Tag Archives: Cattle

Blue Jeans Without Any Bling…

I met my favorite farmer at a Dartmouth College fraternity party more than 22 years ago. No matter how many times they hear it, my daughters love listening to the story.threegirls.jpg

Halloween night the senior football player, wearing devils horns glued to his head, meets the underclassman swimmer. They visit for a few minutes and then the swimmer goes home.

Fast forward three weeks…

The senior football player again meets the underclassman swimmer, same location but without the devils horns. They visit for a few minutes and then the swimmer goes home (early morning swimming practice generally motivated good behavior).

The next week…

The senior football player walks around the underclassman’s dorm looking for her (having only her first name and the knowledge that she was on the swim team to go on). Fate was on his side, and her door was decorated with swimming spirit signs for the season opening meet against Brown. He had found her! But, his luck fell short, his swimmer wasn’t home.

The next week…

The senior football player figures out the underclassman swimmer’s phone number (a landline – in the dark period prior to the invention of a cell phone!), calls and asks her out on a date Thanksgiving weekend. Dinner (she orders chicken because it is the cheapest thing on the menu and she worries that a farmer from Nebraska would be short on money), a movie, ice cream —

and, they fell in love.

Anne and Matt0003The part of the story that always brings the most drama from my daughters is the fact that I wore a flannel shirt and blue jeans (with no bling!) on the nights that we met and on our first date. The look of incredulity on my fifteen year old’s face upon learning this fact was truly priceless. This tidbit of information firmly places me on the bottom end of any teenage girl’s fashion scale. Add onto it the fact that I have never really worn any makeup and consider brushing my hair the extent of getting ready to go out – and you can begin to imagine the dramatic noises that might be uttered during the story telling session.

Today, whenever the occasion warrants blue jeans with bling, I simply go to my daughter’s closet and pull out a pair to borrow. Seeing as how I spend most of my days with large bovines that have no concern for fashion, my own work jeans lack the sparkly detail…

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It could be argued that my favorite farmer and I lack bling. We aren’t flashy and ostentatious. The kind of spark that we have comes from a deep love for each other, and a passion for caring for both our farm and our community. While we will likely never been considered sensational, we hope that our contribution is meaningful – that our story gives a glimpse into the lives of the family farmers that grow your food — that our toils produce nourishment for those in need.

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Perhaps, most importantly, amidst the dramatic eye rolling is the learned lesson that real bling doesn’t come from jewels on the back seat of your jeans!

Sustainable agriculture begins with the farmer…

And ends with a customer that trusts and empathizes — no bling included :)

6 Comments

Filed under Family, General

Trust but Verify…

I did an interview last week with a reporter who asked,Why does your farm participate in 3rd party animal welfare audits?”

My answer: I ask that my customers trust me to be a good farmer, but I open my farm to auditing so that they can verify that I practice what I preach.

No matter how good a job you do on your farm, an audit is a stressful time.

  • Hundreds of pages of documents are checked to make sure that records accurately demonstrate daily animal care practices.
  • Hours are spent checking the farm’s facilities (feed and feed mixing areas, cattle pens, water tanks, and corrals) to ensure that animals have good living conditions.
  • Cattle handling is observed to ensure that good welfare exists while animals are interacting with their human caregivers.
  • Caregivers are asked questions about farm protocols on many different issues relative to animal care to ensure that those folks who provide daily care for the animals are well trained and educated.
They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious.  They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home...

They gather around me because they are comfortable, confident, and curious. They choose to come close to me despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home…

I wear several “hats” at my feed yard. I am the owner and boss lady in addition to being one of the laborers who provide daily cattle care. I tend to greet audit day with mixed feelings. The boss lady realizes how important the audit is, but the farm hand struggles to accept outsiders interfering in the daily workings of life on the farm.

It is hard to have someone from the outside critique everything that you do – there is also no way to have an audit without disrupting the daily schedule of the farm. The combination of these things makes audit day on the farm long and stressful. Additionally, because I love my farm so much, opening it up to the judgement of an auditor creates a feeling of personal vulnerability. I feel it in my heart, and I know that my crew does as well.

Their care is important to me.

Their care is important to me.

