Tag Archives: Cattle

Blizzard 2016…

The blizzard that resulted from winter storm Kayla wreaked havoc on our farm Tuesday and Wednesday.  We received over a foot of snow with winds up to 50 mph.  The worst of the storm passed through from 8:00am – midnight on Tuesday.

Since our day at the feed yard starts at 6:00, we all arrived safely Tuesday morning before the worst of the storm.  My favorite farmer opened up the gravel road between our house and the feed yard with a tractor and I followed behind with my favorite blondes in my 4 wheel drive Tahoe.  We all spent the morning clearing snow, scooping the feed bunks, and delivering breakfast to the cattle.

Trying to walk north into the wind to get to the next bunk to scoop...

Trying to walk north into the wind to get to the next feed bunk to scoop…

Our bunk sweeper broke on the first feed bunk, so we scooped bunks the old fashioned way — with a shovel.  Between our 24 feed bunks, that made a length of more than 3500 feet to be cleared with a scoop shovel both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.  Fortunately, we had the bunks cleared of snow and full of breakfast for all of the cattle by about 10:30am.

Scooping bunks in a blizzard makes for icicle eyebrows...

Scooping bunks in a blizzard makes for icicle eyebrows…

About the time we finished morning feeding, the storm got really nasty and we had some challenges getting feed trucks (and my Tahoe) from the feed yard back to the shop.  Visibility was non-existent and the snow drifts formed so quickly that we could not keep the alleyways open.  It took an hour to get all of us out of the feed yard and less than a half a mile back to the shop having to use the pay loader and the tractor to get “unstuck” multiple times.  At that point, we all rested and ate some chili that I had made Monday night.

Winter storm Kayla dominated all of Tuesday afternoon.  My foreman and his son stayed at the feed yard and were able to reopen the roads and deliver the second feeding of the day about midnight Tuesday night when the weather showed signs of improving.  The rest of us arrived back at the yard about 6:00am Wednesday via tractor and 4 wheel drives to re-scoop bunks, move snow out of the corrals, and help deliver breakfast.

It takes a blend of equipment and people to care for cattle in a storm...

It takes a blend of equipment and people to care for cattle in a storm…This picture was taken after the storm.

Consistently delivering feed is very important during winter storms as the digestion process helps the cattle to remain warm and weather the environmental stress.  It is priority #1.  I am incredibly proud of my crew and my family for their hard work and dedication. The herculean effort that goes into caring for cattle during a blizzard is truly difficult to describe, and the welfare of our animals is dependent on our perseverance.

Below are some pictures from after the blizzard conditions abated.  I have to take my gloves off to take pictures which limits the volume of them …

Scooping bunks Wednesday morning with my special short handled shovel-- the 2nd morning in a row...

Scooping bunks Wednesday morning with my special short handled shovel– the 2nd morning in a row to hand scoop :)

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Drifts in one of the pens on the north end of the feed yard…

My corral area is completely closed in with 4'+ drifts...

My corral area is completely closed in with 4’+ drifts…

My cowboy dug a heifer out of this drift when she got partially buried...

My cowboy dug a heifer out of this drift when she got partially buried…

I wasn't the only one left wearing icicles...

I wasn’t the only one left wearing icicles…

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The road from my house to the feed yard — the ditches were so full of snow that you could not tell where the road ended and the ditches began…

My favorite blondes playing on a snow pile at the feed yard after helping to scoop bunks...

My favorite blondes playing on a snow pile at the feed yard after helping to scoop bunks…

Wednesday evening's beautiful sunset...

Wednesday evening’s beautiful sunset…

We are all tired and glad that the “emergency” time is over.  It will take at least a week for us to completely dig out from the blizzard, but we are thankful to have come through the event successfully. We did our best to offer care despite Mother Nature’s wrath.  The girls will all head back to regular school tomorrow :)

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Blizzard Warning…

I was first introduced to a “blizzard warning” during the winter of 1996 when my favorite farmer and I traveled back to Nebraska for a visit. I remember standing by the window at Matt’s parents’ house fascinated with how the snow flakes whipped across the prairie in a frantic horizontal pattern.  As a three year resident of New Hampshire, I expected to see the nice gentle New England vertically falling snow that covered the country like a gentle white blanket.

When I became a Nebraskan a year later, I quickly learned that is not the kind of snow that typically visits Nebraska…

Before the storm...

