Tag Archives: Cafo

To the Young Women Wanting a Career In the Beef Industry…

annebunkpb2I am often asked about my journey as a woman in the beef industry. For all of the young women who have asked me for advice on the topic –This one’s for you…

5 Nuggets of Advice from the Feed Yard Boss Lady:

1. Be prepared to develop yourself and learn to problem solve. The complexities and traditions of the beef industry provide a delicate puzzle. Change is a given. It is your job to ensure that it is positive in nature.

  • Establish personal core values to live by
  • Gain an accurate understanding of the beef production chain
  • Create both long and short term goals to guide you on your journey
  • Develop plans to effectively work toward your goals
  • Recognize that you can learn something from EVERYONE

2. Be prepared to prove yourself. True leaders garner respect through work ethic and positive passion. Lead by example — Words only become meaningful after respect is earned. There are days when your body will ache and your brain will beg for refuge.  Ignore the discomfort and keep working. You must earn your place on the team. Everyone may not always like you, but over time your actions will convince them that they NEED you. Once they need you, acceptance and respect will follow.

Learn to sweat with a smile 😊 

3. Be prepared to deal with awkward moments — Do it with grace and class. 

  • There may be a time when a bull hauler (truck driver) exclaims “Hey, I’ve read about you. You’re the crazy lady who exercises her cattle!  What’s it like to work for PETA?” Smile, politely correct the PETA assumption, and go load the cattle.  The goal is to create the best experience for the animals — keep your temper in check. Trust me, it’s worth it.
  • There may be a time when you are in an auditorium with hundreds of cattlemen present. You are slated to present an award to a veterinarian who exemplifies many of the animal welfare principles that you have worked so hard to advance.  As the President of the cattlemen’s organization introduces you, he inadvertently belittles you by calling you a princess and misrepresents the project that you have spent a decade as a volunteer working on. Smile, shake his hand, turn to the audience and tell the veterinarian’s awesome story of animal care.

Recognize that IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU. It is about fostering positive change in your industry.   

4. Be prepared that not everyone thinks like you. Your job is to build bridges, not pass judgment. Building bridges requires both action and compromise on your part.  We are stronger if we embrace diversity and use it to create a more effective team. Figure out your own Anne Gates and go to work!

As a woman in the beef industry, you will have experiences that your male counterparts cannot fully understand. That’s okay.

  • It’s unlikely that a fellow male crew member knows what it feels like to work cattle during pregnancy when the little one crams her foot in between your ribs while also making your bladder a temporary punching bag. However, your crew is your team and they will likely do everything that they can to help you get the job done. They do not have to be you to empathize and care about you. Be grateful for them.
  • It’s unlikely that a fellow board member for your state cattlemen’s association will receive an “emergency” call informing him that his children had not been picked up from school that afternoon. While he won’t likely get the call, he can surely empathize with your husband who evidently forgot he was in charge of the after school pick up that day!

Building bridges creates a team spirit which incites positive movement.

5. Be prepared to make difficult decisions as you balance your family and your career. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything — You will have to prioritize.  After the cattle chores, the daily business decisions, and the volunteer work are completed, there is dinner to be made and the never ending laundry to be done. Most importantly, there is a beautiful family that loves and needs you.

Be a loving wife and an engaged mama — celebrate your greatest blessing by enjoying life with your family. 

The last twenty years have been an incredible adventure for me as well as a great preparation for the new journey that lies ahead. I have no regrets and many proud moments. It is truly a gift to get to use both your body and your brain to make a difference each and every day.

Cattle are amazing creatures and there is great honor in the role of cowgirl.    

 

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, Coaching / Personal Growth, Family, General

All Before a Cup Of Coffee…

It’s a family joke that I don’t drink coffee because it exacerbates my inability to sit still. The “rest of the story” is that I don’t drink a morning cup of coffee because my alarm goes off at 5:35 am and I am out the door 10 minutes later. My morning “home” routine is short and for the vast majority of the year it is performed in the predawn darkness. Matt has always taken care of the girls in the morning hours before school because the feed yard day starts by 6:00 am.