Two weeks ago the feed yard had its first 2015 audit. I came home that night with a myriad of emotions fluttering through my head, the greatest being anger. Not anger toward the audit itself, but anger toward an ever growing vocal subset of the population who distrusts and dislikes American farmers like me. Tired from the long day, all I could think about was Why do I bother to go to the extra work of an audit to verify my farm care when nobody trusts me anyway”.

As an active advocate for agriculture, I am painfully aware of the distrust that exists toward modern farmers. An ever growing group of elitist philosophers breed this cynicism by employing an effective blend of zealotry and scare tactics. No matter how much I care or how hard I work to responsibly grow beef – these people ensure that I carry the label of the evil factory farmer. I open the newspaper or bring up the internet and find dozens of derogatory statements about how farms like mine abuse our animals, the environment and ultimately the people that we feed.

I honestly don't understand how this is evil and abusive...

I honestly don’t understand how this is evil and abusive…

Put yourself in my boots for a moment.

  • I work long hours on the farm.
  • I come home at night to write blog posts and share pictures of how I grow beef.
  • I patiently answer questions from reporters and customers.
  • I open my farm to both audits and tours.

And, at the end of the day, I am still belittled by the people that I have dedicated my life to feed.

So, I ask the important question:

What is it going to take for Americans to trust farmers and the practices that they use to grow food?

I believe in Trust but Verify, but verification is simply a burdensome chore if trust is unattainable.

17 Comments

Filed under CAFO

Good Timing…

As winter hints of an end and spring draws my crocuses out of the ground, I spend time putting together my spring shipment schedule. The growing season in Nebraska dictates that many bovines leave the home ranch in the late fall when Mother Nature signals the end of the growing season. After wintering at my feed yard, spring and summer finds these animals ready to make beef.

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Good timing enables the ultimate goal as both the environmental footprint of my farm and the quality of my beef rely on my instincts of when to ship cattle to the packing plant.

My judicious dedication to timely cattle shipment makes me a good farmer.

It ensures that an optimal amount of resources (animal feed and water) creates the ultimate nutrient packed, great tasting beef product that we feed to our families.

If I do not feed my cattle long enough, then their beef may be less tender and not provide the best eating experience. If I feed them too long, then the additional resources of my farm are turned into fat that must be trimmed off of the meat before it is packaged to sell to you. I honor the resources of my farm as well as my customers when I do it right; and I get a report card from the packing plant each time that I ship cattle.

Many thanks to Miranda Reiman for taking this picture...

Many thanks to Miranda Reiman for taking this picture…

There are two main components to figuring the optimal time to ship a group of cattle:

  1. Looking at the numbers.
  2. Looking at the cattle.

I feed cattle off of the same ranches almost every year, so I start the process of figuring a shipment date by looking at the report card from the previous year. Did I get an “A” last year, or do I need to make changes to the feeding plan?

I then look at the:

  • Initial weight of the animals when they arrive at the feed yard from the home ranch
  • The estimated average daily gain (which I calculate looking at past years’ performance)
  • The appropriate shipment weight of the animals based on the genetics, age, and phenotype

Using these three numbers, I can theoretically predict the appropriate shipment date. As much as perfection would make life on the farm easier, weather often wreaks havoc with a good plan. Consequently, it is very important to look at each group of animals after figuring the numbers (keeping in mind the weather patterns of the recent months) to make sure that life in the real world fits the plan drafted on paper.

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Good timing relative to shipping cattle to the packing plant is both an art and a science. It also requires an inherent desire to be a responsible steward as market conditions may often tempt a cattle feeder to not remain dedicated to timely shipments.

I view good timing as one of the ways that my farm excels at sustainability and the judicious use of resources…

4 Comments

Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General

They Can’t Take It Off…

As part of my NPDES permit issued through the Environmental Protection Agency, I keep daily weather records at the feed yard. I record precipitation, daily high and low temperatures, wind speed and wind direction. In addition to fulfilling my government regulation responsibilities, my favorite farmer uses the weather data during the crop growing season to help him manage irrigation on the farm.

As I reviewed the weather data entered for the last three weeks, I gave thanks that cattle are very resilient creatures. The highest temperature during the 21 day period was 70 degrees and the lowest 4 below zero (-4). In fact, our farm saw seven days from January 23-February 13 marked by more than a 40 degree temperature swing. The record for the period was a low of -4 followed by a high of 61 degrees the next day. We also had two significant winter storms during those three weeks.

