Tag Archives: Environmental Stewardship

Heading For the Hills…

My favorite blondes did not have school last Monday so I had company as I headed north to get feeder cattle near Halsey, Nebraska.  My girls spent many years traversing across Nebraska visiting ranches and getting cattle before they were old enough to be in school.  With my “baby” being a 5th grader, I have made many treks alone since those days.

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The drive from Cozad up to Halsey is a beautiful one full of wildlife and picturesque scenery.  I know that wherever their lives take them, my girls will take those memories of quiet beauty with them.  This vast land where cattle and wildlife greatly outnumber people brings a sense of peace that refills my cup.

As I drive around my farm and then head north to the Sandhills, I always wonder why our urban countrymen worry so much about sustainability.  The healthy ecosystem balance found in out-state Nebraska is readily visible to any passerby, and the farmers and ranchers that tend to the land do so with a blend of natural passion and stubborn pride.

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I think that perhaps many urban folks would feel better about where their beef comes from if they spent a day driving around rural Nebraska.  It might be hard to find the farmer/rancher in all the vastness of the countryside, but his/her hard work and dedication is apparent from the car window view.  If you happen to come across the human caregiver, his/her quiet manner and aloofness will give testimony to the fact that caring for the land is a solitary job.

The trip from Cozad to Halsey takes about 2 hours, and is full of deer, turkey, grouse, ducks, hawks and an occasional eagle in addition to the bovine population.  They all live in harmony with a bit of human help under the influence of Mother Nature.  Just as cattle are known as the great recyclers turning inedible plant products into vitamin rich (and tasty) edible protein, the people that inhabit my beloved adopted countryside share the same dedication to stewardship — wasting little and carefully managing the natural resources found on the land.

A ranch sign just north of Halsey, NE.

A ranch sign just north of Halsey, NE.

Those of us that make rural America home are a small and unique group. Our pride in country is evident.  Our dedication to community shines brightly.  Our responsibility to stewardship drives a life filled with both challenge and fullfillment.

With each day that passes, I am coming to realize that now (more than ever) we need our urban counterparts to take the time to learn about our lives prior to judging the validity and sustainability of both our daily work and our legacy. Beef production is much more than the steak that creates a great tasting eating experience.  It takes care of the land and fuels rural economies, while its farmers bring a steadfast patriotism and a dedicated work ethic that provides a necessary pillar for our country.

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Perhaps it is time to head for the hills to learn about “Where your beef comes from”!  You might be surprised at what you find 🙂

 

 

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Filed under General, Rural Communities, Sustainable Spring

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

Environmental Regulation…

Protecting the Environment and Caring for Our Animals To Bring You Safe, Great Tasting High-Quality Nebraska Beef..

The above is the mission statement for my cattle feed yard.  I drafted it many years ago when I wanted to create a simple, yet powerful commitment for my farm.  This statement brings together the three pillars of my personal pledge as a farmer:

  • Commitment to Environmental Responsibility
  • Commitment to Animal Well-being
  • Commitment to Food Safety

Interestingly enough, these are also the three pillars of the Progressive Beef program.  I guess that great minds thing alike!

karyncalf.jpgI view each pillar as a promise that begins with daily animal care and management of the feed yard, but also extends past my farm’s boarders.

When I began my tenure at the feed yard, I carried with me a deep seeded belief that doing the right thing was a universal philosophy shared by everyone.  It took me many years to fully understand why environmental regulation needed to be a component of environmental responsibility.  Perhaps I was naive, but I viewed regulation as an unnecessary step to protecting the resources of my farm.

Taking care of our farm seemed as natural to me as breathing.  The beauty of the land and our desire for long term sustainability to this day continues to demand that my favorite farmer and I are dedicated care takers.

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Our farm is both our livelihood and our home — Our pride and our legacy.

As I quickly approach 40 years of wisdom, I recognize that regulation is a reality.  There are times when I am filled with frustration, doing hours of tedious record keeping in order to satisfy government requirements.  But, there are also times when regulations likely push me to do a more comprehensive job on my quest for environmental responsibility.  Just like anything in life, there are both positives and negatives in every journey that we undertake.