Actually, my oldest daughter would claim that she is in charge in the morning rather than her dad --- I figure teamwork is what it is all about!

Actually, my oldest daughter would claim that she is in charge in the morning rather than her dad — I figure teamwork is what it is all about!

With a feed yard to manage and three active daughters, my days tend to waffle between busy and just short of frantic. This week has tended toward the latter. Just to share a glimpse, I figured that I would run through my day Tuesday.

You’ll have to let me know if I have labeled it correctly by calling it just short of frantic…

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5:35 Leave home to go to the office to print out animal withdrawal reports for the two pens of steers that we were scheduled to ship to Tyson – We have a multi-tier system set up at the feed yard to ensure that every animal is healthy and antibiotic free heading to the packing plant. I am in charge of that system and printing withdrawal reports is one of the tiers.

6:00 Arrive at the feed yard and read bunks: this is where I look at all of the feed bunks at the feed yard (there are 24 of them—one for each pen) to see how much feed from yesterday is left over to help make a good choice of what the animals in each pen should be fed today.

6:20 Enter bunk reading calls into the computer and slate the appropriate amount of feed for the day for each pen.

6:35 Start weighing semi-trucks to ship cattle to Tyson.

6:45 Pick up my cowboy and go out into the first pen that was slated to ship – ask the cattle to leave the pen and travel down to the corral area, then load them on the three designated trucks.

7:10 Go back out and gather the second pen of cattle to ship – trailing them down to the corral area and load them on the other three designated trucks.

7:50 Weigh the trucks “full” for a sale weight on the cattle and give all paperwork and instructions to the truck drivers as they leave the feed yard to travel 20 miles to the Tyson packing plant.

8:00 Complete the rest of the paperwork on the cattle that shipped.

9:00 Take part in a Tyson Farm Check Conference Call.

9:45 Field a phone call from my primary wet distillers grain supplier (Cornhusker Energy) to learn that the plant was broken down and I would not receive my daily loads of cattle feed this week.

9:50 Scramble on the phone to procure wet distillers feed from a different ethanol plant so that my cattle could continue to receive their normal, healthy ration (casserole).

10:00 Meet the field agent for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for my yearly CAFO inspection.

11:30 Travel from the feed yard to our main office to complete daily office / computer tasks which included purchasing and setting up logistics for ranch cattle that will travel to the feed yard today.

I went home briefly to eat lunch, but I can’t remember what leftovers I found in the refrigerator to heat up.

1:00 Traveled back to the office to work on more paperwork including preparing carcass and feed yard performance data to share with the rancher whose cattle I shipped to Tyson the week prior.

3:20 Pick up my favorite blonde 4th grader from school. Go home briefly to do chores (chickens, horses, dog, and cats).

4:00 Cheer for my favorite blonde cowgirl in her Junior High Track Meet (she took first place in the Pole Vault, first place in the long hurdles, and second place in the short hurdles)!

7:45 Travel home to make dinner (beef tacos).

9:30 Fall into bed so that I can do it all over again tomorrow!

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Go Meg!

Do you ever have days like this?!

It’s amazing what we can get done all before a cup of coffee when our responsibilities are vast…

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Filed under CAFO

When Your Husband Needs You For Your Manure…

Matt and I have a unique relationship. In addition to being soul mates and the parents of our three girls, we also partner together to manage our farm.

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We live together, we love together, we work together.

After almost 20 years of this, I can look back with tremendous pride over the gift of togetherness on which we have built our lives.

Our farm is diversified – we grow both crops and cattle – with my favorite farmer manning the helm of the crop farm and me working as the boss lady at the feed yard. We run the two facets of the farm independently, but collaborate and partner on a daily basis. I need Matt to provide feed for my cattle, and he needs me for manure to replenish the nutrients in his soil.

It isn’t often that a woman can claim that one of the reasons that her husband needs her is her manure…

But manure provides common ground when you are managing a diversified farm. I need to manage it responsibly so that it is harvested and used in a positive way, and Matt needs it in order to maintain sustainable soil health.

