Tag Archives: Dartmouth College

Dartmouth Alumni Magazine…

I am incredibly honored to be featured in the January/February Dartmouth College Alumni magazine.  The following article was written by Rianna Starheim, and appeared in the voices in the wilderness section of the magazine.

Many thanks to both Rianna and my alma mater!

Many thanks to both Rianna and my alma mater!

Bullish on Beef

“Two days after graduating from Dartmouth I put on my blue jeans and went to work at the cattle feedyard,” Burkholder says.  “I started at the bottom with a scoop shovel and an hourly wage of $6.85.”  Sixteen years later she owns the place—a 3000-head cattle feedyard in Nebraska, where she works alongside her husband, Matt Burkholder D’94.  She’s also among the leading voices in the national beef industry, determined to reassure a public unsettled by the feedlot horror stories in reports such as Fast Food Nation.

“I was a consumer for a lot of years before I really knew where my beef came from,” Burkholder says.  “I think it’s very important that people have an understanding of what it takes to grow food and where it comes from.”  Burkholder writes a blog, FeedyardFoodie.com, with the goal of making the process of growing U.S. beef—farm to fork—more transparent.  Burkholder also does volunteer work promoting animal welfare and food safety and is one of the leaders in the beef industry across the nation:  She is a director of the Nebraska State Beef Council, sits on the Tyson Fresh Meats Animal Well-being Committee and earned the 2009 Beef Quality Assurance Producer of the Year Award.  “I’ve always been interested by how animals think, and in particular cattle and other prey animals really interest me,” says Burkholder, whose A.B. in psychology comes in handy on the farm.  “I’m fascinated by how their brains work.”

I hope that the weekly glimpse of my life on the farm is both informative and reassuring as you make food choices for your families...

I hope that the weekly glimpse of my life on the farm is informative, entertaining, and reassuring to each of you!

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Filed under Feed Yard Foodie "In The News"

Fulfilling an Intelectual Need…

I laugh to my parents that they sent me to college a jock, and I graduated an intellectual.  Sometime during my four years at Dartmouth College I fell in love with critical thinking.  While a part of me will always love working with animals and being a “hands on” farmer, there is another part that thrives on intellectual challenges.DSC04809

I have lost track of the number of times that people have asked me why I agreed to serve on Tyson Fresh Meat’s Animal Wellbeing Advisory Committee.   I am not sure if their question stems from puzzlement over why I would take on another responsibility amongst my crazily busy life, or if they wonder what a small cattle feeder has in common with a large corporate conglomerate.Tysonlogo

The very simple answer to the question is that I agreed to serve on Tyson’s committee because in doing so I felt that I could make a positive difference in the United States food animal production system.  In addition, at a very personal level, serving on the committee fulfills an intellectual need. DSC07305

The Ivy League educated cerebral continues to exist somewhere underneath my farm coveralls…

Interacting with the other committee members, as well as Tyson executives and scientists, is certainly a different experience than the daily life that I live on the farm.  As I spent two days in meetings at Tyson’s Beef and Pork Headquarters in Dakota Dunes, SD last week, I fed the scholarly Anne while also staying true to Farmer Anne.

Each one of us is a complex individual with needs at many different levels.  I believe that one of the best ways to always play our “A Game” is to recognize that stimulation at each one of those levels is critical.  Diverse experiences lead to broadened perspectives, and I have found that the view from 3000 feet is often just as important as the view from ground level.F

In the words of Henry Miller,“If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored.  One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”

How do you feed your inner intellectual being?

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Filed under General, Tyson Farm Check Program

Sweetheart, You Come From a Long Line Of Nerds…

My daughter came home some time ago complaining that she just did not “fit in” at school.  The comment brought back many memories of solitary evenings at home in junior high and high school.  It wasn’t that I did not have friends—most everyone liked me, but I struggled to fit in with my peers.  I, quite honestly, do not think that they knew what to do with me.

