Tag Archives: cattle care

A Culture of Love…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂

Today’s verse comes from Hebrews 11:1

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.

Of all of the lessons that I have tried as a parent to teach my girls, packing their faith quickly rises to the top of the priority list. Faith allows for hope – it brings peace – and it enables you to live with honor to help create a culture of love. It fuels you with the inspiration to take the time to care and to spread God’s love to others along the journey.

Every time that I read Hebrews, those eighteen words jump off the page at me and inspire me to ponder their meaning. I believe that the heart of this verse is rooted in the Holy Spirit.

When I tell my girls to pack their faith, I mean for them to listen to God’s voice that manifests itself inside of them through the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives that the reality of hope/peace/joy/love can be attained during our time on earth. Our relationship with the Holy Spirit brings closeness with God. It allows for a grateful heart as well as the ability to see the instruction and opportunities that God places along our path. Our eyes cannot see His presence, but our hearts and minds still receive his faithful guidance and support.

Learning to be a caregiver for cattle helped me to develop an attention to detail that aids me in my spiritual journey. It may sound crazy, but cattle are attune to the slightest movement – the smallest sign – and respond to caregiver leadership best when the communication begins with natural subtlety. To be a good cattle caregiver, you need to slow down, pay close attention and search for the non-verbal cues that the animals send to you. This allows you to balance your energy with theirs’ and find harmony.

I best understand God’s direction when I slow down, pay close attention, and search for signs of his guidance. Just as I lead and direct my cattle to ensure that they receive good care, God guides me on a similar journey.

I’m very much a work in progress, but I clearly feel the work of the Holy Spirit in my own life — offering direction and refilling my cup as I look for balance and harmony. There is an awesome sense of peace that comes from making reality out of hope, and finding the evidence of abundant love as we attune our lives’ with faith through the Holy Spirit.



Filed under General, Wednesday Wisdom


While 80 degrees is “short sleeve” weather for my favorite blonde cowgirl, 55 degrees is “short sleeve” weather for my cattle.  Cattle (at least those of northern origin) are much more cold tolerant than heat tolerant.  The weather in Nebraska is often one of extremes, and spring and summer are marked by temperature fluxes of upward of forty degrees in any given day.


While Megan and I can take off our favorite hooded sweatshirts as the temperature swings, cattle are left with the same hair coat on any given day.  Beginning in early April, my animals begin to shed their heavy winter coats but it is a gradual process for them.  Cattle can acclimate to warmer temperatures approximately one degree per day and, once acclimated to summer, have an upper critical temperature threshold in the low to mid 80’s.

When temperatures soar above the critical threshold, my job as cattle caregiver becomes even more important.  In particular, providing a constant source of fresh cool water is vital as higher temperatures result in a double in a bovine’s water requirement (from 10% of body weight to 20% of body weight).  Next to water, air flow / wind is a bovine’s best friend.  Wind will decrease the heat index temperatures equal to the MPH strength of the air flow, and also tends to decrease humidity which makes temperatures more comfortable.


We have a list of heat management protocols that we follow at the feed yard to aid our animals in the heat of the summer months:

  • Process/Handle/Ship cattle in the early morning hours (after they have had the chance to cool off with the nighttime lows and before the heat of the next day begins).
  • Make sure that there is good air flow in all of the home pens.
  • Make sure that the fresh water reserve is adequate to refill cattle water tanks quickly as animals have higher volume water needs.  We have an additional water well that we use in the summer months to ensure adequate water availability.
  • Decrease the number of animals held in each home pen to increase accessibility to both water and air flow.
  • Diligent control of weeds and insect pests as those increase the susceptibility of animals to heat stress.
  • Careful management of cattle feed rations to maximize cattle comfort.

This year, I am adding an extra tool for heat stress management in an effort to increase the comfort of my animals.  I purchased several “cattle shades” to place in pens where larger (closer to market) animals reside.  I am excited to see if this increases cattle comfort as we enter into the months of summer.


At this point, we are still patiently waiting for some warmer temperatures, but I can report that my animals appear to enjoy both rubbing/scratching on the bases of the shades as well as napping in the shade underneath them.  This pen of steers pictured was incredibly fascinated by my favorite blonde as she posed for a photo shoot on one of the cattle shades.  They gathered up behind her curiously until she decided to jump up on the bars and go for a swing!


They must have sensed her desire to play because as she got down from the shade arm several of them came running back up to her.  In typical Megan fashion, she laughed as she turned toward them and asked them to move out of her space.