The tractor and scraper which pulls the manure off of the top of the pen dirt surface and piles it so that Matt can transport it to a crop field to use as fertilizer...

The tractor and scraper which pulls the solid manure off of the top of the pen dirt surface and piles it so that Matt can transport it to a crop field to use as fertilizer…

Because I manage a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), I have a more highly populated density of animals than other types of farms. While I view my feed yard as a positive way to raise beef, I recognize that I need to be dedicated to environmental protection in order to safeguard the land and water on our farm. I use a Nutrient Management Plan, created by a professional environmental engineering firm, which includes best management practices for collecting and properly using both the solid and liquid manure that is produced at the feed yard.

Loading the manure from the cattle pen to the manure truck for transportation to a crop field for application...

Loading the solid manure from the cattle pen to the manure truck for transportation to a crop field for application…

My favorite farmer tests his crop fields prior to manure application to determine the level of nutrients needed to replenish the soil. I test the manure so that the nutrient levels in the natural fertilizer can be entered into an equation (along with the soil test information) to ensure that the manure is applied at an agronomic (healthy) rate. The goal is overall sustainability for the farm with the crops and cattle working together as a team to produce needed resources in a balanced cycle.

We spread manure on each of our crop fields approximately every 7 years.  Here is manure from the feed yard being applied to an old alfalfa field that will be torn up and planted to corn for a one year rotation before being planted back to alfalfa...

We spread manure on each of our crop fields approximately once every 7 years. Here is manure from the feed yard being applied to an old alfalfa field that will be torn up and planted to corn for a one year rotation before being planted back to alfalfa…

The crop yields and cattle performance/beef quality give us reliable report cards on our management execution, and extra safeguards such as ground water monitoring and crop land set-backs ensure that the nutrients applied remain on our farm being used for their positive and intended purpose.

All of these things together reduce the environmental footprint of our farm, which is an ongoing goal that Matt and I share.

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Filed under CAFO, Environmental Stewardship, General

Our Farm and New York City

Over the years, I have made a couple of trips to New York City to visit college friends as well as to do some volunteer promotion work for the Beef Check Off.  My perspective of the world broadens a bit every time that I venture into the Big Apple as it is incredibly different from my family’s farm in Nebraska.

This week, as I traversed the Cornhusker State attending my oldest daughter’s basketball games, I did some math calculations with my favorite blonde cowgirl exploring population density using both census data and information from our farm.

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Meg and I in the field that makes up our “back yard”…

Here is what we found…

New York City, NY spans 302.64 square miles and is home to 8,405,837 people (2013 census) = 27,775 people per square mile

Manhattan, New York spans 22.96 square miles and is home to 1,626,159 people (2013 census) = 70,825 people per square mile

Our total farm spans 8.17 square miles where we grow alfalfa, corn, prairie hay (grass), soybeans, and cattle.

The Feed Yard (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) part of our farm spans 0.156 of those 8.17 square miles and is home to 2772 bovines = 17,769 cattle per square mile on the feed yard property.

An aerial view of the feed yard...

An aerial view of the feed yard…

The population numbers per square mile paint an interesting picture. 

The vast majority of the New Yorkers that I know are intensely loyal to their home city, and feel completely comfortable in the relatively crowded environment that makes up the Big Apple.  In fact, New Yorkers are often quick to brag about the unique blend that their city has to offer.  I have a similarly intense loyalty to my farm  — the crops, the cattle, the CAFO that houses my cattle, and the diverse harmony that they all create together. All of the different pieces of my farm come together to make a unique and sustainable whole.

I spend my days watching my cattle thrive — playing, resting, eating and living what I believe to be a humane life.  It is certainly true that they are more confined in a feed yard pen than they would be on a pasture, but I would argue that it is still possible to offer a decent life to an animal within a more crowded environment.

All living creatures adapt to their home environments, whether it is a loyal New Yorker living the city life or a calf living in a feed yard pen.

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We all have the unique ability to acclimate to our surrounding environment in order to live in harmony.