When I was not in school, I was in the pool…

I was a very serious kid.  Serious about school, and down-right obsessed (my mom’s term) with competitive athletics.  I honestly do not recall when it started, but I have always felt the intrinsic need to challenge myself to achieve excellence.  It started in the swimming pool, but grew to include my studies and eventually my work on our cattle farm.

Brains and brawn made a good mix for me…Scholar Athlete of the Year in 1993.

I believe, with every fiber of my being, that no matter how good I am at something—I can ALWAYS be better.  I focus on the little things while also trying not to lose sight of the big picture.  In many ways, I am a nerd…  I am a student of life…I am a tenaciously driven person…

From a fraternity party to the alter to a farm in Nebraska…What an amazing journey!

I feel truly blessed that my journey in life allowed for finding my Nebraska farm boy.  What are the odds of a girl from West Palm Beach Florida meeting a farm boy from Nebraska at an Ivy League school in New Hampshire?  I am still baffled at how our paths crossed and also so thankful that God sent him my way.  The interesting twist is that we met at a fraternity party over Halloween weekend when my farm boy was wearing devils horns glued to his head…Although I did not arrive at the party in time to watch his rendition of “Devil Goes Down To Georgia” (Charlie Daniels Band), I am sure that it was a memorable occasion!

Sixteen years later we have a few more wrinkles, but the smiles are the same…

While I used to loose myself in the pool and in my studies, now I loose myself in my family and my farm.  Matt and I are kindred spirits and have found a way to blend our lives together into one fabulous journey with Mother Nature.  While I do some traveling around the country to explain to urban dwellers how I care for cattle and raise beef, it is on my farm that I feel most at home.  My perfect day is one spent with my girls teaching them the how to care for cattle.  My animals fascinate me and constantly challenge me to achieve excellence.  Being able to share that with my children is a true gift from God.

The love that I hold for my farm gets stronger with every year that passes—sharing it with my children brings me incredible joy.

Although it is hard to fathom how little Anne Gibson from Palm Beach County Florida managed to make a life on a farm in Dawson County Nebraska, I believe with all of my heart that it was always meant to be.  This nerd turned cattle feed yard boss lady took the road less traveled and, it has, made all of the difference…

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The Mentor…

I graduated from Dartmouth College with a B.A. in Psychology and was one class short of a minor in Education.  Just like many kids who attend a Liberal Arts college, I floundered with what I wanted to do with my life.

Training "at altitude" at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs my senior year in high school...

I arrived at Dartmouth a jock…

My freshman year in college...Making good friends and learning to be a "student of life"...

I metamorphosed into an intellectual— graduating cum laude…

Young dreams and core values brought us back to Nebraska and a life as farmers...

After graduation, my heart led me to central Nebraska to a small agricultural community…

While at Dartmouth, it was pure stubbornness that kept me from a minor in education.  I wanted to take an extra class in early childhood brain development instead of the “History of Education” and the chairman of the education department did not agree with my decision…

It was also pure stubbornness that kept me from becoming an elementary school teacher when I moved to Nebraska.  The state of Nebraska refused to honor some of my education classes and required me to go back to school in order to obtain a Nebraska teaching certificate…I could see no good reason in going back to college (I had, after all, just graduated from one), so I decided to do something else.

I traded textbooks and chalk for a horse and learned to be a caregiver for cattle...

While at the time that all of this was happening I was frustrated and trying to figure out my place in life, I have since realized that it was a blessing in disguise.  Today, I cannot imagine a life that is not centered on the care of cattle.  I love working outdoors with my animals, and it brings me great pride to know that my hard work quite literally feeds the world.  In addition, I have found a way to incorporate teaching into my role of Boss Lady and feed yard manager…

These steers are asking a question--can you see that by reading their expression?...They look to me for leadership and comfort...I look to them to nourish my children...