Megan’s kind of sunshine doesn’t need any shade…


Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Straight To The Source…

My father-in-law is notorious for always striving to multi-task…He wants to accomplish as much as possible all of the time.  I have to admit that, most of the time, I share this sentiment.

My original invitation to travel to Washington DC last week came from the Academy of Veterinary Consultants (AVC).  The AVC is a group of veterinarians that spend the majority of their professional time caring for cattle.  They are the professionals that help me to offer the best possible care to my cattle which ensures that you receive the best possible beef.

My Veterinarians play an important role helping me to raise safe and nutritious beef...

The AVC and its veterinary members get together three times per year for professional training and continuing education relative to cattle care.  I was asked to speak to their group about the Holistic Animal Care program that I use at my cattle feed yard to ensure optimal animal health and performance.  It was a tremendous honor for me to be asked to speak to this group.

A beautiful sight outside of the Capitol...

Because I wanted to maximize my trip, I asked my cattlemen’s organization (there are professional organizations made up of cattle farmers like me) if I could help them with anything on Capitol Hill while I was in Washington DC.  The Hill was officially on recess but I participated in a Beef 101 educational seminar for Congressional Staff both on the House and Senate sides.  During the seminar, I shared how I care for cattle and raise beef with interested staff members.  This time, I was lucky to be able to work with Dr. Guy Loneragan of Texas Tech University.

Dr. Loneragan and I right before the first Beef 101 seminar...

We specifically talked about the daily care of cattle, and the role that antibiotics play on cattle farms.  Dr. Loneragan shared with our audience the scientific complexity of the antibiotic resistance issue.  It was an appropriate topic given that the Federal Drug Administration made a couple of big announcements regarding the use of antibiotics in food animals while we were in Washington DC.

This is the beautiful House Agricultural Committee room where one of the Beef 101 seminars took place...

I did a lengthy series of posts late last fall on antibiotic use and the subsequent risk of resistance that comes with that use.  I encourage you all to read them as I believe them to be both accurate and applicable: https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/the-balancer/




I care about them and for them every day...I think that I am an accurate source of information regarding their health and the role that antibiotics play or do not play...

It always disappoints me when the AP news story reporting on new FDA antibiotic guidance documents reads something like this:  The FDA cracked down this week on the irresponsible use of antibiotics by farmers who overcrowd their animals and fill them with important human antibiotics to make them grow faster and enable them to survive horrible and crowded living conditions.

Quite honestly, as I read a passage such as that, I want to subsequently cry and beat my head against the wall!  Statements such as the one above do not represent what occurs on my cattle farm and I can say with confidence that they do not represent what occurs on most cattle farms. To set the record straight, I would like to make the following personal statements:

  • I do not use important human antibiotics to improve the growth of my animals.
  • I only use antibiotics to control disease and treat ill animals.
  • I make it a priority to keep the living conditions of my animals conducive to animal comfort.  My cattle pens are spacious and allow for normal bovine interaction.
  • I do everything in my power to ensure that my cattle are “set up for success” so that they naturally prosper and make safe beef.
  • I realize as both a mom and a cattle caregiver the incredible importance of judiciously using antibiotics whether it is in my home with my children or on the farm with my cattle.  I share that responsibility with every other American and I take it very seriously.


Filed under Foodie Work!, 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)

A Change of Address…

#718 spent the remainder of the fall, and until the end of January in a large pen with his herdmates near the AL Ranch headquarters.  The end of January, #718 and his herdmates were trailed from their “backgrounding pen” to the main corrals in order to load on a semi-truck, and be shipped to my feed yard.  #718 weighed 925# at shipment time (he’s come a long way since weighing 86#’s at birth!).  It takes about two hours for the cattle to make the trip from AL Ranch to the feed yard.

Upon arrival at the feed yard, #718 was unloaded and moved to the home pen with his herd mates after a short acclimating session.

Unloading off of the truck...

Arriving at the feedyard...

“Acclimation” is a very important process that we follow at the feed yard when we receive new animals.  It occurs over a 5-7 day period as we transition or acclimate the cattle to their new home.  We implemented acclimation protocols at the feed yard about five years ago, and it has made a tremendous difference in lowering the stress level of the calves as they transition into the feed yard.

Watch these next series of (obviously amateur and unedited) videos as I take a group of cattle through an acclimation session…The video clips show 1. emptying the home pen, 2. trailing down the alley way to the corral, 3. cattle handling in the corral, 4. returning to the home pen, and 5. back in the home pen at the end of the session.  I shot this footage last Sunday morning as I exercised cattle at the feed yard, and I hope that it will give you a deeper understanding of what “acclimation” means, and how important I believe that holistic care is for my animals.


Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, CAFO


Where has time gone??

She is now taller than I am and heading off to middle school…

I remember vividly when my children were born…I remember vividly when I weaned each of my girls…I remember vividly the “art” and “act” of potty training…I remember vividly the day that each of the girls went to preschool for the first time…I remember vividly the “big day” of Kindergarten…My oldest daughter will go to middle school in just a few weeks (oh, my goodness—how did I get that old?!). 

My "middle schooler" with her dog Shelley...

All of these are “milestones” in development.  When you look at a calf’s life, you can trace milestones of development as well.  Each segment of a calf’s life is marked by important events.  Let’s divide up these segments and look at them for Calf #718.

Al "checking" his cows and calves...

*Birth to “Branding”—Birth to approximately 3-4 months of age (March-May).  #718 is very dependent on his mama, and the vast majority of his nutrition comes from “mama’s milk”.  #718 and his mama are kept on pastures in close proximity to Al and his crew so that they can be watched carefully during this critical time. 

*Branding time- It is at this time that #718 receives his first vaccinations, is castrated, and branded.  To accomplish this, #718 is separated from his mother for a short period of time while Al and his crew “work” him.  Calf-hood vaccinations are critically important, and allow for continued good immune system development.  A castration procedure is done at this time as well.  Young bull calves that are destined for harvest (will not be used in the breeding herd) are castrated at an early age so that they will have an improved “disposition” and will handle better.  These calves also get along more easily with their herd-mates without the increasing levels of testosterone.  In addition, I prefer the taste and tenderness of a castrated steer to an “intact bull”.

*Branding to Preconditioning—By early summer, #718 is becoming more independent and will separate himself from his mama for short times of play and rest.  He has also learned to eat some grass and is starting to graze and gain some of his nutrition on his own.  Following “branding”, #718 and his mama are moved to pastures further away from the ranch head-quarters because they are more self-sufficient.  Al leases “forest ground” near Halsey, Nebraska and #718 and his mama spend the summer grazing on the “forest ground”.

The Halsey Forrest...Where #718 grazed with his mama during the summer months...

*Preconditioning—In Mid-September, #718 is again “worked” and receives his preconditioning vaccinations.  This is approximately 1 month prior to weaning, and a critical time to booster the calf’s immune system.  Good nutrition and good immune system function allow the calf to enter the weaning phase of his life with good health.

*Weaning—In Mid-October, #718 is gathered on horseback and separated from his mama.  He is then moved back to the ranch headquarters in a stock trailer.  His mama will remain on the forest ground for a few more weeks until she is trailed back to the ranch headquarters.  “Trailed” means that the herd is gathered and moved by cowboys on horseback.

One of Al's "Stock Trailers" is pictured here in the background...

Once he arrives back at the headquarters, #718 is placed in a pasture with his herd-mates.  During this time, he “acclimates” to eating grass and being without his mama.  His mama, in turn, is able to regain strength and prepare herself to have another calf.

*Post-weaning to feed yard shipment time—Calf #718 learns to eat out of a feed bunk (he is “bunk broke”).  His feed consists of a “growing” ration of hay, distillers grains, and mineral supplement.  A few weeks after “weaning”, #718 receives his “booster vaccinations” and is “de-wormed”.  This completes the vaccination process that Al follows at the ranch level.  The three sets of vaccinations (calf-hood, preconditioning, and boostering) gives the calf good immune system protection from disease.

The corrals and "chute" area at AL Ranch...

A couple of important additional things to note:  Calf #718 has access to an abundant supply of fresh water throughout his life span on the ranch.  His mama taught him how to drink out of a water tank at an early age.  Calf #718 also has constant access to “free choice minerals” on the ranch.  Al puts out mineral tubs for his cattle and they have constant access to them.  They are termed “free choice” because they are always available to the calf and his mama.

Stay tuned for the two milestones left in the life cycle as #718 makes the trip to my feed yard and then to harvest!

Proud to grow your beef!



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

What makes a cowboy?

When my kids were little, they used to travel with me when I went to nearby ranches to purchase cattle for the feed yard.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that my kids used to be this little!

