Tag Archives: Communication

Pursuing Excellence…

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Our Dartmouth College swim team shirts boasted the saying Pursuing Excellence across the back.  It provided a good fit for me as I have always felt the need to raise the bar.

My favorite farmer laughs and tells me that my standards are too high –To which I remind him that I am hardest on myself so everyone else should be in good shape 😉

Managing a feed yard for twenty years taught me the critical importance of a good team.  When you care for thousands of animals, it is impossible to do the job without the help of others.  Because the welfare of those animals is dependent on you, anything less than excellence in care is unacceptable.

A willingness to unselfishly give your all while simultaneously inspiring others to do the same allows for success.

Last week we shipped the final pen of cattle from our feed yard, and I officially started a new journey. I joined the team of Innovative Livestock Services and the Beef Marketing Group. BMG is a cooperative of feed yards in Kansas and Nebraska that operate under the Progressive Beef QMS.  My feed yard spent the last four years as a member of this coop and, during that time, I discovered a group of kindred spirits.

The mission statement of my new team states:

Combining innovation with the passion of our people to empower our rural communities and grow great tasting and sustainable beef.

Anyone who knows me can read that statement and see what a perfect fit this opportunity  is for me. I will play a dual role working on quality assurance and communications projects.  The quality assurance role enables me to continue to work to improve cattle welfare, and the communications projects allow me to empower my voice as an advocate for agriculture.

anne-dandy

While change is hard and transitions are not naturally comfortable for me, I am truly excited to begin this next leg of the journey. For those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter, I invite you to like and follow my new team’s work on Facebook at Innovative Livestock Services or Twitter @ILSBeef.  I am striving to do a more dependable job posting multiple social media messages a week on these new outlets 🙂

As for Feed Yard Foodie, look for the usual weekly ramblings on our family, our farm, and my new adventures as the Burkholder clan continues on the pursuit of excellence.

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Filed under General, ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group

It’s Not About the Trailer…

When I bought my quarter horse (Dandy) from Mike Coffman in the spring of 2005, I realized the childhood dream of being a real horse owner.  While I had a couple of work horses at the feed yard, their care was primarily provided by my cowboy and I only rode them sporadically.

He full-filled a dream…

To have my own horse in my own backyard fulfilled a very special and personal dream.  Dandy was a coming four year old when I bought him from Mike.  Lucky for me, God made him a big, gentle creature and we have spent the last seven years learning from each other.

Dandy taught me a lot about communication, feel and intent.  He taught me to be a strong yet compassionate leader.  He taught me that slow and steady is always true, and to never take anything for granted.

Most importantly, he taught me that “It’s not about the trailer”…

One day, a couple of months after I brought him home from Mike’s ranch, I wanted to load him on my horse trailer and take him down to our grass pasture to ride.  I had trouble that day loading him on the trailer.  I got frustrated with myself, I got frustrated with him, and it was not a good experience for either one of us.

In the months that followed, I learned that the more time and effort that I invested into our relationship—the clearer our communication became and the easier it was to get him to be my partner.  You see, that day early on in our relationship, it wasn’t about the trailer—it was about the lack of trust and lack of good communication that made loading him challenging.

Today, it only takes the pointing of my finger and the lifting of the lead rope for Dandy to happily load into the trailer.  In fact, I move him from pasture to pasture around my house with that same point of the finger.  Sometimes it seems as though he reads my mind and offers what I desire almost before I ask for it.  Conversely, I can also provide what he needs and desires at critical times in our partnership —that is the power of a relationship that is based on trust.

What used to challenge us is now easy because I took the time to lay a good foundation and invest in the relationship…

As a blogger and a beef farmer that believes in transparency, I am often asked by other cattlemen how we can reach out to our customers that live far away from the farm to explain ranching practices or products that are used to raise beef.  There is no simple answer because I believe that it is not about the ranching practice or the animal health product any more than my problems loading my young horse were about the trailer.

I do not have a job without someone who wants to purchase my beef…

It is, quite simply, about the relationship between the farmer/rancher and the customer.  Is this relationship based on trust and truth?  Or is it riddled with distrust and inaccuracies?  In short, it is about whether you trust me to offer good care to my animals and use the resources on my farm in the best way.  Equally important, it is also about whether I trust you and value your questions and concerns regarding the way that your beef is raised.

I believe that I offer good care to them, but I need to be open to explaining that care to those that are interested…

It is not about the antibiotic, the growth hormone, the beta agonist, or the feed yard…

It is rather about the quality of our relationship and our ability to have a respectful conversation about all of the things that are listed above.