I made a decision several years ago that I needed to be both committed to environmental responsibility on my farm, and also strive to collaboratively work with my state regulatory agency.  We share the common goal, caring for Nebraska’s natural resources, and likely can learn from each other because our perspectives are different.

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Last week, I hosted a group from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality at the feed yard.  This visit was a follow up from a talk that I gave at NDEQ’s annual field inspector retreat last April.  It gave me the opportunity to meet Blake Onken, the new Supervisor for the Agriculture Section of the Water Quality Division of the NDEQ, as well as Cay Ewoldt who is a section supervisor for the Field Services office.  Accompanying them was my NDEQ field inspector, Jerry Newth, who is in charge of auditing the feed yard on a yearly basis.

Following a tour of the feed yard, we visited for more than an hour about many issues and concerns, and how we can work to improve the collaborative nature of our relationship.  I appreciate the feedback that they offered to me and hope that I was able to give them a glimpse into the perspective of a cattle feed yard owner.  I am optimistic that we can continue to make positive improvements in our journey toward environmental stewardship.

While each one of us, in our own way, can pursue the common goal — I believe that it is likely that together we can get there more effectively. 

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I would like to thank Blake, Cay, and Jerry for taking the time to visit with me.  Additionally, I would like to challenge each one of us involved in both agriculture and environmental regulation to strive to attain a strong measure of collaboration. 

The future of both our country and our earth depends on it…

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General

Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality…

Today I travel to North Platte to participate in a staff retreat for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.  The NDEQ is the state regulatory agency that oversees environmental quality in Nebraska.  One of its responsibilities is to oversee the NPDES permits issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relative to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s).

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As a CAFO, I hold a NPDES permit.  It is my job to make sure that I manage my farm in compliance with my permit — It is the NDEQ’s job to audit my management performance to ensure that I am doing an appropriate job.  The EPA also has the jurisdiction to come to my farm and conduct an audit as they are the federal agency that oversees the performance of both the NDEQ and any individual NPDES permit holder.

Ideally, our ability to work together as a team leads to realistic and effective care of the natural resources that exist on my farm.  The relationship between a government regulator and a cattle farmer is a unique one as we sometimes bring different perspectives to the goal of environmental protection.  However, I can certainly recognize the need for environmental stewardship and have found the NDEQ to be a fair partner in my quest to grow sustainable beef.

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I have been invited to speak to the group about Low Stress Cattle Handling and how this animal welfare philosophy plays a role in the sustainable cycle of my farm.  Over the years, I have found that increasing animal comfort and limiting stress are key factors to improving efficiency as my cattle work to grow beef.  The amount of natural resources (feed and water) that it takes to grow beef are the primary determinants of the environmental footprint of my cattle farm — Therefore, it is always my goal to set my animals up for success to be efficient convertors of those natural resources.

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I am excited to address and interact with this group for a myriad of reasons, but perhaps the biggest is my constant desire to create an atmosphere of collaboration amongst groups as we all strive to be good stewards.  It is true that my farm has an environmental footprint — it takes resources to grow food and my farm causes a change in the distribution of those resources.  What makes me a good caretaker is garnering the necessary knowledge of how to raise beef in the best way to protect my farm and use it’s resources wisely.

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Each and every one of us has an environmental impact, together we can strive for harmony — both amongst ourselves and with our planet…

 

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The Route Less Traveled…

There is a stretch of road in between Arnold and Dunning Nebraska that is a little slice of heaven.  It is 29 miles of rolling hills, canyons, and grazing animals.  I think of it as truly The Route Less Traveled, but I have to admit that it is a place that brings me great peace.

A special place...

A special place…

The drive is a solitary trip, and rarely do I encounter another human being while traveling along this route.  I have the pleasure of taking this road a half a dozen times a year when I trek north to the Nebraska Sandhills to move cattle off of home ranches and into my feed yard.

A marriage of man-made technology and beautiful prairie land...