Before the storm…

Almost twenty years later, I hear the term “blizzard warning” and my stomach automatically clenches.

Mother Nature brings along a blizzard every couple of years with varying intensities and snow fall amounts.  However, there is always one constant: a howling wind. It amazes me how much havoc can be wrought with a little bit of snow and a 30-70 mph wind. White out conditions desecrate visibility and create snow drifts as tall as my house, while brutally cold temperatures make it virtually impossible to stay warm while outside doing chores.

Ten years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, we received 6-8” of snow with 70-80 mph winds. The storm lasted over 36 hours and it took us weeks to repair the damage. To put it in perspective (or at least in Florida lingo), a category 5 hurricane carries winds in excess of 70 mph. These blizzard storms result in power-line and tree damage similar to a hurricane, but then you exchange rain for snow and add on bitterly cold temperatures.

Tonight, winter storm Kayla will lash out at Central Nebraska and Northern Kansas. The snow began to fall earlier in the day while we were working cattle about 11:00am this morning, but the bulk of the accumulation will occur over night. It is likely that we will receive up to a foot of snow. While 12” of snow provides some work with both a scoop shovel and a tractor, it is not the snow itself that will disrupt life on the farm.

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The wind will be the debilitating factor.

At this point, we are expected to receive 35-45 mph winds beginning tonight and continuing for about 24 hours. Today, we did our best to prepare for the storm, in addition to performing our normal feed yard chores. Three years ago, prior to Winter Storm Q, I blogged about how we prepare for a storm. You can read that by clicking here.

So tonight, I sit by the window and worry. As I watch the snow come down, I pray that the wind will leave.

  • I think about all of the animals that live outdoors.
  • I think about all of the people who will travel out into the storm to care for them.

The worry will abate shortly before dawn when the work begins. The powerless feeling that comes during the dark hours of the night is replaced by the determination to act during the early morning hours.

We will offer care – doing the best that we can – dealing with whatever Mother Nature gives us. When you sign on to be a farmer, you make a commitment to always care.

They will have on many more layers of clothes but hopefully they will keep their smiles :)

They will have on many more layers of clothes tomorrow morning but hopefully they will keep these same smiles :)

My daughters are celebrating the fact that school is canceled tomorrow but, by the time that the day is done, they will likely be dreaming of that nice warm classroom housed inside a building that blessedly blocks out the blizzard…

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Foodie Work!, General

Refilling the Cup…

Katie Pinke of the Pinke Post made a comment on Facebook last week stating the difficulty of finding ways to “refill the cup” as an advocate for agriculture. Katie has many years of experience in social media and her intuitive thoughts often leave me pondering. As advocates for agriculture, our cups of energy are often depleted. Learning how to refill them is a journey of survival.

annecattlemiranda.jpgThis April will mark the 5th year anniversary of the Feed Yard Foodie blog. Four hundred and eighty nine blog posts and almost a million views (from a half a million visitors) separate the naïve cattle feeder of 2011 with the seasoned (and somewhat hardened) blogger of 2016. So much has changed since the birth of this blog, and yet, so much remains the same.

It takes an enormous amount of optimism and energy to brave the social media world that revolves around agriculture. On a good day, you pick up a follower who shares some common ground and wishes to further understand “where food comes from”. On a bad day, you are threatened and disparaged with an appalling lack of basic respect.

As I close in on five years, I find myself reflecting and attempting to rationalize the volunteer time and energy that I pour into Feed Yard Foodie. I try to look past the heartache that sometimes permeates my outreach to find the shining light that leads me to continue down the ag-vocacy trail. It takes a constant effort to figure out how to tap that unlimited source of energy which serves to fuel the blog amidst the regular list of chores that go along with being a mom and a feed yard boss lady.

I tell my girls that the most important life skill they will learn is perseverance. Perseverance is all about refilling the cup. My words take on a new depth of meaning as they watch me “cowgirl” up and continue the journey. They live with the stubbornly independent mom and boss lady, just as they watch the vulnerable woman struggle to find the courage to continue to share her story.

My girls work every day to refill my cup because they watch first hand as others deplete it. I do not shield them from my struggles, and it teaches them to not only persevere but also to empathize and offer compassion to those in need.

Life is hard. It is filled with demands that work to deplete the cup. I believe that the difference between those who persevere and those who do not lies in the ability to gather the love and optimism that is required to refill the cup. That is a very personal journey as everyone’s cup is unique.

