Tag Archives: cowboy

The Moment of Truth…

I am often described as an intense person.  Part of it stems from my natural personality, but a portion of it also comes from my life experiences.  I spent my formative years as a serious competitive athlete — trading Prom for national swimming championships and learning from a young age that success comes to those who work the hardest.  Although I retired from competitive swimming before I started my life on the farm, many of the chores that I do at the feed yard often inspire that same intense Anne.

BovinePhotoBomb.jpgI remember feeling raw fear the first time that I walked among a large group of cattle on the farm.  Commingling with 1500# animals was not something that I learned how to do at Dartmouth College 🙂

Our retired feed yard manager taught me how to herd, sort, and cowboy.  While it took a while to desensitize myself to the LARGENESS of the animals, the bovine mind intrigued me enough to take me past that initial fear.

Working with prey animals requires an intense concentration. Getting distracted not only erodes your effectiveness as the herd leader, but it can also be very dangerous.  Not too long after I started working at the feed yard, I began participating on the ship out crew.  This provided one of my greatest moments of truth.

The amount of power that a herd of 1500# animals exudes is nothing short of awesome. A savvy and seasoned cowboy works effectively to ensure that all that powerful animal energy moves harmoniously in the correct direction.  Moving those giant animals through the corral for the last time always offers me a moment of humility.

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today -- more to come on "Benny" in the next post...My foreman and I greeted last Friday morning early to ship cattle to Tyson. Although the sky was clear, the crescent moon provided little light as we moved through the darkness to herd the animals from the home pen down to the corral.  The 18 degree temperature provided for both a cool experience and poor visibility with steam rising off the animals as well as from our own breaths.  The ground was frozen unevenly due to a recent rain storm and the cold temperatures.

I felt both intensely human as well as intensely vulnerable as the animals moved through the corral and up onto the semi-truck.  Each time that we ship cattle, I accept the personal risk that exists when working with animals almost 15X your size.  I can control my own actions and use my skills to create positive herd movement. However, there are no guarantees.  In a purely physical match, I would lose every time.  This creates a moment of truth.

We ship our cattle without the use of any large equipment: simply a cowboy on foot or on horseback. The art of moving the large animals safely from the home pen up into the semi-truck lies in the hands of a small cowboy crew.  Success requires a blend of intuition and skill, and putting the big ones on the bus provides the most challenging task performed at the feed yard.

In just over two months, I will ship my last pen of cattle to slaughter.  Even though I close that chapter of my life, I will forever carry with me a deep appreciation for all of the cowboys that continue to perform this task on farms all across the Midwest.

The blend of vulnerability and intense strength in the action creates a memory that lasts a lifetime.

 

 

 

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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.

annecalfdawn.jpg

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.

Megsunrise2.jpg

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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Loosing a Good Partner…

I purchased Studly from a cattle rancher near Dunning, Nebraska about 10 years ago.  He was a 7 year old gelding that had been used as a “stud” horse early in life, and then moonlighted as a general ranch horse.   I always purchase horses from cattlemen that I know because that helps to ensure that I will gain a good equine partner out of the exchange.

I think that I was always more excited to go to work than he was...

I think that I was always more excited to go to work than he was…

We normally have more than one horse at the feed yard, but Studly has always been my favorite.  I have never known a more solid or dependable horse.  I remember a few years ago when I dropped the chain to a pen gate onto the electric hot wire while Doing Gates.  Studly and I both got a pretty big electric jolt, but he still took care of me.

Riding pens...

Riding pens…

Early Saturday morning my cowboy greeted me with a solemn face and the simple message, “Studly is dead”.  I was so shocked that it took several moments for it to sink in.  Just the day before he was out grazing in our pasture and driving our other horse around playing his favorite game of herd boss.  It was difficult to believe that my strong and healthy horse was gone.

Doing gates...

Doing gates…

I exercised calves that morning with tears running down my face.  My horse was lying along the pasture fence line not far from our main alleyway never to get up again—As I walked the cattle past him my composure broke and the facade of the strong boss lady disappeared.

I loved that horse.  His loyalty was unwaivering and, like all good things, he will never be able to be replaced.

