Tag Archives: Beef

Macro vs. Micro…

I became familiar with the words “macro” and “micro” when I took my first college economics class.  I signed up for two economics courses during my tenure at Dartmouth, not because I was really very interested in the subject, but because understanding basic economics fell under the “Anne’s necessary life skills” category.

I never developed a love for economics, but the psychologist in me became fascinated with all of the ways that I could interpret the world under the concept of macro vs micro.  It fascinated me to see how the big picture (macro) relied on the small details (micros) in order to be effective. familypicturefall2016

Last week I talked about my 5 Nuggets of Wisdom from a feed yard Boss Lady.  The first nugget, Be prepared to develop yourself and learn how to problem solve, holds the key to living a focused life. I am a believer in setting goals and creating a personal system of accountability.  This ensures both loyalty to personal core values and a purposeful life journey.  While I always pack my faith, I remember that LIFE is a verb.  As such, I set myself up for success by constantly developing plans to help me attain my goals.

A goal without a plan is simply a wish…

Let me offer an example.

One of my career goals is to improve animal welfare for cattle.  I made this commitment the day that I began my journey as a cowgirl, and twenty years later it still remains my passion.  This goal provides the macro. I recognized in June of 1997 that I needed to learn many things in order to improve welfare in a meaningful way. So, I developed a plan that allowed me to create the micros to help accomplish the goal.

  1. Learn bovine psychology and build an understanding of a prey animal’s brain.
  2. Develop the ability to *think like a bovine* thereby gaining insight into what is important to a calf.
  3. Understand the beef industry life cycle and the resources that drive that system.

After I accomplished these three necessary prerequisites, I could then begin to figure out ways to improve the system of raising cattle in order to make meaningful improvement in welfare. I recognized that long-lasting and meaningful change came from within, so I began the process on my farm.

  1. I became my own cattle buyer so that I could develop relationships with my ranchers and follow the animals all of the way through the production system. Once those relationships became developed, we worked on improved nutrition, vaccination, and cattle handling to create a lower stress environment over the lifetime of the animals. This enabled them to thrive and reach their God-given potential.
  2. I forged a bridge with a packing plant (I actually did with two different packing plants during my twenty-year tenure) so that my ranchers and I could trace the quality of our beef and make management decisions on our farms to continuously improve it.
  3. I adopted a management system at the feed yard to hold my crew and I accountable for animal care on a daily basis. We began with the Beef Quality Assurance Program and eventually raised the bar to begin using the Progressive Beef Quality Management System.  At that time, we began allowing outside auditors onto the farm to verify our care.

denke3april-jpgToday, the animal care at my feed yard looks a lot different than it did that inaugural day in the summer of 1997.  Incremental but significant change occurred over time as the focus on appropriate micros ensured an improvement for a macro concept. The dedication to the goal of improved welfare quite literally drove my career as a feed yard boss lady.

Because of it:

  • I was willing to work harder than my peers in order to prove myself.
  • I weathered awkward moments with grace and class.
  • I recognized that not everyone viewed the world as I did, and worked to build bridges in order to further the cause.

As I simultaneously raised my family, I shared my work with my three girls always reminding them to lead with your heart, but always take your brain along for the journey 🙂

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Accountability…

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about the concept of accountability.  Many of the tasks that we do at the feed yard have to be completed regardless of weather or other extenuating circumstances.  Our animals and our farm hold us accountable on a daily basis.

I also live in a house full of teenagers.  My parenting style remains stubbornly loyal to a high level of accountability.  Over the years, I have found that children rise to meet expectations, and that learning accountability at a young age plays a huge role in creating a young adult who strives to be a positive contributor.

Last week, we shipped cattle on a bitterly cold -20 degree morning.  Yesterday, we traded below zero temperatures for a blustery 30 mile an hour north wind.  A weather front passed through as we were loading trucks dropping the temperature from 30 degrees to 13 degrees in a matter of twenty minutes.

horseswinterThe cold north wind is a real bugger when you are working outside.  It tends to make your eyes tear up and cry which wreaks havoc on visibility.  If you are really lucky, the tears freeze on your face before they have a chance to run off 😉  On days like this, I take the advice of my horses and (as much as possible) put my butt to the wind in order to shield my face.

