I finally asked my favorite blonde cowgirl about her S.E.F.A kit, she smiled and said:

“Mom, it’s my HACCP plan”.

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My Sunday Morning Helper…

We run what I call a skeleton crew on Sundays at the feed yard.  One of my guys comes to work to feed the cattle both in the morning and the afternoon, and I am there in the morning to read bunks, check cattle, and exercise any pens that need it.

During the fall months we are particularly busy getting in many younger animals that take a higher level of care.  I often roll my Sunday morning helper out of bed and into the car at 5:45 to provide an extra set of hands.  Megan is not only good help, but her eternally sunny disposition never fails to make me smile.

Pausing for a moment at dawn to try yoga on one of the feed yard fences...

In typical Megan fashion, pausing for a moment at dawn to try yoga on one of the feed yard fences…

One of the added bonuses of having a Sunday morning helper is that I know how many memories and life lessons Megan learns while working with me at the yard.  She is developing a great level of animal savvy, and is on her way to being an excellent cattle handler.  Outside of that, she also learns how important it is to follow directions and take responsibility for both her actions and the animals that we care for.

Here Megan is trailing cattle down the alleyway going back to the home pen at the end of an exercising session...

Here Megan is trailing cattle down the alleyway headed back to the home pen at the end of an exercising session…

Megan is Beef Quality Assurance Certified–having attended two different trainings with our consulting veterinarian.  I also try to take the time to explain BQA care practices to her as we work together at the yard.  I know that hands on training is critical to her understanding and retention of the principals of good animal and environmental stewardship.

Our vet, Ryan O'hare, doing our yearly BQA training at the feed yard...

Our vet, Ryan O’Hare, doing our yearly BQA training at the feed yard…

I truly cherish the time that I spend with my girls.  It is a constant reminder that the best thing that I have done with my life are my three confident and compassionate daughters.

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National Ag Day…

If you had asked me 20 years ago what the letters Ag stood for, I would not have been able to tell you.  Those initials represented a community of people that I seldom ran across in the swimming pools of South Florida.

This week our country celebrated National Ag Day and many social media posts thanking farmers permeated the cyber sphere.  I have no memory as a child of being any more aware of National Ag Day than the term Ag.  Today, I wonder how many people outside of farmers celebrated this special day?

Sometimes you just have to take the plunge...

Sometimes you just have to take the plunge…

As I think about our farm and what Matt and I have worked for over the past 16 years, I feel a myriad of emotions.  Most of all, I marvel at the maturity and the insight that I have gained.  I find myself struggling to remember the 22 year old young woman that moved to Nebraska and set out to learn how to be the Boss Lady at the cattle feed yard.

He teaches me compassion and compels me to understand his needs...

He teaches me compassion and compels me to understand his needs…

While I am sure that parts of me (namely the stubbornness and determination) are still relatively prominent, I look at the world very differently today than I did when I moved to Nebraska in 1997.  As I remember the girl with unusual dreams and stars in her eyes, I marvel at her confidence.

I have loved him more than half my life...

I have loved him more than half my life…

Youthful optimism is a powerful mental tool—Just as I never doubted that Matt and I were meant to build a life together, I also never doubted that I could learn to be a good cattle caregiver.  As I became successful at the feed yard, I began to broaden my spectrum and to work in a volunteer status to improve cattle care practices through the Beef Quality Assurance program.

My belief was so strong that I never looked back...

My belief was so strong that I never looked back…

Quite honestly, it never occurred to me that I would fail.  That is the beauty of youthful passion and faith.   Through the years, it seems as though maturity has replaced that youthful confidence. Today, as I look at agriculture from the eyes of a 38 year old mother of three, there are days that I can no longer find the stars that used to inhabit my eyes.  A myriad of challenges threaten to replace those stars with doubts.

  • Mother Nature
  • Volatile commodity markets
  • Pressures from both increased government regulations and activist groups
  • Lack of unity within the agricultural community
  • Lack of trust between farmers and urbanites

In particular, the last three weigh heavily on my “not so youthful” optimism. Quite frankly, I worry about this at night when I should be sleeping.  I find myself imploring both farmers and non-farmers to open up the needed conversation regarding food animal production practices.

Caring for our animals is much easier for us than sharing how we care to you--it is the nature of the cowboy to be introverted...

Caring for our animals is much easier for us than sharing how we care with you–it is the nature of the cowboy to be introverted…

I feel the tremendous need for this conversation at the same time that my heart is concerned that it may be too late, or that we will not be able to see through the emotion clearly enough to respect each other and have a meaningful conversation.