A marriage of man-made technology and beautiful prairie land…

Perhaps it is because I love the wide open spaces—Perhaps it is because my cell phone doesn’t work so I have the choice of opening the window and listening to the silence or cranking up the radio and singing to my favorite songs.

The blend of open grassland and canyons makes this a truly unique place...

The blend of open grassland and canyons makes this a truly unique place…

Regardless, I know that I look forward to the drive that seems to soothe my soul.

In addition to cattle and horses, I have seen many deer, ducks, turkeys, pheasant, and grouse along the way.  It is beautiful the way that livestock live in harmony with the wild animals of the prairie.

Mallard ducks enjoying the open water that has not yet frozen with the promise of winter...

Mallard ducks enjoying the open water that has not yet frozen under winter’s spell…

I am often reminded as I head north on this road the importance of environmental stewardship and what a pivotal role ranchers play in maintaining the balance of life in the rural areas of our country.

They play several important roles...

The great converters…

These cattle thrive amongst the natural wildlife of Nebraska while also converting forage into an iron rich protein source that fuels both my family and yours.

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The healthy balance of mankind and nature speaks to me even in the winter months when the grasses turn brown…

The Nebraska Sandhills’ grasslands are a perfect blend of Mother Nature’s gifts and the tender loving care of the cattlemen and women who tend to them amongst the routes less traveled…

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Protecting Our Livelihood…

When I fell in love with my favorite farmer at the age of 18, I began to research his home state of Nebraska.  This interest in “where he came from” transferred over to my studies, and I wrote a research paper on the Ogallala Aquifer for one of my Environmental Studies classes at Dartmouth College.Ogallala_Saturated_Thickness_1997

At the time I did not realize it, but the Ogallala Aquifer is perhaps the single most important natural resource for our farm.  It is a subsurface body of water that underlies approximately 80% of the Hi Plains region of the country.  Nebraska is located above one of the deepest parts of the aquifer.

My favorite farmer teaching the next generation why water quality is so important!

Approximately 2/3’s of our crop ground is irrigated directly from the aquifer, and it is also our source for drinking water (although usually our family drinks it out of a facet)…

In addition to ground water irrigation, Central and Western Nebraska are known for surface irrigation.  Our surface irrigation system is comprised of a series of ditches and reservoirs that work with the Platte River to bring rain water and snow melt from North Central Colorado and Eastern Wyoming to our region.

The irrigation pivot north of the feed yard that uses recycled water in addition to surface irrigation water to help this corn grow.

The irrigation pivot north of the feed yard that uses recycled water in addition to surface irrigation water to help this corn grow.

The surface irrigation system described above, in addition to irrigating our crops, also works to replenish the aquifer.  Together with water conservation practices and more efficient irrigation methods, this surface irrigation system has actually increased the water levels of the aquifer underneath Central Nebraska during the last 25 years.

One of my favorite parts of summer is looking at the lush green of Matt's alfalfa fields.

One of my favorite parts of summer is looking at the lush green of Matt’s alfalfa fields.

Water, quite literally, brings life to our farm.  Our family, our animals, and our crops cannot survive without it.  It is paramount for Matt and I to take care of our water supply—our farm is not sustainable without it.

The promise of life...

The promise of life…

The use of soil water probes, center pivots, and water recycling practices all play a role in the conservation of our precious water sources.  However, we must not only conserve the surface and ground water but also to protect the quality of the life-giving aquifer.

In partnership with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, I began Ground Water Monitoring testing at the feed yard in 2003.  I test the ground water (its depth and its quality) two times per year in five different strategically placed wells surrounding the feed yard.

Taking a water sample out of one of the five testing wells that surround the feed yard.

Taking a water sample out of one of the five testing wells that surround the feed yard.

This allows me (and the NDEQ) to monitor the depth of ground water surrounding our farm, track the directional flow of the water, and ensure that ground water quality is not negatively impacted by my feed yard.  In its simplest form, Ground Water Monitoring is my report card of the job that I do to responsibly manage the nutrients on my farm.DSC03742

Twenty years ago, when I met my favorite farmer, I had no idea that I would become a key contributor to our farm and the protection of its natural resources.  Today, I wear many hats:  American, Wife, Mom, Cattle Feed Yard Boss Lady, Caregiver of Natural Resources.  I wear them all with pride, never forgetting that my responsible diligence determines the environmental sustainability of my livelihood.

