Tag Archives: cattle welfare

Caring for God’s Creatures…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂


Inspiration this week comes from Genesis 1:24

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth produce every sort of animals, each producing offspring of the same kind – livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.”


Two days after I dropped my favorite brunette off at college, I headed to Dakota Dunes, SD for a Tyson Animal Well-being Advisory Committee meeting. The advisory panel provides a pillar of the FarmCheck program and I have been honored to participate since it’s inception in 2013.  The 15 member committee consists of dedicated people from all across the world who gather for “think tank” discussions as we work to intentionally strive to improve farm animal welfare.

Are we perfect? No! Do we care? Yes! The intensity and devotion to doing the right thing for our animals provides a tangible presence in the meeting room. We have hard and detailed discussions on the complex challenges that we face raising food animals. The goal is to honor the sacrifice that our animals give to us when they become food by doing our very best to provide them with a good life during their time on earth. In short, we talk about how we can care for God’s creatures.

 

I’ve laughed to my favorite farmer many times over the years that I may be the only one in the room without a graduate degree 🙂  I try to make up for that by offering a boots on the ground perspective on animal welfare issues that affect cattle on their life journey. I began my personal cattle adventure more than two decades ago —  driven by a love for animals and a gratitude toward the nutritious beef that often provides the center of my dinner plate. You could likely debate whether or not I’m an animal welfare expert but my heart holds tightly to a God-given passion to serve His creatures with integrity.


As we move forward in a world where ethics play an increasingly important role in the food discussion, I think that they are a few key ideas to hold tightly to:

  1. God created man to have dominion over animals. It is our job to care for them, but it is also our right to use their meat to nourish our bodies.
  2. While it is clearly important to raise food with integrity, it is critically important that we come together as a team to find answers to challenges. Farmers, packing plants, scientists, NGO’s, government officials, individual Americans — the list is long, but we will find meaningful answers TOGETHER.
  3. While many in our country are food secure, many are not. The need of those challenged for food security is just as important as that of the privileged. We must never forget the quiet voice of the child who struggles for daily nutrition.
  4. Farmers are not perfect, but we are dedicated to doing the best that we can. A basis of trust and agape love is necessary for meaningful discussion about how and why we raise food animals. As a city kid turned farmer, I’ve found that the more that I understand my animals, the better job I can do caring for them in a meaningful way. I want to have a “seat at the table” for discussions about animal welfare so please leave me a chair!

One of the things that I like most about serving on Tyson’s Animal Wellbeing Advisory Committee is my ability to honor all four of those ideas. It was a great meeting — full of awesome people — that generated innovational thoughts of how we can better understand, care, and honor our animals. I am incredibly thankful to be included in this effort as it helps to fulfill an ongoing ministry for me as we care for God’s creatures.

 

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They’re Big…

My favorite blonde cowgirl spent a significant amount of time with me at the feed yard over Thanksgiving vacation. One morning, as we were asking a group of calves to build confidence walking past a handler in the corral area, a few of the animals spooked suddenly. Megan was not expecting it and “spooked” almost as much as the calves. After the cattle settled down, she looked at me and said:

“Mama, does your heart skip a beat when the cattle do that? Or, do you eventually get used to it enough that it doesn’t scare you?”

My answer to her:

“Yes.” (To both questions)

Cattle are big animals. There is not a bovine on my farm that is less than 5X my size and, just prior to slaughter, my animals can weigh close to 14X as much as I do. In the event of a physical battle, I would lose every time… We do almost all of our cattle handling on foot, so as handlers we must be smart in order to remain safe.

They're Big...

They’re Big…

The aspect of human safety is often forgotten when cattle care is discussed in audiences outside of the farm. As a feed yard manager, it is always foremost in my mind as I care about my crew and want them to always be safe. I also serve as one of our primary cattle handlers so I have an additional personal investment in handler safety.

I believe that one of the most dangerous chores at the feed yard is shipping cattle to the packing plant. This is the time when my  heart is most likely to skip a beat, and this task is reserved for only the most experienced handlers.  It is an aspect of my farm where I feel that I need to always search for ways to consistently improve. There is the obvious aspect of cattle welfare to consider, but just as important is the human safety issue.