When I look at her, I see the optimism and confidence of youth...

When I look at her, I see the optimism and confidence of youth…

As I celebrate National Ag Day in 2013, I look to my faith and to my children to give me the needed strength to keep moving forward.  I look into my girls’ eyes and draw on that optimism that so closely resembles what I used to see when I looked in the mirror.  I recharge my soul with the knowledge that this challenge is too important for us to not be successful.  I pray that we can come together as a country to find a sustainable and appropriate blend of food production systems in order to ensure the security of our future.

We must always look for the beauty in one another...

We must always look for the beauty in one another…

Today, in honor of National Ag Day, don’t just thank the farmer—ask questions and help start the conversation.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General

HACCP and Skiing…

The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) program provides the basis for good animal care and beef quality at my feed yard.  It is the core of the Beef Quality Assurance Program, and originates from NASA’s protocol for ensuring food safety for their astronauts while on space missions.

HACCP is the cornerstone of the program...

HACCP provides the cornerstone…

HACCP plans are incredibly thorough and their development instills a mind-frame of critical thinking and challenge prevention.

HACCP sets both my animals and your beef up for success...

HACCP sets both my animals and your beef up for success…

A thorough understanding of HACCP changes the way that you look at the world.  So much so, that when this cattle feed yard “boss lady” leaves the farm she takes it with her…

My two oldest and I pausing for a moment of seriousness on the slopes...

My two oldest and I pausing for a moment of seriousness on the slopes…

As I skied with my family last week, I developed a variety of HACCP plans for skiing safety.  My list of protocols became rather long.  The discussion of them brought my family many laughs and earned me a variety of eye rolls as we rode the ski lifts together.

My favorite part of skiing--the heights of the chair lifts...I have a HACCP plan for getting on, riding, and getting off!

My favorite part of skiing–the heights of the chair lifts…As you might guess, I have a HACCP plan for getting on, riding, and getting off!

For every detailed protocol that I defined, my husband and girls came up with a juxtaposing humorous one.

You can tell the difference in our personalities from our choice of hats...

You can tell the difference in our personalities from our choice of hats…

My personal favorite was my beloved farmer’s plan for skiing down the slopes…

Point your skies straight downhill— Ski really, really fast. 

When someone or something gets in your way, TURN!

I feel the need to mention that my beloved farmer skied outside of the marked terrain, crashed into a SLOW skiing sign, and broke one of his skiing poles during the trip.  Obviously his plan was not particularly effective…

The smile never faltered...

The smile never faltered—although the plan went slightly awry…

I also feel the need to mention that I had NONE of these mishaps as I conquered the blue slopes on Steamboat’s beautiful mountains.  Obviously my way of thinking set me up for success!

I found it more rewarding to stop and enjoy the breathtaking scenery rather than viewing the rather ugly "Slow" sign up close and personal...

I found it more rewarding to stop and enjoy the breathtaking scenery while Matt was altering the position of the orange “Slow” sign…

Perhaps all of you are lucky that I am the “boss lady” at our family’s feed yard, not my beloved farmer.  The conscientious and thorough member of the family might just be the best one to care for our animals and raise your beef.

Although it is probably a good thing that he is around to keep me young at heart 🙂

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The Practical Application of Math…

I’ll never forget the day in 3rd grade that my oldest daughter announced that she did not understand why she had to learn math because it was not anything that she would ever use in real life…

She is now in 7th grade and learning pre-algebra...

She is now in 7th grade and learning pre-algebra…

Ever since that moment, I have made it my mission to constantly point out to my girls the use of math in daily life.  Perhaps that is why they are all such good chefs (what better way to learn to use fractions!).

One of the girls' favorites are sliced home grown tomatoes with a touch of butter and Parmesan cheese...

One of the girls’ favorites are sliced home grown tomatoes with a touch of butter and Parmesan cheese…

I am surrounded by math at the feed yard.  From reading bunks and figuring out pounds of feed—to estimating cattle weights—to deciding how many trucks I need to transport my animals—to determining the proper withdrawal times for the animal health products that I use on my cattle.  Math is everywhere and I have to remember not to gloat every time that I proudly show my girls another practical use for it!

I know that I have been successful when they start to point it out to me!

I know that I have been successful when they start to point it out to me!