Regardless of the challenges, we complete the task. The cattle must be loaded and shipped at the correct time so that the packing plant can remain on schedule.  Many things hinge on us doing our job in an appropriate and timely manner.  Most importantly, being organized and competent allows for better animal welfare due to less time in transit and waiting at the packing plant.

wintercattle3Our animals are very cold tolerant.  Bred to winter in Nebraska, they remain much more comfortable out in the cold than I do.  This time of year, they grow very thick hair coats and their unique prey animal eyes allow them to function well despite the cold north wind.  The short 20 mile trip from my farm to the packing plant allows for a relatively seamless last life experience.

I know that my animals make the ultimate sacrifice when they go to the packing plant.  Their gift drives me to an extremely high level of accountability.  There is honor in that gift, and I owe it to them to try and make the process as easy as possible.  This is why we ship cattle in the early morning – It allows for the least amount of disruption for them as they move through the final part of the beef life cycle.

My cattle taught me many things over the past two decades.  The importance of accountability and dependability rise quickly to the top of the list.  Cattle have very basic needs – they are simple creatures.  The key to providing good animal welfare lies in the caregiver’s ability to provide for those needs on a reliable basis.

annewintercattle1I remember as a child my mom describing me as a dependable and hard working kid. Over my adult life, I have taken those traits and put them to work in a positive way.  I would describe all three of my own girls as dependable and hard working.

Part of that is a genetic gift from God, and part of it is growing up on a farm and seeing first hand the high level of accountability that is required to humanely care for food animals.

Accountability, dependability, compassion, and grit…

These are the traits that I am most proud of – These are the traits that make me a good farmer.

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The World Seems Different at -20 Degrees…

cold1We shipped cattle early this morning.  The thermometer read -20 degrees as I drove to the feed yard about 5:30am. My mind held an awareness of the cold because I knew it was there.  I bundled up with layers of clothing and carefully covered my face with a mask.

But really, the phenomenon of temperatures like that provides an experience much bigger than layers of clothing.

The world seems different at -20 degrees.

Silent, unrelentingly harsh and yet beautiful at the same time.

Perhaps you have experienced this before?

  • The air takes the description of raw and crisp to a new level.
  • Sounds of the gates, the cattle moving, and the normal night noises are more distinct.
  • The hardness of the ground pounds at your feet as you herd the animals to the corral.

I, at least, seem to have a higher level of acute awareness at -20 degrees.

  • My cowboy laughed at me when I pointed out the small frost formations hanging from our steel pipe corral fence.  They took me back to science class as they were similar in shape to the molecular models in my high school text books.
  • I had to stop myself from reacting nervously each time the Union Pacific trains passed by on the tracks about ½ mile south of our corrals.  Normally, I am desensitized to the sound of the trains; but they sound unnervingly strange at -20 degrees.
  • Each step on the hard and unforgiving ground felt different and I noticed a clarity of movement in my own muscles that I often overlook.

Today I found a new level of perception.  A bitter cold morning with blessedly no wind opened up a new prairie experience for me.

selfiecold

With 8 pens still to ship, I am left wondering what I will notice next?

 

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The Moment of Truth…

I am often described as an intense person.  Part of it stems from my natural personality, but a portion of it also comes from my life experiences.  I spent my formative years as a serious competitive athlete — trading Prom for national swimming championships and learning from a young age that success comes to those who work the hardest.  Although I retired from competitive swimming before I started my life on the farm, many of the chores that I do at the feed yard often inspire that same intense Anne.

BovinePhotoBomb.jpgI remember feeling raw fear the first time that I walked among a large group of cattle on the farm.  Commingling with 1500# animals was not something that I learned how to do at Dartmouth College 🙂

Our retired feed yard manager taught me how to herd, sort, and cowboy.  While it took a while to desensitize myself to the LARGENESS of the animals, the bovine mind intrigued me enough to take me past that initial fear.