I console myself with the knowledge that he had a good life, and that he is now in heaven where the green grass is belly-deep and there are no annoying flies to ruin the pleasure of a beautiful day.  I try to remember that, deep down, Studly was just a tad bit lazy and he is likely happier now than he ever was working with me at the feed yard…

Horse heaven...

Horse heaven…

Today, I take my hat off to a great horse–a good partner–and a beautiful creature.  Thank you, Studly, for all of those good rides.

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Doin’ Gates…

Every self-respecting feed yard cowboy can “do gates” while on horseback.  A good horse understands how to set himself up so that the rider can reach both the chain and the gate which simplifies the process.

Doin’ a gate while checkin’ cattle…

I do not know what other newer feed yards look like, but my feed yard has a very diverse set of gates and chains.  There are no two gates on my farm that chain and latch the same way…My cowboy is a patient guy and has figured out ways to do most of our gates without having to get off of his horse.  He is also 6 feet tall with fairly long arms which is very useful when doin’ gates.

Two weeks out of the year, my cowboy goes on vacation.  When he is gone, I fill in for him checking cattle health (otherwise known as checkin’ cattle).  This involves looking at each animal in each pen to make sure that they look healthy.  I have 23 pens at the feed yard which equates to 23 unique gates.

Getting ready to start checkin’ cattle…

During these two weeks, I have been known to mutter creative words under my breath at many of those 23 gates.  This is what happens when you take a short lady and add a tall horse and a diverse system of gates.

Studly (the horse) and I approaching one of the 23 unique gates…

Over the years, I have learned to let go of my desire to be a self-respecting cowboy and accept the fact that I am going to have to get off of my horse at some of our gates to open and close them.  I make myself feel better by remembering that the goal is checkin’ cattle, not doin’ gates.  An added bonus of getting on and off of my tall horse many times during a 3 hour period is great strength and flexibility training…

Tall horse + short lady = Good flexibility and strength!

Good balance is nice to have also…

Headed for the next pen where, luckily, I can actually “do the gate” on horseback…

I have to admit that as I watched Michael Phelps in the Olympics this summer I looked enviously at his long arms…They are just the tool that I need when leaning down over my horse to reach the chain and latch!

While doin’ gates may seem a mundane task, it is actually very important.  Guess what happens when you do not re-latch the gate correctly?  The cattle in the pen get an unplanned exercising session frolicking all over the feed yard.  While the cattle enjoy this immensely, it results in acute embarrassment for the cowboy.  You see, it is an unwritten rule at every cattle feed yard to properly SHUT THE GATE!

Doin’ the gate to leave a pen–Step 1…Take the chain off of the latch.

Doin’ the gate—Step 2…Ride through the open gate and out of the pen.

Doin’ the gate—Step 3…Re-latch the gate once you are out of the pen.

Doin’ Gates—Step 4…Double check to make sure that the gate is properly latched!

I am pleased to report that although I am only marginally successful at doin’ gates, that there were no surprise exercise sessions due to improperly latched gates while my cowboy was on vacation.  I am also pleased to report that I actually enjoy checkin’ cattle very much and have (over the years) developed a knack for making sure that my animals are healthy and thriving.

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Cowboying At The Feed Yard…

My cowboy is in the Black Hills on vacation this week.  When he is gone I take over his chore of riding pens and checking the health of all of our cattle.  Although this adds to my fairly long list of things that Anne must get done today, I really enjoy riding pens.  I get started early (about 6:00 am) so that I am finished by the middle of the morning.  It is easiest to check cattle health during the cool hours of the morning.

I took a variety of pictures while on horseback and thought that I would share my favorites…

Dawn at the feed yard—it is so beautiful that it makes it worth getting up at 5:00am…

The feed truck getting started for the day…

Checking cattle…Studly is a good partner.

Being high up on Studly’s back gives me a good view of each one of my animals which helps me to assess their health…

Sometimes I find an animal that is sick and so I guide him out of his “home pen” and down to our main corral so that I can take his temperature and administer an antibiotic after I have diagnosed him…A good cowboy is a “cow doctor”.