I use several different animal health products at the feed yard.  By animal health products, I mean both preventative care products (like vaccines) and treatment medications (like antibiotics) for sick animals. The last two core topics for Beef Quality Assurance are Injection Site Management, and Feed Additives and Medications.

These two BQA components exist because my cattle are food animals, and their meat will be used to nourish my family and yours.  As I use animal health products, I must always remember to protect the safety of the food that my animals make.

Here I am giving an injection in the neck of a calf just underneath the skin...

Here I am giving an injection in the neck of a calf just underneath the skin…

Almost all animal health products have withdrawal periods—this is the number of days that must pass before a treated animal can be shipped to harvest.  The withdrawal period insures that there are no residues of any animal health products in the meat that you purchase at the grocery store.

Here I am filling a syringe to treat a sick calf that I found Sunday morning.  I weigh the animal so that I can figure an accurate and appropriate dose.  I also take the temperature of the animal to help me with my diagnosis.

Here I am filling a syringe to treat a sick calf that I found last Sunday morning in Pen 15. I weigh the animal so that I can figure an accurate and appropriate dose. I also take the temperature of the animal to help me with my diagnosis.

It is illegal for me to send a bovine to harvest who has not passed the proper withdrawal time following a treatment (like the one that I administered in the picture above).  Every single time that we give an animal health product to a calf, we write down the animal’s identification number, the product that was given to him, and then figure the date that the animal has cleared withdrawal and is eligible for harvest.

Megan was my helper last weekend.  Here she is writing down the identification numbers of the animal, its temperature, what I treated him with, and then the date that the animal will clear withdrawal...

Megan was my helper last weekend. Here she is writing down the identification numbers of the animal, its temperature, the antibiotic that I treated him with, and then the date that the animal will clear withdrawal…

There is an effective system in place to ensure that beef that you purchase is residue free!  FDA (federal drug administration )mandates it, BQA ensures it, cattle veterinarians and caregivers take many steps every day to make it a reality!DSC03959

So, how often do my cattle receive injections (shots)?   As a part of my protocol to ensure good health, every animal in my feed yard receives at least two vaccinations (given to prevent common bovine illnesses—think of them as the bovine equivalent of the Flu Shot), and one deworming shot.  In addition, somewhere between 2-5% of my animals receive an injection of an antibiotic when they become clinically ill.

Here I am giving a vaccination to a newly arrived animal.  This vaccine will help him to stay healthy and plays an important role in my preventative health plan...

Here I am giving a vaccination to a newly arrived animal. This vaccine will help him to stay healthy and plays an important role in my preventative health plan…

The goal is to do all of the holistic animal welfare practices correctly so that only a very small number of my animals get sick and require an antibiotic treatment.

In addition to motivating her husband and the other "beef boys" to achieve greatness, here she teaches her granddaughter how to cook!

30 years ago this wonderful lady motivated her husband and the other “beef boys” to achieve zero residues in beef, today she teaches her granddaughter how to cook!

Perhaps Dr. Griffin’s wife (pictured above) said it best when she reminded him 30 years ago that it was never acceptable to feed her children meat that contained residues.  I am pleased to report today that the percentage of finished cattle that go to harvest with a residue is 0.000017% which statistically equates to zero.

Dr. Griffin took his wife's message to heart and has dedicated his life to educating cattlemen and achieving the necessary "zero"...

Dr. Griffin took his wife’s message to heart and has dedicated his life to educating cattlemen and achieving the necessary “zero”…

For more information on the topic of antibiotics, take a minute to read this post from December of last year regarding antibiotic use at the feed yard.  https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/the-misunderstood/.

Or, the USFRA just did a dialog on the use of antibiotics in food animals recently in New York City.  You can view the hour and a half long conversation at http://www.fooddialogues.com/ny-food-dialogues/antibiotics-and-your-food.

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Filed under Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., General

Together We Are Stronger…

I was first introduced to the concept of consumer outreach when I received the National Beef Quality Assurance Producer of the Year award in 2009.  I did not realize it at the time, but the award was actually the first catalyst to the creation of this blog.BQA Logo

Shortly after winning the award, I participated in the Farmer Goes to Market initiative which led me to the National Grocers Convention to speak with retailers about animal welfare.  What followed were a series of trips around the country (California, Texas, New York City etc.) speaking to groups of people that were interested in where their beef comes from.

As I sharpened my public speaking skills, the number of invitations to engagements rose until one day I realized something very important.  As much as I loved to share my farm and speak to others about how I raise beef, I loved my family and my farm even more.