While humans view the respite from winter on a beautiful sunny February afternoon a blessing, my cattle suffer from it. Quite simply, we all take our coats off when the weather warms – Cattle don’t have that luxury.

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They can’t take it off…

“Shirt sleeve” weather for a bovine is 55 degrees. In Nebraska during the winter, cattle put on heavy coats to protect them from the cold. Instead of shirt sleeves, they spend the winter in a down jacket. As seasons change, cattle acclimate to the resulting changing weather at the rate of approximately 1 degree per day. Using that model, it would take approximately 65 days to acclimate from -4 to 61 degrees. February 5th, Mother Nature asked my animals to do that in 12 hours.

They can handle the cold — They can handle the heat — But the extremes in temperature swings bring significant challenges for them.

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When cattle struggle with weather stress, they are more fragile. We place them on a special ration (bovine food casserole) that is easier to digest, make sure that an ample supply of fresh (not frozen!) drinking water is available, and work extra hard to make home pen conditions comfortable for them.

Good care requires an attention to detail, and times of weather challenge make me especially proud of my crew as we work diligently always placing the cattle’s welfare as our top priority.

11 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

18 Years of Life At a Feed Yard — 4 Years of Blogging…

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Matt and I, on stage for the Trailblazer Award, last week in San Antonio at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Convention.

 

As a result of the 2014 Trailblazer Award, Beef Magazine asked that I write an article reflecting on important issues for cattle farmers.  This was a great opportunity for me to share thoughts relative to 18 years of working in a feed yard and 4 years of blogging.  The target audience was cattle farmers, but I wanted to share the piece here as well.

In the article, I share lessons personally learned from both my cattle and my beef customers.  You can view it by clicking here.

**On the home front, we are celebrating being free of the flu as well as the crutches that plagued our house for a couple of weeks.

  • My favorite teenager’s 9th and 10th basketball team finished their season with an 8-1 record, and a final game Friday night will end her Junior Varsity season as well.  She is gearing up for the high school musical performance that is a few weeks away, and looking forward to the start of track.  Last but certainly not least, she brought home the 3rd place award for the Nebraska Voice of Democracy Oral Essay contest last week in Lincoln.
  • My favorite blonde cowgirl will have her first competitive gymnastics performance of the year this weekend in Lincoln.  Having mostly healed from her first career pole vaulting accident, she is also gearing up for the start of track.  I am very glad to have her back as a contributing member of the chore brigade and once again helpful on the farm!
  • My favorite 10 year old is rocking the volleyball court with a second place tournament finish last weekend.  I never thought that I would have a child play middle blocker on the volleyball court, but she stands several inches taller than any other teammate so seems well placed!

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 I hope that your week is full of joy!

5 Comments

Filed under Family, Feed Yard Foodie "In The News", General

Prosperity Amidst the Absence of Population Growth…

High school athletics in rural America are incredibly unique. Not only does the home town come together to support its youth, but the community travels hundreds of miles for “away” games. Distance takes on a new meaning in the Great Plains region of the country, and the school bus drivers get my vote for the unsung hero award as they work hard to safely deliver our kids to competitions all across the state.sandhillsroad.jpg

Saturday, the Cozad Haymakers road tripped north 140 miles to take on the Ainsworth Bulldogs. My favorite teenager is a member of the JV Girls team. I love the drive to Ainsworth — it is just under 3 hours of peaceful beauty and showcases some of Nebraska’s finest views. Both the rolling Sandhills as well as the small towns nestled along its interior are perfect examples of prosperity amidst the absence of population growth.

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Outstate Nebraska (the 3rd Congressional District), covers 65,000 square miles and is home to approximately 570,000 people, and many, many more animals. The wide open spaces and abundant wildlife attest to a natural balance, and the friendly cultures of the towns show a beautiful but perhaps nontraditional definition of prosperity.

With each census that passes, rural Nebraska gives up population numbers relative to urban areas. Additionally, several investigative journalists involved in the current food movement seem to have a love affair with disparaging rural America — likening our communities to ghost towns (the antithesis of prosperity).

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But, as I drive the corridors of the Cornhusker State, I see a simple beauty that warms my heart and brings peace to my soul. I am surrounded with the feeling of coming home as my eyes witness a harmony between humans and nature that defines the essence of sustainability .

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Rural Nebraska (America) houses a unique form of prosperity that goes much deeper than population numbers and mortar. It is based on a culture that is rooted in community, governed by Mother Nature, and marked by a dedication to hard work and core values.