I love this “shadow” picture…

Cattle do not often sit “like a dog”, but this steer posed for me while I took his picture sitting in the cool morning air…

Studly helped me to move a pen of cattle one morning. Here we are trailing down the main alleyway to a new home pen…

We also shipped some cattle to harvest on Tuesday afternoon. These two big boys are about ready to be put on the bus

As I care for my cattle, I always remember the end goal—safe and healthy beef that I feed to my family and to yours. Here, my favorite 12 year old eats a beef stir fry that is made from home grown vegetables and beef from our farm.

In many ways, being a mom helps me to be a good cowboy.  Developing a sense for my animals’ health is similar to the sense that I have developed with my own children.  I know what normal looks like, and so as I check the health of my animals I look for anything that is abnormal.  Being a mom also reminds me how important my job is because I know that the cattle that I raise will be used to nourish my own family in addition to nourishing yours…

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Realizing a Dream…

My mother is a school teacher with a love of traveling.  I remember in elementary school being loaded up in her suburban to drive across the country.  Normally we headed to Wyoming and Montana (a good long drive from Florida!) because my dad is a devoted fly fisherman and has always had a true love for the area’s trout streams…

My brother and I taking turns fly fishing…

When we arrived after many days of driving, my dad would fly out and meet us.  What followed were days of riding horses to high mountain streams in search of trout.

During those long days of driving, I spent a lot of time daydreaming as I looked out of the car window.  As we approached the mountains of Wyoming, I would sometimes see cowboys moving cattle on horseback.  I would pretend that it was me and dream of the day when I could play cowgirl.

A great teacher who instilled a love of the outdoors and horses deep into my soul…Al, a horse and fly fishing enthusiast, getting ready to take me and my dad deep into the wilds of the Montana mountains.

As I grew older and became a competitive swimmer, the family driving trips ceased due to my swimming meet schedule but we still would fly out to the trout streams of Montana every summer before school started.  By high school, I had moved on from my childhood world of pretend, but the dream of riding horses and learning about cattle lay tucked somewhere deep in my heart.

When I met my farm boy from Nebraska at Dartmouth, little did I know that love would bring me to a farm in rural America where my childhood dreams would literally come true.  I have to admit that there is a lot more hard work involved than I had ever imagined, but the life that I lead in Nebraska is not far from what I dreamed of as a child.

Learning to be a cowgirl is a reality for her—she is lucky enough to live the dream…

Last Sunday, my middle daughter and I moved cattle on horseback down at our grass pasture.  That morning something triggered a sense of deja’ vu and memories of long ago dreams flooded my mind as the two of us moved the cattle.  I remembered that little girl looking out the car window and watching the cowboys, and realized that I had become the heroine of my childhood daydreams…

Trailing the cattle—Megan and Magnum lead the way while Dandy and I encouraged the cattle to follow…

My view of a cowboy has changed over the years.  I will never be exactly like those men moving cattle thirty years ago in the mountains of Montana, but I do spend my days caring for cattle and I have a love of horses that runs deep to my core.  I realized Sunday morning how much I loved what I do, and what a beautiful blessing it is to be able to teach it to my daughter.

Dandy’s ears show that he is alert and doing his job well. In turn, I take a moment to document “the dream” with my IPhone while on his back…

I do not know exactly what my parents had in mind when they took me to those mountains year after year, but those trips planted the idea of doing something different with my life—Something tied to nature in rural America.

Her hair is blonder than mine ever was, but she gets that same spark in her eyes when she gets to be a cowgirl

Today I live in a state where cattle outnumber people 4 to 1.  I spend my days caring for animals and raising my children in God’s Country.

What more could any little girl with big dreams wish for?

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What makes a cowboy?

When my kids were little, they used to travel with me when I went to nearby ranches to purchase cattle for the feed yard.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that my kids used to be this little!

One of the ranches that they visited was AL Ranch.  I’ll never forgot riding around in Al’s pickup truck looking at cattle that were about to ship to the feed yard, and my middle daughter (Megan—she was probably about 3) looking at Al and announcing, “You aren’t a REAL cowboy, you don’t have on the right hat…”. (Al was wearing a baseball style hat, instead of a cowboy hat).  I waffled between wanting to laugh and being embarrassed, but I was proud of Al—he took it right in stride like any good grandpa.  He looked at Megan and said,

“You know, it’s not the hat that makes the cowboy”.