They are the light of my life...

They are the light of my life…

When I traveled:

  • I missed the crooked half smile that lights up my husband’s face when I tease him.
  • I missed the laughter of my girls as we shared our day.
  • I missed the quiet dawn at the feed yard when it was just me and my animals and the work that soothes my soul.
  • I missed burying my head in my horse’s mane and breathing in his scent.
  • I missed home.

    She's a lot like her Mama...

    She’s a lot like her Mama…

This realization put me into a real quandary.  I knew that reaching out to others outside of my farm was important, but the passion that I felt for raising food was contingent on being at home with my family on the farm.  It was at this point that I began to blog—blogging was a compromise—I could still share my farm, but I could do it without leaving home…

We are all in this together...

We are all in this together…

The lingering question, then, becomes “is that enough?”.  Can I and other farmers create transparency regarding food production through social media?  I do not know the answer to that question but a group of diverse agricultural organizations have come together to help figure it out.

How is he cared for and how does he make beef?

How is he cared for and how does he make beef?

This alliance, USFRA (U.S. Farmer Rancher Alliance) is working hard to offer people, like me, some additional savvy and support as we look outside of our farms and into your living rooms.

Currently, the USFRA is searching for the “Faces of Farming and Ranching” in the United States.  This is a nationwide search for a few individuals who are excited to share the story of their farm or ranch with those folks that have interest.  USFRA is in the final stages of choosing the “faces” and has it narrowed down to 9 finalists who have expressed an interest in traveling across the United States to share the story of agriculture.

Janice and her family...

Janice and her family…

I am proud to say that Janice Wolfinger has made the final cut of finalists.  Janice and her husband, Jake, together with their two daughters have both a cow herd in Ohio and a small cattle feed yard in Nebraska.  Janice is currently taking a hiatus from teaching (she is a certified FFA instructor/teacher), and is looking to continue her love of education in a different role—as a Face of Farming and Ranching.

I would like to ask you all to go to http://www.fooddialogues.com/faces-of-farming-and-ranching/janice-wolfinger and vote for Janice.  You can vote for her every day between now and December 15th.  Please help me to help Janice to have the opportunity to share her wonderful story through USFRA!

I am so thankful for Janice and her willingness to give of her time to participate in this program.  I am proud to call her a fellow cattlewoman and look forward to all of her great work on behalf of myself and the other hundreds of thousands of beef farmers in the United States.  You can also check out her blog at http://www.fortheloveofbeef.blogspot.com.

Thank you for taking the time to help!

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Beef Quality Assurance: Holistic Care…

Enjoying a beautiful sunrise while helping her Mama Thanksgiving morning at the feed yard…

This Thanksgiving holiday, my daughter Megan spent every morning with me at the feed yard.  I love it when the girls have a break from school because it makes my day to have one of them tag along with me.  I had a couple of new pens of cattle, so Megan got to help me exercise and acclimate them each morning.

I remember a few years ago when she asked me why I exercised new cattle at the feed yard.  We had a really interesting discussion about mental and emotional fitness and how each ties in with physical fitness. In the 5+ years that I have used exercising sessions to help my animals transition into a life in the feed yard, I have become a believer in the importance of this holistic care.

While the low stress handling and the cattle acclimating protocols that I use at the feed yard are not mandated in the Beef Quality Assurance program, I believe that the HACCP (hazard analysis critical control point program) which provides the basis of BQA lends itself toward a philosophy of holistic care.  HACCP dictates that protocols be in place on the farm to ensure that good consistent animal care is provided—This leads to a fewer number of challenges for the animals during their lifetime.

Quite simply, BQA is all about minimizing stress (challenges) and maximizing good health which ensures safe and healthy beef that comes from animals that have been raised humanely…

Apart from feed ingredient selection, two additional core BQA fundamentals related to animal welfare are processing/vaccination treatments and general animal husbandry.  Animal husbandry does not mean that I try to marry my animals, it is simply another term for animal welfare!

Sending cattle off the farm/ranch of origin and into the feed yard is a bit like sending your child to Kindergarten.  They will be exposed to new experiences and cattle outside of their birth herd which may cause transition stress.  In addition, they may be exposed to new diseases that have the potential to compromise health.