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Filed under CAFO, General

Reliability…

Thoughtful Thursday

During the summer months, my feed yard crew works on maintenance projects that the weather precludes us from doing during the winter.  One of our main projects this summer is building new fence in our receiving/shipping/cattle working corral.  This week, we began painting the fence to help “weatherize” it.

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My daughters, in addition to my graduate student intern from the University of Nebraska, all added onto the regular crew to work on this popular task.  It is amazing what comes up when a diverse group of smart minds spend hours performing manual labor tasks…

 At one point, my favorite blonde cowgirl announced Mom, you should write a blog post about reliability because it is the most important quality in an animal caregiver.”  As I thought about her statement and the explanation that followed, I realized how truly perceptive she is.

Reliability provides the basis to being a good animal caregiver — from showing up to work on time every day, to working diligently and carefully to provide good feed and animal care, to consistently demonstrating calm leadership to the animals — my cattle rely on us every day of the year.  They don’t tolerate excuses, instead they inspire responsible diligence.

The Feed Yard Foodie

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Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

Replacement Heifers: Meet Tippy…

Every once in a while someone will jokingly tease my husband that we should have another child. I immediately reply that he will need a replacement heifer in order to accomplish this as my days of pregnancy are far behind me. While my three girls are unquestioningly the best thing that I have done with my life, I did not do pregnancy well and my third triggered an autoimmune disease that brought a difficult and unforeseen challenge to my life journey.

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With only three successful pregnancies, I would have made a lousy breeding cow…

In all seriousness, the decision of which heifers (female calves) to keep on the home ranch to use in the breeding herd is one of the most important decisions that a rancher makes. Most ranchers keep a portion of their female calves on the ranch to become replacement heifers. These animals will go on to become breeding cows and replace the cows in the herd that are no longer reproductively sound. The majority of these replacement heifers will spend 10 years or more successfully making baby calves.

Her first year of calving she was called a "replacement heifer" as she took the place of an older cow who could no longer have babies...

Her first year of calving she is called a “replacement heifer” or a “first calf heifer”. Her job is the stay on the ranch — have baby calves — and care for them for the first 6-9 months of their lives.  After her first year in the breeding herd, she is called a cow…

There are a number of criteria that ranchers use when determining which replacement heifers to keep. A few of those might be:

  • Confirmation of the animal — good feet/legs, smooth walking gait, good overall physical frame and muscling.
  • Phenotypic Uniformity — many times solid colored with a generally appealing appearance.
  • Heifers from mothers who have historically good fertility and maternal traits as well as calving ease and nice personalities.

    Al and his daughter, Tessa, have a ranch near Halsey, NE.  I have worked with Al for more than 10 years -- feeding his steers and the heifers that are not chosen to be kept for replacement heifers...

    Al and his daughter, Tessa, have a ranch near Halsey, NE. I have worked with Al for almost 15 years — feeding his steers and the heifers that are not chosen to be kept for replacements in the breeding herd…

Those heifers that are not chosen to serve as replacements are sold and often end up at feed yards like mine. Sometimes they are animals that ranchers have a soft spot for, but do not keep for the breeding herd because they do not meet their set criteria. This is the case with Yellow #042…

We will learn more about Tippy in the next couple of months as she lives and grows at the feed yard...

We will learn more about Tippy in the next couple of months as she lives and grows at the feed yard…

My favorite blondes have named her “Tippy”. Can you guess why she didn’t make the replacement heifer cut?

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

Romancing the Feed Yard…

My favorite farmer gave me a birthday card more than 15 years ago that showed a picture of a man systematically mowing the lawn (including the flower garden) with a caption that read, I guess I’m more ‘logical’ than ‘romantic’.mattcard.jgp

I laughed so hard when he gave it to me that I cried.  After all these years, the card is still tacked up on the bulletin board on my kitchen wall.  It is now faded and beginning to tear at the seams, but I can’t bear to throw it away because it depicts Matt and I so well.anneandmattjan2014

We aren’t inherently romantic, and I love the fact that our outlook on life is more practical as I believe that makes us good farmers.