Working with prey animals requires an intense concentration. Getting distracted not only erodes your effectiveness as the herd leader, but it can also be very dangerous.  Not too long after I started working at the feed yard, I began participating on the ship out crew.  This provided one of my greatest moments of truth.

The amount of power that a herd of 1500# animals exudes is nothing short of awesome. A savvy and seasoned cowboy works effectively to ensure that all that powerful animal energy moves harmoniously in the correct direction.  Moving those giant animals through the corral for the last time always offers me a moment of humility.

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today -- more to come on "Benny" in the next post...My foreman and I greeted last Friday morning early to ship cattle to Tyson. Although the sky was clear, the crescent moon provided little light as we moved through the darkness to herd the animals from the home pen down to the corral.  The 18 degree temperature provided for both a cool experience and poor visibility with steam rising off the animals as well as from our own breaths.  The ground was frozen unevenly due to a recent rain storm and the cold temperatures.

I felt both intensely human as well as intensely vulnerable as the animals moved through the corral and up onto the semi-truck.  Each time that we ship cattle, I accept the personal risk that exists when working with animals almost 15X your size.  I can control my own actions and use my skills to create positive herd movement. However, there are no guarantees.  In a purely physical match, I would lose every time.  This creates a moment of truth.

We ship our cattle without the use of any large equipment: simply a cowboy on foot or on horseback. The art of moving the large animals safely from the home pen up into the semi-truck lies in the hands of a small cowboy crew.  Success requires a blend of intuition and skill, and putting the big ones on the bus provides the most challenging task performed at the feed yard.

In just over two months, I will ship my last pen of cattle to slaughter.  Even though I close that chapter of my life, I will forever carry with me a deep appreciation for all of the cowboys that continue to perform this task on farms all across the Midwest.

The blend of vulnerability and intense strength in the action creates a memory that lasts a lifetime.

 

 

 

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Advocacy…

bovinephotobomb-jpgI traded dirt roads for the Denver pavement this week in order to participate in the MBA Top of the Class Training.  While most folks think of an MBA as a business degree, in my world, the letters represent Masters of Beef Advocacy.  Sponsored by the farmer funded Beef Check Off, the MBA program exists to inspire farmers and other beef advocates to share their story. 

The core information learned in the MBA program creates a basis of necessary knowledge and skills to begin the advocacy journey.  The Top of the Class Training consists of a two day intensive seminar which enables MBA graduates to find a higher gear on their journey.  Top of the Class graduates are “super advocates” who consistently channel their passion in order to share the story of beef.

I was invited to provide the Keynote Address as well as mentor other bloggers in one on one learning sessions during the two day event.  The topic of my Keynote Address was “The Evolving Journey of a Beef Advocate”, and preparing the power point presentation for the speech was a bit like traveling down memory lane.  My advocacy journey began with public speaking events and routine media interviews in 2006.  It eventually lead me to creating this blog in 2011.

  • I became a farmer because I fell in love.
  • I became a farmer advocate because when you believe in something, you want to share it.

After more than a decade, I remain an advocate because I believe that the stability of our country is intrinsically tied to the availability of food.

A plentiful and safe supply of food relies heavily on eliminating the knowledge gap between the 98% of the population that consumes food and the 2% of the population that not only consumes it but also grows it.

  • Farmers need to share their story.
  • Others outside of agriculture need to engage and listen.

Together we create a meaningful dialog that leaves all of us smarter and ultimately protects the livelihood of our country.

Feed Yard Foodie is not just “Anne’s Story” — Feed Yard Foodie is a piece of Anne.  I sustain in my advocacy journey by remaining true to my core values and creating a revolving fountain of energy through the personal growth that I gain from living on a farm and writing about those experiences.  I tell my girls to always pack their FAITH. 