Below are five things that I have learned to rely on for the past five years in order to persevere:

  1. Accept that everyone (including you) is human. Learn to forgive.
  2. Notice your blessings – learn to look for the good as it is what refills your cup.
  3. Draw a line between your real life and your cyber life – understand that the majority of what refills your cup comes from personal interactions outside of the internet.
  4. Take the time to be pensive – quiet thinking breeds both respect and learning.
  5. Understand that temporarily walking away is not failure – rather it is a necessary component to finding the courage to continue.

I do not know how to measure the success of my agricultural outreach, but I can recognize the personal growth that has occurred as a result of it. The road to excellence is rarely comfortable and I can attest to the fact that being an advocate for agriculture is not a comfortable journey. I am thankful to all of you loyal Feed Yard Foodie readers as you play a vital role pushing me to search for continuous improvement on my farm. You all help to refill my cup by reading, commenting, and sharing of yourselves.

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General

Meanwhile On the Farm…

It has been a bit surreal these past few weeks blogging about Ecuador and the Galapagos while working on the farm in Nebraska.  The view from the prairie is a bit different!

So, you might ask “What is January like on the Feed Yard Foodie farm?”.

The tree grove on the west side of the feed yard...

The tree grove on the west side of the feed yard…

Well, it’s cold!  The days seem short, the nights seem long, and any type of moisture (usually snow) just adds to the regular work load.  The truth is that the typical feed yard day stays the same 12 months out of the year.  So, the January work load is not any different  — It’s just darker and colder working outside doing daily chores :)

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My Sunday morning helpers sporting the new battery operated heated gloves that Megan gave me for Christmas: Girl power on the farm :)

Over the past few weeks, my crew and I have been busy feeding, performing our daily cattle health check, shipping cattle to Tyson, and getting new animals into the feed yard.  This time of year, the new animals come from ranches close by that wean their calves at home and “background” feed them for approximately 60 days before shipping them to us.

Background feeding is a term often used in the cattle world.  In the plains states, we must feed our animals during the winter months as Mother Nature does not provide much in the way of plant growth.  Many of my animals are weaned on the home ranch and placed into large pens (or pastures with feed bunks) on the ranch where the animals are fed a casserole of feed that is a blend of forage and corn products.  This allows for the animals to continue to grow on the home ranch and make a smooth transition to the feed yard in January and February.

Most ranchers with spring calving cows (cows that give birth February – April) wean their calves in October in order to give the mama cow the ability to focus on the calf in her belly during the last 5-6 months of gestation.  The mama cows are grazed for the winter on corn stalks with a supplemental feed of alfalfa or wet distillers grains, and the calves are fed separately from their mamas.

Over the past few weeks, more than 500 new animals now call our farm home having traveled less than 30 miles from the ranch where they were born and backgrounded.  Backgrounded calves have an seamless transition coming into the feed yard as the casserole fed on the home ranch is very similar to the receiving rations (casseroles) that we use at the feed yard.

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I have partnered with these ranchers for many years as we work together to raise cattle, and am very proud of the teamwork that goes into the healthy and delicious beef that we grow together.

Newly arrived cattle trailing from the corral to the home pen for the first time...

Newly arrived cattle trailing from the receiving corral to the home pen for the first time…

In the home pen, fresh feed and water await along with ample space to rest and play...

In the home pen, fresh feed and water await along with ample space to rest and play…

Not surprisingly, the new cattle chose to head directly to the feed bunk where they enjoy prairie hay grass and a "casserole" blend of nutritious feed...

Not surprisingly, the new cattle choose to head directly to the feed bunk where they enjoy prairie hay grass and a “casserole” blend of nutritious feed that is very similar to what they have been eating on the ranch before traveling to the feed yard…

These steers (pictured above) are almost a year old and weigh 860#. They will spend the next four months on my farm where they will gain an average of 4 pounds per day.  When they leave my farm and make the 20 mile trip to Tyson Fresh Meats, they will weigh close to 1400#.

That’s a lot of great tasting beef!

wintersunset.jpgOne of the things that I love most about our farm is it’s combination of quiet beauty and practical usefulness.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Foodie Work!, General

Pass the Peanut Butter…

I have enjoyed a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread and a banana for breakfast every day since the 22nd of September. I eat the peanut butter sandwich after I read bunks and exercise calves, and before I check daily cattle health. I eat the banana after the daily health check is completed late-morning.

