Tag Archives: Cattle

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…

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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!

 

 

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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!

Freezing in the New Year…

Central Nebraska is ringing in the New Year with frigid temperatures.  Yesterday, the thermometer reported -18 degrees when I read bunks at just after 6:00am.  This time of year, I tend to reflect back to my high school days — sitting in a warm Florida classroom and reading Jack London’s To Build a Fire.  Since learning how to winter on our farm in Nebraska, the words of the story take on a much fuller meaning…

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When it turns this cold, we rely on technology — common sense — instinct — and basic care standards to protect both ourselves and our animals.  In times of harsh winter weather, survival becomes intrinsically tied to the above things, as depicted eloquently by London’s story.

  • Any vital equipment (feed trucks, tractors, pay loaders) is parked inside the heated shop or next to a building where we can plug in an engine heater to better ensure its likelihood of working when it is needed.
  • Special fuel is used to run the equipment that makes it less likely to “gel up” and quit working.
  • Crew priorities focus on the basics: feeding the cattle a special storm ration during both daily feedings that helps them to generate heat from within, frequently checking all water tanks to make sure that a constant supply of water is not disrupted by a tank freezing over, checking cattle health, and preparation for the next day to ensure that morning feed delivery (breakfast) occurs on schedule.
  • Any extra time is spent working on inside paperwork/chores.

Crew members working outdoors are fully covered with multiple layers of clothing, and take frequent breaks either in the shop or in a warm pick up truck to protect against frost bite.  My guys all tend to grow beards for the winter, I get out my ski mask and do my best bank robber impersonation.

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London’s protagonist perishes in To Build A Fire due to his lack of common sense and employment of poor survival skills.  Conversely, his dog companion depends on instinct and survives.

I think that it is fair to say that good farmers use a combination of modern technology and instinct to ensure survival and productivity during times of winter challenge.  After all, it is our job to care for the animal, not be bested by him!

 

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Filed under CAFO, Farming, General

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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Filed under Animal Welfare, General