F ortitude

A ttitude

I ntegrity

T rust

H umility

These are the core values that make me “Anne” and they provide the heart and soul of my advocacy.  I may not always be right, but I always care and that’s what keeps me going…

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An Appropriate Sense of Urgency…

A few years ago, I heard another feed yard manager talk about the importance of the feed yard crew employing an appropriate sense of urgency to individual situations on the farm.  I’ve held onto that phrase in my head because I think that it holds the crux of successful animal care.  Personal reactions to farm events determine the effectiveness of their control — whether you are the boss/ foreman or the water tank cleaning crew.

We run a “short crew” on Sundays at the feed yard.  My three guys take turns feeding on Sundays having to work every third weekend.  It is a nice way to ensure that the crew gets some family time despite the long hours of work on the farm.  We really can’t get the work load finished on Sunday mornings with just one person, so I am a permanent Sunday morning crew member.  I read bunks, check water tanks, observe cattle health, and generally do whatever needs done while my other crew member drives the feed truck delivering breakfast.

Most Sundays, it works like a charm.

dsc_0580-1This week, I arrived at the feed yard just before 6:00 to start chores.  My cowboy met me at the front gate with the unfortunate news that our main well had gone down and all of our water tanks were empty.

 

This is significant for two reasons:

  1. Water is critical — our animals have to have it —  having a well problem on a Sunday morning is a BIG DEAL.
  2. This Sunday was not my “cowboy’s weekend” — it was his day off.  However, he had stopped by the feed yard on his way to town for breakfast just to make sure that everything was okay.

The feed yard has a back up well, so we fiddled around in the dark and got it started.  The problem with the back up well is that it is not as powerful — it’s primary job is to supply extra water to cattle in the summer, not to provide the total water supply.  We’ve never had this problem before (showing up on Sunday morning to find water tanks dry), so Rich and I debated how long we thought it would take for the back up well to refill the water tanks.

Megsunrise2.jpgI really hate to bother my foreman on the Sunday morning that is supposed to be his day off.  However, it seemed an appropriate sense of urgency to call him as I was unsure if the secondary well would provide enough water.  I am sure that he was really excited to hear my friendly voice on his cell phone at 6:30am on his “off” Sunday; but he’s a dedicated animal caregiver and was out at the feed yard within 20 minutes.

The story ends well…

The secondary well did an awesome job and had water tanks refilled in about an hour and a half.  Our local well repair company came out Monday to install a new pressure switch on the main well — and the 1700 bovines on the farm remained well cared for throughout the entire episode.

Times like this remind me of the importance of the loyalty, integrity, and compassion of my crew.  My cowboy and my foreman are a rare breed of men — always putting responsibility to the animals ahead of personal agendas.  I have been blessed to have them on the feed yard crew for my entire tenure on the farm and I am very proud of our high level of teammanship.

As we transition the farm, they will both begin to play a new role but Matt and I are very thankful that they will remain members of our farm team.

 

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Benny Had a Good Life…

Likely the most often asked question by my non-farming friends is “How can you care for animals for long periods of time and then send them to their death?”

I love animals.  I love spending time around them, and I enjoy the daily interactions that go along with their care.  To be a caregiver is both a responsibility and an honor, and I am thankful to play that role. The answer to the above question exists amidst my own philosophical belief that different types of animals hold different types of purposes…

  • The stray dog that showed up one day at the feed yard lives in my house and falls under the category of “pet”.
  • The horses that live in my back yard are supposed to fall under the category of “work animal” (but likely trend closer to ‘pet status’).
  • The cattle that live at my feed yard are “food animals”.

I care for all of them with the same set of values as that is my God-given duty, but the actions of care that I provide differ depending on the animal’s purpose.   

Cattle exist to turn non-edible resources (like grass) into products that people need: a nutrient dense protein source, leather, soap/cosmetics, and human pharmaceuticals to name just a few.  They deserve a good life, but the end of life for a bovine holds a link to sacrifice as that is his express purpose.

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

I’d like to take a moment to share “Benny’s story” as I think that it illustrates my answer to the above important question.