Reading bunks and determining the daily feeding plan for my cattle begins at 6:00am.  It does not matter if it is Sunday, Halloween or the Thanksgiving holiday that we will celebrate next week – the feed yard day starts at 6:00, and there are thousands of animals that look forward to the morning routine. We start early because my cattle have taught me that a disciplined breakfast schedule benefits their health and comfort, and consequently reduces the environmental footprint of my farm.

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September 22nd provided the first day of the “fall run of calves” at the feed yard. Each year, the extra cowboy chores that I take on during this time period wreak havoc with my breakfast choices. Since Graves Disease necessitated the destruction of my thyroid gland on my 33rd birthday, I am dependent on a pill to provide my body with the thyroid hormones that allow me to function. The thyroid pill is a bit picky, and (for my body) works best if I take it on an empty stomach. This means no breakfast for 30-45 minutes after I start my day by taking the thyroid pill.

Even though I enjoy breakfast, I enjoy sleeping more. I leave the house within 10 minutes of crawling out of bed. The result: a necessitated delayed breakfast after starting my day at the feed yard. During September, October, November, and the first half of December my mornings are so busy that I have to eat on the go. A peanut butter sandwich and a banana provide an easy solution to the challenge. Although it lacks diversity, it does start my day with protein, whole grains, and fruit.

By the time that Christmas rolls around, my pallet cries for a new breakfast flavor – almost as much as my body longs for a morning reprieve from the daily 5:35 wake up call. Such is the life of a feed yard boss lady in the fall months of the year. It’s a good thing that my freezer is full of home grown beef so that I can ensure that dinner promises more flavor and satisfaction than breakfast :)

BeefStripSteaksandMushroomKabobs I really prefer a beef meal where I can pass on the peanut butter!

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Filed under Foodie Work!, General

We’re In This Together…

My favorite farmer’s and my mantra has always been, We’re In This Together. We met the fall of my freshman year at Dartmouth and quickly became the couple that we still are today. We are the ones that do everything together – from home, to work on the farm, to parenting our three beautiful girls.

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The driving factor in our decision to head from the East coast back to the family farm in 1997 was our desire to build something meaningful together. Matt is my rock – the steady intelligent entrepreneur who somehow manages to thrive in a house of four very driven females.

My dedication to doing things right often makes me a work-a-hol-ic. I don’t rest until my animals have all that they need. That is just the way that God made me. I shrug off the fatigue and keep going, never stopping until the job is done. There are days that I am pretty sure that I exhaust both my husband and my crew, but they loyally stay and work alongside me. That is just the way that God made them.

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There are two young ladies that make us all smile. Their presence puts everything into perspective, and their good humor breaks up the long weeks of the fall. I look forward to the weekends and rely on them to practically help complete chores while also to lighten the mood at the feed yard.

It struck me Sunday morning, just how much I need them. It left me a bit in awe as I realized how well they listen, how quickly they learn, and how incredibly capable they are. From scooping bunks, to exercising calves, to checking daily animal health, to spouting Beef Quality Assurance and Progressive Beef protocols — all with a smile, and all with the work ethic and responsibility that permeates the culture of the farm. They GET IT.

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After we finished morning chores, we headed over to the feed yard office. Every Sunday morning, Megan writes a new inspirational quote on the white board in the office. The one she chose for this week could not have been more appropriate.

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Some might think that I expect too much of my girls, but one of my greatest responsibilities as a parent is to place them in situations where they can develop maturity, responsibility, accountability, and the resulting self-confidence that comes from true accomplishment.

My gift to them comes in the form of a shovel, coveralls, and Bogg boots all wrapped up with the knowledge of how to use these tools to benefit the animals on our farm and ultimately the people that those animals will go on to nourish.

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Between our home and our farm, our girls learn every day that life is more meaningful if we’re in this together.  I look at them and recognize Matt’s and my greatest success in our journey…

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Cowboying…

As the “boss lady” of a small feed yard, I often moonlight as a cowboy. Particularly during the fall months, I spend at least half of my time cowboying. While some may think of fast horses and whooping noises when the term cowboy comes to mind, I think of purposeful movements and nonverbal communication. To me a cowboy is a caregiver.

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The cowboy plays one of the most critical roles on a cattle farm. He sets the culture for all cattle-human interactions, as well as acting as the primary caregiver. Although cowboying involves a lot of physical labor, I enjoy that part of my job.