  •  Can we empathize and have compassion for each other?
  • Can we trust that each one of us can learn from each other and do our own special part to work for the betterment of our country?

    My dream gets better with each day that passes…

I think that we will find that our lives are enriched by the knowledge that we can share with each other, just as my beloved quarter horse has enriched my life and taught me that the best communication skills are the ones that are based on love and respect…

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Filed under General, Natural Horsemanship

The Misunderstood…

I hope that I teach my children the same love for training animals that my dad introduced to me...

As a child, I was first introduced to the art of training animals watching my dad train his hunting dogs.  When I moved to Nebraska and went to work at our cattle feed yard, my interest in working with animals blossomed.  Over the past 15 years, I have devoted my life to understanding and training my animals.  In a feed yard setting, this is critical for reducing the stress level of my animals and also for ensuring safe cattle handling for myself and my crew.

Dandy and I have a very special relationship that is built on a unique communication system...

Training animals absolutely fascinates me, and I spend my spare time training and working with my horses.  I winter my horses on the alfalfa field behind my house.  They graze all day, and then I bring them in at night into the corral.  My communication system with my horses is so subtle that all I need to do to bring them into the corral from the alfalfa field at the end of the day is to point my finger at the gate.

Grazing in the alfalfa field at dawn...

I am a good communicator with my animals because it is what I do every day.  Like many other cattlemen, my communication skills with my animals are better than my communication skills with people.  While my horses may know what I mean when I point my finger at something; that is certainly not an effective way for me to communicate with you: my beef consumer.  You have a right to know and understand where your beef comes from, so it is my job to figure out a way to explain it with words.

The last couple of weeks, I have spent a lot of time talking about antibiotic use (both human and bovine).  As I read through your comments and questions to me regarding this topic, I realized that I needed to address a couple more things for clarification purposes before I leave the subject for a while to talk about other things relative to cattle care and beef production.

  1.      How does the beef industry regulate itself relative to antibiotic use?  Cattlemen rely heavily on their consulting veterinarian for cattle health issues.  I am in close contact with my vet and he guides me on animal health issues (both on preventative health programs and in the treatment of clinically sick animals).  The Beef Quality Assurance program fosters this incredibly important relationship between cattle farmers and their vets, as well as providing further education on properly administering animal health products.  Finally, all of the antibiotics that I use at the feed yard are licensed and regulated by the FDA and I am required by law to administer them according to the label instructions.
  2. How can consumers know that their beef contains no remnants or traces of antibiotics? It is illegal to send a food animal to harvest with any trace of an antibiotic in their system.  You can feel confident that the beef that you are eating does not contain any antibiotic residues because cattle are tested at harvest for these residues, and if one does contain a residue then it is not allowed to enter the food chain.  The percentage of cattle coming out of cattle finishing feed yards (like mine) containing residues is 0.000017% which statistically equates to zero.
  3.       Are antibiotics routinely used as feed additives in cattle rations for the express purpose of growth promotion?  I do not feed antibiotics to my cattle for growth promoting purposes.  I do, however, use a feed additive that is an ionophore to improve the health of the rumen (cattle are ruminate animals and have a digestive tract that includes a system of four stomachs).  Ionophores are not classified by the FDA as antibiotics, and there is no product used in human health that contains anything remotely similar to an ionophore.  It is, therefore, irrelevant in the discussion of antibiotic resistance.  An ionophore modifies the fermentation process in the rumen which allows the bovine to capture more energy from its feedstuffs while also reducing the amount of methane that it secretes.  This is a very important part of reducing the environmental footprint of my cattle (fewer resources are necessary to produce beef while the amount of methane that they secrete into the environment is also reduced).
  4.      The explanation of ionophores brings me to the last question to address: Why is antibiotic use in cattle misunderstood by many consumers? I believe that there are two reasons that such a large misunderstanding exists regarding antibiotic use in cattle: 1. cattlemen (like me) do not do a good job communicating with you (the consumer) about the products that we use and the way that we use them, and 2. political activist groups incorrectly use statistics to scare consumers regarding antibiotic use in cattle.  The bottom line is that I follow the Judicious Use of Antimicrobials that I listed in my recent post https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/the-conversationalist-take-2-bovine-respiratory-antibiotic-use-relative-to-human-antibiotic-resistance/ , I do my homework so that I understand the consequences of the decisions that I make regarding antibiotic use in my bovines, and I care about the issue of antibiotic resistance.