Over the past five years, my feed yard has become a hands-on learning center, and not a month goes by without a student or group of students spending time with me.  My holistic cattle care and cattle handling philosophy combined with the fact that I love to share the knowledge that I have garnered over the past 15 years provides an attractive combination for college and graduate students who are interested in learning about a cattle feed yard.  Throw into the equation that I am a woman working in a predominantly male world, and the ante is upped even further as young women look for someone to be a mentor to them in their quest to raise cattle and grow beef.  While most of the students that I mentor are from Nebraska, I have had the privilege of working with young women who traveled from as far as Texas and Georgia to spend time with me.

Jessica spent the summer of 2010 with me. She completes her undergraduate degree in a couple of weeks and will head off to Washington DC to work as an intern in Senator Mike Johanns' office. Next fall, she will attend law school and study environmental law.

Cassie has her master's degree from Texas A & M in ruminant nutrition, and came to learn about how I use a combination of good animal care and nutrition to reduce the environmental footprint of my animals...Check out her blog site at "Food Think!"

Suzanne is an undergraduate student and has followed the Feed Yard Foodie blog for months now. She came to experience "first hand" the feed yard and our community of Cozad.

I truly believe that the youth of our nation hold the key to the long term success of our country.  As a cattle caregiver and a farmer that raises beef, I know that new science will allow me to do an increasingly better job caring for my animals while also reducing the environmental footprint of my farm as I raise food to feed to my children and yours. Today, I mentor numerous young people, but someday soon I will learn from these young professionals as they unravel the future of cattle care and beef production.  I hope that they will take the things that I teach them to heart, and these nuggets of practical wisdom and experience will allow them to work to better the industry that I love so much.

In the meantime, I will cherish the time that I spend mentoring and hope that I am making a difference in these young people’s lives…

I look at this picture of my daughter and I am reminded of the most important young people that I mentor, and I am thankful that my girls are growing up on a farm and learning the responsibility that is necessary to offer good care to animals...

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Filed under CAFO, Foodie Work!, General

From Flipflops to Cowboy Boots…

I am a firm believer that past experiences combined with natural personality make you who you are.  If the past and the present make up who you are, those experiences combined with dreams and goals make up who you will be.

Everywhere that I go, I am asked how an urban Florida  girl ended up managing a cattle feedyard in rural Nebraska.   While the short answer to that question is a 6’1” handsome blue eyed native Nebraska boy, it is (as many things are) more complicated than that.

When I got on a plane as an 18 year old bound for Dartmouth College, I told my parents that I was not sure where my life would take me; however, that it would not be returning to urban Florida.  I knew that my life would be somewhere in rural America.  I had seen glimpses of rural America traveling across the country and searching for good fly fishing rivers in the Rocky Mountains with my family.  I knew that I wanted to live in a place where the pace was slower and I could continually “recharge” my soul as I interacted amongst Mother Nature in “God’s Country”.

My experiences living in rural Nebraska for the past 14 years have far surpassed any picture that my imagination could possibly have painted .  I live in a community where people care.  We look out for each other, and that is just the way that it is.  Our farm and our community are constantly challenged by Mother Nature, and when this happens, it becomes instinctual to collaborate with each other and support each other.  Since the vast majority of us in rural Nebraska are involved in some form of agriculture, we share this greatest challenge and it brings us together.

I love the fact that my children are growing up not only understanding what their daddy and I do every day, but also playing an active role in both that and our community.  My favorite expression is “Take the time it takes to do it right”, and my children always groan and moan with tremendous drama when they hear me say it.  But, watching me (and helping me) to care for animals every day, 365 days out of the year, gives substance to my “parental pontifications”.  I am proud that I raise and care for animals which will quite literally ‘feed the world’.  This sense of purpose drives me to continually work to improve myself every single day.

I gladly trade my flip flops for cowboy boots, because I know that I am achieving my long held goal of making a positive difference in the world that I am so blessed to be a part of.

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Filed under Family, General

Understanding how a calf thinks and what he needs…A cornerstone of good care.