There are several rules of thumb that I believe apply to shipping cattle:

  • The larger the bovine — the more likely that the animal’s previous bad habits/behavior will resurface and challenge the handler…This is why good cattle handling throughout the entire lifespan is so important. The rancher begins this process the day that the calf is born and it is so important that he/she gives the calf a good start.
  • The more agitated the handler — the more agitated the animal…When things turn bad, they go downhill quickly as animals feed off of the handlers’ emotions.
  • Maintaining constant herd movement up the alleyway and into the truck is critical. Newton’s Law of motion applies! The key to good movement is to get the animal thinking of moving forward and limiting distractions which would disrupt that thought…

There will be challenges when shipping cattle – the weather, shipping in the darkness (at night or before the sun comes up), forming a synchronized team with the off-farm truck driver hired to transport the cattle, the disposition of the animals, as well as a variety of other unforeseen factors. These combine to make ensuring a safe shipment one of the hardest responsibilities that I have at the feed yard.

I know that I have a lot of room for improvement in my process of shipping cattle to the packing plant. I also know that we have made great strides in this chore during my tenure at the feed yard. I am committed to continuing to search for better ways to make each and every ship-out safe for both my crew and my cattle.  It is one of my greatest challenges.

Two big steers just before I "put them on the bus"...

Two big steers just before being loaded onto the truck to go to the packing plant…

All of you loyal Feed Yard Foodie readers will recognize that I very rarely have pictures of the ship-out process on the blog. This is not because I do not want to share this experience with each of you, it is simply because I cannot put the big boys on the bus safely if I am distracted by taking pictures…

 

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Cattle Psychology – Where the Romantic Meets the Pragmatist…

A couple of weeks ago at the International Symposium of Beef Cattle Welfare, I heard Dr. David Fraser speak about the conflicting ideas of “romantic” vs “industrial” thoughts toward animal welfare. Listening to his presentation cemented my belief that I was a conflicted romantic and pragmatic animal welfare supporter.

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Saturday morning while exercising calves during a beautiful sunrise, it occurred to me that perhaps I am so drawn to cattle psychology because it is where the romantic meets the pragmatist.

I had spent the week working with some 550 weight fall born calves which arrived at the feed yard anxious and unsettled.  The first morning they waited grouped together in the back corner of the pen too unconfident to actively seek the feed bunk. Using great care, I entered the home pen and asked them to move in straight lines seeking to engage the “thinking” part of their brains. I then gently asked them to exit the pen gate and travel down the alleyway. Sensitive to their large flight zone, I used very mild alternate pressure to guide their movement.

After working with them in the main corral for a few minutes, I asked them to again travel back to the home pen where fresh breakfast had just been placed in the feed bunk. The long stem prairie hay and calf ration in the bunk caught the attention of several of the heifers as they traveled back into the pen, and before long many of the calves were lined up at the bunk finding breakfast.

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As part of my regular cattle acclimation protocol, I followed this same routine every morning for five days. Each day the animals gained a greater level of confidence and a better understanding of life in their new home. When I entered the pen on Saturday (day 5), I knew that the cattle were acclimated.

They looked at me with curiosity and hesitated before agreeing to leave the home pen as if to ask “are you sure that I really have to leave?”

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A good cattle caregiver can sense when a group of animals is settled and comfortable.

The natural energy to leave the home pen is less than the energy seen when the animals return to the home pen. In addition, the cattle travel down the alleyway and past a handler with confidence. Sometimes it is hard to attain this, but when it happens it is a thing of beautiful harmony.

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I love it when a calf asks me a question. I love it even more when he accepts my response and offers an appropriate reaction.

The romantic in me smiles because I know that I have made a positive difference in the welfare of the calf. The pragmatic in me also smiles because my “job” as a cattle caregiver just got a lot simpler. That calf will now handle more easily, is less likely to get sick, and converts his feed more efficiently thereby reducing the environmental footprint of my beef.

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4th International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare…

Thoughtful Thursday

The journey in search of excellence has no end --- it is marked by a continuous dedication toward improvement.

The journey toward excellence has no end — it is marked by courage and the continuous dedication to improvement.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

Winston Churchill

Today I take the stage as a speaker at the 4th International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare being held at Iowa State University.  While I am incredibly honored to be asked to stand up and speak, I am also looking forward to sitting down and listening.   With any luck I will come home smarter than I left… 

I truly believe that the search for excellence takes both types of courage…

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