It is incredibly important that my animals have strong immune systems that have been properly stimulated through routine vaccination paired with good nutrition.  This begins on the home ranch and is continued once the animals arrive at my farm. I am a huge proponent of preventive care, and I trace the vaccination history of my animals throughout their lifetime.  It is imperative that my ranchers and I both keep good animal health records so that this trace back is plausible.  It is also imperative that these vaccinations be properly administered and given in a timely fashion.  BQA provides templates and educational tools for this.

My favorite 7th grader recording animal health information for a calf. BQA teaches her why this is important…

Outside of routine vaccination, another important component of preventative health is a good worming (or deworming) program.  My animals spend most of their lives eating green grass in a field.  There are many parasites that live in that grass who are happy to take up residence in the digestive tracts of the cattle.  Routine worming is a very important part of good health—it needs to occur on the ranch of origin as well as upon arrival at the feed yard.  We use an injectible wormer (given under the skin in the neck region) to take care of internal parasites and a topical wormer (spread across each animal’s back) to rid the animal of external parasites.

If you are interested in reading more about the Beef Quality Assurance program, you can find electronic documents for the program at http://www.bqa.org.  You can even be like Megan (and the rest of my crew) and go through the training and become certified!

I am going to take a brief hiatus from BQA with the next blog post before transitioning into the food safety side of BQA.  I am currently making some exciting management changes at the feed yard regarding food safety and will spend most of December talking about them.

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Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!

I am assuming that all of you had a tasteful and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday that included a large quantity of food and drink.  There is something about the holiday season that makes us all focus more on food!  Knowing that, it seems appropriate to do a post on what my cattle eat and how I incorporate good feed ingredient selection following BQA protocols to ensure high quality feed for them.

Cattle have different digestive systems than humans (they are ruminants), but—like us– they also are the healthiest when they eat a consistently balanced diet at regular intervals.  Providing a well-balanced casserole of grains and forages to my cattle is incredibly important.  It is also imperative that I provide this casserole of feed at consistent times during the day.

My two favorite blondes holding Casserole #5 which is the feed that my cattle eat for the last 100 days prior to harvest…

The need for fresh water and good quality feed is basic, but incredibly vital to maintaining good health.  We test the quality of our feed routinely (taking it to a laboratory to be analyzed), and also diligently clean our water tanks to ensure good drinking water quality.

One of our water tanks at the feed yard…

The mix of grains and forages in the casseroles that we feed to our cattle are formulated by our consulting nutritionist.  We choose from 7 different casseroles depending on the cattle’s age, weight, and how long they have been in the feed yard.  Additionally, we vary the amount of pounds of casserole that the cattle receive according to same three components.

My nutritionist who earned a PhD in ruminant nutrition from the University of Nebraska.

One of my favorite things to do with my girls at the feed yard is to “read bunks”.  Reading bunks involves driving around the feed yard early in the morning and looking to see if the cattle “cleaned their plates”.  Each one of our pens is numbered (there are 25 total), and we record a grade for each pen according to how much feed is left in the feed bunk at 6:00 am.

The feed bunk in Pen 23…

My youngest daughter, Karyn, learned her numbers by helping me read bunks when she was in preschool.  Today, she not only knows her numbers but she also understands the system that we use to determine how much feed each animal receives.  One of her favorite things to do is to ride with her head out of the back window of my vehicle assessing the feed bunks and making bunk calls.

Karyn’s bunk reading position…

Feed ingredient selection and delivery are paramount in my search for the best welfare for my cattle.  I use protocols developed by the Beef Quality Assurance program to document and audit both of these to ensure that my crew and I do a good job.

We strive to keep our animals thriving day after day so that they can make high quality beef for you to enjoy.  Now that we have made it through Turkey Day, I hope that each one of you will have a great tasting beef meal to kick off the up-coming holiday season.

To help inspire you, I am including one of my favorites: Beef Stroganoff!

Slice a partially frozen Sirloin Steak (1-1 1/2 pounds) into bite sized pieces.  Brown and cook the beef in a frying pan with minced onions (fresh are best) over medium-medium high heat.  You can also add sliced mushrooms if you like them.  I add a touch of black pepper to the meat for seasoning.  I prefer a choice grade or higher marbled piece of beef to ensure tenderness.

In a separate bowl, combine 8 ounces of sour cream and 3 tablespoons of flour (I use whole wheat flour).  Then add one 10 1/2 ounce can of beef consume soup to the sour cream mixture.

When the sirloin is finishing cooking pour the sour cream/consume mixture into the skillet with the beef.  Stir constantly over medium heat until the sauce is bubbly and thick. 

Serve over steamed brown rice with your favorite vegetable!

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