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General, Sustainable Spring

Wow That Cow!

My oldest daughter came home from school one day a couple of years ago and announced that one of her friends was going to stop eating meat and become a vegetarian.  I asked her, “Why?”, and she responded, “I don’t know—she said that she wanted to stop using/eating products that were made from animals.”  I am always looking for ways to broaden my children’s horizons and increase their knowledge, and this seemed to be a great opportunity so I ran with it…

I asked my daughter if she realized that the car that we were driving in would not operate without cattle by-products…I then asked her if she realized that the road that we were driving on was made from asphalt that contains a binding agent made from beef fat…I then asked her if she realized that the soap that she had used the night before to shower with was made in part with beef fat and protein…

The shoes on her feet and the basketball in her hand were both made from cow hide leather...The muscles in her arms are fueled by beef!

The car got really quiet so I kept rattling off common travel, household, textile, food and pharmaceutical products that all contained some by-product from cattle.  I believe that I rendered her speechless (which is no small feat given that this child is both incredibly intelligent and also going through the teenage stage of being omniscient).  Apparently, it had never occurred to her that so many products other than beef came from cattle…

The reality is that 98% of the beef animal is used to make products that we all rely on.  Many of those are products other than the great tasting beef that we all normally associate with cattle!  I would like to share some of the other products that are made from cattle.  These products are made from the stuff that is left over after the beef muscle cuts are taken out…

WOW THAT COW!

Pharmaceuticals

*blood factors (for treating hemophilia, killing viruses, and making anti-rejection drugs)

*Chymotrypsin (promotes the healing of wounds)

*Collagen (used in plastic surgery and to make non-stick bandages)

*Cortisol (anti-inflammatory)

*Glucagon (treats hypoglycemia or low blood sugar)

*Heparin (anticoagulant used to treat blood clots)

*Insulin (for treating diabetes or high blood sugar)

*Pancreatin (aids in digestion of food)

*Thrombin (coagulant which helps blood to clot)

*Vasopressin (controls intestinal and renal functions)

*Vitamin B-12 (prevention of B-complex deficiencies)

Food

Gelatin comes from the connective tissue of cattle and is used to make many non-beef food items such as: candies, dairy products, deserts, diet products and jellies.

Household Products

*Candles                             *Ceramics                          *Cosmetics                        *Crayons

*Deodorants                     *Detergents                       *Floor Wax                        *Insecticides

*Insulation                         *Linoleum                          *Mouthwash                     *Paints

*Paper                                *Perfume                           *Plastic                               *Shaving Cream

*Soaps                                *Synthetic Rubber            *Toothpaste                      *Car Polish and Wax

Textiles/Apparel

Cowhide Leather!–Which is used to make clothing, shoes, boots, belts, purses, wallets, gloves, luggage and upholstery for cars and furniture, and sports balls.

Travel

*Antifreeze (contains glycerol which is derived from beef fat)…

*Asphalt (contains a binding agent made from beef fat)…

*Beef Fats and Proteins are used to make: auto and jet lubricants, outboard engine oil, high performance greases, and brake fluid…

*Glue from beef protein is used in automobile bodies…

*Tires have stearic acid which allows rubber to hold its shape…

Cattle are not only great recyclers converting non-edible feedstuffs into great tasting beef, but they are also highly diverse in the products that they offer to us.

Thanks to the American National CattleWomen for providing the information listed above which helps us to have a better appreciation for all of the products that cattle give to us…

This post wraps up my environmental theme series…Thursday’s post will start a new series about how a diet rich in beef can play a key role in good health…By the way, nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like a great tasting steak!

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General

What’s her feed conversion?