Benny was born on the Karlberg Ranch and lived briefly with his natural mother.  Sometimes Mother Nature acts harshly, and Benny was orphaned not long after birth.  He got a new “mama” by the name of Jessa Karlberg.  Jessa bottle fed Benny until he was big enough to eat grass and grow on his own.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.

bennyjessaJessa cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

When Benny weighed about 940# (14 months of age), he left the Karlberg Ranch and traveled to Will Feed.  He traded grass for a feed yard casserole, and Jessa for me as a primary caregiver.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.  In just over 3 months, he gained 530#.

I cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

benny2-jpgLast Sunday, Jessa came to visit Benny.  A couple of days later, I “put him on the bus” to head 20 miles down the road to the Tyson packing plant.  Benny fulfilled his purpose, and offered 1450# of products to nourish and provide for all of us.  By fulfilling his purpose, Benny returned all of the care that Jessa and I offered to him during his lifetime.

Benny had a good life.

Benny’s life resulted in products that, in turn, ensure that each of us has a good life. There is honor in that story. There is honor in Benny’s gift.

I think that it is time for all of us to celebrate the reality of food production — To have faith in the farmers and ranchers that dedicate their lives to raise animals like Benny. When we are thankful for the gift, we ultimately respect the sacrifice.

It’s okay to think of Benny, Jessa, and I when you eat a steak.  Benny had a good life; and Jessa and I worked hard so that you could reap the benefit 🙂

 

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The First of the Lasts…

Whenever life begins to transition toward a new path, there exists a series of “lasts”.  Last week, I experienced the first of the lasts in the journey of shutting down the feed yard.  Friday morning, I traveled south of Sumner, Nebraska to load up a group of yearlings at the Karlberg Ranch.

With the approach of fall, grass supplies diminish and feed yards in Nebraska begin the fall run of cattle as animals are gathered off of pastures and shipped to farms like mine.

A feed yard is pretty much like a hotel for cattle — A place where the animals go when seasonal limitations of grass resources require shipping off of the home ranch.  The casserole of forage and grain that they receive on my farm enables them to continue to grow despite the fact that Mother Nature refuses to provide for about 7 months.

David and two of his three children -- I got to watch these folks "grow up" while working with their dad.

David and two of his three children — I got to watch these kids “grow up” while working with their dad.

David Karlberg and I have partnered raising beef for fifteen years.  David cares for his cattle until they are 12-16 months old before sending them to my feed yard.  The animals then make the short 30 mile trip from the ranch to my farm where they spend another four months preparing to make beef.  Birth to harvest, the cattle spend their entire lives in Dawson County Nebraska.

Working with folks like David provides an integral part of my business model of collaboration.  Tracing cattle performance, improving care over the animal’s lifetime, limiting animal stress, and searching for ways to improve quality in the end product: beef.

David and I became smarter together than we could have ever been alone. 

Over the past 15 years, we have cared for and improved the lives of close to 6000 animals — producing more than 5 million pounds of beef and bovine products.  Each one of you has benefited by our dedication and collaboration.

Friday morning provided the last time that I will bring David’s cattle (or any other new cattle) onto my farm.  As we begin to exit the cattle feeding business, we will now stop bringing new cattle into the “hotel”.  The 1835 animals already on my farm will remain with me until their time of shipment, but we will no longer “refill” the home pens with new animals after these cattle travel to Tyson.

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today -- more to come on "Benny" in the next post...

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today — more to come on “Benny” in the next post…

It was an emotional morning for me.  Although I truly believe that it is time for a new journey, the reality of stepping away from what I have worked so hard to build weighs on me.  There is regret and disappointment that I could not make my business model work as my management is a reflection of the values that make me Anne. I am thankful for David and my other ranchers who put time and energy into our partnerships – committing to search for ways to be better tomorrow than we are today.

I found my smile as I ended the day with a group of graduate students from the University of Nebraska @ Lincoln. The students visited the farm as part of the UNL Feed Yard Internship program which strives to prepare college graduates to be good cattle caregivers and businessmen/women. We had great discussions and I was very pleased that the professors and students felt that I had something meaningful to share.  I have faith that some of them will work to continue the legacy that I have tried to foster 🙂

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