One of the ranches that they visited was AL Ranch.  I’ll never forgot riding around in Al’s pickup truck looking at cattle that were about to ship to the feed yard, and my middle daughter (Megan—she was probably about 3) looking at Al and announcing, “You aren’t a REAL cowboy, you don’t have on the right hat…”. (Al was wearing a baseball style hat, instead of a cowboy hat).  I waffled between wanting to laugh and being embarrassed, but I was proud of Al—he took it right in stride like any good grandpa.  He looked at Megan and said,

“You know, it’s not the hat that makes the cowboy”.

Playing “cowgirl” is fun…

So, what makes a real cowboy?

Webster defines the word ‘cowboy’ as, “one who tends cattle or horses”.  I define it as a responsible and knowledgeable caregiver for cattle.  At the heart of any good cowboy is a love for both his animals and the land.  He (or she) puts the needs of his animals before his own needs.

I remember another time that I was up at Al’s place.  It was April and a spring snow storm had brought cold temperatures and bad weather conditions.  Al was in the middle of “calving” which means that his mama cows were having their babies.  The gestation period for a bovine (calf) is roughly the same as for a human, and a mama cow has a calf once per year.  Most calves in Nebraska are born in the springtime as the grass greens up and winter goes away.

The ice and snow can be beautiful, but they make "life" on a farm very difficult...

Springtime in Nebraska is notorious for being inconsistent, and this particular year we had very cold temperatures and snow even though it was April.  Al and his son-in-law were busy taking newly born calves into the “heat box” in the barn so that they would survive the weather.  They worked diligently for several long days until the weather cleared up.

Al is a good cowboy, no matter what type of hat he wears…

It's not the hat that makes the "cowboy"...

Calf #718 was born March 17th on a grass pasture close to Al’s house and corrals.  He spent the first couple months of his life in a place where Al could check on him frequently.  His mama took good care of him, and so did his “cowboy”…


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

“Cowboying” at the feedyard…

Last week my cowboy was on vacation and my foreman was having back problems, so there were only two of us working at the

"Studly" and I getting ready to start "riding pens" checking cattle...

feedyard.  With about 2400 cattle to care for, that meant long and hard days.  I started each day “reading bunks” and looking at cattle feed intake patterns at 6:00am.  Steve was in the feedtruck delivering the cattle’s “breakfast” by 7:00, and I was on horseback checking cattle health.

We “ride pens” every day at the feedyard which means that we ride on horseback through each one of the cattle pens assessing calf health.  We look at each animal in each pen, and it takes about four hours.  Normally this is my cowboy’s responsibility.  However, two weeks a year, my cowboy is on vacation and I am in charge of “riding pens”.

"Riding Pens"

Riding pens is hard and intense work.  It requires physical stamina in addition to a tremendous amount of focus to ensure that each calf is assessed.  What do I look for when I assess the health of a calf?

  1. Normal vs Abnormal:  I look at my animals every day so I have a good idea of what “normal” looks like for them.  So, when I ride pens, I look for anything “abnormal”.
  2. Exuberant vs Depressed: Does the calf exhibit normal play and resting behavior, or is he depressed?  Often, depression is the first sign of sickness.  Is the “carriage” or body position of the calf normal or is his head hanging low?  Is the calf standing alone in the pen or is he interacting with herd mates?
  3. Does the calf exhibit normal respiration patterns or does it look like he is “breathing hard”?
  4. Does the calf have any nasal discharge?
  5. Does the calf have any signs of limping or lameness?

    A Healthy Steer

  6. Does the calf have any signs of digestive upset?

These are just a few of the things that I look for when I check cattle health each day.  So, how did my week go?

“Studly” and I checked our 2400 cattle each day.  Throughout the week, I pulled (took the calf out of the home pen for an individual treatment) six animals. That is approximately 0.25% of our animals. Four were pulled for respiratory illness, one for a foot infection, and one digestive upset.  For each of the four respiratory illnesses and the foot infection, I carefully selected an antibiotic that would work most effectively for the particular illness.  I work closely with my veterinarian to choose the best antibiotics, and I always use them according to FDA label instructions and in accordance with Beef Quality Assurance Protocols.  The calf with the digestive upset needed a simple procedure to alleviate excess gas and some special feed for a few days.

The remainder of each day was taken up exercising and acclimating new calves, doing paperwork, shipping cattle to harvest, and vaccinating newly arrived cattle.  Oh, and coaching swimming and t-ball figured into the days as well…It may just be me, but it seems as though there is never enough daylight to get everything done–Even this time of year when it gets light at 5:30am and does not get dark until almost 10:00pm!

Appreciating a beautiful Nebraska sunset at the end of a long day...

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., CAFO