My youngest daughter is built like a colt.  She has always been that way.  She arrived four weeks early having obviously decided that there was not enough room in my 5’3” frame to accommodate her long legs…While she is not a big fan of eating (there always seems to be something more interesting to do) she continues to get taller and taller and taller.  At age seven, she is one of the tallest children in her grade and stands a full head taller than many of her friends.  I laugh that Matt has interjected height into my genetic pool!  He laughs that Karyn has excellent feed conversion

Karyn (my great feed converter) with one of our guides in Kenya...

Feed conversion is one of those cattle terms that 15 years ago was not in my vocabulary.  It is also one of the most important measurements of efficiency that I have for my animals, and tells me how many pounds of food each one requires to put on one pound of animal weight gain on a dry matter basis.  We convert the pounds of feed to a dry matter basis because different types of feed have different amounts of water in them relative to caloric value.  In a very simplistic sense, it tells me how many natural resources it takes for my animals to grow and make beef.

My two favorite blondes showing off one of our cattle feed rations...

There are many things that go into determining how efficient a bovine is.  Genetics play a big role, but there are many environmental influences on feed conversion as well.  I focus on quality at my cattle feed yard—I buy animals with high quality genetics and I offer quality care to them.  This combination allows for my animals to be very efficient converters of feed.  I believe that this plays an important role in reducing the environmental footprint of my farm because it reduces the amount of feed resources that I need to sustain my animals and grow great tasting beef.

Let’s take a minute and talk about what defines quality care relative to animal comfort and subsequent feed efficiency…

What helps to make them comfortable?

*Acclimation of cattle into the feed yard.  Cattle spend the majority of their lives grazing grass pastures, so the transition from eating grass and living on a pasture to eating out of a feed bunk and living in a dirt-based cattle feed yard pen is an important one.  Limiting stress to ensure greater cattle comfort is an important part of good cattle health and resulting feed efficiency.  We use a concept called low stress handling to help us create an acclimation plan for our cattle to ensure a smoother transition from a life on pasture to a life in a feed yard.

When a bovine is comfortable in his environment, he expresses normal behaviors such as this curiousity toward me and the camara...

*Consistent delivery of a balanced blend of quality feed ingredients.  My cattle nutritionist develops the blend or ration of feed that my animals receive.  My crew and I ensure that this feed is delivered in a consistent fashion to our animals.  Breakfast is delivered between 7:00 and 10:00am, and linner (my children’s name for the combination of lunch and dinner that the cattle receive) is delivered between 2:30 and 5:00pm.  We track the timing of feed delivery to our animals and try to ensure that each animal is fed within a half hour window for their meals on a day-to-day basis.  For example, Calf #718 lived in Pen 17 while he was at my feed yard.  His breakfast was delivered between 8:30 and 9:00 every morning, and his linner was delivered between 3:30 and 4:00.  Cattle are creatures of habit, and consistent timing of delivery and feed quality is important to their digestive health.  We also routinely test our feed rations to ensure the quality and consistency of the blend of feed that is offered to the animals.

The feedtruck delivering linner to Calf #718 and his herdmates last spring...

*Comfortable living conditions in the cattle pens.  We place a big focus on pen maintenance which helps to ensure that the pens that our cattle live in are comfortable for them.  We routinely clean our pens and haul out the natural fertilizer that the cattle produce to maintain a clean living space.  Mother Nature can wreak havoc with this at times when we receive large amounts of rain or a blizzard, but we work diligently to ensure the best possible conditions for our cattle.  My new livestock waste control facility has been a tremendous help in maintaining good living conditions for our cattle because it has enabled the moisture to drain out of our pens more efficiently which enables our pen surfaces to dry more quickly.

We use a tractor and box scraper to clean the pens and accumulate the manure so that Matt's crew can come and load the natural fertilizer and spread it on our farm ground...

The bottom line is that healthy and comfortable cattle make healthy and delicious beef grown using fewer nature resources. This reduces the environmental footprint of Matt’s and my farm.  Just like my happy and healthy seven-year old continues to grow with efficient feed conversion, so do my cattle.  It is my responsibility to offer quality care and feed to my animals.

When I set my animals up for success, I also set the consumers of my beef up for success as well as the long term sustainability of our farm...

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General