In many ways, my feed yard is much like my favorite farmer and I:  favoring the practical side over the romantic.  It houses 3000 animals that exist to make beef and other products that we all use every day.  These animals eat, drink, sleep, play and grow.  They require daily care regardless of the weather, and their existence on our farm ensures that there is always work to be done.DSC07904

While I managed to get him to “wink” for the camera, he has no concept of the notion of romanticism…

I truly love what I do, but I also recognize that it is not quixotic in nature.  Managing a feed yard requires practical “hands on” skills, and I like to laugh that I generally earn my shower at the end of the day.  I may hum my favorite country song while I do chores, but my cattle certainly don’t appreciate the music for any more than a gauge of my mood.

And, I am quite certain that they prefer the sound of the feed truck bringing them breakfast much more than any poetry that I might recite…

The culture of a cattle feed yard does not provide an element of romanticism to the beef story; however, I feel that my farm offers a very real gift.  The gift of healthy food that is raised carefully and responsibly.

The professionalism that dictates the care that I offer to my animals ensures that they are comfortable, and make and safe and healthy beef.   This very logical process can then provide the avenue for each of you to have a romantic beef eating experience.  I am happy to stay true to my natural pragmatic self if each of you is willing to trust me as I grow your beef 🙂

What a delicious way to make your day special...

What a delicious way to make your day special…

It is this combination of reality and romance that together makes us sustainable. 

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Filed under CAFO, General

Weights In My Boots…

I never knew the purpose of a hooded sweatshirt until I moved to Nebraska.  Quite honestly, I do not think that I ever owned one prior to going to work at the feed yard.  My closest is now full of them, and I wear them daily.

They come in handy...

They come in handy…

The wind across the Great Plains region of the country is merciless.  A breeze is defined by wafts of 30 mph, and we have days where it blusters past 60 mph.  A hooded sweatshirt is my best friend when the Nebraska winds doth blow.  It protects me from the cold, the dust, and the snow that sometimes sweeps in an angry horizontal pattern across our valley.

When the winds top 60mph, I start to think that in addition to my hoodie, I also need weights in my boots.  Those are the days when it seems impossible to stand up straight and I tend to stumble around bracing myself against the gales.  As I do chores, I try to distract myself by thinking fondly of Mary Poppins, but mostly my eyes water – my face stings – and my back hurts from the effort.

The wind alone does not seem to bother them a bit...

The wind alone does not seem to bother them a bit as they choose to walk to the feed bunk for a bite to eat…

My cattle appear to deal with the high winds much better than I do.

  • Perhaps it is the fact that they have four feet on which to balance…
  • Perhaps it is because they outweigh me by 800 pounds or more…
  • Perhaps it is simply because they are tougher than I am!

Whatever the reason, they seem content to rest behind a windbreak, have a bite to eat at the feed bunk, or run around playing with each other as if nothing is out of the ordinary.

Resting comfortably in the home pen after breakfast...

Resting comfortably in the home pen after breakfast…

Last week the cold north wind blew and blew and blew.  Thursday afternoon the gusts topped 60mph, and the weather was just plain ghastly.  Thankfully there was no snow — instead we had dust storms with dirt and remnants from harvested corn fields blazing across our farm.

Piles of corn stalk shucks blown into the ditch at the south end of our corn field...

Piles of corn stalk shucks blown into the ditch at the south end of our corn field…

I was tired when I got home Thursday night, and eternally grateful for the reprieve that the structure that my home offered.  I found myself thinking about the pioneers who trekked across the Great Plains living in wagons and building sod houses when they decided to settle.

As unforgiving as the Nebraska weather is at times, I cannot imagine the tenacity and grit required to survive in those early days.  It makes me thankful for my warm home, and all of the technological advancements that protect me from the elements and help me to care for my animals.

Here you can see the heavy coat of hair that keeps our cattle warm when the cold north wind blows...

Here you can see the heavy coat of hair that keeps this heifer warm when the cold north wind blows…

As we head into the heart of the windy winter season perhaps I should heed the advice of Abraham Lincoln rather than putting weights in my boots…

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on! 

Abraham Lincoln

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Filed under CAFO, General