Playing “cowgirl” is fun…

So, what makes a real cowboy?

Webster defines the word ‘cowboy’ as, “one who tends cattle or horses”.  I define it as a responsible and knowledgeable caregiver for cattle.  At the heart of any good cowboy is a love for both his animals and the land.  He (or she) puts the needs of his animals before his own needs.

I remember another time that I was up at Al’s place.  It was April and a spring snow storm had brought cold temperatures and bad weather conditions.  Al was in the middle of “calving” which means that his mama cows were having their babies.  The gestation period for a bovine (calf) is roughly the same as for a human, and a mama cow has a calf once per year.  Most calves in Nebraska are born in the springtime as the grass greens up and winter goes away.

The ice and snow can be beautiful, but they make "life" on a farm very difficult...

Springtime in Nebraska is notorious for being inconsistent, and this particular year we had very cold temperatures and snow even though it was April.  Al and his son-in-law were busy taking newly born calves into the “heat box” in the barn so that they would survive the weather.  They worked diligently for several long days until the weather cleared up.

Al is a good cowboy, no matter what type of hat he wears…

It's not the hat that makes the "cowboy"...

Calf #718 was born March 17th on a grass pasture close to Al’s house and corrals.  He spent the first couple months of his life in a place where Al could check on him frequently.  His mama took good care of him, and so did his “cowboy”…

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“Cowboying” at the feedyard…

Last week my cowboy was on vacation and my foreman was having back problems, so there were only two of us working at the

"Studly" and I getting ready to start "riding pens" checking cattle...

feedyard.  With about 2400 cattle to care for, that meant long and hard days.  I started each day “reading bunks” and looking at cattle feed intake patterns at 6:00am.  Steve was in the feedtruck delivering the cattle’s “breakfast” by 7:00, and I was on horseback checking cattle health.

We “ride pens” every day at the feedyard which means that we ride on horseback through each one of the cattle pens assessing calf health.  We look at each animal in each pen, and it takes about four hours.  Normally this is my cowboy’s responsibility.  However, two weeks a year, my cowboy is on vacation and I am in charge of “riding pens”.

"Riding Pens"

Riding pens is hard and intense work.  It requires physical stamina in addition to a tremendous amount of focus to ensure that each calf is assessed.  What do I look for when I assess the health of a calf?

  1. Normal vs Abnormal:  I look at my animals every day so I have a good idea of what “normal” looks like for them.  So, when I ride pens, I look for anything “abnormal”.
  2. Exuberant vs Depressed: Does the calf exhibit normal play and resting behavior, or is he depressed?  Often, depression is the first sign of sickness.  Is the “carriage” or body position of the calf normal or is his head hanging low?  Is the calf standing alone in the pen or is he interacting with herd mates?
  3. Does the calf exhibit normal respiration patterns or does it look like he is “breathing hard”?
  4. Does the calf have any nasal discharge?
  5. Does the calf have any signs of limping or lameness?

    A Healthy Steer

  6. Does the calf have any signs of digestive upset?

These are just a few of the things that I look for when I check cattle health each day.  So, how did my week go?

“Studly” and I checked our 2400 cattle each day.  Throughout the week, I pulled (took the calf out of the home pen for an individual treatment) six animals. That is approximately 0.25% of our animals. Four were pulled for respiratory illness, one for a foot infection, and one digestive upset.  For each of the four respiratory illnesses and the foot infection, I carefully selected an antibiotic that would work most effectively for the particular illness.  I work closely with my veterinarian to choose the best antibiotics, and I always use them according to FDA label instructions and in accordance with Beef Quality Assurance Protocols.  The calf with the digestive upset needed a simple procedure to alleviate excess gas and some special feed for a few days.

The remainder of each day was taken up exercising and acclimating new calves, doing paperwork, shipping cattle to harvest, and vaccinating newly arrived cattle.  Oh, and coaching swimming and t-ball figured into the days as well…It may just be me, but it seems as though there is never enough daylight to get everything done–Even this time of year when it gets light at 5:30am and does not get dark until almost 10:00pm!

Appreciating a beautiful Nebraska sunset at the end of a long day...

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