One of the greatest lessons that I learned at Dartmouth College was to always search for additional knowledge and understanding in everything that I do.  I learned to question, I learned to problem solve, and I learned to be a student of the world around me.

Prey animals, like cattle, are always offering feedback and communication.  It is very different from human communication and the caregiver must be very aware and “in tune” with the animals to take part in the communication.  A focused caregiver not only teaches his/her animals, but also interacts and learns from them.  This takes an open mind, the ability to problem solve and the willingness to be a student of your environment.

So, if you were to want to handle and care for cattle, what would you need to know?

  1. Cattle are animals that are “preyed upon”—in other words, animals that are eaten by other animals. (Ex. Cattle, Horses, Deer, Squirrels).
  2. The bodies and minds of cattle are designed to ensure survival.
  3. Cattle are herbivores (plant eaters).
  4. When a calf is scared or under stress, he will revert into “instinctual thinking” which means he will either flight (flee from perceived danger) or fight if he is unable to flee.  Cattle do not effectively learn when they are in an “instinctual state”.
  5. Cattle are herd animals so they like to be with other cattle and will naturally flow together.  There is “safety in numbers” for them and there will be a unique set of dynamics (hierarchy) within the herd.
  6. Cattle have eyes that are positioned toward the side of their heads in order to allow them to search more effectively for predators (those that will harm them).  Their peripheral vision is outstanding and when a calf is grazing with its head down he can see almost all of the way around himself.  However, this eye shape and placement means that the calf has terrible depth perception.
  7. Cattle have long legs…can you guess why?  So that they can run quickly if they need to flee!
  8. Cattle are very capable of learning especially if  they are “thinking” and not in an instinctual frame of mind.
  9. Cattle are very subtle in their communication and are constantly sending non-verbal messages to one another.
  10. When cattle are in a “learning state”, they are very curious.  This makes them relatively easy to train as long as they remain calm and in that “learning state”.

When you look at the concept of prey animal psychology, being open minded enough to interact with your animals is imperative.  It is my goal at the cattle feedyard to teach my animals to interact with me without fear, and with a “thinking” mind frame.  When I can get my cattle to trust me and view me as their leader (instead of a predator), caring for them becomes much easier and more effective.   They will allow me to influence the rate and direction of their movement, and we will have an effective two way conversation.  They will be more likely to show me when they are sick or need help.  They also will be more comfortable in their environment which keeps them healthier, happier and more productive.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, CAFO, General

Welcome to Feedyard Foodie!

Life is full of transitions and changes—how else would a city girl get from South Florida to New Hampshire to a cattle farm in Central Nebraska?  It will *hopefully* be less of a culture shock for this “feedyard foodie” to enter the world of social media than it was to move to Nebraska and learn to care for cattle!  That being said, please be advised that I am much more comfortable handling cattle and riding my horse than I am posting blogs and figuring out what a “widget” is!

When I moved from New Hampshire to Cozad, Nebraska I really had no idea what my life was going to look like on a day to day basis.  I had always loved animals, had always wanted to spend my time outdoors, and had always been enamored by the romantic notion of a cowgirl.  However, I had no “hands on” knowledge of what it took to care for animals.  The last fourteen years have been an incredible journey for me.  An inexperienced, but well educated urban woman metamorphed into a mature and saavy animal caregiver.

I am so proud of what I do.  I believe that humanely raising animals for the production of food is an admirable vocation, and I am committed to both continually improving the welfare of my animals and the safety and quality of the beef that they produce.

I am an American, I am a wife, I am a mother, and I am a cattle farmer.  I wear many hats and I wear them with pride.  I care for animals that will be harvested to feed to my family and to your family.  I take a tremendous personal responsibility for the animals that I raise and I look forward to sharing that journey with you.  Please feel free to ask questions—any question that is asked in a respectful manner will get answered.

This is a journey that we will navigate together, as we strive to close the gap that exists between rural America where food is raised, and urban America where food is consumed.

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Filed under Family, General