When I was a little girl, I used to sit in my room and dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Depending on the day, I settled on different professions but one constant in my dreams was the desire to make a difference in the world. Animals have always tugged at my heart, and I am more at home around them than people. In many ways, cowboying fulfills those childhood dreams as there is nothing more rewarding than working hard to ensure that God’s creatures can thrive.

Denke3April.jpgSo, what does a cowboy do on the Feed Yard Foodie farm?

  • Acclimate newly arrived cattle – teaching them to feel comfortable in the home pen as well as gaining their trust as a caregiver.
  • Work on the processing crew – every animal on our farm receives routine vaccinations (like people getting the flu shot) to bolster their natural immunity to fight off illness. The cowboy gives those vaccinations according to instructions from the veterinarian.
  • Check daily cattle health – every animal on our farm is checked every day. The cowboy knows what the animal looks like when it is healthy, therefore detecting sickness means looking for the absence of health. The veterinarian trains the cowboy to diagnose and treat sick animals, and mentors him for this important chore.
  • Ensure nourishing feed and water are available to each animal.

A good cowboy has both a compassionate and practical nature. A good cowboy puts his animals ahead of himself. A good cowboy recognizes that effective care requires viewing the world through the eyes of the calf rather than the eyes of a human.

After almost twenty years, I remain fascinated by my animals and truly enjoy the daily interactions of working with them. There are days when my body hurts and deep fatigue sets in, but the knowledge that my efforts make a difference enable me to meet each new sunrise with a smile.

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While I am not sure that the little girl ever dreamed of a cattle farm, the animals intrigue the woman and inspire her to be a good cowboy.

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It Takes a Team…

Where does your food come from?

Apart from food that is completely home raised and never leaves the farm, it takes a team of people to get it from farm to fork. While I believe that many would love to have a simple answer to this often asked question, the reality is that food production in 2015 is not a single story.

It takes a team.

I like to grow what I like to eat. My favorite food is beef. I loved a juicy steak when I was a budding athlete on the East Coast of Florida, and I still love one today. My knowledge of the beef production cycle has increased exponentially over the years as I learned to be a farmer, and my desire to enjoy a wholesome beef dinner with my family holds steadfast.

I rely on my rancher partners to help me humanely raise cattle which grow to become healthy beef.

Pasture Raised...

Pasture Raised

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Grain Finished

I rely on my feed yard cooperative, BMG, my packing plant partner, Tyson, and niche brands such as Certified Angus Beef, to help me take my beef all of the way from my farm to your family’s dinner table.

It takes a team.

I had the pleasure of hosting a film crew from Certified Angus Beef at the feed yard last week. Deanna and Josh traveled to Nebraska to help me share the story of the feed yard part of the beef production cycle. CAB is a long-time partner of mine, helping me to market my high quality beef as well as facilitating outreach to retail customers to talk about “where that beef comes from”.

The day and a half that we shared last week was filled with not just filming, but also learning. I love any opportunity to share my farm with others, and it is always such a joy when I get to host people like Josh and Deanna. Their genuine interest and sincere friendliness renews my faith in outreach work, and gives me hope looking forward to the future of my farm.

This project focuses on explaining a cattle feed yard to urban customers.

  • What is a feed yard?
  • What is the role of a feed yard in the beef production cycle?
  • How do feed yard crews offer care to their animals?
  • What role does a veterinarian play at a feed yard?
  • How are feed yards sustainable?
  • How can a feed yard be both a steward to its animals as well as to the environment?
  • What faces lurk on the other side of the farm gate?

Annegate.jpgThe people are the heart and soul of a farm.

I am incredibly excited to see the finished video which is set to unveil at the Certified Angus Beef Annual Retail Conference in late September. You can also look for it on Feed Yard Foodie as I plan to share it as soon as CAB completes the project.

It will provide an authentic view of a feed yard — this nebulous and under-explained part of the beef story. Video footage is complete with filming taken remotely via a camera drone flying over the cattle pens as the sun prepared to set on our farm. What an awesome piece of technology!

The drone and it's fearless leader :)

The drone and its fearless leader!

Many thanks to Deanna, Josh and the entire Certified Angus Beef team for taking the time to understand and also to share. Additional thanks to John Butler of the Beef Marketing Group for inspiring me to continue to share my story.CABjohnfilm

It takes a team…

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