I encourage anyone that did not read the above mentioned post to read it carefully.  Both the Judicious Use of Antimicrobials and the seven part explanation of Dr. Mike Apley regarding the scientific process of antibiotic resistence development related to the use of antibiotics in food animals are incredibly important components to having a truthful and science based discussion about antibiotic use in cattle.

I feed my family the beef that I raise...The safety and healthiness of it is my top priority...

In the meantime, I will continue to work on my communication skills so that you all can develop a better understanding of how I care for my animals.

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Filed under Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., Foodie Work!, General

Focus…Feel…Communication

Coach Andersen (to the left of me), me, and Coach Kirk Peppas at the Junior National Championships my senior year in high school. I placed 4th and 6th in the backstroke events.

I was first introduced to the concept of “focus” by my USA Swimming coach when I was in 8th grade.  Coach Andersen believed in holistic fitness for his athletes, and was determined to teach us all mental toughness and focus in addition to making our bodies strong.  Coach was my earliest mentor, and had a tremendous lasting influence on the person that I have become.  He made me tough, gave me a tremendous work ethic, and challenged me to always strive for greatness.

That being said, my teammates and I thought that he had lost his mind when he had us all lie down on the floor to practice relaxation and focus techniques….Amidst a room of quiet snickers, I found a tremendous life skill.

I called on this life skill ten years later as I began to study cattle and horses and learned to interact with them.

Focus means attention to detail: receiving feedback from my animals and responding accordingly...

I remember vividly the first time that I shipped cattle to harvest.

The feeling that I have today when I ship cattle to harvest is much different…

Moving amidst a large number of animals that are 13X bigger than you are can be intimidating.  That first day, I was shaking with fright as Archie and I counted off cattle to be moved up to the waiting semi-trucks.  In spite of my fear, (thanks to Coach Andersen) I was able regain my focus and concentrate on the task at hand.  I lacked confidence that first day, but I realized that it was imperative that I stay in control.

So what exactly is focus?

Webster defines focus as a point of concentration.  When you are handling prey animals, this focus has an added element that Natural Horseman Bill Dorrance describes as “feel”.  In this instance, the concentration requires a detailed element of perception necessary to enable an effective two way communication system.  When you are handling animals that weigh 1350#, there is little room for error.  Effective communication is the difference between skillful cattle handling and safety, and chaotic and dangerous mayhem.

A group of 16 animals going up the alleyway to load on the semi-truck to be shipped to harvest...My cowboy and I are the "shipping crew".

When I first began at the feed yard, shipping cattle required four crew members and a lot of tension and pressure.  Today, my cowboy and I sort and ship cattle by ourselves and there is an element of effective communication that reduces the tension and makes it a more organized effort.

The difference?

A focus on feel, training and prey animal psychology that begins when cattle are received at the feed yard and continues throughout the feeding period.  When I acclimate cattle into the feed yard, I teach them to walk calmly past the handler and sort easily.  I also consistently rely on the “Ask, Tell, Promise” communication system that I described in an earlier post as I train my animals.  This not only allows them to feel more comfortable in their surroundings, but it also makes “shipment day” much easier.

Does “shipment day” always go as smoothly as I want it to?  No.  Animals (cattle) are unpredictable, and no two days are the same.  When we handle and ship cattle, we focus on Dr. Dee Griffin’s 4 S’s of Safety:

Safety of the animal handler

Safety of the animal

Safety of the food supply

Safety of everyone that comes in contact with the animal

In the fifteen years that I have been learning how cattle think and act, I have discovered that the single most important skill to have is perception of the surrounding environment and focus on the animal and the task at hand.  Communication is a two way street—even with an animal.  If you are not focused, then you will miss half the conversation.  If the conversation is with a 1350# animal, then missing half of the conversation may mean the difference between effectively loading the animal and literally being trampled to death.

Calf #718 and his herd mates are strong and powerful animals...

Calf #718 weighed 1394# when I loaded him on the truck and shipped him to harvest.  My measly 105# of body weight looks pretty scrawny next to a powerful animal of that size.  I must rely on my focus, feel, and communication to safely and effectively load him (and his herd mates) on the semi-truck destined for harvest…

A cattle semi-truck waiting to receive cattle to transport them to harvest...

That takes me back to the early days when Coach Andersen taught me that brawn was victorious only when it was combined with brains!

Feed Yard Foodie as a Senior in high school...Brains and Brawn were a great combination back then too!

 

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