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  • We rally to support our youth and the one community school that they all attend together.
  • We volunteer outside of our families and jobs to continue to ensure that our communities are viable.
  • We work with the land to produce food and fiber that provides the foundation of our country.
  • We share the belief that it is the simple things in life that ensure long term prosperity.

We demonstrate with each day that passes that there is indeed prosperity amidst the absence of population growth…

11 Comments

Filed under General, Rural Communities

How Can You Tell If a Group of Calves Are Acclimated?

 

A couple of years ago I took this video of my favorite blonde cowgirl at the beginning of an acclimation session.  Megan then edited the video by adding music (Fly Over States) by Jason Aldean.  The video remained up on YouTube for a couple of years but was taken down recently due to copyright infringement violation.  Apparently, Megan needed Jason’s permission to use the song :)

I noticed that the video had been taken down last week when I tried to use it during a presentation to the Kansas State Masters of Agri-Business students.  I fielded several questions from the group relative to low stress handling and cattle acclimating at the end of my talk.  Above is the video in non-edited form which I re-uploaded to YouTube over the weekend.

As a companion piece, below find the ways that I can tell if a group of calves are acclimated during their transition into the feed yard.

  • When asked, the calves will group in the home pen and move in straight lines around the pen.
  • When asked, the calves will exit the home pen in an orderly fashion, understanding where the gate is located.
  • Once down at the corral, when asked, the calves will calmly walk past the handler.
  • When asked, the calves will move back down the alley from the corral to the home pen with exuberance.  At the end of the acclimation period, cattle exhibit more excitement traveling back to the home pen than leaving the home pen.

The goal of acclimation is for the calf (group of calves) to become comfortable with both the home pen and a human caregiver, while learning where to eat and drink, and how to move off of alternate pressure and herd with confidence. 

An acclimated calf is comfortable in its environment, naturally curious, and accepting of a human caregiver.

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*On an unrelated note, for those of you Serious XM subscribers in the group, I will be featured on the Angus Journal Show — Rural Radio Channel 80 Saturday morning (January 17th) at 10:00am CST.  Check it out!

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

I Saw God Today…

One of my favorite songs is George Strait’s classic I Saw God Today It speaks to me — warms my heart — and balances my perspective.

I’ve been to church
I’ve read the book
I know he’s here
But I don’t look
Near as often as I should
Yeah, I know I should
His fingerprints are everywhere
I just slowed down to stop and stare
Opened my eyes and man I swear
I saw God today

Late this fall, I struggled terribly to find balance in my life. There were so many requests — so many demands — so many responsibilities — that I became lost in a sea of chaos. I felt stripped of energy, tired of giving, and emptied out inside. When I looked about me, the world had lost it color just as I had lost my spark.

My equilibrium failed and I lost my natural tendency to:

  • Look for God
  • See the good
  • Count my blessings

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To recognize that just as I give, I must also receive — for if we fail to refuel our minds and our hearts, they run dry.

After my Turkey-Less Tetrazzini post in December, many of you reached out to me and shared similar struggles. It became quickly apparent that I was not alone in my battle to maintain balance.

I found comfort in that offer of comradery – thank you for that.

I spent the weeks following that post searching for an answer, a secret, to maintaining fitness amidst the endless tsunami of responsibilities.  I think best while exercising, so as I traversed up and down the swimming pool, and pounded the pavement walking and running; I slowly realized where I had gone amiss.

I remembered the words of George Strait’s song, and made a new resolution:

No matter how hectic the day, I will pause to look for God.

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  • I will see him on my farm which will refuel my desire to CARE: for my animals, for my crew, and for those lives that I touch with the gift of food.
  • I will see him in my home, in the eyes of my children, which will refuel my desire to SUSTAIN for the future that we will build together as a family.
  • I will see him in my community, in my neighbor, which will refuel my desire to SHARE for I know that together we are stronger.
  • I will see him in the natural beauty that creates the plains of Nebraska, which will refuel my desire to PERSEVERE – never faltering in my desire to pursue excellence amidst the awesomeness of Mother Nature.

At the end of each day, I will reflect on the times that I felt God’s presence – refueling for the next day – finding peace amongst the chaos of life.

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Did you pause to see God today?

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Filed under Family, Foodie Work!